SNK Corporation is a Japanese video game hardware and software company. SNK is an acronym of Shin Nihon Kikaku (新日本企画). The company's legal and trading name became SNK in 1986.
The original SNK was founded in Osaka, Japan, in July 22, 1978 by Eikichi Kawasaki, and existed until October 30, 2001. Anticipating the end of his first company, Kawasaki founded the company Playmore Corporation in August 1, 2001, which in July 7, 2003 became SNK Playmore Corporation. Due to this strong resemblance to the previous company both in name and identity, SNK Playmore is sometimes referred to simply as SNK.
On April 25, 2016, SNK Playmore offcially rebrands themselves as their original name, SNK, entirely dropping the Playmore name. According to a 4Gamer interview, this was actually decided from votes by all their employees. On December 1, 2016, SNK Playmore officially changed its corporate name to SNK.
SNK is most notable for creating the Neo-Geo arcade system, and several franchises of games including The King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown and Fatal Fury. SNK also helped publish many games including Rage of the Dragons, World Heroes, Ninja Master's and Sengoku along with Double Dragon for the Neo Geo.
When Eikichi Kawasaki noticed the rapid growth that was occurring in the coin-op video game market, he expanded SNK to include the development and marketing of stand-alone coin-op games. Their first one was Micon Kit (April 1978), a ball-and-paddle game similar to Atari's 1972 arcade hit, Breakout. The next two titles out of the new coin-op division were Ozma Wars, a vertically scrolling space shooter and Safari Rally, a driving maze game, both released in 1979.
Game quality improved over time, most notably with 1981's Vanguard, a side-scrolling space shooter that many people consider the precursor to modern classics such as Gradius and R-Type. SNK licensed the game to Centuri for distribution in North America, who ultimately started manufacturing and distributing the game themselves when profits exceeded expectations.
On October 20, 1981, the North American division (SNK Corporation of America) was opened. They established themselves in Sunnyvale, California with the intent of delivering their own brand of coin-operated games to arcades in North America. The man chosen to run the American operation was John Rowe, the eventual founder of Tradewest and current (2005) president and CEO of High Moon Studios.
SNK Corporate in Japan had at this point already shifted its focus solely toward developing and licensing video games for arcade use and (later) for early consoles. Between 1979 and 1986 they produced 23 stand-alone arcade games. Highlights from this period include Mad Crash (1984), Alpha Mission (1985), and Athena (1986), a game that gained a large following when it was ported to the NES in 1987. Their most successful game from this time frame was Ikari Warriors, released in 1986. Ikari Warriors was so popular that it was eventually licensed and ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, ZX Spectrum and NES. They followed up Ikari Warriors with two sequels, Victory Road and Ikari III: The Rescue.
Even at this late point, the home market was still suffering from the fallout caused by the video game crash of 1983. Nevertheless, one console manufacturer in particular seemed to weather the crash fairly unscathed: Nintendo. SNK signed up to become a third-party licensee for Nintendo's Family Computer (Famicom) system in 1985 and opened a second branch in the United States, based in Torrance, California and called SNK Home Entertainment that would handle the North American distribution and marketing of the company's products for home consoles. By this time, John Rowe had left the company to form Tradewest, which went on to market SNK's Ikari Warriors series in North America. Subsequently, both halves of SNK America were now being presided over by Paul Jacobs, who is notable primarily for having helped launch the company's Neo-Geo system outside of Asia.
In response to strong sales of the company's NES ports, SNK began to dabble in the development of original software designed specifically for the NES console. Two games came out of this effort: 1989's Baseball Stars and 1990s Crystalis (God Slayer in Japan). 1989 also marked the release of two new home video game consoles in North America: the Sega Genesis and NEC's joint project with Hudson, the TurboGrafx-16. Nintendo followed suit with a new system in 1991, the Super NES. Rather than become involved in the early 90s system wars, SNK Corporate in Japan jointly with SNK of America chose to refocus their efforts on the arcade market, leaving other third parties, such as Romstar and Takara, to license and port SNK's properties to the various home consoles of the time with help from SNK's American home entertainment division. With console ports mainly being handled outside the company, they moved on to developing SNK branded arcade equipment.
SNK also licensed Tiger Electronics to market handheld electronic games from some of its brands.
Neo Geo and Multi-Video System
During 1988 SNK began toying with the idea of a modular cabinet for arcades; up to that point, arcade cabinets typically contained only a single game. When an arcade operator wanted to switch or replace that game, they would have to completely remove the internals of the existing cabinet or exchange the entire setup for another game. SNK's new system, called Neo Geo MVS (short for Multi-Video System), featured multiple games in a single cabinet and used a cartridge-based storage mechanism. The system debuted in 1990 and could contain one, two, four, or six separate games in a single cabinet. In order to swap in a new game, all the operator had to do was remove one cartridge and exchange it for another.
The MVS was an immediate success. Arcade operators loved it because the setup time required for each game was nearly nonexistent, the floor space required was minimal, and the cost outlay for new cartridges was barely $500—less than half of what a traditional arcade unit cost at the time. But SNK also wanted to take advantage of people's desire to play arcade games at home, but without making the same compromises on CPU and memory performance that typical home consoles were forced to make. In 1990, the company released a home version of the MVS, a single cartridge unit called the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System, or more simply, the Neo Geo AES. Initially, the AES was only available for rent or for use in hotel settings, but SNK quickly began selling the system through stores when customer response indicated that people were willing to spend the money. Compared to the other consoles of the time, the Neo Geo AES had much better graphics and sound. It featured two CPUs: a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000 main processor running at 12 MHz and a Zilog Z-80 backup processor running at 4 MHz. The system's main CPU was 50% faster than the 68000 processor found in Sega's Genesis console and the Neo Geo AES also had the benefit of specialized audio and video chipsets. A custom video chipset allowed the system to display 4,096 colors and 380 individual sprites onscreen simultaneously—compared to 64 simultaneous colors and 80 individual sprites for the Genesis—while the onboard Yamaha 2610 sound chip gave the system 15 channels of CD-quality sound with seven channels reserved specifically for digital sound effects.
Nonetheless, this type of power carried a large price tag; the console debuted at $599, which included two joystick controllers and a game (either Baseball Stars or NAM-1975). Within a few months of the system's introduction in North America, SNK lowered the cost of this package to $399 and added Magician Lord to the list of pack-in options. Other games cost $200 and up—each. Each joystick controller was a full 2 1/2 inches tall, measured 11 inches long by 8 inches across, and contained the same four-button layout as the arcade MVS cabinet.
The quality of the games obviously varied. Some, such as the Super Sidekicks series, were all-new creations, while others were updated versions of earlier successes, such as Baseball Stars Professional. SNK games were graphically bold and bright, with games such as Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy and the famous Metal Slug series being distinctive and instantly recognisable, no doubt contributing to the system's success in the arcades.
They also produced a Neo Geo CD and CDZ, a 64-bit arcade system, the Hyper Neo Geo 64, and two handheld systems, the Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Several of their more famous franchise titles, originally created for the MVS and AES systems, have been ported to other systems such as the Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast, SNES, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3 and more recently PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam, GOG and Humble Bundle).
Neo Geo Pocket
The Neo Geo Pocket was SNK's original hand held system. It was released in Japan in late 1998, and discontinued in 1999, with the advent of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, due to lower than expected sales with the Monochrome Neo Geo Pocket. It was later released in North America and Europe.
Collapse and Rebirth
The year 2000 saw the beginning of the end for SNK. In January, their poor financial status forced them to become acquired by Aruze, a company well known for their pachinko machines. Instead of using SNK's franchises for video games, Aruze manufactured Pachinko machines featuring popular series such as King of Fighters. SNK saw little success on the video game market due to (reportedly deliberate) under-financing on Aruze's part, so the original founder, Eikichi Kawasaki left the company, along with other executives, to found the company named Playmore on August 1, 2001.
The highlight of 2000 came when Capcom agreed to create a series of fighting games featuring both company's fighting game characters. When Capcom vs SNK was released, it was a success but most of the profits went to Capcom as they developed the game. SNK released SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium and SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Combined, both sold an unremarkable 50,000 copies (much due to the unpopularity of the handheld, since both games have been widely praised). SNK closed all American operations in the summer of 2000.
SNK collapsed in October 2001, filed for bankruptcy and placed the intellectual property rights for the SNK franchises on bidding. Much of the company's employees disbanded, with a number of them joining together to found the game and hardware developer BrezzaSoft. During this time, SNK licensed game production and development rights for their franchises to several other companies, such as Korean-based Eolith (who gained control of the King of Fighters franchise between 2001 and 2002) and Mega Enterprise (who produced Metal Slug 4), and Japanese-based Noise Factory (who were responsible for Sengoku 3).
In an attempt to regain control of SNK, Kawasaki's new company, Playmore, successfully bid for and were awarded SNK's intellectual rights in late 2001. The company then began to bolster its assets and rehire many of the former SNK employees.
As a part of their efforts to reestablish their presence in the gaming market, Playmore purchased Brezzasoft and renamed it SNK NeoGeo Corp, giving the company an internal game development team. A Japanese commercial games distributor, Sun Amusement, was also purchased in order to provide the company with an arcade distribution outlet in Japan. International offices were established in South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United States under the SNK NeoGeo name for commercial, and later, consumer gaming distribution. All of these entities were later consolidated into SNK Playmore when Playmore regained the rights to use the SNK name for a holding company on July 7, 2003. Today, SNK Playmore in Japan highly resembles the original company. It employs a good proportion of employees from the old SNK and occupies its former building. However, the U.S division has drastically changed, with the office being located in Wall, New Jersey instead of California. As of 2002, SNK Playmore's line of games have been distributed in Europe by Ignition Entertainment, a more recent videogames company based in Essex, United Kingdom.
In October 2002, Kawasaki sued Aruze for copyright infringement regarding SNK's intellectual properties which were used without authorization from Playmore, to the tune of 6.2 billion yen in damages. In January 2004, a preliminary decision was handed down by the Osaka District Court favoring SNK Playmore and was awarded 5.64 billion yen. Within that period of fall and winter of 2003, SNK Playmore obtained an injunction against a group of four different companies, which resulted in hundreds of AES cartridges being seized. But the following year, SNK Playmore struck a compromise with two of the companies as they were allowed to sell the AES cartridges, with the conditions that they could not be modified again and any legitimate materials were to be returned to them. SNK Playmore would within the same year discontinue the AES system, preferring to publish video games in cooperation with Sammy, using their Atomiswave arcade board, which would provide them a more secure platform for new arcade releases. On December 17, 2004 SNK Neo Geo USA Consumer Corporation announced it would rename to SNK Playmore USA Corporation to facilitate worldwide recognition.
In September 2006 in the Tokyo Game Show, SNK Playmore announced that they have ceased production of games on the Atomiswave, favoring Taito's Type X2 arcade platform. To counter the decline in the commercial gaming industry, the company has in recent times shifted some of its development focus to consumer games, including original games for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, mobile phones, and more. Games continue to be ported to the PlayStation 2 and, in some cases, Microsoft's Xbox (mostly in the US since most of the games did not get an approval from SCEA). Only in Japan, SNK Playmore has released the Neo Geo Online Collection for the PS2 containing some of their older games, containing emulations of their classic games, with the ability to play online by way of the KDDI matching service. An original titles were also released based on their existing properties, such as the Metal Slug 3D and the KOF: Maximum Impact.
SNK Playmore USA released its first game on Xbox Live, which is Fatal Fury Special. SNK is now currently supporting Nintendo's Virtual Console service on the Wii in the US with Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and World Heroes. On the PS2, The King of Fighters XI, and Neo Geo Battle Coliseum came out for the PS2 in 2007 (with US release dates of November 13 and December 17 respectively).
In recent years, Chinese companies showed interest in SNK Playmore and their IP's. Examples of this are the release of KOF 98 Ultimate Match HERO in IGS's PGM 2 board and the guest appearance of Terry Bogard and Benimaru Nikaido in Tencent's Xuan Dou Zhi Wang. In 2015, rumors were reported about the acquisition of the company by the Chinese Leyou Technologies. In August 6, 2015, these rumors became true as the joint venture Zheyuan (formed by Oriental Securities and Shunrong Sanqi/37Games) invested 63.5 million USD in Ledo Millenium (subisidiary of Leyou) to made possible the purchase of 81.25% of SNK Playmore shares. The CEO of Dongfang Xinghui (subisidiary of Oriental Securities, owner of 80% of the acquired SNK Playmore stock), Zheng Jianhui, has expressed his desire to create "the Marvel Comics of videogames" with SNK's vast IP's.
On November 3, 2015 SNK Playmore has announced that it leaving the pachislot business and will be re-focusing its efforts on making console and smartphone games.
On April 25, 2016, SNK Playmore announced that they're officially changing their corporate logo back to "SNK". In addition to this, they're bringing back their classic "The Future Is Now" corporate tagline. A legal name change from SNK Playmore Corporation to SNK Corporation followed on December 1, 2016, together with a new sound logo .
SNK currently owns the intellectual properties of the following companies:
- SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku)
- SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku) USA
- SNK; SMACK Sound Produce - sound team for their pachi-slot titles
- SNK USA
- SNK Hong Kong
- Archive of Shin Nihon Kikaku webpage
- SNK Neo-Geo offical page at Internet Web Archives
- Official Youtube page
- Official Facebook page for Xbox LIVE Arcade releases
- Official Game Blog
- Official Twitch page
- SNK Entertainment
- SNK History
- SNK Brand 40th Anniversary
- SNK Online Shop (Japan)
- SNK China
- SNK's Shoichiro Takezaki with Gamest
- SNK page at Jap-Sai.com (covers their activity all the way back to 1978, with pages for notable games)
- NEOGEO.ch SNK USA 1995 Gallery
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