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Atlus output strategy | Discussion thread

Phantom Thief

The Ghost of Tsushima
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In light of this being an ongoing, popular topic of discussion that often takes over other discussion threads, and in line with the similar thread that exists for Square Enix, I have decided to make a thread to discuss the output strategy for Atlus for this coming generation as well. This is an incredibly interesting topic of discussion because Atlus is traditionally a very Japanese-centric company, but their biggest brand is PlayStation exclusive, and PlayStation is currently as near to being a non-entity in Japan as it ever has been, but also because of the historic high interest in Atlus properties and games over the last few years, given their games finally breaking out in the mainstream globally.

NINTENDO

History:


Atlus is historically one of Nintendo's oldest partners, and there appears to be a relationship of respect and accommodations that goes both ways between the two companies. Atlus' support for Nintendo dates back to the original NES, and even at the time, Nintendo seemingly allowed a lot of leeway to Atlus in terms of content and subject matter for their games that they weren't otherwise big on for games on their systems, even in Japan. Atlus has, since then, supported most Nintendo systems - even Virtual Boy! - and Nintendo holds them in high enough regard that partnered announcements with Atlus were used both to kickstart the Wii U, and to legitimize the Switch (in January 2013with SMTxFE and January 2017 with SMTV respectively). In total, Atlus has supported the NES, SNES, Wii, Wii U, Switch, Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and Virtual Boy with their games of the Nintendo systems. Every major Atlus IP - Shin Megami Tensei (and all its various variants), Persona, Catherine, Etrian Odyssey, Radiant Historia, Trauma Team - has shown up on Nintendo platforms, and all of those except Persona either have most, or all, of their mainline entries available on Nintendo platforms. Etrian Odyssey, SMT, and Trauma Team are very heavily Nintendo aligned properties - every SMT game except one was a Nintendo exclusive at launch (the one notable exception would eventually get ported to the Switch), every Etrian Odyssey game is a Nintendo exclusive, and every Trauma Team game is a Nintendo exclusive. Catherine skipped Nintendo originally, but ultimately came over, and Persona has received multiple spin offs on Nintendo platforms, but no mainline entry yet. Atlus' support for Nintendo has been exceptionally strong overall, with especially Nintendo handhelds benefiting from a bounty of Atlus games (the DS and 3DS got supported by Atlus longer than by Nintendo, with major new Atlus releases for the 3DS coming as late as 2019), and the Switch seems to be inheriting that strong legacy.

Current Situation:
Atlus was one of the first publishers to announce major Switch support, with SMT5 having been announced as a Switch exclusive during the system's debut presentation. They were, however, slow to follow through after that - Atlus is famously slow in transitioning to new systems (we'll see this in a bit), and for the first three years of the Switch's life, Atlus instead reaped the bounty it had sown by cultivating a fanbase on PlayStation 4, with multiple PlayStation exclusive titles from them releasing in this period. Since 2020, this situation has changed dramatically - Atlus has released five Switch games in this period, every single one of their upcoming games has a Switch version announced, and every game they have announced since mid early 2020 was either a Switch exclusive, or had a Switch version as well. Their efforts are generally paying off too - Nocturne HD performed best on Switch, SMT5 over performed (Atlus expressed satisfaction at the game's sales), with global sales of 800,000 in just six weeks (a 133% increase over the previous series record), and they have begun bringing over formerly PlayStation aligned properties to the Switch too, as evidenced by the announcement of the upcoming Switch port of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. They have also announced (teased?) a new Etrian Odyssey game, which is presumed to be a Switch exclusive (though any more information about the game, up to and including its continued existence, is currently unknown).

PLAYSTATION:

History:

Atlus has actually been an early supporter for PlayStation as well! The company seems to have had a characteristic knack of attempting earnest support for every new platform, and then sticking with the ones that work, and with PlayStation, they hit it big very early on. Every single PlayStation platform ever has had some form of Atlus support - that means PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, and even PlayStation VR and PlayStation 4 Pro! Atlus' biggest win on PlayStation was Persona, which hit it big on the PS1 with the first entry, and which has remained PlayStation exclusive for the mainline games ever since. Typically, the PlayStation side of Atlus' support seems to be Persona and VanillaWare stuff, but in the PS2 era especially, Atlus put everything on PlayStation - SMT (Nocturne was a PS2 exclusive!) and the glut of SMT variants they produced in this period (including Digital Devil Saga and Devil Summoner: Raidou); since then, their support has receded to mostly being Persona, Persona spin offs, and VanillaWare on PlayStation platforms (as well as the P-Studio led Catherine), but even so, Atlus seems to support PlayStation platforms longer than even Sony - Persona 4 was famously a PS2 game in 2008, Persona 5 was a PS3 game in 2016, and Atlus seems to be showing no signs of moving on from the PS4 for now either. They were also among the strongest supporters for the PS Vita - the most celebrated Vita game was Persona 4 Golden, and Atlus kept it Vita exclusive until 2020! They continued to support Vita for years after that - Persona 3, 4, and 5 Dancing all got Vita versions (4 Dancing was a Vita exclusive at launch, until a belated PS4 port years later), and their VanillaWare fare, such as Odin Sphere and Dragon's Crown, all had Vita versions simultaneously launching with PS4 versions. Even 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was originally intended as a Vita game, until the development troubles protracted to the point that by the time it was releasing, the Vita was basically dead.

Current Situation:
PlayStation has been great for Atlus. Atlus' biggest successes ever all have come from PlayStation - Revelations: Persona, Nocturne, Persona 3, Persona 4, Persona 5. There is very little to no chance that Atlus will drop PlayStation, especially given the association between it and their flagship IP. At present, Atlus still has PS4 games in the pipeline (the upcoming port of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax), and if their long term support for PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, PS Vita, and even non PlayStation platforms such as DS and 3DS, is any indication, then they are in it for the long haul with PS4 too. At the present moment, Atlus has no PS5 games announced. However, as mentioned, it is exceedingly unlikely that Atlus will not support the PS5; Persona 6, in particular, is widely expected to be PlayStation exclusive, so even if it does hit the PS4, the chances of it not having a PS5 version are slim to none. That aside, with Atlus, we are a bit in the dark as far as PlayStation support goes. SMTV had some references to PS4 in the codebase at launch that got scrubbed out, that suggests that a belated PS4 release for the game may be on the cards, and Re:Fantasy can be presumed to, at the very least, also be hitting PlayStation (if not hitting PlayStation exclusively) given the creative team working on it's platform preferences and proclivities, but most of this is speculation and guesswork. As I said, the chances of Atlus not supporting the PS5 are as close to zero as it is possible to be without actually being zero - but for now, we're working in the dark here.

PC:

History:

Atlus has no history for PC support, and has tended to ignore the platform internally (though exceptions such as a PC port of Revelations: Persona, and a Sega of Europe developed port of Catherine Classic, did exist); however, in 2020, they ported Persona 4 Golden to Steam out of nowhere, and enjoyed massive success, expressing, multiple times, happiness at just how extraordinarily well it had performed, and noting that they were going to consider moving to multiplatform development as a result. The jury is out on whether or not that will happen, but since then, Atlus has stepped up PC support by a fair bit - SMT: Nocturne HD, Persona 5 Strikers, and the upcoming Persona 4 Arena Ultimax port all have PC versions, and based on a number of well-placed and well-sourced leaks, a PC port for SMTV is widely considered to be a given at this point too.

Current Situation:
It's really hard to put a finger on where Atlus stands with PC gaming, to be honest. As I mentioned, they did do PC ports for Nocturne and Strikers, and Ultimax is going to get one too - but, for example, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim did not get any PC version announced alongside the Switch one, and mainline Persona remains absent from the platform in spite of 4 Golden's success, and Atlus' acknowledgement of said success. At the present moment, it is probably best to assume that Atlus' PC support will come down to a smattering of games that are outsourced to external partners (such as Strikers), games that are not in exclusivity arrangements with platform holders (such as Nocturne HD or Persona 4 Arena Ultimax), and late ports of their titles as and when they get to them (such as, presumably, SMT5). For now, we can also assume that at least as far as Atlus' smaller teams go, PC is not the primary priorate for them - so VanillaWare games, or titles such as Etrian Odyssey, may still miss PC, even though they are presumably not in any hard exclusivity arrangements with any platform holder.

XBOX

History:
Believe it or not, Atlus actually jumped headfirst into Xbox support and development originally; presumably because their early support for Nintendo, PlayStation, and Sega (yes, really, Atlus thrived especially on Sega Saturn) paid off so well for them, they were there very early for Xbox. No less than the first new mainline entry for their at the time flagship franchise in almost a decade was going to launch as an Xbox exclusive - Shin Megami Tensei Nine. Yes, Atlus actually decided to bring mainline SMT over to Xbox before PlayStation! It was an ambitious game, that fully leveraged the network capabilities of the platform, but it bombed spectacularly, and it would take the PS2 to bail them out at the time. However, even so, they remained largely undaunted - Catherine, the brand new IP from the makers of Persona, was announced for the Xbox 360 (alongside the PS3), and the Xbox 360 also got both Persona 4 Arena games. However, Atlus' support for the platform has dried up since, and no Atlus developed or partnered game has had a launch on an Xbox platform in over a decade.

Current Situation:
Atlus doesn't really seem to acknowledge Xbox much; its musings on a multiplatform strategy typically seem to centre around Nintendo/PlayStation/PC as the core pillars, and the company's multiplatform releases over the last few years have all pointedly skipped Xbox, including the ones that are developed by external partners; even games such as Persona 4 Arena Ultimax are skipping Xbox with the upcoming re-release, in spite of the original title's Xbox 360 release. Catherine Full Body did not release on the Xbox (even though Xbox 360 was the lead platform for the original Catherine!). Persona 5 Strikers did not release on Xbox. SMT Nocturne HD did not release on Xbox. Atlus hasn't even made the Xbox 360 version of Ultimax backward compatible on the Xbox right now, actually, let alone release the port on there. Atlus' now famous annual surveys quizzing players about what games they would like to see where don't even acknowledge Xbox as a platform choice (they acknowledge Stadia, but not Xbox), though I believe that actually changed with the most recent one. In spite of this, Xbox head Phil Spencer has name dropped Atlus multiple times as a partner he would like back for Xbox, and typically so far, Spencer gets what he says he wants, so there remains a chance that Atlus may put out something on the Xbox at some point in the future. But right now? Atlus' support of Xbox is at an all time low, a nadir so bad that even Stadia gets placed higher by the company than Xbox does.

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Additionally, given that we just had two new consoles launch, and that at some point in the future, we will see a third new one as well, I feel like the information below is especially pertinent - the time Atlus takes to publicly pledge support for a new system. For this, I've stuck to PlayStation and Nintendo systems only, and I only go as far back as the DS, because information from before then gets harder and harder to find. Nonetheless, I feel like this does a good enough job of demonstrating how slow Atlus is to move to new systems.

Remember, this list is for announcements only, not releases.
  • DS: July 2004, four months before system launch (Trauma Team + 4 other games)
  • PSP: March 2005, three months after system launch (Devil Summoner)
  • Wii: May 2006, six months before system launch (Trauma Team Second Opinion)
  • PS3: August 2010: forty five months after system launch (Catherine)
  • 3DS: June 2010, ten months before system launch (SMT+Persona+Etrian Odyssey)
  • PS Vita: August 2011, four months before system launch (Persona 4 Golden)
  • Wii U: January 2013, two months after system launch (Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE)
  • PS4: September 2014, ten months after system launch (Persona 5)
  • Switch: January 2017, two months before system launch (SMT5)
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Finally, because this is pertinent when discussing Atlus, here is a list of their last release for every platform:

  • GBA: February 2006, one year and four months after successor launched (Kunio-kun Nekketsu Collection 3)
  • PS2: December 2008, two years and one month after successor launched (Persona 4)
  • DS: March 2012, one year after successor launched (Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2)
  • PSP: May 2012, seven months after system launch (Persona 2: Eternal Punishment)
  • Wii: May 2010, two and a half years before successor launched (Trauma Team)
  • PS3: April 2017, three and a half years after successor launched (Persona 5)
  • 3DS: June 2019, two years and four months after successor launched (Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth)
  • PS Vita: February 2019, two years after system discontinuation (Catherine: Full Body)
  • Wii U: June 2016, nine months before successor launched (Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE)
  • PS4: March 2022, one and a half years after successor launched and counting (Persona 4 Arena Ultimax)*
* Entirely possible they announce more PS4 games after this too - as mentioned, a PS4 version of SMT5 or Persona 6 is not off the table.

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Anyway, that was a lot of information, but I figure it's pertinent and relevant, and that Install Base can use this to have some informed speculation and discussion about what we expect from Atlus going forward. They're increasingly more high profile and prominent and important, as time goes on, and clearly this is a topic that interests this forum. What future do you see for Atlus? Do they continue putting out various games as exclusives, or do they start going more for multiplatform releases? What will their strategy be like as a Japan-centric developer who have nonetheless found great success globally now? What do we expect from them with regards to Switch (which they are all in on now), PS5 (which they are guaranteed to be all in on eventually), and PC (which they continue to flirt with)? Will they ever fully commit to PC? Will they return to Xbox? Will SMT and Persona "break free" of their exclusivity shackles? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

At present, Atlus has five new projects in development (ten if we count VanillaWare):

Great job outlining their release strategy.

Back in July Atlus did outline the amount of games they have in some stage of production:

  • “There are currently five or six development lines in effect. Or about 10 when you include Vanillaware and other external companies we’re working with, plus technological research and development.”
  • PROJECT Re FANTASY is progressing little by little, and we hope to deliver it when the timing is right.”
  • “We hope to be able to share more news on Etrian Odyssey to everyone as soon as possible.”

https://www.gematsu.com/2021/07/atl...-big-unannounced-projects-in-development-more

With 5 or so internal development lines going, it's pretty clear they have a lot going on right now.
 
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