Beyond Beat ‘Em Ups: SNK has ambitions to become a top ten publisher


At the time, SNK was one of the biggest names in gaming. King of Fighters and Fatal Fury were hugely popular fighting games in the ’80s and ’90s, while Metal Slug helped define the side-scrolling action genre, and its high-end consoles, handhelds, and arcade hardware were the envy of many.

After two turbulent decades in the 2000s, SNK received an investment from the Electronic Gaming Development Company of Saudi Arabia in 2020 and was fully acquired in 2022. The investment has come under scrutiny due to the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, which includes allegations of unfair treatment of women and the LGBTQ community. Following the takeover, an The SNK boss assured that the novel owner of the studio “does not affect us in any way.”

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Shortly after opening a novel development studio in Singapore in April, IGN spoke with SNK president and CEO Kenji Matsubara about the company’s vision, which includes becoming a top 10 global publisher.

SNK President and CEO Kenji Matsubara. Photo: Daniel Robson/IGN.

Matsubara’s goal is ambitious, but the company is of course facing extremely stiff competition. Depending on your definition, the world’s largest game publisher is currently Sony Interactive Entertainment, with Microsoft, Nintendo and Electronic Arts also in the top ten. This group also includes relatively novel players from China such as Tencent, NetEase and miHoYo.

“Setting such a lofty goal helped me identify the challenges that lie ahead,” he says. “What SNK lacks most right now is development capabilities, so strengthening development capabilities will be essential. Beyond that, we may also consider acquiring other studios with strong IP to add to our portfolio.”

SNK’s next game to be announced is Fatal Fury: City of the Wolves, the first novel entry in the Fatal Fury series in 26 years. After nearly three decades of waiting, the novel game has been met with positive reception from fighting game fans – but Matsubara admits that on its own, it’s not enough.

“It will be necessary for us to create titles in different genres and release many titles each year,” he says. “We are also working on genres other than fighting games. We are planning not only action games that use the legacy of SNK’s intellectual property, but also action games that are completely new, and we hope to start releasing those in the next few years.

Matsubara joined SNK in July 2021. Within three years, he made significant changes, strengthening the company’s development, sales and publishing departments. The Osaka-based company has also opened new development studios in Tokyo and most recently in Singapore, with another studio already open in Beijing. The Osaka headquarters also relocated last year, moving from its longtime headquarters to a larger, more centrally located office near the Shin-Osaka bullet train station. On the marketing and sales side, Matsubara has expanded from Asia to include more active operations in the West.

As a geographically central location in Southeast Asia with high levels of English language proficiency, a stable economy and a growing pool of tech talent, Singapore is becoming one of the most prominent locations in Southeast Asia for game development. In recent years, companies such as Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and Bandai Namco have set up offices there, while locally developed indie games such as Cuisineer and Let’s Build a Zoo are taking Singapore’s soft power culture to the world. Gaming peripheral manufacturers such as Razer and Secretlab have also built a strong reputation for the country, while the Gamescom spin-off event Gamescom Asia has been held there for several years.

Speaking with Matsubara shortly after the opening of SNK’s new studio in Singapore, we asked about the reasons behind the choice of location.

“When I joined SNK, we only had studios in Osaka and Beijing,” he says. “We soon established a studio in Tokyo, but we realized that we needed to increase the number of studios and work on strengthening our development capabilities. When it comes to Asia, Singapore is the most attractive destination. Engineers there are knowledgeable about generative artificial intelligence and machine learning, which have been gaining attention in recent years, and are interested in joining the video game industry. So Singapore seemed like the perfect place to create games.”

Each of these studios takes on different tasks and also collaborates on specific projects. While the Singapore studio is getting back on its feet, it has been merged with the Tokyo studio and is also using local know-how to contribute to research and development for the entire group.

SNK Singapore studio head Tang Hong Sing at the studio's opening ceremony in April
SNK Singapore studio head Tang Hong Sing at the studio’s opening ceremony in April

“For now, the Singapore studio and the Tokyo studio are working closely together, meeting regularly and collaborating on the title. In the future, I would like the Singapore studio to become a standalone studio and create AAA titles as a central studio for Southeast Asia.

Matsubara also explained that the Singaporean studio is mainly focused on research and development, particularly in the areas of generative AI and machine learning, which will provide a foundation for the rest of the SNK group.

SNK also has sales bases in China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. However, even with all these novel development and sales offices, the company’s expansion plans are still in motion. As it pursues its goals, SNK eventually plans to either open locations in North America and Europe or build partnerships with other companies in those regions.

While SNK still has a long way to go to realize its aspirations of breaking into the top ten global publishers, it is clearly no longer just a Japanese company. By taking a multicultural approach and experimenting with novel genres, there’s a good chance it will release some nippy games. This in itself will be an critical first step in making SNK a household name again.

Daniel Robson is the editor-in-chief of IGN Japan and on Twitter here.

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