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Thread: INTERVIEWS with Shawn and GAME LORD Chad Okada - October 2009

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    INTERVIEWS with Shawn and GAME LORD Chad Okada - October 2009

    Hi guys!
    I have received permission from the folks at RETRO GAMER magazine to post up the entire unedited interviews I did with our very own webmaster Shawn, as well as SNK Game Lord, CHAD OKADA. Thanks again to those fine fellows for giving me the time, and I hope you guys enjoy their comments!

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    SHAWN INTERVIEW October 2009:

    1) Why did you start neo-geo.com, and why do you continue to support the site today?

    The acquisition of the Neo-Geo.com domain name was the catalyst that transformed a personal Neo Geo fan site that into a community site for the fans of the Neo Geo. Having the ideal domain name gave me incredible motivation to get the ball rolling and I believe it gave others the confidence to invest their time into this new project as well. This transition didnít occur overnight though. Key initial contributors such as Mouse_Master, Bobak, Geddon_jt, DolphinLord, Nick_th_fury, Vincewy and many others played their roles in forging various sections of the site and the forums. Then the community grew as people began accepting NG.com as their home and made their contributions as well.

    I continue to support the site because there is still interest out there. Itís a mutual arrangement. As long we have our Neo enthusiasts who are willing to visit and contribute to Neo-Geo.com, and as long as I have sufficient credit on my credit card to pay the bill, then the switch stays on. Of course Iíd like to see the site remain up and active forever, for now that path looks clear for years to come.

    I'd like to clarify that the NeoStore was never part of the initial plan and it didn't surface until further down the road. It actually took a close friend telling me that dealing in Neo Geo games is what I did for a living, because before then I thought of it purely as my hobby. Simply put, the purpose of this Neo-Geo.com project was driven by our passion for the Neo Geo.

    2) In retrospect, do you feel that neo-geo.com and the Neo Store played a role in the continued support of the home cart system after SNK's bankruptcy? How so?

    We certainly played our loyal diehard role. It was an era of high uncertain because SNK was completely silent for some time. During this dark period the fans and supporters of the Neo debated the return of SNK and bided our time while their restructuring took place. Although we werenít fully aware at the time, the remnants of the former SNK was still around and they visited the Neo-Geo.com forums daily from what I was told. I assume they read the site to gauge our Western interest and preferences of their products as well as forage through our wealth of entertaining and constructive posts.

    Furthermore, since we didnít know for sure when or if SNK was returning, there were some very professional unofficial home cartridge productions commissioned by the NeoStore which included unreleased titles such as Strikers 1945 Plus & Ganryu. The runs were very limited in quantity but very high in quality and the initial production sold out on preorder. Fortunately, SNK reopened and we soon received fresh software releases and more official productions.

    3) Can you describe the process involved in working with SNK and/or SNK Playmore to negotiate new English home cartridge releases, and any difficulties you experienced?

    Of course I was always excited to engage in the prospects of a new home cartridge release and I had a strong desire to see that each release had an English version production in addition to the Japanese. There are some rather interesting negotiations that come to mind. One involves a meeting at SNK USA in Orange County, California that preceded the home cart production of Matrimelee, but Iím afraid I must refrain from disclosing any significant details as such information should probably remain confidential. Sorry!

    4) Is there a "typical" customer who contacts you or the NeoStore to purchase Neo Geo home cartridges? In today's day and age, what do you think draws new people into the system?

    The most common phrase I hear is, ďI remember playing the Neo Geo in the arcades and I always wanted to own the system but just couldnít afford one at the time.Ē I fall in that category as well, and many of us do apparently. I think itís the fact that the Neo Geo home console and games started with such a hefty price tag and that made it rather exclusive to own, but also elusive to us at the same time. Thatís a rather potent combination that resulted in an unyielding allurement for many of us. Then there are those who have discovered the Neo Geo through the ports from other systems and want to own the original. Finally, there are those who are secretly from the emulation camp who could no longer bear the guilt and are now supporting to Neo Geo console so that they can finally be at peace with their inner self.

    5) How do you see the Neo Geo in terms of its value and collectibility in the market today, now that the system has been unsupported for over 5 years?

    Considering that US unemployment is at a quarter century high, global stock markets have crashed, and foreclosures are rampant, itís refreshing to see that Neo Geo home carts remain as resilient as ever for we have clearly witnessed remarkable and steady returns in the AES market. Look at the final but most recent home cart release, Samurai Shodown 5 Special. Anyone could have bought a new copy of the original unfixed version for $359 and now they are selling for $800 to $900 each. Even the far more common MVS carts are showing renewed strength recently.

    6) Why do you feel Neo enthusiasts remain so willing to pay so much money for valuable home cartridges in today's market, when in most cases there is a much cheaper alternative somewhere else to play the games? (ie MVS, emulation, console ports, etc).

    Anyone can own a port or download the ROM but to own these games in their original form has enchanting appeal and is very rewarding. These games are art, from the packaging to the very game stored on the SNK boards, and to own Neo Geo home carts is to own a piece of hardcore 2D gaming history. The appeal these LARGE dual board cartridges have is clearly reflected in the prices they command. From a collectability viewpoint, the high quality case and insert is a winning combination because we donít have to deal with flimsy cardboard boxes that are doomed to rapid decay once opened, such as with Nintendo games.

    From the supply side, the home console was never a mainstream system and the games were generally produced in limited quantities, some considerably more limited than others, yet it has its cult following that has managed to provided a solid floor for prices. Like anything else collectible, it generally comes down to the rarity for determining value, and the Neo Geo has quite a list of rare games that remain challenging to acquire.

    7) Describe the Neo Geo community. What *is* the Neo Geo community? Why are the fans so notoriously rabid? How do you think the community has affected the longevity of the system and viability of the home console, if at all?

    Iím going to quote Bobakís excellent description from the Neo-Glossary that he created:
    ďThe informal, colorful, and rather anarchic group of gamers and collectors world-wide who share an interest in SNK's Neo Geo and its progeny. They are known for their passion and individualism.Ē

    There always seems to be never ending tension between the gamers vs. collectors. Though I believe you can be both, we all ultimately lean towards one end of the spectrum and thatís the side we tend to support. On top of that, the Neo Geo lineup is heavily weighted with games from the fighting genre, our community consists predominately of males, and perhaps we just donít have enough estrogen to balance out all the testosterone. At the end of the day, what matters is that we all share our common interest, which is the Neo.

    Our community has loyally supported every new Neo Geo release that came our way. The fact that the Neo Geo home cartridge system is the longest supported game system by a manufacturer in video game history should speak loads about how dedicated we have been. I have no doubt that there would be plenty of interest to buy, own, and play any new official home cartridge release from SNKP if we were given the opportunity.

    8) Can you share any insight as to SNK Playmore's attitude toward the Neo Geo home console in its final years?

    Though SNKP was very professional, their primary interest was the higher quantity production MVS releases and so the home console came second. They realized that the home cart releases had their die hard followers and Iím sure they would have supported us for as long as they continued MVS productions. Sadly, what ended the MVS productions was the nearly instantaneous flood of bootlegs that followed each MVS release. Bootlegs destroyed the profitability for SNKP. Unfortunately, the Neo Geo technology was just too dated and so they could not use an encryption that was sufficient enough to slow the bootleggers effectively. A several month delay would have provided a decent window for legal distribution to function properly but for the final few releases the bootlegs were literally available the very day of an MVS release.

    9) What fuels your passion for the Neo Geo these days? What do you think fuels other gamers' interest and passion in the Neo Geo?

    I find that participating with other fellow Neo Geo enthusiasts on Neo-Geo.com and through the NeoStore helps keep my interests freshly kindled. Here lately Iíve been heavily focused on the development project for the new NeoStore design that will cater directly to Neo Geo enthusiasts. I went with the same shopping cart system for the backend that President Obama used for his highly successful campaign website and I hired a professional team to handle the web design. So far they have exceeded my best expectations for what I had originally anticipated to be the ideal design. Perhaps the new NeoStore will be live by the time this article is published. Be sure to check it out!

    I recently acquired the original snkusa.com domain name which was an exciting acquisition of historical virtual real estate, and itís now being used as a domain forward to NeoStore.com.

    I also remain committed to a never ending quest to upgrade my personal Neo Geo collection which consists mainly of home carts and the NeoStore is my primary gateway for sourcing potential upgrade pieces. In fact, the NeoStore was originally spawned from what was once my personal page for buying and selling home carts for building my collection.

    For others, I believe they are driven by their desire to own, play, collect, and to share their experiences and opinions with others, often through the Neo-Geo.com forums.

    10) Can you confirm the recent private sale of English Kizuna Encounter and Ultimate 11 home carts for the unprecedented combined price of $55,000, and to what do you attribute this phenomenon?

    During September í09, I was approached by Neo-Geo.com forum member, Wolf, who was seeking both of these extremely rare titles for his collection. He never expected me to be willing to part with my personal copies and so he did not readily make me an offer directly. Instead, TonK, our resident MVS price guide analyst informed Wolf that I have occasionally sold a handful of titles from my collection in the past for offers that were too good to pass up. After a brief period of negotiation, Wolf and I came to an agreement of $55,000 for the pair. In hindsight, Iím rather certain that Wolf would have paid more and then thereís that kick of reality that my collection is now missing my two most prized pieces. However, $55,000 was one of those offers that qualified as too good to pass up.

    Wolf says that he wouldnít sell his Kizuna/U11 pair even for $100,000. He considers them virtually irreplaceable, and perhaps heís right. I figure that with my resources of operating the NeoStore that Iíll eventually replace these titles, but the quest for top condition has always been the biggest challenge. Condition wise, what Wolf received was rather top notch as he was smiling ear to ear as he inspected them in person. I also have no doubt that the copies I sold to him were 100% SNK original because they were both acquired near the turn of the millennium, a period when Euro Kizuna was selling for $450 to $550 and Euro Ultimate11 sold for $350 to $450.

    Today, Euro Kizuna Encounter and Ultimate11 home carts are the rarest and most desirable by the most serious of collectors. It seems that only a single digit quantity of Euro Ultimate11s have surfaced, and perhaps only a handful more of Euro Kizuna copies are floating around. We can only speculate as to why these two titles are so rare, but one theory is that the English version was only released in Europe and in very small quantities.

    For additional reference, in November 2008, 8man of the Neo-Geo.com forums acquired Euro Kizuna Encounter and Ultimate 11 home cartridges for a purchase price of $30,000. With this purchase he was able to complete his collection by owning every single home cart.

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    CHAD OKADA interview October 2009:

    1) What were your duties as "SNK GAME LORD" and why do you think SNK created such a position?



    SNK originally created this position because the US branch was in need of a person who knew all the aspects of video games. To market the product well, they needed to know the competition and they needed someone who knew video games in a whole from a strategic marketing standpoint and from a gamer standpoint. At the time, the office was still small and in the beginning, I would do many different duties from writing the copy for all documentation including instruction books to helping the assembly line in the production of the NEOGEO consoles to answering the game play hotline. In the early days, I wrote the 16-page brochures that showed up in EGM. These brochures would eventually be the reason for why the hardcore gamers at the time would know of me. These brochures were a brainchild of Kent Russell and our ad agency, the Cunningham group, in which it would be used to show why the NEOGEO was a more powerful system than anything out. It was Kent's idea to give me a moniker and the Cunningham group produced the logo which I still use today. Eventually, I ended up doing PR, helping with Sales and Marketing, and also production of games. Basically, anything except accounting.





    2) What was the "energy" like inside of SNK in the period surrounding the launch of the Neo Geo? Can you describe the relationship between SNK of America and SNK Japan in terms of marketing and decision making?



    At the launch of the NEOGEO, the office was very small and only had a skeleton crew managing all the duties. Marty Kitazawa and Kent Russell handled the launch and because of the high price decided to go with a quieter launch. The energy was very good, but nothing like you would see in a dot come start up or any start up you'd see nowadays. In the very beginning, Kent Russell handled the marketing and decision making from the US market on the US products. Under the circumstances, he did a great job of advertising and getting the product into the spotlight. All of the controversial decisions were made by him and he is to be commended for doing all he could do to get NEOGEO recognized. Early on, the US branch had all the power on how to market the games in the US and that included what to name the games and how to distribute them. The relationship was good in the beginning, but after realizing the NEOGEO was too expensive, communication to the US turned a little quiet.



    3) What was SNK's strategy for marketing the Neo Geo home system to consumers of the time?



    It was a difficult product to market. The price was too expensive at that time and would even be considered too expensive for present day. It was $600 for the machine and $200 for each game. Early on, the strategy was too gain attention (not necessarily positive attention) and to market to a consumer that was older, richer, and could afford a premium priced game system. It was thought that we could only sell in places similar to a skymall or sharper image. It was a difficult product to sell because of the price point.



    4) Did SNK view the Neo Geo as a direct competitor to consoles of the era, like the Super NES and Sega Genesis?

    SNK wanted the NEOGEO to directly compete with Sega Genesis and Super NES. At the time, the NEOGEO was head and shoulders above the competition in the technology aspect. However, the retailers didn't think we could compete. Limited quantities were purchased by Toys R Us and any retailer that supplied Sega Genesis or SNES. Even with the amount of marketing we had out for the NEOGEO at the time, we couldn't get the product into big name chains.



    5) How do you recall the reaction from retailers, gamers and the media when the Neo Geo home system was launched?



    Gamers obviously went bonkers over it. They loved it. They all wanted it. The media was on SNK's side in the beginning. The hype was excellent. However, the retailers are in it for the business and couldn't see anything at that price point selling to the mainstream. It was too tough a sell and not all video games sold well at the time. Turbo-graphx 16 reminded retailers that not all video games were gold.



    6) How did SNK attempt to convince consumers that it was worth it to spend so much money on the console and its games, when the prices were at unprecedented levels?



    SNK went after the rich, higher end clients. However, it will always be known that SNK tried to convince consumers that the NEOGEO was exactly the same as the $4K machine in the arcades. And this was the truth.



    6) In retrospect, do you view the Neo Geo home system as a success or failure, and why?



    This is not an easy question to answer. I poured my heart into SNK and NEOGEO and I would do it again if I had the chance. It is also a difficult question because some great successes came from NEOGEO the including the series of Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, and the King of Fighters. SNK could have stayed on as a third party for Nintendo and other consoles and possibly continued their huge success as a third party. It may be possible that the decision to make the NEOGEO over staying a third party that was the reason for the demise of original SNK. But we will never know.



    7) Where do you see the Neo Geo home system in the history of home game consoles? What makes the system special in your mind, if anything?



    When NEOGEO was released, it was the most respected powerhouse game system out. It was a system that trounced everything out at the time and made everything else look like toys. When Kent Russell's Bigger-Badder-Better slogan was used, it had much weight. Every gamer wanted it and knew it was the best. However, the NEOGEO suffered a painful death. After the Playstation and Saturn were released, the NEOGEO was not the big dog in the park. It was a costly system that seemed old and powerless. The NEOGEO CD's release (which should have been released many years earlier) was too little, too late. The time from being the technological supreme powerhouse to becoming less than 3D seemed very short for the people who had fought in the trenches for NEOGEO. The NEOGEO was special because it was the first video game to have the exact arcade graphics and gameplay in the home. Arcades have pretty much died out now, but when arcades were big, the home systems did not compare to the arcade hardware.



    8) To what do you contribute the longevity of the system (i.e., the fact that it was supported until 2004)?



    The NEOGEO was supported for a long time because market penetration in the arcades were pretty high due to the low cost of the arcade unit. Many countries outside of the US had NEOGEO's in large use in the arcades or bars or other locations with games. The production of NEOGEO games is the same for home and arcade. The programming and chips are identical. There was no "porting" from the NEOGEO arcade to home console. It was pretty much identical.



    9) I once heard a story that you rejected the dog tag logo from the English release of Samurai Shodown 1 due to SNK's decision to censor the game in English. Is this true, and can you tell the story behind this and the origin of the Dog Tag Neo Geo logo?



    The dog tag logo was created by Kent Russell and the Cunningham Group for marketing the product in the US. The eventual logo that was used in the US was the original and only logo used by the Japanese division. After Kent Russell left and the price point proved too much, SNK decided to cut costs by using the same packaging company for both the US and Japan. Instead of using the dog tag logo, Japan opted to use their own logo on the US games. This did not have any connection to the censorship of the game.



    10) (this is just to clear up my understanding of the facts) It is common knowledge that the Neo was originally marketed as a rental machine, prior to being sold directly to consumers. How long did this rental program last, and was this Japan only, or also in the US?



    The rental machine idea was a japanese idea. In the US, we had approached many rental stores such as blockbuster and had booth's in many video rental trade shows, but sales to rental stores were slow as the price point was also a factor to these customers as well. It seemed like we could win in this market, since the product was too expensive for kids to buy, you would think they would rent it, but because of the price, it was too difficult to charge enough to make money on the product in the long run. The rental stores just couldn't make a profit on rental. The US did everything to sell to all customers and did not look to the rental stores exclusively.



    11) You have been in the game industry for many years. How do you look back on your involvement with SNK? What are your feelings about your time there?



    My involvement at SNK are definitely some of the best years of my life. The fans were incredible. I have not to this day have met any people as devoted to a video game machine as the people who were fans of the NEOGEO. There was a huge cult following. I experienced both the arcade world and the consumer world and was better for it. Through SNK, I have met some unbelievably talented people and some amazing people including Billy Pitt, Ami Blaire, and David Siller. I could not trade it for anything. I was very fortunate to be part of it.

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    great great read. thanks for sharing

    the history behind SNK is incredibly facinating and probably the richest period in time for gaming.

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    Very interesting read and it's great to have the full interviews posted!

    Thanks to everyone involved from start to finish

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    nice read





    In with the real hardware, out with the bootlegs......who is this I wonder?

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    cool article thanks
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    Just got through reading this for the second time.

    Thanks so much for posting it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by voltronbadass View Post
    Just got through reading this for the second time.

    Thanks so much for posting it.
    I've read it 5 times,
    and will subsequently post a 5000 word thesis on it.

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    That was a very interesting read, it was cool to hear from Shawn especially. I can't believe he parted with his Euro Kizuna and Ultimate 11!

    They must have been gem mint too.

    Thanks for the link to this, TonK!

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    Interesting read, thanks! Unbelievable price on those euro homecarts.

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    terrific read, thanks!


    Man, I miss old SNK.

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    You know, it's kinda sad now how little there is to read anymore on the actual Neo.
    This was the most interesting thing I have read on here in a few years.
    Kinda makes you realize just how long it's been since this joint actually revolved around its original idea.

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    Its good to hear a little info now and then, Thanks for posting this.

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    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that.
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    55k, holy crap. I'd think that would be so much cooler if wolf brought down a briefcase full of 20's and shawn had an electronic bill counter on hand.

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    Good interviews. Nice to relive some of the old SNK glory days. Thanks Shawn for continued upkeep of the forums.

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    What a great article. Thanks for posting!
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    This was the best Neo-related thing I've read in years. I need to start playing SSIII again.

    Thanks Geddon_jt.
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    I have had the fortune to actually handle (with very clean hands) the Kizuna Shawn sold Wolf several years ago ('06). It was in tip-top condition. So much so that we pulled out the insert to take a close look and be sure it was original stock, etc. We were both convinced it was authentic. Really interesting to hear what happened to it.

    So yeah, Wolf, I've touched your game. Add or deduct value as appropriate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bobak View Post
    I have had the fortune to actually handle (with very clean hands) the Kizuna Shawn sold Wolf several years ago ('06). It was in tip-top condition. So much so that we pulled out the insert to take a close look and be sure it was original stock, etc. We were both convinced it was authentic. Really interesting to hear what happened to it.

    So yeah, Wolf, I've touched your game. Add or deduct value as appropriate.
    LOL, as long as you didn't treat them as Rot does, I'm ok.

  22. #22
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    nice interviews there

    okada's passion and nostalgia really shined through



    yo 8man, please produce pics of the euro kizuna pyramid, k thnx
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loopz View Post
    You know, it's kinda sad now how little there is to read anymore on the actual Neo.
    This was the most interesting thing I have read on here in a few years.
    Kinda makes you realize just how long it's been since this joint actually revolved around its original idea.
    I hate to "empty post" but this pretty sums up how I feel after reading this interview.

  24. #24
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    I wish I had $55,000 to spend on two games!

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    Good read.

    Loopz's sig is also excellent.
    PSN hanafuda

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