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 didn’t 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. It’s 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 I’d 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 weren’t 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 didn’t 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 I’m 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, “I remember playing the Neo Geo in the arcades and I always wanted to own the system but just couldn’t afford one at the time.” I fall in that category as well, and many of us do apparently. I think it’s 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. That’s 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, it’s 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 don’t 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?
I’m going to quote Bobak’s excellent description from the Neo-Glossary that he created:
“The 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.”
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 that’s 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 don’t 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 I’m 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 I’ve 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 it’s 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 ’09, 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, I’m rather certain that Wolf would have paid more and then there’s 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 wouldn’t sell his Kizuna/U11 pair even for $100,000. He considers them virtually irreplaceable, and perhaps he’s right. I figure that with my resources of operating the NeoStore that I’ll 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.