Finally an excuse to post an image of Quint
If you’re anything like me, you may be wondering “when’s the next Mega Man game?” every waking moment of every single day. Mega Man 11 released in September 2018 - yeah, it’s been over three years already - and we still don’t know anything concrete about the next game in the series. What’s the hold up? Surely the good old days of consistent new releases are just around the corner, right?
Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. Still, I believe 2022 may prove to be an interesting year for Mega Man. It may end up being one of the most important years in the series history; a year that determines the fate of the series for decades to come.
Before we go on this journey, I must warn you: I do not have any special insight into the inner workings of Capcom or its employees. I am simply speculating based off of currently available information and a vague familiarity of how larger media companies operate. On some of these points, I actually hope I’m completely wrong. Now that your expectations are thoroughly whelmed, let’s proceed.
The first step you must take to reach Mega Man enlightenment is to understand how the bigshots at Capcom think about Mega Man in their portfolio. Mega Man 11 wasn’t just the first new Mega Man game in a while, it was part of a much larger effort of kicking off Mega Man as a major brand. Mega Man spent most of the past decade in glorified hibernation, and reawakening it from slumber takes some work to execute in the way a large company would want to do it.
The idea of “brand” is key when it comes to understanding the moves Capcom makes with Mega Man. Capcom wants to grow Mega Man’s status as a brand first and foremost, and that goal trumps traditional metrics of success like game sales. For example, pay close attention to the language Capcom’s PR used when talking about Mega Man X Legacy Collection sales:
“Mega Man X Legacy Collection, Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 and Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1+2 (for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC in all three cases) performed well thanks to a dedicated fan base and strong brand capabilities”
In other words, yeah, the collections made some money, but Capcom felt the actual important part to highlight was that it made money due to a “dedicated fan base and strong brand capabilities.” In other words, they recognize that Mega Man X has a built-in audience they can rely and expand upon for future money-making endeavors.
If you look at other press releases from Capcom specifically about Mega Man, they tell a similar story. Let’s energize the brand with a new movie! Look at how we’re using our brand! Brand, brand, brand! Remember that weird Mega Man cartoon that kinda came and went? Even if you don’t, that was also a weird attempt to grow the brand.
I should note that Capcom makes similar PR releases for nearly all of their titles. With Mega Man, though, these releases follow a particular trend. None of these press releases boast about massive amounts of copies sold like the ones Monster Hunter or Resident Evil get. The discrepancy largely comes from the fact Mega Man games don’t sell units on that level. As of the time of writing, Capcom reports that Mega Man 11 has only sold a paltry 1.4 million units. That figure makes it the second best selling Mega Man game ever. Chump change compared to something like Monster Hunter Rise, which only released last year and sold about five times that.
However, the fact that Mega Man 11 did not sell twelve quadrillion copies in a month does not mean it was some massive failure. Relative to series history, the game performed well, something Capcom’s sales reports for the game noted. The goal here was not to make big money off of individual video game releases - at least not yet. Rather, the company hopes to utilize Mega Man 11 as a way to slowly build the brand up so that it can eventually sell copies on that level.
I believe Capcom primarily aimed to do two things with Mega Man 11: (1) provide a relative-to-the-series big number to put on their Platinum Titles list, demonstrating that the brand can be relevant in the modern day, and (2), increase the big number of total units the series as a whole has sold, which Capcom also keeps track of on their investor website.
With numbers like these, Capcom attracts more opportunities for Mega Man from investors and collaborators alike to grow the brand further. The more the brand grows, the better future games are likely to perform, and the more money that can be made through other methods.
While monetizing and expanding the brand usually extends beyond game releases, there are still other routes that can be taken within the space of games. Those Mega Man X collections discussed earlier were released in the summer of 2018. Unrelated, but about a year afterwards, Capcom announced Mega Man X DiVe, a mobile game developed by Capcom’s Taiwan branch.
Ok, I lied. It’s actually Xtremely related. Mega Man X DiVe may look like a cash-grab transparently meant to exploit dedicated fans for money, and that’s because it is. That’s the plan. After all, Mega Man X Legacy Collection’s performance assured Capcom that there was an audience willing to be exploited, as long as you plaster Mega Man X on the product. Although the game traveled a rocky road to release in the west, it appears that Capcom has finally settled on a method to do so, and has begun pushing its release in earnest. I would not be shocked to see this game hit Switch fairly soon.
X DiVe also won’t be holding down the mobile front alone. The word on the Undernet is that Capcom has been hard at work on a Battle Network mobile game, too. Traditionally, Capcom hasn’t had much success in the mobile market, so I find it notable that with Mega Man of all things, they are choosing to double down.
Current Mega Man series producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya previously provided hope for a Mega Man sub series like Mega Man X and Battle Network, broadly talking about “not wanting to deny any series its future.” I think just about everyone reading that quote used it as fuel for their imaginations, thinking all the sub series’ could be candidates for revival, just like how Mega Man 11 revived the “classic” series of games.
Here’s the bad news. I hate to break it to anyone expecting Capcom to consistently deliver high-quality new entries to all their favorite Mega Man sub series’, but stuff like these phone games are more likely what Mr. Tsuchiya meant, and certainly more in line with what Capcom wants for the brand going forward.
The video game market and logistics of releasing games has changed dramatically in the past two decades, especially for giant corporations like Capcom. Putting out console games proves to be a much more difficult and time consuming process than it was in the past. Don’t just take my word for it. Here is an excerpt from Mega Man figurehead Mr. Keiji Inafune himself lamenting this reality over a decade ago, shortly after his departure from Capcom:
Keiji Inafune (KI): Particularly, for example, “Is 500 thousand copies sold in Japan enough?” If you look at the numbers, 500 thousand copies sold is great, and that might get you 2 billion yen ($25 million). After paying for development costs, promotion, corporate expenses, and business overhead… Thinking about all of that, 2 billion yen really doesn’t cover it.
4Gamer (4G): Of course, PS3-level blockbusters will run 2 or 3 billion yen ($25-37.5 million). But if you’re a producer, what do you do when you see those kind of numbers? Obviously it’ll vary from person to person.
KI: Well, if you actually see the numbers, going more global is an absolute must. So for the PS3, 500 or 600 thousand copies is considered a hit right now. With those numbers, it’s not like you can cover ever-increasing development costs.
4G: One would think that people would be more aware of this. Is it just naïveté?
4G: Hmm… Lately, looking closely at each company’s financial reports, even Capcom made a profit of 8 billion yen ($100 million) last year (reporting term: March 2009). To briefly mention cashflow issues, it’d be impossible for a company making a profit of 8 billion yen to have several 2 or 3 billion yen projects at a time.
KI: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
Games have only gotten more expensive to make, even traditionally small-scale ones like Mega Man titles. These days, free-to-play microtransaction-filled phone games occupy a similar slot in Capcom’s balance sheet as the myriad of Mega Man games used to back in the 90s and early 2000s. They were relatively cheap, low-risk projects that provided decent returns and consistent revenue.
This change shouldn’t come as a surprise, either, as Capcom already attempted this pivot in the past. Fans from the dark era post-2010 may remember Mega Man Xover, the much maligned mobile game that received such a harsh beating from fans that their reaction was cited on the record as delaying the game’s release in western territories.
To be clear, a lot happened during this time period. Mr. Inafune, a high-up employee who heavily pushed for continued Mega Man releases while at Capcom, left the company, and in the wake of that departure many Mega Man projects were abandoned, and the future of the series became unclear. Capcom had likely already wanted to move on from the old model of Mega Man releases due to dwindling returns, and now no one in a high-up position held back that change. Unfortunately for Capcom, fans were upset at how the series was being handled at this point, so Xover didn’t work out.
I suspect at least part of the role Mega Man 11 played, beyond just providing a nice number to light up the series path towards the future, was to placate people. Capcom’s people knew that rushing into another mobile game without repairing their reputation a little would likely end with another Xover scenario. By releasing a relatively “safe” game in line with what fans traditionally want and expect from Mega Man, the general audience may be more willing to open their hearts (and wallets) for another cash-grab phone game.
Seemingly, that’s exactly what happened. I certainly haven’t seen X DiVe receive nearly the same amount of abuse or vitriol as Xover. With X DiVe’s future stabilized and a Battle Network companion on the way, I expect phone games to remain an important pillar for Mega Man going forward.
Of course, phone games can’t replace console games altogether, and we already know a new console Mega Man should be on the way. What’s up with that? Let’s head back to the Undernet for a bit. Or maybe this is the Secret Area? Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to do anything goofy to unlock the next paragraph. Aside from continuing to read my writing.
Capcom suffered a large data leak in 2020, and among other things, details about the next major move for Mega Man were discovered. The next title, known as Rockman Taisen, roughly translated as “Mega Man Match,” should supposedly be on the way this year. Great, so what is a Mega Man Match?
I dunno, dude, I can only speculate; I warned you about that from the start. Okay, I may know a few things, but due to this information’s legally dubious nature I need to be careful to avoid the dreaded CapCops.
Allegedly, I heard that allegedly some guy who allegedly looked at an alleged leaked Capcom data slide said that Mega Man Match’s sales expectations are allegedly very high - higher than any game in the series so far. Allegedly. And it may have an appropriately high budget to match. Nothing to see here, officer.
Simply based on the numbers involved with this game’s production, I highly doubt this new game will just be another typical Mega Man platformer. I suspect that there is a soft cap on how much a more traditional game like that can really sell at this point. Mega Man 11 was given plenty of room to breathe and probably pushed that number close to as far as it can go. If Capcom wants to aim much higher, they won’t settle for doing a straightforward follow-up.
My guess: Mega Man Match will be some kind of action RPG (possibly with platformer elements) that can easily launch into a multimedia brand. Looking back on Mega Man as a whole, I think Capcom was happiest with the brand when Mega Man Battle Network reigned supreme. I bet that they would love to have something like that again, because it really had it all: Pokémon-like appeal, relatively accessible gameplay, competitive multiplayer, and the ability to capture kids’ imaginations with its vision of a future where the internet was fully integrated into people’s lives.
The problem with simply bringing Battle Network back lies in the fact that, at this point, its vision of the future has become a little dated. For some reason, Capcom thought constant exposure to the internet would be cool, and you could be friends with your phone while not having it feel like it’s just collecting your data to sell to corporations. Okay, those probably aren’t the problems per se, but other things do make it feel off. It would make sense to instead create something that carries the same spirit, while being more likely to connect to a modern audience.
A larger scale and dramatically different type of game would certainly explain why it appears to be taking so long. According to the leaked Capcom slides, Match should be released this year. With the COVID pandemic pushing a lot of plans back, who knows if it really will. I still expect that the game will at least be announced, however, and that will be a true make-or-break moment for the series.
In many ways, Mega Man’s future hinges on the success of this next game. If the response is poor and Mega Man’s reputation goes backwards or stagnates, a future may not be in the cards. Mega Man historically prevailed due to low budget, low risk releases. Mega Man Match, in turn, may be the biggest risk the series will ever take. It will be interesting to see how this saga unfolds, to say the least.
Say they take this route, or some other dramatically different route. Would that mean the traditional Mega Man platformer dies out completely? Not necessarily.
It would be a major waste to lay a solid foundation with Mega Man 11 and then never make a game reusing everything that it established. I’d argue such a decision runs entirely contrary to the spirit of Mega Man. Evidence points towards such a project being possible, at least.
One last trip to the Undernet…although perhaps this is more like checking behind one of those WWW gates in the post-game. Mega Man 11 apparently had a specific DLC branch in its files referring to developer 8ing, a longtime Capcom collaborator. Could plans for DLC have instead been moved to a potential Mega Man 12? Maybe!
Smaller, outsourced releases like a Mega Man 12 may occasionally fill in the gaps that larger projects like Mega Man Match will create. Collections help fill in gaps too, although that well will run dry sooner than later. Still, I don’t see entirely new releases ever coming at the rate they used to back in the 90s or 2000s. Even if these smaller traditional games do manifest, they themselves will be as sporadic as the big releases.
I realize I may be painting a bleak picture here. Phone game saturation, drawn-out and sporadic releases, Mega Man moving away from what he’s known for…it kinda sucks, right? The end results may turn out fine on their own merits, but those things aren’t what I want from Mega Man, or why I wanted the series to return. I won’t go full apologist and tell you “well, that’s just how it’s gotta be because Capcom is a big company and numbers must go up!” That is not how it has to be, that is just how Capcom chooses to operate its business at this moment in time.
If they really wanted to, I believe Capcom could rearrange their business practices and goals to accommodate a strategy that does more to satisfy fans and still make money. The question at the end of the day would be how much money, and with games being so expensive, I understand such a strategy may be difficult to balance. There’s no particularly great answer to this conundrum, and frankly, the decisions have already been made, so it doesn’t really matter.
For me, Mega Man’s greatest strength lies in its ability to inspire imagination and passion. Mega Man started with a small group of developers working passionately against the odds to make it a success. As early as the second game, those developers directly reached out to the fans to inspire their imaginations with its boss contest. From there, consistent releases ensured that kids could be introduced to, and remain connected with the series as they grew up.
Even if the games were never huge sellers individually, as a collective, they impacted a lot of people deeply. I worry that if Capcom goes all-in on drawn-out, large-scale releases and exploitative phone games, that more personal connection will gradually erode. Mega Man may eventually become the soulless product that his massive catalog of releases made outsiders assume it was. That would be a shame, so whatever the future of Mega Man ends up being, I hope it will be handled with care.