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Thread: Legends of 16-Bit Game Development [new book!]

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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Genesis Legends of 16-Bit Game Development [new book!]

    I'm writing a book that might interest some people here:

    Legends of 16-Bit Game Development: A History of Treasure and the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis



    This is based on extensive research I've done in Japanese, and the book is full of new information on the history of Treasure that (in my opinion) is really exciting.

    You can read an excerpt here:

    Hideyuki Suganami and the Birth of Seven Force

    The book is currently on Kickstarter, so if you're interested, please support it! I can't make this a reality without a lot of help.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects...me-development

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    Social Justice Ninja Master of Shinobi IrishNinja's Avatar
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    this looks dope, i love books like this. good luck with the kickstarter man!


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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Thanks! If it's half as fun to read as it is to write, then I think everybody's going to enjoy it!

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    Zebbe's Avatar
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    I will never forgive humanity if this doesn't get funded.

    By the way, I always thought the characters of the first boss in Gunstar Heroes were inspired by the Grandis Gang in Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water.

    Last edited by Zebbe; 11-19-2020 at 02:21 PM.
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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zebbe View Post
    By the way, I always thought the characters of the first boss in Gunstar Heroes were inspired by the Grandis Gang in Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water.
    Yes, someone else asked me about this, and it's certainly possible there was an influence there. But the Nadia villains are homages to the Time Bokan villains, so it's all connected. Maegawa responded to a fan asking about it in 2004 by saying "The first stage boss Pink, Kain, and Kotarou are definitely based on the Time Bokan series. The developers were of course aware of that when they made the boss."

    https://sega.jp/fb/album/12_gunstar/memories.html

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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    The KickStarter is off to a good start, but it still needs your help!

    I will be posting some cool Treasure related info on Twitter but will cross-post some here:


    What was it like on the business side of running a development company in Japan?

    Treasure president Masato Maegawa recounted the time he was called into Sega president Hayao Nakayama's office...

    It was early 1995, shortly after the release of Dynamite Headdy. The value of the yen had just suddenly risen to a historical high against the US dollar, meaning all sales in the US now brought in much less money in Japan. Many Japanese companies, including Sega, were suffering.

    Maegawa had already signed the contract for Dynamite Headdy: Sega paid ¥50 million (~$500,000) up front for development, plus ¥300 (~$3) royalty per copy sold in both Japan and the US. Notably, Sega was paying in yen per copy sold in the US rather than in dollars. However...

    Sega president Nakayama called Maegawa into his office and said he was unilaterally revising the contract, despite the game already being released. For per-copy sales in the US, he crossed out ¥300 and wrote in $2.4.

    It was necessary to switch to dollars, Nakayama said, because the appreciation of the yen would put Sega into the red otherwise. Maegawa was flabbergasted, since the revision would cost Treasure a lot of money, but he had no power to prevent it.

    Nakayama made Maegawa stamp his hanko seal next to the changes to show he approved of them, even though Maegawa was thinking to himself, "This is illegal!" But he had no recourse if he wanted to continue working with Sega.

    Maegawa later found out that despite this experience, Sega was perhaps the most generous publisher when it came to overseas sales. Many publishers would reduce the overseas royalty to 1/5 of what it was in Japan, making it hard for developers to profit from high sales outside Japan.

    Source: Game Business Archive 3, 2019

    If stories like these interest you, please consider supporting the book!

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    Master of Shinobi Mega Drive Bowlsey's Avatar
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    This looks great and I know you as somebody who prides himself on good research. I will check out your kickstarter.

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    Blast processor Melf's Avatar
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    Backed! I hope this gets funded.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingOutrunner
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post

    Maegawa later found out that despite this experience, Sega was perhaps the most generous publisher when it came to overseas sales. Many publishers would reduce the overseas royalty to 1/5 of what it was in Japan, making it hard for developers to profit from high sales outside Japan.
    I find this to be interesting. Do you know if special deals were put in place for games that were developed exclusively for international release? This makes me think of Dynowarz on the NES, and it's kind of sad. Not only because the game sucked, but the developers may have lost a ton of money on top of making a bad game.

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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BubsyFan1 View Post
    I find this to be interesting. Do you know if special deals were put in place for games that were developed exclusively for international release? This makes me think of Dynowarz on the NES, and it's kind of sad. Not only because the game sucked, but the developers may have lost a ton of money on top of making a bad game.
    Each contract with each publisher was different, so it's difficult to know.

    Developers weren't necessarily losing money because a game didn't sell well, though. Typically, an independent developer could either 1) contract with a publisher or 2) self-publish (and this could be mixed, such as self-publishing in Japan but contracting for the overseas release). Self-publishing was really only available to established companies with funds to support a large staff, and it was risky since there was no buffer to protect against losses from poorly received releases. Technosoft is an example of a rather small company that self-published, but they couldn't weather the tougher market in the late 90s.

    If a developer was contracting with a publisher, they were likely being paid up front. In many cases, the publisher dictated the game to be developed (either a port or a licensed title), although developers could also make proposals to publishers. So even if the game didn't sell well, the developer was being paid. In the case of Treasure, Sega paid them ~$500,000 per game on the MD, which was very generous (other developers reported Sega paying ~$200,000 or $300,000 per game). Of course, if a developer's games continuously failed to turn a profit, the publisher probably wouldn't keep working with them.

    The ~$3 royalty per copy sold that Maegawa mentioned is in addition to the lump sum development payment. In a way, it represents a bonus for making a game that sells well. It was also a key to growth, so low sales could hurt developers in the end. But yeah, the publisher would pay the developer a lump sum and then the publisher would basically take control of the game and market/release it as they saw fit.

    The marketing and release of the game was pretty much out of the hands of the developer. Treasure, for instance, had no say in the fact that Sega of America didn't really advertise Gunstar Heroes at all, or that Sega in Japan only produced 10,000 copies for the release day and failed to come anywhere close to meeting the demand.

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    Nameless One otobo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    [...]Sega in Japan only produced 10,000 copies for the release day and failed to come anywhere close to meeting the demand.
    That's interesting as well. It makes me wonder, how many copies of a commercially successful Mega Drive game were expected to be sold in Japan at the time of Gunstar Heroes' release?
    The console is so often portrayed as a commercial failure in its country of birth that I'm not sure how strongly even its hit games games were marketed and produced at that time.

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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by otobo View Post
    That's interesting as well. It makes me wonder, how many copies of a commercially successful Mega Drive game were expected to be sold in Japan at the time of Gunstar Heroes' release?
    The console is so often portrayed as a commercial failure in its country of birth that I'm not sure how strongly even its hit games games were marketed and produced at that time.
    The best-selling MD game in Japan was Sonic the Hedgehog, with 400,000 copies sold.

    The other top Sega-published titles, including games like Puyo Puyo, Shining Force, and Landstalker, sold around 200,000 to 300,000 copies.

    In the most general terms, probably 75% of a game's sales came in the first month of its release (based on magazine sales charts). So for a game that Sega expected to do very well, like Landstalker, they would have manufactured hundreds of thousands for the release, since it would take at least weeks to manufacture more.

    In the case of Gunstar Heroes, 10,000 copies likely represented the break-even point. It suggests that the Sega manager making the decision didn't have faith it would sell and didn't want to go into the red with a bunch of unsold copies. But the hype surrounding Gunstar Heroes at the time in gaming magazines was huge, so I think that was a pretty big miss on Sega's part.

    In the end, Gunstar Heroes sold 70,000 copies in Japan and about 200,000 copies overseas. So 1/4 of its sales were in Japan.

    It's definitely not the case that the MD was a commercial failure in Japan - it just didn't reach the heights that it potentially could have.

    For developers of the time, the MD's install base of 3 million consoles in Japan represented more than enough to generate a decent profit, since development costs were still extremely low then (this would change big time with the next generation). That is one reason Treasure decided to develop for the MD rather than the SNES. A small developer didn't really stand a chance on the SNES in Japan: they had to compete against the biggest companies in the industry (Enix, Square, Nintendo, Capcom, etc.) under Nintendo's terms, and the SNES users were more casual and bought fewer games (at least by smaller developers).

    It made more business sense for a capable small developer like Treasure to target the MD's more hardcore users.

    And in 1993, the SNES had sold 9 million consoles in Japan compared to 3 million for the MD, so the numbers weren't overwhelmingly different.

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    Nameless One otobo's Avatar
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    Thanks, great to get some perspective on this.

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    Zebbe's Avatar
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    I read somewhere Shining in the Darkness sold 300 000 copies in Japan alone, and that they had the same tight budget for Shining Force, which is quite crazy if the former is true. Did Sega favor some developers over others?
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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zebbe View Post
    I read somewhere Shining in the Darkness sold 300 000 copies in Japan alone, and that they had the same tight budget for Shining Force, which is quite crazy if the former is true. Did Sega favor some developers over others?
    That info comes from Hiroyuki Takahashi of Sonic Software - I think he hints that they were getting something like $300,000 per game from Sega, which was much less than Treasure's $500,000. But Treasure of course came onto the scene later, when Sega was at the height of their revenue explosion, so the generous contract Treasure got likely reflected that. But I don't think it was related to Sega favoring some developers over others. In the eyes of Sega president Hayao Nakayama, contracting with Takahashi was one of the greatest things they had done at the time, and he praised Takahashi profusely. Takahashi did say that Sega didn't really have a clear system in place at the time for working with so-called independent 2nd party developers, so there were a lot of inconsistencies in pay and such. I guess it was luck of the draw?

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