Earlier today, Capcom released its financial earnings report for the first financial quarter ended on June 30, 2017. And it was technically good news for the company. Sales went up 7 percent year-over-year, landing at 11.7 billion yen ($105 million), but the publisher crawled itself back towards the black. After a loss in the same period last year, Capcom made a scant profit of 521 million yen ($4.7 million). For the rest of the fiscal year, Capcom expects net sales of 87.2 billion yen ($784 million), with a net income of 8.9 billion yen ($80 million). Yeah, it's good news, but not great news.
The issue is the company's marquee titles haven't set the world of fire for a few years now. Street Fighter V continues to limp along following troubled launch. The game can cause hype at EVO, but it's only sold 1.7 million copies to date. SF5 reached 1.6 million in sales in May, meaning it sold 100,000 copies in total. Worse, this means the game has only sold 300,000 units since May of 2016. Capcom's original estimate back in 2014 for SF5 sales was 2 million, and the game is still limping towards that target.
Resident Evil 7 Biohazard was another major title that was supposed to break out for Capcom, but the game has only 3.7 million copies sold. That's good, but below expectations. Capcom wanted to sell 4 million copies of Resident Evil 7 by the end of the last fiscal year on March 31, 2017, but it's only within spitting distance as of June. Resident Evil 7's pace is similar to Street Fighter V's: it had sold 3.5 million copies as of March, meaning it only sold 200,000 units in three months.
It paints a picture of a publisher that's just flailing through the darkness, grasping for anything that might work. Street Fighter V has been patched and improved since launch, but the game can't escape its original stigma. Capcom already told fans that it would never release a Super Street Fighter V, but that's probably what the game needs at this point. Resident Evil 7 is a good game and it's profitable for Capcom, but it's a far cry from the heights of Resident Evil 5 and 6. Dead Rising 4 has yet to reach even 1 million units sold since its launch during the holiday season.
So what's the answer for Capcom? They have a number of games currently out and coming over the next few months - Ultra Street Fighter 2, The Disney Afternoon Collection, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, The Great Ace Attorney 2, Monster Hunter XX for Nintendo Switch, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen for PS4 and Xbox One - but the publisher doesn't expect any of them to sell over a million copies. So where's the money coming from?
Capcom is hoping that Monster Hunter continues to pay off, perhaps with a larger presence in the West. Monster Hunter XX for Nintendo Switch is aimed squarely at Japanese audiences that want their MonHun on-the-go, but Monster Hunter World is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2018.
"This is the next main Monster Hunter game," Monster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto told Glixel. "Just because we've taken the number off the title doesn't mean it's not a main Monster Hunter game. We just wanted to have "world" in the title because it speaks to the concept of the game in a variety of ways. This is the first simultaneous worldwide release for the game, and the servers are global this time."
"We want to make sure that newcomers don't have the same experience they had with previous Monster Hunter games," World director Yuya Tokuda added. "We always hear people telling their friends, 'Wow, this game is really incredible once you get to grips with it,' but their friends just don't have time to research how to play the game. Those people will have a better time with World. We want everybody to have a chance. This is absolutely a multiplayer game, and it's absolutely a Monster Hunter game. But we have to introduce what exactly a Monster Hunter game is to a wider audience now, and we just began with the single-player portion. We're starting simple so people will be able to understand the multiplayer when the time comes."
Monster Hunter World is all hands on deck for the Monster Hunter franchise. If there's another game coming - and fans speculate there will probably be an original MonHun coming to Switch - Capcom isn't talking about it.
The other major game for the year is Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite, scheduled for release on September 19 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. With the backing of some of Marvel's popular characters, Capcom has also made changes to the game to make it easier to play for newcomers.
"So, it was a definite design decision to make sure it was more accessible," associate producer Peter ‘combofiend’ Rosas told VG247 about the game. "For us, it’s really important for new players to experience how the combat system feels, to be able to perform a combo – to perform an air combo, too. Those kind of things make you feel good. To your question of where we draw that line, it’s about making sure that the new player can get that fun experience in and understand what’s happening, and then we decide what to build on from there."
The problem is the reception to Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is already fuzzy. Rumors of the game's final roster point to a title that's bringing back a number of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters, while leaving out some favorites, like the X-Men. When pressed about the lack of characters like Magneto, Wolverine, and Sentinel, Rosas offered up a statement that wasn't taken well in the MvC community.
"If you were to actually think about it, these characters are just functions. They're just doing things. Magneto, case and point, is a favorite because he has eight-way dash and he's really fast, right? So our more technical players, all they want to do is triangle jump and that kind of stuff. Well guess what, Nova can do the same thing, Captain Marvel can do the same thing. Ultron can do the same thing. Go ahead and try them out," Rosas told GameSpot.
Fans took this as the development team not really understanding why they enjoyed previous Marvel vs. Capcom titles. Strike one there.
Worse, Capcom released a story demo for Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite that had some poor animation and dodgy character models. It doesn't help that Netherrealm's Injustice 2 absolutely nailed these aspects in its story mode, but taken alone MvC Infinite fell short of feeling like a big-budget title. Some long-term fighting game fans pointed to Chun-Li and Dante as their representatives of the game's visual issues.
2016 Chunli vs 2017 Chunli pic.twitter.com/FWiXvD9YK4— FChamp Ryan Ramirez (@fchampryan) June 13, 2017
Dante on late-PS4 in Marvel VS Capcom compared to early-PS3 Devil May Cry 4.— Charles Lai (@comtar) June 13, 2017
What happened? pic.twitter.com/0YIqj9uSzb
In response, Capcom stated that it would be improving the characters prior to launch.
"The development team is hard at work finishing the game for the September 19 release date, and based off the feedback we heard, we are currently making improvements to Chun-Li as well as other Capcom characters. Since the work is still in progress, we don't have anything final to show you just yet, but stay tuned," the publisher told Eurogamer in a statement.
According to Capcom's financial results presentation, the company expects both of these games to be its anchors for the fiscal year. It plans to sell 10.3 million copies of both in total, though it declined to be specific on the exact split.
Even being conservative, these expectations seem high. The highest-selling Monster Hunter game was Monster Hunter Freedom 3 for PlayStation Portable with 4.9 million sold. The best-selling MvC game was Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds with 2.2 million sold. That's 7.1 million, which is still 3.2 million off of expectations. And that's assuming these games reach the pinnacle of their respective franchises, which doesn't seem like a safe bet given the performance of Street Fighter V, Resident Evil 7, and Dead Rising 4.
One good direction forward for Capcom is the Nintendo Switch. Ultra Street Fighter 2 for Nintendo Switch was a slight release in my estimation, but according to Capcom it had "an excellent start and proved to be a smash hit." A summary of units shipped (table 4-2 on this PDF) shows Ultra Street Fighter 2 selling 450,000 copies worldwide, which is oddly enough how many copies the publisher sold on PlayStation 4/PlayStation 3 during the same period.
That's a win for Capcom, which makes the company's lack of Switch versions for Disney Afternoon Collection and Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 look even more perplexing. In response, the publisher is looking to prepare more Switch games, outside of the already-announced Monster Hunter XX.
Capcom: 450K is 1Q figure for Ultra Street Fighter II, above its expectation. Also "starting to prepare" multiple Switch-version titles.— Takashi Mochizuki (@mochi_wsj) July 28, 2017
A Resident Evil game in the style of Resident Evil: Revelations and Revelations 2 would probably do well on Nintendo's platform. As would a release of Ultra Street Fighter IV or Dragon's Dogma. Other lost Capcom games like Devil May Cry, Dino Crisis, Lost Planet, or Onimusha could also be ported over to the platform.
Unfortunately, the Switch isn't the end-all be-all of Capcom's salvation. In the end, the Switch has only sold 4.7 million systems worldwide, even if its owners are hungry for anything. The PlayStation 4 has 60 million sold and Capcom needs to puzzle out the question: How do we reach these people? I think Monster Hunter World is a good idea, but Monster Hunter has always been stronger in Japan and on portable platforms, so betting on a home console release for a worldwide hit seems to be a poor choice.
Either way, Capcom needs to find the classic Capcom within and perhaps get its expectations in check. The company has a strong portfolio of classic games and brands it can rely on. In the short term, ports and remasters can help the bottom line, but in the long-term Capcom development needs to remember why its games were loved in the first place. Otherwise, Capcom will follow the other classic Japanese company that left gamers behind.
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