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Note: This post was originally written on August 16, 2012 in response to the announcement of Rockman Xover. It was updated on October 13 with a slightly more general tone to reflect new developments since then. It is still focused on Mega Man as I still feel it best epitomizes everything wrong with Capcom today.
When I read the post on Destructoid about a new game called Rockman Xover, I got a pretty good laugh. I laughed because I totally saw it coming and a lot of people are upset that the all-important silver anniversary of Mega Man is going to be celebrated with what looks to be a trashy cell phone game. I'm usually not one to judge on early appearances, but there's precedent for this one not looking like it's going to be a barn burner, and even the venerable Tony Ponce agrees. I've gone on record multiple times playing devil's advocate for issues like this. This time, I see a solution. Hear me out, because it's not going to be easy.
A lot of commenters on that post and the original source they cited are understandably farty over this announcement, claiming that Mega Man Legends 3 and Mega Man Universe were canned to make room for this and the infamous Mega Man X port on iOS, among other travesties, like they always do when a Mega Man thing is announced that isn't a new game. I think they're wrong, because Capcom made the right call pulling the plug on those projects when their hearts weren't in it. They know that a whole new game is too much for them to handle, so they don't do it. I'd rather have nothing at all if the developers would not have been proud of the result had they continued. For that reason, I tend to side with the developer when a game gets cancelled and I still do in these cases. I know what it's like to abort a project I invested a lot of time and effort into and how much it sucks, so I sympathize with the developer any time they announce a big cancellation. (Update: It's been suggested to me that their hearts actually were in it and it was cancelled because the executives wanted it dead, not the actual coders. If that's true, it doesn't change the points I'm about to make.)
It makes me churn a little when I see people not caring about the quality of a cancelled game because they just want to play it. They're the ones who enable Capcom to make sequels that do not need to be. But I'm getting off point. This isn't about sequels, it's about what led to this pitiful milestone release. This has been a long time coming, because for all the wrongdoing Capcom has been pulling the last few years, they got off relatively scot-free, if not a little worse for wear in reviews. Now that the big name developers and directors have bailed, maybe this is all they're capable of doing with Mega Man anymore. Predictably, early impressions for Rockman Xover are not looking good. Despite this, for the last few years, Capcom has gotten the idea that they can act with impunity because
1. The people who are boycotting or otherwise taking a stand against them aren't doing it right
2. There aren't enough people doing so
3. Sales figures are still counterbalancing any boycotting efforts
This is what happens when people don't properly punish a company that acts out of line. To this day, Capcom is getting money it should not be getting. Now everyone pays the price. By not completely starving Capcom of all profit, they are doing whatever they please and you all swallow it up (or so it seems to them anyway). When I say "you", I mean the gaming community as a whole, because the minority that knows what's what is being drowned out by the people who only talk in dollar signs. For all the people who complain, a few months later, Capcom announces some kind of remake or sequel of a series everyone used to like just to appease to the people calling them out. A shadow of their lofty greatness as opposed to the genuine article will restore their image, just like they did with Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and Darkstalkers and Marvel vs. Capcom recently, and no one learns a thing. Capcom will profit with this title (because Mega Man is still a big name franchise and "social RPGs" almost always make money) and the change that desperately needs to happen never will, because gamers are too short-sighted and selfish to effect any real change in the industry. If you don't like this, then buckle up because I'm going to tell you how to cause that change. And you have a lot of work to do.
I've observed something during this console generation which applies to every major gaming company that missteps more than a few times. No matter what happens, Capcom has enough diehard fans and casual fans who don't know any better to survive the worst beatings that those in the know have to offer. I recall the Wii version of Okami as a particular sticking point with the community at the time over failure to properly credit those involved in that port and even those who worked on the original game. Gamers took offense and a number of them vowed to boycott Capcom for their flagrant disrespect for the hard work of the individuals who worked on this game, but in the end, nothing happened. Okami on the Wii sold well enough and everyone forgot about it by the time the sequels came out. (Funny how Capcom's scramble to fix the infamous cover watermark was viewed as a token of respect before word of this got out.)
Earlier this year, there was a case regarding Dragon's Dogma where a junior developer was nearly driven to suicide, and people still bought the game even after the story broke. Whatever horrid working conditions caused that case live on because there's no incentive to change it -- that is, poor sales as a result of people boycotting Capcom out of principle, just like they didn't with Okami. Granted, this has more to do with Japanese business culture than Capcom and is on the same level as the people who refuse to shop at Walmart. I bet it happens all the time and this is a case that managed to make headlines. But since Capcom was outed for it, why not make an example of them?
After those missed opportunities to make a change, the failing I'm seeing is that gamers are saying Capcom should pay, but no one is doing anything to make them. People tell me that Capcom learned their lesson with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter X Tekken in regard to mishandling gamers' trust with their money (free 2013 update to the latter notwithstanding), and they also tell me I'm silly for thinking Capcom needs even more punishment. Yeah, Capcom has learned its lesson, which is why they're still going at it with these half-hearted cash grabs and suboptimal working conditions. Isn't that right, Yoshinori Ono? How is anyone going to learn anything with that kind of attitude?
Actions speak louder than words, and for years I've been seeing a whole lot of words and barely any action. Forgive the hypocrisy on my part, but I can't do it alone. You can't do it. One person cannot do it. Nor can a hundred. Nor can a thousand. Nor can a hundred thousand, no matter how strong they all think they are as a group. VGChartz shows that Capcom-published games routinely push millions of copies, even the "bad" ones likeResident Evil 6 that still broke the one million barrier. That's how many people we need to do it. Capcom is big, and we need to be bigger. Gamers need to all stand up at once and give them the biggest middle finger a Japanese gaming company has ever seen for any change to happen, because we've been taking it in the rear for far too long.
Unfortunately, with the way the industry is set up now, no one can communicate to the most important game companies and tell them off directly, never mind foreign companies. Community websites and Facebook pages are only for advertising, not for feedback. Yeah, bad feedback on social media has pressed Capcom to say they are reconsidering how they'll handle DLC in the future, but that's just more words.
(Update about Resident Evil 6: I don't want to have to bring up the fact that it has on-disc DLC because development on it started long before Capcom made the claim that they'll rethink that policy. I don't care that the DLC is free; this should never have happened in the first place. That said, it was going to happen eventually, like all potential ways to abuse monetization schemes, so it just sucks that it had to be a company with such a fine pedigree as Capcom.)
Speaking of words, petitions mean squat. They imply support for a cause other than the surgical extraction of everything wrong with a company, which in Capcom's case is probably no longer feasible. Let me digress here for a moment: Suppose a petition does work. We get one game, maybe a handful, the signers wanted. Then what? Does the company change in any meaningful way as a result of listening to the fans? Are more games in their vein promised immediately regardless of sales and the company's current direction just because the fans made their voices known when they should not have needed to in the first place? Or do the fans wait and write up another petition for the next game they decide is worth more than the company decides it's worth? Given how long the petition process takes, I just don't think it's worth the effort and I'd rather see that effort bettering the industry rather than racing toward short-term gains.
That tangent aside, we need unprecedented backlash to make Capcom turn over a new leaf, because like everyone else, I desperately want this bad Capcom to go away forever and a good Capcom, oreventheoldCapcomthatdidcoolthingsinthelastconsolegenerationandbefore, to appear in its place. But Exy, you're being too hard on them! Why kill the whole company off? Capcom still does good stuff once in a while. I know. Capcom was very good just a few years ago. I know this because of the lengths they went to to spread Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars around the planet. No one saw it coming, and Capcom did everything they could to make it work, and it totally did. They fixed the original up and even threw in new characters just because. They listened, even though it wasn't the most anticipated game of its season, and now few people play it anymore. (I believe it's due to poor timing, but I'm told that it was because it was on the one console most of the target audience didn't have, but that's for another article.) I can't emphasize enough just how much of a miracle Ultimate All-Stars is, and I feel it's been wasted. Who knows how long it'll be before we see such a defiance of region boundaries again?
Then something happened and Capcom got greedy. I don't know what that something was or how long it took, but here we are. Whatever trace of good is left in the current Capcom is being overshadowed far too heavily by the bad. The way the industry is set up, we can't help them differentiate. If we buy only what we want and not what we don't want, we will get more of the good. "Voting with your wallet," as gamers like to say, regardless of how fundamentally broken that concept is. (Gotta write that rant sometime.) Unfortunately, too many people buy everything regardless if it's good or bad. Since the undiscerning gamers who make up a majority of the paying customer base aren't being reached, this ideal has no chance of success. The people who don't know any better are voting with their wallets as well, and their votes outnumber yours. I don't care about what the reports say about games held up by DLC and/or gems, games farmed out to subpar contractors, and ill-advised cell phone remakes not selling well. That they're being developed at all means something is wrong higher up. Kenji Inafune and Shinji Mikami and now Seth Killian all jumped ship just before and even during this all went down, and people still held hope. That's all gone now.
Speaking of regions, I need to go back to something that's very personal to me: Voting with your wallet. Sure, it works fine for the usual domestic competitions of highly-rated games versus not-so-highly rated mediocrity, but how do you vote for a game that's not even in the ballot? But first, how do democracies work? Correct me if I'm wrong, but a big part of it is being able to vote out the people who run a state badly and then vote in good people, yes? When was the last time that happened with a game company? Who's going to tell the CEOs who keep companies from being supportive of their customers to go away just because a few hundred thousand people on the internet think they're Jerky McJerkfaces? Does anyone even know what the names of those Capcom executives are? Are they as bad as Bobby Kotick or even worse? Let's ignore the fact that we non-Japanese gamers shouldn't even have any votes in a Japanese ballot, so to speak, or even the fact that I have yet to suggest giving this article to the Japanese since they matter more to Japanese companies like I usually do. The only thing that ousts bad executives is major scandal, and below-average sales is not an example of it. Super bad sales, sure, but there needs to be a string of those, or something really, really bad. I'm talking Virtual Boy bad. You're not going to be able to just vote the problematic executives out, the people who actually make development decisions--not with your wallet, not with Facebook petitions, and certainly not with your internet posts. If there is actually a way to vote executives out, by all means go do it right now. But get all the shareholders to vote with you while you're at it.
I'm assuming the reader of this article is not a Capcom shareholder, so to go back to my previous point, the next best thing is to coordinate a number of people comparable to Capcom's VGChartz numbers to make a difference. The best example I can think of that many gamers working together to remove a problematic individual from gaming is Jack Thompson, and he's never even worked for a gaming company! Countless people contributed to his demise, exposing his misinformed attitudes on gaming, wearing away at his reputation and possibly his mental state, and culminating in disbarment. Why can't we use that synergy to fix a gaming company? Probably because unlike Jack Thompson, gaming companies can distract gamers from their cause with a game. It works every single time, as the biggest American game companies can attest. But that's a whole different battle.
There's hope, however, assuming the problems with Capcom are really all about the money as opposed to any respect for the Mega Man name. A comment on the Destructoid post from Tubatic gave me an idea:
"I propose a year long Game Jam in which people make tons of Mega Man sidescrollers. It's the only way to revive and reclaim it, I think. Capcom just isn't going there."
To which I replied, why not go all the way? Not only do we stand up all together and tell Capcom off, we should blatantly tread all over their copyright and sell such games en masse to send the message that people are willing to pay for them, even if they don't come from Capcom. Capcom doesn't get to see a cent of that money for something that belongs to them. (They don't care about it, right? Is that what you're trying to say, Exy?) Gamers think they vote with their wallets, so I further propose that those people who are still deluded into thinking that gaming is a democracy vote for write-in candidates. Disgruntled fans with talent and a drive to see this franchise retake its place in the top game series of all time should steal the franchise and hold it for ransom. Then we'll see just how much Capcom cares about Mega Man. The fans would essentially be detaining Mega Man against his will, but better for fans to do that than Capcom.
This will only work if:
1. A lot of developers participate in selling Mega Man "tributes" for profit
2. None of those developers give any proceeds to Capcom for any reason, be it respect, hope for a new good game, or anything else
3. A balance between such projects made out of spite to Capcom and out of tough love to them is made
4. At least one of them sells big and the developer openly brags about all the money he's making from a Mega Man fan product
That last point is the most important. A handful of the best Mega Man fan works needs to make bank and have everyone know it. After seeing Rockman 4 Minus Infinity, I have faith in the indie and hacker communities to make games good enough for this to work. As an even more compelling proof of concept, fans decided to make a playable mock-up of Rockman Xover in Flash based on currently available media and assets just to spite Capcom. This is exactly what I envisioned: People taking the fight straight to Capcom and not to the online forums where anything of consequence rarely occurs.
It's like what the old Japanese proverb says--and I'm paraphrasing here so correct me if I'm off--if a whole lot of people all illegally cross the street, none of them can get in trouble because there's too many of them. The same mindset needs to be applied to this Game Jam idea to have any effect. It will end in either a lot of lawsuits, a lot of buyouts, or desperation on Capcom's part, but if it's construed as a mass rebellion, it's my best idea to get Capcom to panic and rethink their strategy. Some people suggest that Capcom should sell the rights to Mega Man to a company that cares more about it. If they take Mega Man games to the heights seen in the best ROM hacks and fan games, then I would be for it. But the problem of Capcom being Capcom would still exist. It would be a half-fix: Mega Man gets a chance at redemption, while Capcom just has one less franchise to work with. I would rather all of it be fixed at once.
Mega Man needs to be taken by force if it's to get any better. Of course, this is a horrible idea--mostly because Capcom always has their other departments to make up the slack, not just because it's stupidly illegal--but Capcom is clearly hurting for cash whether they actually need it or not, so let's hit them where it counts. The title of this post is about fixing Capcom, but I really think we need to tear them down. There are just too many issues with this Capcom to expect a few fixes to make everything right. If this Capcom falls, the shock will be felt throughout the entire industry, like when Sega stopped making consoles. Again, Capcom is big, but we are bigger.
The best legal way to do this, of course, is to boycott. Let me tell you how. Three steps.
A lot of customers have claimed over the years on news posts that they are through with Capcom for some mistake they made. To me, this means cutting off all financial support completely. It's simple, really. If they get any money, they win. They interpret that statement as meaning that their current strategy is profitable, so there's no incentive to change. What you need to do is say no. No more appeasements. No more second chances. No buying anything of theirs on Virtual Console or whatever. No buying incremental upgrades for fighting games just to stay competitive. Nothing. This step is the easiest, but it is by no means easy or even the most important, as I'll explain below.
The next step is the most overlooked: Don't just stop buying anything Mega Man or anything Capcom, make sure everyone else stops too. Urge random civilians everywhere, in game shops, online, at gaming meetups, not to support Capcom. Educate them. Maybe we'll get a fraction of the millions of people needed to change Capcom this way. It's our best chance. I would predict a great many of them won't listen or won't help, but if you really want Capcom to change, you won't let that slow you down. This is what I took issue with most with Operation Rainfall. Their primary goal wasn't about convincing the gaming community at large that there needs to be significant change to the localization process, but rather about getting three games that appeal to JRPG and Wii owners. Now that they have them, they're resting on their laurels. And now people are questioning if the effort was worth it. Like I said in my spiel about petitions above, they should be focusing their efforts on fixing the industry, ideally from the inside out, not begging to it. Don't make their mistake -- Remember, this isn't about Mega Man, it's about the industry. Get everyone you can to join your cause. There is a lot more at stake here than a bunch of cancelled games and a hideous iOS "anniversary celebration." Why should we still have to expect mediocrity at this point? How can any of you get excited for Ace Attorney 5 when we're missing an entire game of investigating? Maybe it wasn't that great, but on principle we still should have seen a glimpse of it anyway.
Now here's the hardest--and most important--part: Stand strong and don't buy anything from Capcom, no matter how good the games are. It sounds like I'm repeating myself at this point, but this is where a great majority of boycotts fail: The boycotters let themselves be won over by announcements of new games. A lot of would-be boycotters don't seem to understand that getting excited for a new release is the opposite of a boycott. Still others hold the "Damn you Capcom, I want to boycott you so stop releasing games I'm going to buy" mentality. Even if tongue-in-cheek, that mentality is pushing us two steps back for every step forward. Then the whole process starts anew. Enough is enough. Say you're going to boycott Capcom, then stick to your guns. Resist the temptation to give them a dime. Give that money to talented fans instead, just as long as that money doesn't end up in Capcom's bank account. This isn't a vote, it's a protest.
When a boycott is done right, it hurts the executives and the other people poisoning the company from within, but it also hurts the programmers, it hurts the artists, it hurts the musicians, and most of all, it hurts you. It's sad and unfair to the hard-working employees and maybe even to you, the Capcom fan or ex-fan, but it's the only way -- after all, this is what boycotts do. There's going to be a lot of collateral damage, but it's that or allow Capcom to destroy themselves. This Capcom needs to know the suffering everyone involved had to put up with for years. Think about what they've gotten away with, all the people they hurt, all the disappointments and the times they cheated you, because they are not. No matter how painful it is for you, hurt them hard. Show no mercy, for they have none. If they announce a new game, hurt them by not caring. When the new game is released, hurt them by stifling week one sales. When DLC is announced, hurt them by not buying it. Every time this happens, hurt them again and again. Once they're on their knees begging for another chance, hurt them more. Hurt them because you love them. If you really care about Mega Man, then hurt Capcom for all the times they hurt Mega Man. If you love Street Fighter or Resident Evil or Devil May Cry or what have you, hurt them for what they did to those series. Hurt them for every old Capcom series you love that has not been given a chance this generation. If you care about Capcom, hurt them for all the times they hurt their customers and their employees. Hurt them nonstop until their bad influences are completely driven out, and then we can rebuild with whatever's left. Hopefully, the affected programmers and artists and musicians will take Kenji Inafune and Shinji Mikami's lead and find better companies that are more than willing to take them in, and then they can hurt Capcom as well. For all I know, maybe that's what a lot of them want. If you're a Capcom employee or ex-employee and you're reading this, I'm sorry if it made you feel bad. Most likely, this isn't your fault. But I'm not one for third chances.
If it sounds like I'm saying Capcom is beyond hope, notice how I've been using the term "this Capcom" throughout this post. I believe this Capcom has been corrupted from the one I grew up with, the old one I mentioned earlier. I don't like this Capcom and it pains me to see Capcom fans supporting them. This Capcom is not Capcom. This Capcom is the enemy. This Capcom did not give the world Mega Man X, Street Fighter IV, Resident Evil 4, or Mega Man Legends. Instead, this Capcom gave us Mega Man X on iOS, Street Fighter X Tekken, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, and now Rockman Xover. This Capcom would never have given us Ultimate All-Stars. The only thing that will stop it is a mercy killing, not just a mild prolonged sting.
If Capcom dies tomorrow, then we can start talking recovery tomorrow. Clearly, no one at Capcom is listening now. If alarmingly low sales is what they need to reconsider anything they're doing, then so be it. Something is seriously wrong with Capcom and it's not going away without a fight. We can only claim victory once the people who made Capcom what it is now leave Capcom forever, or ideally, retire from the game industry forever. Once they're gone, only then will Capcom be able to find new direction, pick up the pieces, and win any fans back for good. It will be a slow, grueling process, but it can happen. It can happen when everyone in the world wants it to happen. I want it to happen. Let's make it happen. And if you don't want to shoulder that responsibility, don't interfere with the people who want this Capcom to perish.
But of course, none of this is going to work. I'm just as ineffectual at getting millions of people around the world to listen as the best games writers are, and that's to say nothing of speaking to Japanese gamers, even if some of them do agree already that this game is the beginning of the end. And for that, I am truly sorry. I'm sorry for wasting your time with bitter rambling and dangerous ideas. I'm just as naive as everyone else involved. I've asked too many questions and the few answers I gave are not very encouraging, but I felt they had to be said. I don't know if any of this has a chance of reaching out to the people who can fix Capcom or can get enough people to get the process started. All I know is this: Capcom used to be good. Now they are not. I refuse to accept that this Capcom is Capcom. They are an evil that must be slain by any means necessary. Boycotting is so hip these days, but no one knows how to do it anymore. Until they learn, everything is for naught.
All things considered, this is probably not the last straw for the fraction of the fanbase that can make this plan go, which is truly tragic since this means that this sad story will only continue. But once you've decided that enough is enough, this article will be here for you. I've said it too many times already, but things will get worse before they get better, and they need to. If you don't think so, if you want to show me that not everyone has to suffer to make things right, if you want to be the change, then prove me wrong. I beg you. But at the end of the day, the real question is this: What is it going to take for gamers to snap and take an actual stand? How much lower can Capcom go? What will Capcom at its most pathetic look like? Are they really getting close to hitting rock bottom? I don't want to think about the answers to these questions. I want them solved before we ever get there. But then again, I am naive.
Note 1: For the record, I just want to say that I'm not the sort who cares very much for milestones and anniversaries. They're great when a game released on an anniversary happens to be very good because we humans like assigning sentimental importance to nice, round numbers, but the pressure to not miss anniversaries for frankly unimportant things is like a big arbitrary deadline. I bet Nintendo did nothing for Metroid's big one this year because they didn't have anything good to offer in time. Better that than, say, Other M part 2.
Note 2: I don't want to suggest that you bomb Amazon and Metacritic reviews with unfairly low scores for legitimately good games because I think that's extremely petty and unproductive, but if that actually hurts them, don't let me stop you.