First off, I want to clarify that, the issues and concerns that I will express in this article do not apply to my fellow shmuppers and members of the community. The shmup community has been very supportive of my content and has certainly demonstrated they are not all about popularity and getting attention, but about passion for the games and genre. It makes sense because there is no such thing as easy popularity in shmups, people like that are weeded out within a very short amount of time. Members of the shmup community are not evaluated by their social media presence or YouTube subscribers, but by their contributions to the genre (whether that be gameplay, content, or being a homie and interacting with other people). So, more than likely, if you are reading this article, these concerns do not apply to you. The primary concern of this article applies to the general gaming audience outside the community, an audience that is inclined to be indifferent towards shmup content in the first place. It may seem like I’m just being greedy, but I’ll explain why shmups having a larger presence in general is important and how difficult achieving this actually is, given the way things work.
The main thing I want to accomplish with this article is to highlight some specific barriers I have been running into and to explain why shmups are so hard to bring to the masses, even if you really go out of your way to try. When I talk about widening the genre’s presence to the general gaming media, I don’t mean in an unrealistic sense where shmups are the next big thing and everyone comes running with plaster faces. The type of growth I’m talking about is small scale, just enough to where the community can represent itself with some sense of credibility and a viable audience. For example, with the M2 ports, I have certainly gone out of my way as much as possible to help push these games to as many people as possible, partly because the genre is so niche and partly because the marketing for ShotTriggers is pretty much nonexistent. However, as things stand right now, no matter how hard the community pushes these games, we do not show up on the radar. Despite being designed for wider appeal and making the genre more accessible to non-shmuppers, the vast majority of the target audience will never get an opportunity to play the M2 ports because they don’t even know they exist.
Likewise, we have the indie shmup scene with releases like Blue Revolver. Blue Revolver is one of the best shmups in the past few years (there have been a ton of really great games released lately) and a game that definitely deserves more attention outside the community. Pretty soon an additional DLC for Blue Revolver, Double Action, will be released (which sounds like it’ll practically be a whole new game) and I want to see this game get coverage. Yes, I will cover it and the shmup community will promote it, but we are so small it’s not going to make a dent compared to when other niche communities have pushed their games (think Guilty Gear Xrd and how the community put that game, and then the entire anime fighter genre, on the map). If you think I’m exaggerating on how niche and ignored the shmup genre is, just look up the M2 ports on metacritic … wait you can’t because they don’t exist. The only one I could find was a user score for Battle Garegga Rev 2016 – user, not critic.
Yes, I am aware of some of the articles that are written about shmups by publications like Forbes and Eurogamer, but these articles are few and far between and probably don’t hit the non-shmupper hard enough to really bring them in. Let me explain, because I do think the articles are great and I am happy they exist. However, a lesson I have learned is that, if you really want to bring people in to a niche or hardcore genre, like shmups or fighting games, you need to hit the audience over and over with content and reasons to play these games. That’s why fighting games have been able to catch on since Street Fighter 4, because the FGC is really good at making content that appeals to the general crowd and is persistent with its messaging. Look at a channel like Core-A-Gaming, that dude is bringing the hardcore concepts of the genre to the masses with an impressive catalog of videos. With shmups, one or two articles a year is not going to be enough. To appreciate and really connect with this genre, you need to be immersed in it. Playing shmups is like learning a language; a one off lesson is a nice starting point, but there needs to be follow up and conversation.
This is where the community comes in. This is where shmup content creators, such as yours truly, can step in and provide entertainment, discussion, information, and so on. However, for that to happen there needs to be an opportunity, and this is where everything comes to a screeching halt.
The world of YouTube and gaming media is not the egalitarian model of the shmup community. How much passion you have, how much time you have spent studying and playing, who you have interacted with and learned from mean nothing. Credibility within the shmup community does not translate to outside sources, unlike how credibility within other gaming communities (again, FGC is a good example) can translate to opportunities in general gaming media. The reasons for this are straightforward. The first is because most members of the gaming media have no connection or interest in shmups in the first place, so they feel no pull or admiration for shmup players, community members, or developers. The second reason is that the shmup community cannot deliver a bunch of views and subscribers like other gaming communities can.
Essentially, general gaming media is a caste system, where people are separated into different classes based on their views and followers (for the most part). Maybe this is a necessity of the industry, I have no idea, but whether it’s necessary or not that doesn’t change the fact that it makes it extremely challenging, if not impossible, for a homegrown shmup content creator to engage in wider communication about the genre. Returning to my earlier points, this is because the shmup community is not large enough to prop up its members with social collateral (Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers and all that stuff).
I’m going to be concrete with an example, because I want the picture of what I am talking about to be clear. As my fellow shmup players are probably already aware, very soon there are going to be a good number of exciting shmup releases, we’re in some kind of shmup wave right now (which is awesome). I’ve already mentioned Double Action, but there is also the upcoming M2 Esp.Ra.De. port (which I couldn’t be more excited about) and a brand new Strikers game, 2020 (which will be interesting to talk about, even if it isn’t good), then there’s the Rolling Gunner Switch port, and so much more. So yeah, there’s a reason to talk about shmups among the general audience this year.
However, my fear is that, as usual, these releases will be mostly ignored or covered by people who may appreciate the genre on some level, but are not passionate fans or members of the community. Soap box moment, but I feel if you aren’t talking about these games with passion or enthusiasm, if you don’t take shmups as a genre as seriously as platformers or RPGs, you are leaving too much on the table and not helping the genre grow. If I read a review of Esp.Ra.De. that mentions something about shmups being a “simple genre” and the usual talk that makes shmups sound like novelty games played by ancient magicians, I am going to face palm right then and there. If these reviewers don’t mention the milking problem in the scoring system and whether or not the arrange mode addresses this problem, that’s an incomplete review in my book.
So where am I going with this? Well, in anticipation of all this content coming out, it’s become a goal of mine to elevate the conversation about these games within the general gaming press. However, since I’m a low caste untouchable by the metrics of the general gaming world (again, social collateral), I’m ignored. I have reached and will continue to reach out to different outlets about some sort of cooperation (free work from me, by the way), but will likely hear nothing. So instead, what will likely happen is that these releases will come out. I’ll do everything I can to cover them for the community, my content will remain as niche as ever, and the rest of the world can read about how Esp.Ra.De. was never released outside arcades, so it’s a cool interesting novelty you can buy … if you feel like it. Never mind the significance of the arrange mode, the importance of the practice tools M2 has been consistently delivering, why M2 ports are the gold standard and why shmups are a legit genre worth playing, other than being a neat history lesson.
So yeah, I wrote this article because I am bitter and I am tired of watching opportunity after opportunity get squandered. Ketsui Deathtiny could have been a thing, but it’s not. I doubt it will even be localized. Why would it? No one talked about it and I doubt many people bought it. (I talked about Deathtiny, by the way, I made an entire podcast episode about it with the guy who wrecked the Japanese players on PSN). Real talk, these M2 ports are not going to last forever and judging by the lack of promotion or localization outside Japan, I’m not feeling very optimistic. Having just watched the My Life in Gaming interview with them, I get the sense that they are racing against the clock to get as many ports finished before M2 pulls the plug. All I want to do is talk about shmups with people and really show them why this genre is badass and worth investing in … but I can’t because I am nobody and my opinion is not worth anyone’s time.