While Konami being dead has become a meme for the greater gaming press this year, Konami is still very much alive in the music gaming world. I feel like they’re doing a shitty job of managing the Bemani lineup recently, so here’s what I’d do if I was in charge.
Give DDR the attention it deserves or can it already. I know DDR is a touchy subject out West because it holds lots of sentimental value to players in the community, but stop kidding yourselves. DDR is a second-class citizen when it comes to content updates, and hasn’t gotten much in terms of actual new original content over the past two years, which isn’t great considering part of the deal is they take 30% of all income from DDR in exchange for continued game updates. Live up to the expectations of arcade operators and players, or get out.
Stop adding a new game to the lineup every year, especially if it’s not going to be any good. 2013 brought us Mirai Dagakki, which got canned earlier this year since no one cared about it. 2014 gave us the adorable mechanical clusterfuck BeatStream. 2015’s MÚSECA looks like it might be better than the past two, but not by much, and its core demographic overlaps so heavily with the Sound Voltex series that it might as well not exist. The last thing Bemani needs right now is for effort to be divided across more arcade games.
If you’re going to encourage Bemani players split their attention across so many games, consider reducing the backlog of unlocks from previous versions. This has only gotten worse over the years. IIDX and pop’n used to fully unlock the past version’s songs on a major upgrade, but this hasn’t been the case since 2013. (SPADA’s unlocks are the notable exception.) jubeat and Reflec Beat series used to keep songs locked as new versions came out. For jubeat, this wasn’t too much of an issue, because you could unlock songs trivially by either matching with a friend or participating in random matching, but this stopped being possible near the end of jubeat saucer, and now it’s much more constrained. Reflec Beat hasn’t been sure what they want to do; groovin’ unlocked all of the past versions’ locked songs for everyone, but Reflec Beat VOLZZA introduced a new grindy system to unlock groovin’s locked songs. Sound Voltex has the biggest backlog of them all, but at least its unlock system is à la carte and its unlocks from past versions are much cheaper than they are on any other game. (Oh and while I’m at it, cut it out with unlocks that can only be obtained during a time window. It’s no fun to barely miss an unlock and then have to wait another six months for your next opportunity.)
Try to preserve each game’s musical individuality. The younger Sound Voltex “DTM sound” is bleeding into the sound of IIDX (especially in copula), and pop’n music éclale also seems to be headed in that direction. Everywhere you look there’s another SOUND HOLIC feat. Nana Takahashi song. I actually like them, so imagine how much it must suck for someone who doesn’t. I’ve lost count of how many times this year we’ve had songs that aren’t from large-scale cross-game events show up on three or more games at once, usually jubeat, Reflec Beat, DDR, and BeatStream and/or Gitadora. Then you’ve got ports. Then you’ve got cross-game events which bring about half a dozen original songs to the entire lineup at once. This shit adds up, and pretty soon, you’ve got something like the DDR2014 default songlist which consists of 49 songs, only TWO of which are new and conceived specifically for DDR. (It’s not as bad on other games, sure, because unlike DDR, they actually get original content updates from time to time.) Go back ten years ago, and each title in the Bemani lineup had a much more distinct sound. That didn’t mean there weren’t exceptions to the rule, hell, there was ee’mall flooding pop’n with ports for a year, but they still managed to radiate their own personality. Now it almost feels like Bemani is converging towards a centralized song list, and you choose to interface with that song list via the peripheral of your choice.
Develop a free-to-play Bemani title with a business model along the lines of CROSS×BEATS. More arcades closed in Japan during 2014 than the total amount of Japanese Round1 locations at the end of that year. As much as we all hate to admit it, arcade gaming is on the way out, and Konami needs a backup plan if they want to keep Bemani going. They need it way more than they need another mediocre Bemani game wasting precious floor space in the arcades that remain, that’s for sure. I think Konami is way behind of the curve on this front, and I expected them to have an original, mobile F2P Bemani title around this time a year ago. Currently, jubeat plus, Reflec Beat plus, and pop’n rhythmin (lol?) are available on mobile and use in-app purchases for additional song packs, but that business model simply isn’t sustainable in a world where the arcade games the content for those packs is recycled from don’t exist. If Konami wishes to preserve the serious, skill-based nature of their music games intact, there isn’t much of an option going forward but to recreate the arcade pricing model at home and hand out a couple free credits a day, which seems to be going great for CROSS×BEATS. If they give in to temptation, then you’ll wind up with compromised “music games” like LoveLive and DereStage where all that matters is making numbers go up on drawings of cute girls and your actual skill at the music game part is, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless, making it completely unappealing to a slice of their audience. IIDX INFINITAS seems to me like it would be a perfect fit for the CROSSxBEATS business model, and I am very curious to see how it will turn out. Unsavory F2P elements have started to show up in Bemani titles recently though, so it’s unclear what direction Konami will choose to go in.