DoDonPachi Resurrection iPhone
Today, the studio is embracing the English-speaking world with open arms, with Rising Star Games publishing its Xbox 360 games in Europe and smartphone portal Cave World proving to be a success. Why did it take so long?
“I didn’t even have any concept that there were 2D shooting fans overseas until recently," Ikeda revealed. "In the back of my mind, I always thought it was something that I’d want to do, but unless we had a publisher offer that was willing to get over the initial risk of developing the game here at Cave, then it wasn’t something we were going to pursue.”
Interestingly, the Xbox 360 marked the studio’s return to console development in over a decade. “In the past Cave has developed in-house some console games, including DoDonPachi
for Sega Saturn. But the conclusion from the executive parts of the company then was that it wasn’t very profitable, and the work involved for the ports themselves was very intensive. Ultimately, when the games were finished, we also had complaints from users that they weren’t arcade accurate.”
“For a while Cave decided not to port its arcade games for those reasons. We also didn't want to run the risk of holding a lot of inventory at our company. That all changed when the Xbox 360 came out, because there was a lot of movement from shooting game developers to bring their games onto that system. It looked like there might be the beginnings of a shooter boom on the platform.”
The jump to smartphone development is particularly interesting for a studio primarily seen as an arcade company, but it seems to be adapting to mobile platforms well - DoDonPachi Resurrection
was released to critical acclaim on the iPhone at the end of 2010. Many Western studios are having trouble staying afloat and turning to work on iOS and Android, and Ikeda says that the Japanese games industry is experiencing a similar trend.
Akai Katana Shin
“Whether I’m happy about that or not... as a game creator, it’s extremely distressing,” he admits. “You have to design your game in a completely different way, and that’s challenging to adapt to when you have such a segmented market. You have Xbox 360, smartphones, DS, PSP... all with different ways of working and varying customer bases.”
As Cave World has proved though, there are positives here in terms of getting widespread attention. “The overall userbase for games, thanks to smartphones, has expanded quite significantly. And in one way that’s something we’re really happy about. For instance, probably if we hadnt put out our iPhone releases, people wouldn’t know who Cave is. So that’s something that I’m personally very thankful for.”
Still, with these exciting new avenues Cave remains at its core an arcade developer. And Ikeda wants to keep operating in the Game Centers across Japan for as long as it can, despite the tough market conditions. “A lot of people might regard Cave as an arcade developer, and I think we are, but there are very few left in Japan now at this point,” he muses.
“It’s really tough out there though. Up until now arcade was the big, core platform. People would make the arcade game and then think about what to do with it afterwards, if anything. Now the arcade is regarded as simply one platform of many - a lot of developers simultaneously release their games on multiple platforms. We want to continue to be an arcade developer, but on the other hand we can’t tell the future.”
To anyone visiting Japan however the vibrant colours, UFO Catchers and card game machines seems to paint a different picture to the one Ikeda is detailing. But the CEO explains that, rather than capturing fresh footfall from younger players, the arcades are simply keeping afloat with the guaranteed business of the patrons of the last generation.
“I think the problem with the arcade scene now is the customer base. In Japan, you had this massive game centre boom, where many people came into arcades and got introduced into games in this manner. Ultimately, we find that it’s those same people who become return customers - they end up solely maintaining the arcades.”
The management of Cave really has to be admired. It’s a small company that is currently able to nimbly adapt to changes in the games market to stay alive, but has never wavered from its core shoot’em up and arcade values - even when both seem to be rather niche on the grand scale of things. Does Ikeda think that Cave is the last bastion of the shmup?
“Well, internationally it’s a really tough place to say whether the genre is dead or not. On the one hand, we’ve managed to release our first DoDonPachi
game overseas and we’re happy about that. But it’s not a huge income boost for us, as a company - so in that sense, in terms of the international perspective, it’s kind of hard to say one way or the other.
Even if Cave quit the genre though, Ikeda thinks that someone else will pick up the baton. “I don’t think the genre would disappear. Although there’s a massive reduction in terms of the number of people still making shooters, they’re still coming out. In that sense, you can prove that it’s not necessarily Cave whose shoulders the genre really rests on.
"But, despite that I feel that continuing to put out shooters is extremely important, and as long as we can do this I’d like to keep developing them.”
Many thanks to Rising Star Games, Cave, Jon Rodgers and Ikeda-san for their time.