Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Games and Fan Participation

This article can also be found at the Yorker and PixelxCore.
Video games as a medium have an advantage other media very rarely get - fan participation. Every so often - and especially in the current age of gaming where developers are increasingly open about their game design processes - fans of a game series or a publishing company will be called upon to offer their voice. It's a smart move on paper - it means developers can cater even more exclusively to a target audience, and almost guarantee a base number of sales. But there are many circumstances where it all goes wrong...
For a great example of Fan Participation gone awfully wrong, look no further than Capcom's Megaman Legends 3 project. While the Legends series are some of the most low-key entries in Megaman's history, the previous PS1 games had a gigantic following. So when Capcom announced that a sequel would be part of the 3DS' download service, the hype was intense. The main hook was that development staff asking for input from fans every step of the way - from character design, to side quests and Easter eggs.

However, Capcom had behind-the-scenes difficulties, and everything went downhill. The demo for Megaman Legends 3 was nowhere to be seen when the 3DS eShop went live, and new information on the development process was becoming more and more sparse; until one day an announcement was made that the project had been scrapped entirely. The blow to the fans was twofold - not only were they excited for a long-awaited sequel, by this point they had become emotionally invested in its design process. Some fans felt that it was as much 'their' game as it was Capcom's. When Capcom refused to give a statement in regards to why the project got shut down, things got a little heated. Some of the public shrugged their shoulders and moved on; but others still insist on making their voice heard, and are still trying to appeal to Capcom; a number of which are suffering from what can only be described as Fan Entitlement.

I'm sure this occurs in fans of other media types also; but video game enthusiasts can get down right nasty when they feel like, as the end user, they know better than the companies supplying them with media to consume. Some of the punters, jaded by the closure of the Megaman Legends 3 project closure have decided that they're boycotting Capcom as a whole, resolving to not giving the company a single penny until they get the game release they deserve, dammit.

'Operation Rainfall' is a campaign built entirely around Fan Entitlement. As Nintendo's Wii U slowly approaches, the number of big-name titles for the Wii is starting to decline. Three Japanese RPG titles - The Last Story, Pandora's Tower, and Xenoblade - had no plans for a US release, and project leader Chris Ward was not standing for that. He arranged a mass-mail session, getting Nintendo fans to write letters to Nintendo of America (NoA), pressing them for release details on these titles. The project caused quite a stir, and prompted NoA to sent letters in reply to the participants, but there is still no sign of NoA releasing these games stateside.

From a UK point of view, foreign games being delayed or outright cancelled for an EU release is absolutely nothing new. Atlus, one of the biggest-name Japanese-to-English publishers has a long list of games that were translated and released in the US, but did not see a UK release. Nintendo have been surprisingly kind about EU releases in the last few years, titles Disaster: Day of Crisis and Another Code R are Wii titles with an EU release, but no US one. In fact, Xenoblade, one of Operation Rainfall's target games was announced an EU release as far back as May! Not getting an anticipated title is annoying, but ultimately the decision is down to a publisher's sales team.

Nintendo, Capcom, and other games publishers are businesses first and foremost, and have to make difficult choices in deciding which titles will sell well enough to make a profit in a region. If the answer points to "no", then that is unfortunately that. Operation Rainfall has a large amount of numbers (8,126 on their Facebook page at time of writing; though not a patch on the 40,901 for Megaman Legends 3), but that may not be enough for Nintendo's sales figures.

Operation Rainfall's popularity (though not its success) has sparked other parties to start up their own Fan Participation projects, including the similarly-named Operation Moonfall – a petition to get Nintendo to release the N64 title Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask for 3DS.

Fan Participation can even affect advertising decisions. Recently, Bioware held a Facbook poll to decide the look for the protagonist of Mass Effect 3, Shepard. In the previous games, a male version of Shepard was used in the advertising and merchandise (The gender and looks of the protagonist is decided by the player), and Mass Effect 3 would be the first title to prominently feature the fairer sex foremost. There is some contention over the most popular choice being the blond haired, blue eyed option, when there were less common and ethic options present, but the attempt at inclusiveness at all is a step in the right direction.

Fan Participation is one of the best methods for companies to gauge the interest of consumers; and in situations where companies are doing something reprehensible, a fan voice can do wonders to put them on track. But it's a matter of trust – we trust in games companies and developers to not squander fan interest, and it's the responsibility of the fans to act like sensible adults and not whining children if we disagree with a decision.

No comments:

Post a Comment