SNK Playmore Corporation (株式会社SNKプレイモア Kabushikigaisha Esu Enu Kei Pureimoa, also known as SNK or Playmore) is a Japanese video game hardware and software company. SNK is an abbreviation of Shin Nihon Kikaku (新日本企画?, lit. "New Japan Project"), which was SNK's original name. The company's legal and trading name became SNK in 1986.
The original SNK was founded in Suita, Osaka, Japan, in July 1978 by Eikichi Kawasaki and existed until October 22, 2001. Anticipating the end of his first company, Kawasaki founded the company Playmore in August 2001 which became SNK Playmore in 2003. Due to this strong resemblance to the previous company both in name and identity, SNK Playmore is sometimes referred to simply as SNK.
SNK is most notable for creating the Neo Geo family in 1990, which contained many game consoles and arcade systems throughout the 1990s. Their most popular and successful console was the handheld Neo Geo Pocket Color from 1999, which was the last console of the Neo Geo family, which ended in 2001, but it was then revived in 2012, with the Neo Geo X. There was also the NeoGeoWorld theme park, based on the Neo Geo brand.
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. The first two known titles out of the new coin-op division were Ozma Wars (1979), a vertically scrolling space shooter and Safari Rally 1980, a maze game. Game quality improved over time, most notably with Vanguard (1981), 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 (as of 2008) president and CEO of High Moon Studios. SNK Corporation 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 Crasher (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 North American 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 Soft, 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 Corporation in Japan jointly with SNK Corporation 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.
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 Neo Geo family was created, with 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. Several franchises of games derived from it, including Sengoku, The King of Fighters, The Last Blade, Super Sidekicks, Art of Fighting, Metal Slug, Burning Fight, Samurai Shodown and Fatal Fury. SNK also helped publish third-party Neo-Geo games including ADK's World Heroes, Noise Factory's Rage of the Dragons and Sengoku 3, Sunsoft's Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors and Waku Waku 7, and Technōs Japan's 1995 Double Dragon arcade game and Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer. Besides the Neo Geo series of games, they are notable for some stand-alone arcade games and home console ports of them, including Vanguard, Athena, Ikari Warriors, Psycho Soldier, Touch Down Fever, P.O.W.: Prisoners of War and Street Smart.
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 Z80 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, 2 background tile planes, and 80 individual sprites for the Genesis—while the onboard Yamaha YM2610 sound chip gave the system 15 channels of sound with seven channels reserved specifically for prerecorded ADPCM sound effects. However, since the Neo Geo's graphics processor did not support any background planes, they had to be simulated using sprites.
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 changed the cost to $649 and changed the pack-in game to Magician Lord. The console sold for $399 with one control stick and without a game. Other games cost $200 and up—each. Each joystick controller was a full 21⁄2 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 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 recognizable, no doubt contributing to the system's success in the arcades.
They also produced a Neo Geo CD and CDZ, a failed, 64-bit Neo-Geo 64 system and two handheld systems, the Neo Geo Pocket and Pocket Color. Several of their more famous franchise titles, originally created for the MVS and AES systems, have been ported to other consoles such as the Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Xbox, and more recently, the Wii.
The Neo Geo Pocket was SNK's original handheld system. It was released in Japan in late 1998, but quickly discontinued in 1999, with the advent of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, due to lower than expected sales with the Monochrome Neo Geo Pocket. The Pocket Color was later released in North America and Europe. Even though the Pocket Color had a short life, there were some significant games released on the system such as Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters R-1, and Card Fighters Clash. In 2001, the Neo Geo family ended and was subsequently revived 11 years later with the Neo Geo X.
The year 2000 saw the beginning of the end for SNK. In January, its poor financial status led to an acquisition by Aruze, a company well known for its 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 companies' fighting game characters. When Capcom vs. SNK was released it was a success, but most of the profits went to Capcom as it developed the game. SNK released SNK vs. Capcom: 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. SNK closed all American operations in the summer of 2000.
SNK collapsed on October 22, 2001 when it filed for bankruptcy and placed the intellectual property rights for its 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 its franchises to several other companies, such as South 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 is responsible for Sengoku 3).
In an attempt to regain control of SNK, Kawasaki's new company, Playmore, successfully bid for and was awarded SNK's intellectual rights in late 2001. The company then began to bolster its assets and rehire many former SNK employees. As a part of its efforts to reestablish its 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 USA Consumer 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. During the same year, they also purchased ADK shortly after it filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors; ADK was a third-party company that had been heavily associated with SNK since the late 1980s. 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 sum of 6.2 billion yen worth of 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 the 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. The following year, however, 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 its Atomiswave arcade board, which would provide it a more secure and modern platform for new arcade releases.
In September 2006, at the Tokyo Game Show, SNK Playmore announced that it has 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 (mostly in Europe, since most of the games did not get an approval from SCEA) and, in some cases, Microsoft's Xbox. Only in Japan, SNK Playmore has released the NeoGeo Online Collection for the PS2 containing some of its older games, featuring emulations with the ability to play online via the KDDI matching service. The Art of Fighting Collection (published by Crave under the title of The Art of Fighting Anthology), Fatal Fury Battle Archives vols. 1 & 2 (published by SVG Distribution), World Heroes Gorgeous (published by SNK Playmore Corp., developed by Alpha Denshi Co., Ltd. (ADK), SNK Corporation, and known as World Heroes Anthology in the U.S.), and the SNK Arcade Collection vol. 1 have seen releases in the United States. There are also original titles based on their existing properties, such as Metal Slug 3D and the KOF: Maximum Impact series.
SNK Playmore USA released its first game on Xbox Live Arcade, which is Fatal Fury Special. SNK is now currently supporting Nintendo's Virtual Console service on the Wii in the U.S. 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 U.S. release dates of November 13 and December 17 respectively). SNK Playmore also released the first adult-themed game franchise for the Nintendo DS, Doki Doki Majo Shinpan!, the first so far for any handheld console.
In 2009, the company released The King of Fighters XII for arcades, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game was not well received by public and critics alike due to some polemic changes in the game's graphics and structure. In 2010, SNK Playmore decided to release a sequel, The King of Fighters XIII (also on arcades, 360 and PS3), which was considered a much better game than KOF XII and either won or was nominated to multiple Game of the Year awards.
In December 2012, SNK Playmore released a re-launched Neo Geo console that will play games on the go, as well as at home, using pre-loaded games stored into the hardrive of the handheld console and games that come on small cards; the Neo Geo X. The docking station used for re-charging the handheld system, resembles a Neo Geo AES home console, with joysticks available that also resemble the versions used for the AES, only slightly smaller. The joysticks are used for when the Neo Geo X is in the docking station, so people can play games through their televisions, with both standard video and HDMI support.
On June 29, 2013, the Italian museum of videogames, named Vigamus, hosted an event dedicated to the history of SNK, tracing back the origins of the company and explaining the evolution of its games. Yamamoto Kei, Kiyoji Tomita and Ogura Eisuke participated at the event and were interviewed; Ogura also drew two original illustrations to exhibit at the museum.
- SNK Playmore H.K. Co., Ltd.- handles character licensing, as well as hardware and software sales in Asia (except for Japan and South Korea).
- SNK Neogeo USA Consumer Corporation- handles software sales in the Americas.
- Neo Geo do Brasil- handles hardware and software sales in Brazil, 1993 to 1998.
- SNK Playmore Europe Corporation- handles software sales in Europe.
- SNK Playmore Philippines Corporation- handles software sales in Philippines.