Harada on Tekken, Soul Calibur, and the Changing Corporate Landscape

Recently, Katsuhiro Harada of Tekken fame posted a [lengthy tweet] where he talked about what happened to the Soul Calibur franchise, the team, and the less-visible effects of companies growth and change over time. Harada is a good guy and I very much appreciate his candor and willingness to talk to the public. His English tweets can be a little difficult to parse though, so I thought I would offer my interpretation of what he said, based on my own understanding of game dev, the industry overall, corporate politics, and economic trends.

The [initial comment] Harada responded to was “Soul Calibur needs a director as loyal as Harada. You can see this via the game mechanics that came and went in the Soul Calibur games”. Harada responded by pointing out that there are many games with great mechanics that didn’t survive the test of time. Game mechanics aren’t really what make or break a franchise like Soul Calibur or Tekken. A lot of great games and franchises were unable to make the transition from earning their keep one coin at a time in arcades to providing sufficient value to players to buy a high-priced game for home use.

Soul Calibur did not have this problem - Harada saw firsthand that they made a strong transition from arcade revenue to home consoles. Soul Calibur had a strong leader named Yotoriyama (who also worked before with Harada on Tekken, and Harada on Soul Calibur). The Soul and Tekken teams established a strong rivalry in the early days of the polygon game era. While the Tekken team were known as an argumentative bunch of renegades, the Soul team was highly regarded as elite, the best of the best at the time.

In Harada’s opinion, it is actually strong leadership and clarity of vision that maintain a franchise. Many franchises have died because key leaders have left for whatever reason. Yotoriyama was exactly the kind of director that the original tweet was talking about - the team was focused, driven, and producing great results. Tekken was the top earner in the arcades, but the Soul Calibur was outperforming Tekken on the home consoles. Unfortunately, the corporate landscape changed as the company grew and is what eventually and inadvertently killed Soul Calibur.

As companies grow, the focus of the top leadership shifts from “make great games” to “manage the organization efficiently”. This basically means that endgame game developer career paths eventually evolve away from “making great game content and features” into organization management positions. Greater emphasis was placed at the corporate level on broadening one’s skillset instead of mastery in a particular field. This also meant staying on a particular franchise for a long time was bad for each individual’s career. As member after member of the Project Soul team either left to broaden their skillset or was promoted out of developer roles into management, the core vision and direction of Project Soul weakened. Harada faced a similar situation with the Tekken team - he was promoted to being head of the Global Business Department, but it had little to do with game development. All of his reports were marketing people and not game devs.

Harada decided to go against orders and lead the Tekken team anyway, despite the orders from above, in large part because he believes that the fans of any game can only depend on a dev team that has the necessary drive and vision to deliver. Harada’s decision to go rogue was only really possible because the Tekken team was already full of renegades who weren’t willing to listen to the corporate management. This was the largest difference between the Soul and the Tekken teams. The Tekken team remained driven and focused on their core vision because they were unwilling to take orders from the corporate level, while the Soul team slowly had their drive and vision whittled away one team member at a time. Harada ended by saying he believes that there are still some who have the will to resurrect Project Soul, but they need uniting in order to make it happen.

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