Writing a Case Study

I joined Namco in 1987. Realizing that to increase relevancy with North American players, Namco would need a piece of the fighting game market. Observing the genre for years, I saw the potential from a business perspective. Like a SWOT analysis, I analyzed the top fighting games for their strengths and weaknesses, what opportunities could be exploited and what market forces were in play. Sources included player interviews, sales estimates, earnings reports and domain knowledge.

The main points in my report to Namco Japan:

    • Head-to-head competition: Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter had firmly established the competitive fighting genre. The social interaction and competitive nature of these games were both infectious and empowering for players. Average playtime was short (2 min or less), meaning a high turnover and more money in the cashbox.
    • Hand-to-hand combat with an emphasis on real-world fighting techniques: Close hand-to-hand fighting was more intense and drove higher moment-to-moment action. The long-range attacks in Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were to me less important.
    • Skill-based, not a button-masher: Emphasize skill and technique. Easy enough to play for beginners, but empowering and deep enough for skilled players. Include depth in joystick and button combinations to create a wide variety of moves. 
    • Avoid gratuitous violence: Fighting was the main attraction, but be careful not to cross the line. Mortal Kombat went over the top with fatalities, where a fighter would rip out the spinal cord of an opponent as a final “piece de resistance”. Even Namco’s own Splatterhouse took it too far. The subject of violence in gaming was on center stage. Members of US Congress, media, cities and states were doing their best to moderate it through censorship and the closing of arcades. Some countries went so far as to ban games with excessive violence.
    • Dark-themed, edgy look and feel: Mortal Kombat featured a dark, evil backdrop and story that was a large part of its appeal. This was in stark contrast to the often plastic, pastel-colored anime style found in Namco’s games. The ability to emotionally engage players was successful in Mortal Kombat and even Splatterhouse.
    • Price and configuration: A list of competitive prices included Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II. Upright cabinets and kit games (PCB, game controls, artwork, documentation) were the core of the American market. The game had to be priced right to reach street locations.
    • Arcade collection reports showed the dominance of the fighting game genre and specific fighting games in American game rooms. It was not just a passing fad.

NCL’s management was intrigued in the concept, but definitely not sold. Few American games ever succeeded in Japan. We shipped a Mortal Kombat II to Japan for testing, where to no surprise it failed. We used to think it was a conspiracy how Japanese players would reject American games. But the failed test planted a seed that would later prove beneficial. Japan has always been very good at taking something American and modifying it to become Japanese.

Come to Japan and Pitch the Idea

Namco Ltd. Headquarters

Namco Ltd. Headquarters

A week prior to the 1993 JAMMA Show, Frank informed me I would be joining the contingent visiting Japan. Together we would pitch the fighting game idea at the large group meeting. Masaya Nakamura, R&D and the sales department would attend this meeting. No pressure. An imposing figure, Mr. Nakamura commanded respect. Within the company, he’s referred to as “kaicho”, meaning “chairman”. He is regarded by many as the father of the Japanese video game industry.

In the meeting, my report was just one of many items on the agenda. It had already been distributed to the appropriate staff, so it was just a confirmation of key facts. The project was not verbally “green lit”, but we felt affirmation from the group. It was my first meeting with Mr. Nakamura, Toru Iwatani (Pac-Man) and Kazunori Sawano (Galaxian). That alone was hugely gratifying.

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7 Responses to Tekken History: The Making of Tekken

  1. Stephanie says:

    How fabulous to be integral to this successful venture with your vision. I enjoyed this story. Great product manager!

  2. Geoff Glendenning says:

    Hi Jerry, great article!!! I loved Tekken at the arcade and launched it on PS1 when I was at Sony EMEA.

    Here’s the commercial we did back in 1996:)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apfJTKrHy10

    When Soul Edge, although I know it as Soul Blade, was released, I thought it was, and still is arguably the best fighting game. Not simply because it had the 3D freedom of the arena (Battle Arena Toshinden, which was an early PS1 release had this), but it was more that with practice you could actually block your opponents moves, not by accident, but because of the brilliant design and control.

    I believe that this genre is ready for a new lease of life!?

    Cheers. Geoff

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Awesome commercial Geoff! That Yoshimitsu is one bad man! Nice technical work on Yoshimitsu’s sit spins.

      I’m partial to Tekken as #1, but you can understand why. Tekken definitely is ready for a “new lease on life” as you say. Been waiting for some true innovation in the category. Soul Calibur may have missed the boat by not capitalizing on “Game of Thrones”, but that was (and still could be) a window of opportunity.

  3. tekke_n_ostalgia says:

    Great read. In a bout of nostalgia I started to play Tekken 1 again and found it very enjoyable to play the characters with the moves that defined them then and now in many ways, and reading this and the recommended articles made me appreciate Tekken even more.

    Reading the text I noticed that you gave Marshall Law his name, do you maybe remember why that name in particular?

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Thanks for reading! If memory serves me right, Marshall Law was originally named Forest. At the time, who knew there would be sequels? I suggested the name Marshall Law because it was a play on the term “martial law”. Quoting Wikipedia, “martial law is the imposition of direct military control of normal civilian functions of government, especially in response to a temporary emergency such as invasion or major disaster, or in an occupied territory”. I also thought of both U.S. Marshall (law enforcement agency), and a town marshall, the keeper of the peace in western movies. Familiar with the name Marshall used as both a first and last name, I thought it was perfect. And fortunately, Mr. Nakatani (producer) approved it.

      Mr. Ishii designed an absolute masterpiece. At the outset of joining Namco in 1993, I saw potential for a fighting game to compete with Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter. As I read the initial design document, and the four-button arms/feet concept, I thought it was brilliant. But if not for the System 11 3D hardware (less expensive version of System 12 and a precursor to PS1), I question if Tekken would have been as successful.

      Thank you for your appreciation of the game.

      • tekke_n_ostalgia says:

        Thank you for taking the time to respond!

        Law’s name always did remind me of Matrial Arts, and the word Law as “the one who rules”, or as “the one who is the best”, so “best martial art/artist”.

        Also, thank you for sharing this, yet another important gem in the lore.

        And their ability to also port it to PS1 hardware and fit all that onto a CD is amazing. So many stars had to be aligned and many people open minded for that to succeed, it boggles the mind.

        For me it was indeed the mix of unique characters that made me notice the game, and the controls that made me stick to the game.

        I remember recording VHS tapes of endings, and grabs as a compilation just to make the wait until next renting of PS1.

        To see Tekken grow into such a powerful title and to grow along side it as well is an honor.

        And I can’t even begin to imagine how awesome it feels to be there contributing, suggesting and deciding at the most crucial of the times for Tekken, well done sir! 🙂

        • Jerry Momoda says:

          Thanks for your comments and appreciation of Tekken. I’ll expand a bit more for you on the early development. Shortly after returning from Japan where I pitched the game concept, I received a key VHS tape. It contained a test, showing a rotating blocky human torso. Crude and not a game whatsoever, it affirmed that my presentation had an impact on management. Engineering commenced work on a project that would one day would become Tekken. Mind you, Namco wasn’t the first to the 3D game party. Sega had already released Virtua Racer and Virtua Fighter. Until Tekken, Namco’s 3D efforts were all in the high-end driving game genre. For a fighting game to sell in North America, it had to be sold in a standard upright cabinet. Better yet, it needed to be kit-able to reuse older game cabinets. Bottom line, price competitive so that it could be sold as a PCB with artwork. Namco delivered, and a battle for 3D gaming superiority would ensue.

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