SNK Corporation (株式会社 Kabushiki-gaisha Esu Enu Kē, formally known as Shin Nihon Kikaku and SNK Playmore) is a Japanese video game developer and publisher as well as a former home console manufacturer. The company's slogan is "The Future is Now".
Throughout the 90s, SNK gained prominence with its Neo Geo systems, but have since become known for its legacy of classic arcade titles most notably in the Fighting game genre; these include Fatal Fury, The King of Fighters, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, and The Last Blade.
1973 – 1981: Origins
SNK was formed in 1973 as Shin Nihon Kikaku ("New Japan Project") after founder Eikichi Kawasaki noticed rapid growth in the coin-operated video game market and decided to create the company to develop and market his own games. Some of the earlier titles that Shin Nihon Kikaku released were vertical shooter Ozma Wars (1979), maze game Safari Rally (1980), and side-scrolling shooter Vanguard (1981); for the latter, it was licensed to fellow coin-op game developer Centuri for distribution in North America, which they later took over the manufacturing and distributing of when profits exceeded projections.
Due to the surprise success of Vanguard, Shin Nihon Kikaku began to gain recognition in the industry. Around 1980, the company took the initial letters from "Shin Nihon Kikaku" as its nickname, SNK. An American branch soon opened on October 20, 1981, named SNK Electronics Corporation, to deliver its own brand of coin-operated games to arcades in North America with John Rowe at the helm.
1986 – 1999: SNK Corporation
In April 1986, Shin Nihon Kikaku officially changed its name to SNK Corporation, while the US branch became SNK Corporation of America and moved to Sunnyvale, California. In March 1988, the main Japanese staff moved to its current headquarters in Suita, Osaka, Japan. By then, the company had shifted its focus solely toward developing and licensing video games for arcades and home consoles; some of these titles include Alpha Mission, Athena, and Ikari Warriors. The company later opened a second branch in the US called SNK Home Entertainment in Torrance, California to focus on the distribution and marketing of home console games for North America. John Rowe had also left the company by then to form his own company, Tradewest, which marketed the Ikari Warriors series in North America; Paul Jacobs was hired to succeed Rowe and ran both halves of SNK America.
In 1988, SNK created the idea of a modular cabinet for arcades, as up to that point, arcade cabinets typically contained only one game; when an arcade operator wanted to switch or replace a game, they would have to completely remove the internals of the existing cabinet or swap the cabinet entirely for another one. SNK's proposed system would solve this problem by featuring up to six games in a single cabinet through a cartridge-based storage mechanism; to swap in a new game, all the operator had to do was remove one cartridge and exchange it for another. This new system, named the Neo-Geo MVS (short for Multi-Video System), debuted in 1990 and was an immediate success due to its convenience for both setting up and saving floor space as well as reducing costs for new cartridges to $500 USD — less than half of what a traditional arcade unit cost at the time. In the home console side of things, SNK began to experiment in the development of games specifically for Nintendo's NES console, recognizing the success of its arcade ports on the system; this resulted in Baseball Stars in 1989 and Crystalis (known as God Slayer in Japan) in 1990.
SNK wanted to bring arcade games to people's homes without making any performance compromises that their contemporaries had to deal with. In 1990, SNK released its first home console, the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System), as a solution to this problem. Compared to its competitors, the Neo Geo AES had much better graphics and sound. It was first sold at $599, and came bundled with two joystick controllers and a game (either Baseball Stars or NAM-1975); alternatively, the console could be bought for $399 with one control stick and without an accompanying game. The individual games themselves would cost at least $200 each. Joystick controllers contained the same four-button layout as the arcade MVS cabinet. Within a few months of the system's introduction in North America, SNK increased the cost to $649 and changed the pack-in game to Magician Lord. The type of games on the Neo-Geo AES varied; some were all-new creations like Super Sidekicks, while others were updated versions of earlier titles, such as Baseball Stars Professional.
Bolstered by the success of the Neo Geo AES, SNK also produced its successors: the Neo Geo CD, the Hyper Neo Geo 64, the Neo Geo Pocket and the Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK also opened two new amusement parks in 1994 and 1999, named Neo Geo Land and Neo Geo World, respectively.
2000 - 2003: Bankruptcy and Playmore buyout
By the turn of the new century, Fighting games were beginning to experience a period of invisible slump due to market saturation. SNK suffered the worst from this due to their over-reliance on the genre, and as such, a sudden change in policies could not be achieved. The company's business situation was made worse due to the failures and discontinuations with both the Neo-Geo line of systems and the closures of the amusement parks. The titles SNK put out eventually started to diversify away from Fighting games, mainly dabbling in RPG with releases such as Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits Bushidō Retsuden, ATHENA -Awakening from the ordinary life-, Koudelka, and Cool Cool Toon. However, the situation did not improve due to their rather poor reception from both critics and consumers.
In January 2000, SNK's poor financial status led to its acquisition by pachinko company Aruze, who made machines based on SNK's franchises. The same year, Capcom agreed to create a series of fighting games featuring both companies' fighting game characters, resulting in the popular Capcom vs. SNK series. Though the titles sold well, most of the profits went to Capcom because it developed and published the games. In the following June 13, all of SNK's American branches closed down. The company sold rights to distribution in North America for MVS arcade systems and Neo Print photo systems while also licensing North American localizations of its releases to outside companies such as Atlus USA.
By 2001, SNK ended the production of the Neo Geo systems. With the company's future uncertain, many employees left their jobs. Some joined rival Capcom, while some found their development companies such as Dimps and BrezzaSoft. Founder Eikichi Kawasaki eventually left SNK along with other executives to form a new company named Playmore on August 1. On October 22, SNK filed for bankruptcy and placed the intellectual property rights for its franchises up for auction. Licenses for SNK's game production and development rights to its franchises were sold to several other companies, which included Eolith to work on The King of Fighters between 2001 and 2002, and Mega Enterprise, which produced Metal Slug 4.
To regain control of SNK, Playmore successfully bid for and was awarded SNK's intellectual property rights on October 30, 2001. The company then used its newfound funds to bolster its assets and re-hire former SNK employees. Playmore also initiated several acquisitions with its close development partners; these included BrezzaSoft, Noise Factory, Sun Amusement, and ADK. Its American office was also re-established alongside other international offices in South Korea and Hong Kong, all under the name SNK NeoGeo for commercial and, later, consumer gaming distribution. All of the acquired entities were consolidated into SNK Playmore on July 7, 2003 when Playmore regained rights to use the name SNK from Aruze.
In October 2002, Kawasaki sued Aruze for copyright infringement, claiming it owed ¥6.2 billion in damages for their continued use of SNK's intellectual properties after Playmore re-acquired them. A preliminary decision in January 2004 by the Osaka District Court favored SNK Playmore, awarding it ¥5.64 billion yen.
2003 - 2014: SNK Playmore
In the tail end of 2003, SNK Playmore discontinued the AES system, preferring to publish video games in cooperation with Sammy Corporation. Using its Atomiswave arcade board, SNK Playmore gained a more secure and modern platform for new arcade releases. In 2004, SNK Playmore began manufacturing its own pachislot machines, beginning with Metal Slug and Dragon Gal. Pachislots would be more heavily featured in SNK Playmore's product lineup for the next decade.
During the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, the company announced the discontinuation of the Atomiswave, favoring Taito's Type X2 arcade platform. To counter the decline in the commercial gaming industry, the company shifted some of its development focus to consumer games, developing a mix of original titles and ports of legacy games for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS; some of these original titles include Metal Slug 3D and the KOF: Maximum Impact series. In 2007, the company's console support expanded with ports of its classic titles being released on Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo's Virtual Console service on the Wii. In 2009, SNK also entered the mobile game market, developing and publishing several games based on its franchises.
In December 2012, SNK Playmore briefly revived the Neo Geo line with the release of the Neo Geo X; production ceased less than a year later on October 2 after the company terminated its licensing agreement with the console's manufacturer, Tommo, though they have since disputed the termination, stating that its contract was extended until 2016 and that it performed every obligation of the licensing agreement.
2015 - Present: Foreign acquisition and brand restoration
In March 2015, Hong Kong-based video game holding company Leyou Technologies Holdings submitted a disclosure-of-interest document to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, highlighting a "possible investment in a renowned Japanese video game developer". In the following August, Chinese web and mobile game developer 37Games, and asset management firm Orient Securities had formed a joint venture to invest in Ledo Millennium, a subsidiary of Leyou. Through Ledo, the venture acquired Kawasaki's 81.25% stake in SNK Playmore for $63.5 million, effectively gaining rights to SNK Playmore's intellectual property, planning to further develop them into a mass media franchise.
With the purchase completed, SNK Playmore signaled a shift in the company's strategy, which had previously been focused more on the production of pachislot and mobile games than console and arcade games. In 2015, the company formally withdrew from the pachislot market, choosing instead to focus on console and mobile gaming, as well as character licensing.
On April 25, 2016, SNK officially dropped the "Playmore" name from its corporate logo and reintroduced its old slogan, "The Future Is Now", to signify "a return to SNK's rich gaming history". A legal name change from SNK Playmore Corporation to SNK Corporation followed on December 1, 2016. In July 2018, SNK revived the Neo Geo line once more with the NEOGEO Mini, a miniature console based on the design of the company's Japanese arcade machines pre-loaded with forty classic Neo Geo games.
In November 2020, the MiSK Foundation, a non-profit organization owned by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, acquired a 33.3% share of SNK, with the intention to acquire a further 17.7% share at a later time as to gain controlling interest in the company.
- Neo Geo MVS / Neo Geo AES (1990 - 1997)
- Neo Geo CD (1994 - 1997)
- Hyper Neo Geo 64 (1997 - 1999)
- Neo Geo Pocket (1998 - 1999)
- Neo Geo Pocket Color (1999 - 2001)
- Neo Geo X (2012 - 2013)
- Neo Geo Mini (2018)
- Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro (2019)
- Neo Geo MVSX (2020)
Involvement with Super Smash Bros.
SNK officially became the tenth third-party company to join Smash as one of the company's most popular characters, Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury, joined Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a part of Fighters Pass Volume 1. Included with his Challenger Pack is the stage King of Fighters Stadium, 50 music tracks, and multiple Spirits.
Outside of Fatal Fury, Terry also represents The King of Fighters series, where some of its characters make cameos in the King of Fighters Stadium. One of these characters, Iori Yagami, is the basis for a separate paid DLC Mii Fighter costume.
Outside of the two main series represented, several other SNK franchises receive minor representation in a similar manner to Pac-Man and Bandai Namco. These include separate paid DLC Mii Fighter costumes modeled after Ryo Sakazaki from Art of Fighting and Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown; minor cameos in the King of Fighters Stadium such as Athena Asamiya from Psycho Soldier, Ralf Jones & Clark Still from Ikari Warriors, and King and Yuri Sakazaki from Art of Fighting; and music arrangements from Athena, Alpha Mission, and Metal Slug.
- SNK is one of five companies to be introduced to Smash through DLC; the other four being Square Enix, Atlus, Xbox Game Studios, and Mojang Studios.
- SNK is the second third-party company to have once been one of Nintendo's competitors in the home console market, the other being Sega.
- SNK currently has the least amount of playable characters out of all the other third-party companies, only having one.
- However, SNK's sole representative universe (Fatal Fury) is also used to represent other game series created by their respective companies.
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