Monday, August 27, 2012

First Impressions Are Everything, Make Your Announcements Count

The internet erupted in a fiery explosion of hate this morning, all of it directed at game developers Square Enix. What did they do to deserve this hatred? They announced an iOS port of a much loved game. ‘Wait, what?’ you think, ‘that’s it?’ Well, there’s certainly a lot more to it than that.

Square Enix started up a teaser site, which was directly referencing their cult classic game, The World Ends With You, a game that fans have been requesting a sequel for for years. There’s been multiple occasions where the development team have said they would love to make a sequel, and are considering it, but there’s never been a concrete announcement of any sorts. Now, imagine how fans of this series would feel, when a site goes online showing a location from the game, playing remixed music from the game while counting down with a timer that looks just like the timers from the game. It would be right to assume the sequel they’d been clamouring for was finally coming to be, right? People were hyped, and you really can’t blame them. But then, it wasleaked that an iOS port of the game was in the works, and people figured this is what the countdown was for, and there was a mix of anger and disappointment. But then, the game’s translator, Brian Gray, made this tweet

Naturally the majority of people took this to mean that the port wasn’t going to be the only thing revealed. I was sceptical though, the phrase ‘more drip than leak’ to me implied that yes, something was leaked, but not all the information about it was, meaning we were simply getting more information about the port, and he was telling us to not judge it until we’d seen it.

So the timer eventually came to 0, and at midnight Japan time, the site updated with a big reveal… of the iOS port. Nothing more, just the port we knew was coming, with some information and a reveal trailer. Even though I tried to not get my hopes up, inevitably I was caught up with everyone else in the hype of what could be a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. But alas, it was not to be, and the port was all we got. Message boards erupted into chaos, Brian Gray was flamed to hell on Twitter and the reveal trailer got a ridiculous amount of dislikes on Youtube, to the point where user ratings were disabled on the video. It reached over 1000 dislikes within 45 minutes or so, and before the user ratings were disabled it had about a 93% disapproval rating. Here’s an early snapshot of the like/dislike ratio:

So, was this simply a case of fans being whiny when they didn’t get the game they wanted? No, I don’t believe so. We were all certainly disappointed that we didn’t get what we were hoping for, but there are more factors at play here, and the reaction I feel stems from the way this announcement was handled.

A new The World Ends With You game is something that has been requested for years now, and the developers have said on multiple occasions that a new game is entirely possible and they’d like to make one. A site then pops up with a countdown that is designed to reflect the game, with iconic visuals, and remixed music. The only people this site would mean anything to are people who played the original game. Someone who hasn’t played TWEWY would have no idea what the 104 building is, or where the music was from, so obviously this site was designed with the game’s fans in mind. Now, what would a fan of the game instantly assume would be hinted at by this site? The sequel they’ve been requesting for years, or the same game they’ve already played ported onto a smartphone that doesn’t have the functionality of the console that the original game was on, that nobody had been requesting? Square Enix must surely have known what fans would assume this countdown would be for, there’s no way they could have been oblivious to the implications. In fact, they most likely did. The minute the trailer was revealed on Youtube, it had already had commenting disabled. They had already anticipated the negative reaction, otherwise there’s no reason they would have done this.

Then there’s the case of Brian Gray’s tweet. I think he really worded this poorly, but again, he must have known exactly how people would take his words, and should have made sure he didn’t imply there would be more to be announced. I could have given him benefit of the doubt here, but his other tweets seriously imply that what was about to be announced was something that would make the fans happy, and in one, even says that it’s “what they're [the fans] looking for”.

This phrase in particular really gets me. What the fans were looking for was a new instalment in the series, and he know this, he admits it below

But still he chose to word his tweets this way, and stood by them when the port was announced

He knew exactly what was going to be announced, and he knew exactly how people would interpret his tweets, and he misled them to keep them interested in the countdown and the port, despite him knowing how people had already reacted to the leak of the port.

The reason the fans were so upset when the countdown finally hit 0, wasn’t because what they were given wasn’t what they wanted, but because they were made to believe it would be. You don’t make a big countdown site for an iOS port, and you don’t make people believe this countdown will reveal something else even when you know it won’t. As I said before, the site was clearly designed to attract fans of the series, but Square Enix knew exactly what people would think the countdown was going to reveal, and how they would react, but still they did this to try and get publicity for a port that fans of the series really didn’t want. If Square Enix one day decided to say ‘Hey guys, we’re porting The World Ends With You to iOS systems, check it out!’ people would have been disappointed there was no sequel, but might have been inclined to check it out. Now they’ve enraged the great majority of the TWEWY fanbase to the point where people are going to actively avoid and boycott the port. You don’t simply get the fans hopes up only to destroy them.

Funnily enough, I’ve also seen the reverse of this happen in the last few months too. I will try to not focus so much on why the existence of this game annoys me, but rather focus on how badly the announcement was handled. I’ve spoken before about the Battlefield 4 leak, and how that wastaken badly by fans. The developers have even come out on multiple occasions and tried to save face, saying they’ll keep supporting the existing Battlefield game. But the reveal of the game was handled so poorly that it’s no wonder the fans responded the way they did. But while the TWEWY iOS reveal took something small and made it a huge deal, the Battlefield 4 reveal took something rather big that should be handled with respect, and just plonked it on as a pre-order incentive for another game.

That’s right, not only was Battlefield 4 the first main game to come out directly after its predecessor, but it was revealed to us by the beta being a pre-order bonus for the new Medal of Hono(u)r. No details, no hints as to what to expect, just a ‘Hey guys, this is a big game so you should buy our not so big game so you can play it early’. There were three years in between Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2, as well as a spin off game released in that time. It would be another 6 years before Battlefield 3 came out, with a host of spin off games in between. The main games were milestones, where huge changes would be made and would show off brand new technology. But Battlefield 4 is coming out directly after Battlefield 3, with only about 2 years in between with no spinoff games to take the new engine to different settings and time zones. So knowing this, Battlefield fans were quite annoyed that EA were chucking out a new main game this quickly, where it would be highly unlikely for any huge, significant changes to be made to justify the donning of the title of a main game. Rather than trying to show us what was in store for this new game, they just plopped its name on as a pre order bonus. If they’d come out with a big reveal trailer that showed off some amazing new maps and gameplay features then some of the damage would have been alleviated there would still be people annoyed about a main game coming so early but, like with the TWEWY port, they would be more likely to at least check it out. Now the game has a stigma of being just a cash grab that people don’t see the need to buy, which isn’t helped by the fact that Battlefield 3 is going to have plenty of content by the time the 4th game releases (which is another thing, EA just got a whole heap of people to purchase access to the Battlefield Premium service, only to be told a new main game is coming out not long after the content is done), and the 4th game is going to have another modern warfare setting, which was another detail just kinda mentioned without a big deal or anything being made about it. They’ve given us no real reason to look forward to this game when so far it seems like Battlefield 3 will already do everything it can do. They had one chance to get a huge amount of hype for the game started, but they blew it.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here, first impressions are everything. If you don’t make people excited about a game when it’s first announced, they’re not going to be following it, and likely won’t buy it. And when you make the customers not only uninterested in a game, but anger them just by its very existence, you’ve done goofed. If Square Enix hadn’t led people on to think a TWEWY sequel was about to be announced, and just outright said an iOS port was coming, people would have been ok. If EA had shown that Battlefield 4 was going to be a huge improvement over the game we’d just bought (and perhaps waited until most, if not all of its DLC was already out first), then people would have been more accepting of the game, and potentially even excited for it. If you know something isn’t a big deal, don’t hype it up, treat it how it is. And likewise, if a game’s announcement is a big thing, and potentially controversial, make the announcement just as big, convince people it’s a good idea. First impressions are everything, don’t blow it.


  1. I agree full heatedly with this - I wouldn't have minded the port, but the fact that they let US hype it up so much, and that they basically used us as free marketing.


    You should check that out. Not sure if fake or not, but that could very well be what the Twitter message alluded to.

    Thought you'd probably wanna see it.

    1. Yeah, saw that today and was wondering the same thing. The wording of the tweets was still pretty bad, it sounded just like he was implying there'd be more to the countdown, and later that people should just give the port a chance. And even if this secret isn't what he was meaning I'd imagine he'd say it was anyway to try and get some of the heat off him XD
      I still believe that all this hyping up was handled awfully, and it would have been much better for everyone if he'd just stayed quiet.