You hear about the new Cooking Mama game? it’s a wild story, and here at Story Arc we actually reported on this previously. If you aren’t familiar with this whole story, read that piece first to get an idea of what I’m talking about
Cooking Mama, to put it bluntly, is kind of a weird franchise. It became one of those games that came out to take advantage of the DS / Wii era Nintendo gimmicks like the touch screen and motion controls, a kind of rhythm game meets Warioware type deal. The series has basically left gaming culture since then, only to suddenly reappear one day as a new game that was taken down from the Nintendo eShop just as quickly as it was put there in the first place. Immediately, the internet was ablaze with speculation. The biggest one became the assertion that it was a cryptocurrency scam, that the game took your money and bricked your switch mining for bitcoin, something legitimately criminal that slipped past Nintendo’s careful filters. The fact that the publisher put out some press releases promoting crypto, all this coincidental evidence points to something suspicious behind the game. The truth, it turns out, got cleared up quickly, but there’s still this aura of mystery behind the whole thing.
Almost as soon as the game was pulled, people (including myself) began investigating everything about the game: the people who published it, the developers, literally everything. I read 4 years worth of financial documents from a French game publisher that partnered with Cookstar’s publisher (but more on that later), to give you an idea of just how invested people were. Pretty quickly, three sides were established – Office-Create, the official owners of the Cooking Mama Franchise, 1st Playable, the developers of the game, and most importantly, Planet Entertainment, the publisher. Part of the problem, however, was that information – any information – about the publishers and devs was sparse, so what information did exist was immediately viewed through an air of suspicion. For example, the name of the Australian distributor of the game was used as evidence that the publishers were “owned” by the surviving Koch brother – this isn’t true at all, the distributor just shares the name and has no relation to Charles Koch, who has more important stuff than video games to focus on such as getting in fights with Charlie Kirk. The fact that the game didn’t run well on the Nintendo Switch was turned into claims that Cookstar was host to Bitcoin mining software, a claim that seems to originally have come from a completely unsourced comment on 4chan’s /v/ board. This was correlated with a smattering of press releases about how the publisher was incorporating cryptocurrency tech. Some financial documents on the publishers were dug up, leading to people learning that the headquarters were a random office in Ohio and a house in Connecticut, in spite of the publisher being a Delaware corporation – facts that were taken as pure evidence of the publisher being downright sinister.
With the rumors spreading, news outlets began to cover it, but with the game being so rare, it was hard to confirm any claims. Within a day, however, someone claiming to be a dev was contacted and interviewed by Screenrant, and a purportedly true story started to emerge – one that was disavowed by 1st Playable themselves, and with the alleged developer speaking anonymously, can never be verified. The story goes that rather than an illegal crypto-scam, what really happened is that the publisher bought the rights to Cooking Mama, and passed them off to 1st Playable. The developer was an inexperienced team working in Unity, leading to a buggier game, and Office-Create, the owner of the rights to Cooking Mama, rejected it. It seems that the publisher, already not communicating with the developers, went ahead and put the game out anyway, and then immediately got entangled in legal trouble with Office-Create. The Screenrant article makes claims that Planet Digital didn’t even make 1st Playable aware of the game’s release date, something that 1st Playable denies, putting doubt on the truthfulness of the whole story. The more basic facts can be corroborated however. Office-create put out a statement that “Office Create rejected a wide range of deficiencies affecting the overall feel, quality and content of the game”, but instead of following their contract to correct those mistakes, Planet Digital released the game anyway, including putting out an unauthorized PS4 version. Planet Digital then responded by alleging in their own statement that “By contract, Planet is fully within its rights to publish Cooking Mama Cookstar”. Personally, given how disorganized the entire situation seems to be, it certainly seems that Planet Digital left 1st Playable out of the loop on the legal situation of the game they were developing – but that’s as much guesswork that I’ll do when it seems that each side has its own version of the events. Now, the interest seems to have died down, with Cookstar now joining a sketchy legion of games that were pulled for legal or technical reasons that have been turned into rare collectors items.
This kind of story isn’t that uncommon in the gamedev world. People focus on the developers behind the greatest hits, but a lot of the industry is concentrated on smaller titles – the tie in games, mobile games, and so on. 1st Playable Productions, is one of these smaller devs, with a catalogue of mostly smaller mobile games and similar titles. Likewise, the publishers, Planet Digital Entertainment, seem to operate mostly on the sidelines of the gamedev world, operating as a distributor for small games for larger publishers – such as the publisher Nacon (also known as bigben), a publisher and accessory manufacturer based out of France that contracts out their game sales to a wider array of companies – including Planet Digital Entertainment. It seems that the previous games released by Planet were more distribution deals, ones that never really made an impact – Nacon/bigben never mentioned Planet or the individual games that they distributed in any of their financial releases, indicating that they were unprofitable flops that made no money. For Planet, it probably seemed at the time that this would change with acquiring the rights to Cooking Mama. This would be their big break, to finally publish a game rather than selling it for another publisher. They then contracted 1st Playable to develop the game, only for Office-Create, as the rights holder, to put a halt on the project because it didn’t meet their own quality standards. Planet, it seems, never really informed the crew at 1st Playable about this, and released the game anyway, only for it to fall under suspicion as being a criminal scam. In other words, 1st Playable were basically thrown under the bus by their publisher who assured them that everything was O.K. with this game, when it clearly wasn’t, only to then get hit with the worst kind of publicity. Sure, the truth is out now, but does it matter when none of it has spread as far as the original rumors? For studios on the margins, this can literally make or break deals that the developers might need to survive. While at least right now, it seems that they’re fine and responding to bug reports on the game, but regardless, it shows just how precarious the conditions of these smaller companies can be. Now, 1st Playable has become part of a legal struggle with these contracts, because the people who hired them never bothered to check – or cared – if what they were doing was legal. All the developer did was do what they could to the best of their abilities, budget, and time, to then get screwed over.
This story doesn’t have an end, and the two main sides – Cooking Mama’s owners, Office-Create, and the publisher, Planet Digital, are going to court right now over this. The only lesson that we can take from this is the terrifying speed that rumors spread on the internet. It’s no secret that the internet is a breeding ground for hearsay to be passed off as true fact, and that we all get tripped up on our own assumptions based on the facts at hand. Even what can be learned is the stupidly obvious – to not put stock in random 4chan comments or screenshots of posts on discord as solid proof, and to even treat interviews with news sites with healthy skepticism. Now, with each side claiming something different, it’d be best to end the speculation and leave Cookstar alone with it’s awards; being the latest in a line of rare games, and a “Proggy” from PETA for including a vegetarian mode.
Hey, thanks for reading this far into this piece. I actually wasn’t planning on writing anything this month, but evidently I turned out to have other plans. If you want to read more of my writing, please check out my piece on Flash games and Itch.io