– The Next Shoe Drops with the Japanese Factories
Continuing our coverage of the restructuring reverberating through the Japanese amusement scene, and following on from January’s SEGA restructuring report, and the next major Japanese amusement factory comes under the spotlight. It was revealed by media service Siliconera, during February in BANDAI NAMCO Holding’s financial report (for the third quarter), that they would be undertaking major restructuring across all their divisions (units) which would take place during the period leading up to April 2021. This comes with the company having taken on series losses, the amount of which was not disclosed until later.
The translated report stated the BANDAI NAMCO ‘Gaming Busines’ unit would see restricting of key areas of business, resulting in a merger with the ‘Network Entertainment’ unit – it will be renamed the ‘Entertainment’ unit. The division currently encompasses the consumer game and network content (including the enza operation), as well as the emerging company eSports Initiative. The company is expected, after the restructuring, to announce a new strategic direction.
Concerning the corporation’s ‘Real Entertainment’ unit, encompassing amusement facility operation, amusement machine design and development, and management of satellite interests (such as BANDAI NAMCO Amusement), information was contained in a separate revision of consolidated projects which revealed the unit had experienced an extraordinary loss and had been heavily impacted (compiled by the COVID situation and other associated factors). It was revealed that the unit will undergo consolidation and concentration into a strong group. How this will impact amusement development and operation, let alone the satellites, was left to be seen with later developments.
The early ramifications of this have already started to be felt, even before the current Global Health Crisis decimated facility business revenue. The BANDAI NAMCO board closed the “Project i Can” VR facility business, represented by the flagship ‘VR ZONE Shinjuku’, and original ‘VR ZONE Tokyo Plaza’ facility. This also saw the heavily VR-inspired ‘MAZARIA’ facility shuttered (with no official word on the fate of the remaining sites). At the same time, the company has invested more in new brands – first with its new ‘VS Park’ sports facility brand, with plans to open their third new facility in AEON Mall Shinrifu in March 2021; and secondly, with the ‘Hugood’ anime and movie IP band brand, that opened its first facility in NAMJA Town, Tokyo. This is a totally new concept moving towards a non-amusement, brand IP specific, flagship store.
Obviously, no news if SEGA Amusement International (SAI) would even consider releasing the new tenth instalment of its Initial D racer in the West, let alone incorporate the crossover vehicles. The racing franchise was popular with Western players, seeing the last version of the game translated for international sales with the 2006 ‘Initial D Version 4’. However, the cabinet’s expense, and addition of a smart card element, proved unpopular with certain operators, and this was the last international outing, depriving a strong player base. Likewise, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement America (BNAA) saw some success with the Western release of their racer, with ‘Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 5’ in 2017 being the last support of the property. That was until January’s announcement by BNAA that they would be releasing a new North American tournament, called “The 4th Nagoya Area Online Champion Match”. Played on the four-year-old hardware with an updated game patch, the tournament ended just as the Japanese SEGA ‘Initial D’ cross over was about to start – though there was no acknowledgement of this release.
These moves come from a need to stay relevant for the Japanese developers who have seen popular consumer titles co-opting well-known IP into their properties. This is best illustrated by the mega-hit ‘Fornite’ adding other game characters to their mix, recently including Capcom’s ‘Street Fighter’ stalwarts Ryu and Chun-Li. With the current impact inflecting the Japanese amusement scene, it is expected that other partnerships, as well as the offloading of less profitable divisions, will be a factor in their future.
– Continuing Asian Virtual Expos (Japan)
Returning to the Japanese amusement factories, while weathering the overall storm of COVID restrictions, the fracture lines within the actual corporations were too deep, and this impact on revenue has proven to be a tipping point. For several operators in Tokyo and other Japanese cities, a new flare up of cases forced local governments to activate the re-locking down of entertainment businesses, adding to the pressure on these operations.
Another victim of the COVID conditions was the 9th Japan Amusement Expo (JAEPO), rebranded the ‘JAEPO2021 Online Business Meeting’. Emulating the rest of the industry, the organizers of the event and the Japan Amusement Industry Association (JAIA) reverted to a virtual (online) style convention, although the access outside of Japan was extremely limited. The Stinger Report would like to thank our sources in the area for supplying information on some of the key announcements and developments that were revealed from the behind the closed doors of the event.
One of the more accessible exhibitors was BANDAI NAMCO Amusement division, with their 2021 lineup. First off, a statement was made about ‘Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS.2 X Boost’, with its new cabinet the system being rolled out. Next up, ‘Taiko No Tatsujin’, with its popular drum music machine, was marking its 20th anniversary with the latest version of the platform, which offers a larger screen. Also, the game was released with “multilingual” support that saw English added, and it will be interesting to see if this could encourage a Western release? This was supported in the videos with ‘Ace Angler’, the latest version of the fishing simulator, with the latest version having improved features and game elements. ‘Mario Kart Arcade GP DX’ is the latest iteration of the popular cartoon racer, (loved by US Presidents alike). All the games are heavily supported by the BANDAPASSPORT card/app system. Although, in reality, the big news from BANDAI NAMCO mostly concerned the ramifications of their ongoing restructuring.