Tuesday, September 01, 2015

SquareEnix, You're Making It Tough To Like You Right Now

With the exception of the Final Fantasy 14 team, which did a heartfelt job at thanking their player-base on the 2 year anniversary of A Realm Reborn, the rest of the company needs to take a step back and examine themselves. Specifically with pre-order bonuses. And maybe the 10 year delay on FF15. That could use another look as well.

Recently the company announced a land-altering bonus for Just Cause 3 where you can win an island. Just a few days before that, reviewers and gamers began to get their hands on the new Final Fantasy Portal App that leaves a lot of be desired (and a huge lack of crystals to play their games). But hey! You get FF1 for free as a bonus for downloading the app, as long as you never change phones. Ever.

It's not news that pre-order bonuses are getting crazier and out of hand. And the market behind pre-orders is becoming caustic. For game publishers and developers, pre-orders are guaranteed sales. It's rare that a customer doesn't pick up a game that they have reserved. Some companies (*coughsgamestopcoughs*) have gone so far as to no longer contact customers when reservations arrive, knowing that most will visit the retail chains and pick them up without prompting. And when you have a guaranteed sale without reviewers seeing your product, you're more inclined to not send out a finished item. Fix it later with patches, they will say.

Granted, this is not always the situation, but it seems that many of the larger companies are going the way of Ubisoft and releasing games, specifically franchises, annually, with plans to patch long after the big splurge of customer purchases. Because people are still going to buy your game, so why bother making it bug free at release?

One way to cull people into pre-ordering is with bonuses. It started out as a little treat of an in-game item for loyal customers to a brand. Now it's become the norm, and it's overwhelming. SE is taking it one step further, not just with the island, but you can customize your pre-order bonuses for the upcoming Dues Ex. You can choose what you want you pre-order bonuses to be, which range from in-game skins, music downloads, to a 4 day early release.

How does this work? Well, glad that you asked. Here is the summary on the pre-order website:

"Your Augmented Future Awaits
The Augment Your Pre-order program allows you to choose various items from 5 tiers of rewards. The 1st tier is automatically unlocked with all subsequent tiers being unlocked based on the total amount of pre-orders made around the glove. Overcome the division of mankind and unite to fully unlock and augment your pre-order."

Yep. SE is telling you to pre-order your game, and to get your friends to pre-order, and then their friends, and then the friends of your friends to their friends, and so on. All so you can unlock more pre-order bonuses and customize your final package. And only when they max out pre-orders will SE allow you to access all of the bonus items.

This is pre-order insanity on a new level that I can not comprehend. SE wants you to pre-order to buy their game. But if you want the extra goodies, you need to convince others to pre-order and buy the product as well...I don't know if this is marketing genius or an abuse of gamer's trust. While SE is one of the few big studios that still produces bug free content, this drive for sales when we don't know the content is hitting a new high. Or low. Again, depending on your view.

Why are we doing this? Why are we caving in to so many pre-orders for sub-par products and crappy bonuses that are worthless?

I don't get it. I really don't. And the thing is at the time of this posting, the pre-orders jumped up to 50%. SE is halfway to their goal in under a day. Pre-orders are not typically measured in the millions, but the tens of thousands. Most don't make it up to 100k. Unless you're a triple A title such as Call of Duty or Halo. Those games will hit the 300k to 500k amount before release. Again, I don't understand why. They are not rare titles. The in-game bonuses will be dismissed as soon as you level up or find a better digital weapon. There's no real incentive to pre-order when you can pick up the product on release date if you wanted to without consequence. The only "downside" I could see is that you are a couple of hours behind other people who picked up the game at the midnight release. Big whoop. You'll catch up within a day. Not a big deal.

So why must we compete in pre-order sales of a guaranteed shelf-ed product? Selling out CoD games in the past was never an issue. Ever. Pre-order bonuses didn't help the overall sales. They just made the pre-sales more apparent. And it's giving developers an excuse to not provide completed products at release. So again I ask, why?

And no. I'm not pre-ordering Dues Ex. I hadn't even planned on it. The e-mail from SE confirmed my dislike of the entire system.

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