Game Producer Quest, Part 11

Actually, I wanted to title this blog post: “No Ni no Kuni For You!”

This is a story that’s made the rounds of gaming news websites (Kotaku, IGN, etc.), and burned long and bright in the various gaming forums such as Neogaf and the Namco Bandai Games community.  Unfortunately, with so many voices chiming in, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction as people’s  tempers flare and misinformation and rumor get added to the mix.

My understanding of the entire situation is as follows, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was coming to North America localized, published and distributed by Namco Bandai.  However, a special collector’s edition dubbed the ‘Wizard’s Edition’ was made exclusive to Namco Bandai’s website (i.e. unavailable through Amazon, GameStop, etc., though standard editions of the game could be bought at mentioned places.)  Over the summer of 2012, they started what they called a ‘Ninostarter,’ where the more people that preordered the Wizard’s Edition (i.e. more money spent, reach goal x), the more collectables would be included.  At least that’s how I think it worked.  Anyways, this preorder period ended in late August, with no limits as to how many copies can be ordered.  The game would be released January 22, 2013.

No Ni no Kuni for you!  Yay, I got to say it!

No Ni no Kuni for you! Yay, I got to say it!

Namco Bandai announced sometime in early January that there would accept additional Wizard Edition preorders on January 17, 2013, though the additional stock would be extremely limited, limited to one copy per order.  I ordered during this time period.  So some the release day, and orders were being cancelled left and right.  There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to who was getting cancelled and who was getting orders fulfilled, as people who ordered over the summer as well as January 17th were getting the dreaded cancellation email.  Incidentally, Digital River is the company that handles orders for the Namco Bandai store, as well as several other big name companies, including Microsoft.  In an attempt to calm customer anger, a $20 coupon code that expires in March was given out to people with cancelled orders.

The shenanigans don’t end there; a lot of people were angry, regardless of what time period they preordered, and called Digital River customer support to find out why their order was cancelled.  Some people were able to reorder over the phone successfully.  Furthermore, for some strange reason, on January 23rd a secret link was made for people to use to reorder.  This link was leaked and made public by an unknown party, and many people used it before it was disabled.  As far as I can tell, people who used this link or called were given priority over others who ordered earlier, even over the summer, angering people even more.

Digital River did post an apology on the Namco Bandai forums, blaming a glitch in their system for the fiasco; I’ve quoted the following sections of it:

“For those of you who placed orders prior to January 17 and provided valid payment and shipping information, your order and a shipping confirmation should have been sent to you.”

This is not entirely true, as people who did provide valid payment and shipping information had their summer preorders cancelled, and are easily the angriest regarding this situation.

“If you placed your order on January 17 before the inventory was exhausted, you should have received an email notification stating that your order is being fulfilled.”

I guess I was not one of these people, but there are people that easily, within minutes of the preorder link being made available, that placed an order that had it cancelled.

“If you placed your order on January 17 after the inventory was exhausted, you should have received an email notification yesterday from Digital River stating that your order was cancelled and that you will not be receiving Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – Wizard’s Edition.”

This is where I get annoyed; the post in its entirety was made on January 23, 2013.  If inventory was depleted, how were people who ordered on the 23rd via secret link or phone call able to place orders?  This single discrepancy frustrates me to no end.  By the end of the day, there were people that pre-ordered over the Summer that had their order cancelled, though I can’t give you a number or even guess a percentage.  Many people that preordered on the 17th (including myself) had their order cancelled.  As far as I can tell, most if not all of the people that ordered on the 24th had their order fulfilled.  This is most angering for me personally, as the company has made no effort to explain this discrepancy, which at this point leads me to believe severe incompetence and lack of effort and care on Digital River’s part is the culprit here.

Due to overwhelming hardcore gamer anger (nerd rage FTW! ;)), a conspiracy theory gained traction about an EBay seller going by the handle ‘PlayCanada,’ who pre-ordered over the summer 200+ copies and managed to sell them on EBay at extreme marked up prices.  PlayCanada had lied and said they worked closely with Namco Bandai to get those copies, a report Namco Bandai said was false in a statement of their own.  Speaking of Namco Bandai’s official statement which was made on January 25th, 2013, they issued an apology not in word but in deed, saying they will give a free hard bound copy of the Ni no Kuni strategy guide put out by Prima games to those affected by this fiasco.  Mind you, I already own this strategy guide (preordered at Amazon), but I do think this is something.  It’s unfortunate the Wizard Edition preorder was botched so badly, but this is something.  To be honest, it’s better than nothing, and while I would have liked a worded apology as opposed to “…respectfully ask(ing) for our fan’s patience during this time…” it’s still better than nothing.  However, as of this blog post, there has been zero contact by Digital River for this strategy guide, so until it actually happens, I remain a bit skeptical.  Furthermore, considering everything that has happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if Digital River charges me shipping and handling for this free guide.

I probably just jinxed myself there.  D’OH!

Returning to Digital River’s statement, I quote:

“To start, we want you to know that this event should neither reflect negatively on NAMCO BANDAI and the value they place on customer relationships, nor take away from the high quality of their game, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – Wizard’s Edition. Digital River is taking responsibility for this situation and we are truly sorry for the experience you may have had with our company. We are working hard to make sure an event like this doesn’t happen again.”

I disagree that the assertion that this fiasco should not reflect on Namco Bandai and Digital River only, as there is honestly plenty of blame to go around.  Though I don’t know if Digital River’s attempt to fall on the sword was an attempt at positive spin PR, hoping not to anger their partner Namco Bandai, appease the customers for an apparent show of nobility, or any combination of the above.  But I digress; as I said, plenty of blame to go around in my opinon.  I don’t know for certain as I am not privy to the inner workings of Namco Bandai management, but someone somewhere decided to have a collector’s edition and make it exclusive to the Namco Bandai online store.  It makes no sense to me that Digital River would make this decision, but someone or someones at Namco Bandai are responsible.  Furthermore, in making this decision, someone at Namco Bandai should have realized that since things are being done differently from the norm, that different policies and procedures should have been established to make sure this exclusive preorder would go smoothly and successfully.  I personally believe no such thing was done.  In other words:

Namco Bandai Executive: “Let’s make this collector’s edition exclusive to the Namco Bandai store!  It’ll drive up traffic and we cut out the middleman!”

Yes Men & Women: “Yeah!  What a great idea!  You’re a genious!  Steve Jobs was a peon compared to you.”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Yes, yes, I know.”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Uh, sir?”

Namco Bandai Executive: “What?”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Well, shouldn’t we start making plans for this exclusive?   We’re going to have to manage this project differently, track stock differently, establish new policies and procedures, maybe hire additional staff…”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Project management?  What’s that?  We don’t need to do any of that.  That all sounds like it costs money.”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “Well, we could use contingency in the budget to offset any costs…”

Namco Bandai Executive: “Contingency?  What’s that?  Look, we don’t need to do anything differently at all.  We’re Namco Bandai, b****!  And our partner Digital River is awesome!”

Yes Man/Woman that Doesn’t Want to be a Yes Man/Woman: “…”

Yes Men/Women: “Namco Bandai Rules!  Digital River Rules!”

Wait a second…does the guy who used to head BP now work at Namco Bandai and/or Digital River?  That would make so much sense!  Well, at least in my brain.

However, I agree about the high quality of the game, which is why when I had my order cancelled, a placed an order with Amazon for the standard edition.  In my opinion, it was better than nothing, and those that have decided to not purchase it at all in a boycott of Namco Bandai products I think are doing themselves a disservice as gamers as the game really is terrific.  If one does not wish to support Namco Bandai, that is their right.  However, I think one should be able to soothe their conscience in knowing that in purchasing this game, they are supporting the developers of this game, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, two companies that probably are worthy of one’s support.  Namco Bandai only published the game, that is all.  I’m hoping once anger subsides, that people who thought to boycott will make this purchase.

As for Digital River alone, they say that they’re going to work had to ensure this fiasco doesn’t happen again.  I wouldn’t mind details regarding this statement.  Are they hiring more staff, an experienced project manager perhaps?  Are they upgrading their software and personnel to better accommodate customers and track available stock?

So the lesson I learned?  Try not to order exclusive items from the Namco Bandai store, at least as long as they’re associated with Digital River, unless the latter demonstrates a genuine commitment to increased competency and responsibility.

While I’m bummed about not getting a Wizard Edition, it’s hardly the end of the world.  I’ve had worse things happen to me.  With that said, I sincerely hope no one at Namco Bandai thinks to have a collector’s edition of Dark Souls 2 exclusive to the Namco Bandai store.  Personally, while I would hope both Namco Bandai and especially Digital River have learned from this fiasco, I don’t think it’s the smart bet to assume that they definitely have.  Making a Dark Souls 2 collector’s edition exclusive to their online store would be heartbreaking for me…

Game Producer Quest, Part 10

You know, I actually had an idea in mind of what to post next.  But sometimes, the game industry just hands you something on a silver platter, so I’ll hold off on my original intention and mention some brief thoughts on the end of THQ.

I can’t say they’ve been around as long as I’ve been gaming, but I can say they’ve produced games that I have both enjoyed and disliked.  I will add though that they haven’t made a game series that I loved or couldn’t stop playing.  At best, some of their games were really quite fun, while others simply failed to capture my interest to the point where I had no desire to even make a purchase.

Series I liked:

Saints Row – There are things this sandbox game does right, which is simply to be silly and offensive on a massive scale.  It actually works well, considering that the gameworld is intended to be a sandbox gameplay-wise.  With that said, it’s also a game series that, once you’ve finished playing, you more or less don’t have any desire to play anymore.  That is, at least for me, it lacks replay value.  The story is done, it’s time to move on.

WWE Series – I have been an on-and-off wrestling fan for years.  Currently, I’m on an ‘off’ phase.  Still, wrestling games can be great fun and enjoyable, with fun create-a-character suites where you find yourself spending more time than you’d like, because it takes forever to load a piece of clothing or tattoo.  The latest rumor is that 2K has acquired the rights to the franchise, which would be very interesting to say the least.

Series I didn’t bother with:

Darksiders, Company of Heroes, Homefront, Warhammer 40,000, Red Faction, Destroy All Humans!  Since I haven’t  really played any of these games, I’ll refrain from sharing my thoughts on them specifically.

Overall though, it’s actually impressive the number of intellectual properties that have emerged from THQ.  Some of them aren’t originally theirs; I think Warhammer is a tabletop game from a company whose name evades me, but overall, still impressive.  In the end, while I can’t say the company has ever produced a game I would put as one of my personal all-time favorites, it has produced some honest-to-goodness, fun games, which is definitely something to be proud of.

Game Producer Quest, Part 09

So there’s been rumors flying about here-and-there about the next generation Xbox and Playstation (codenamed Durango and Orbis respectively).  An article at gameindustry.biz suggests a $400 price point for both consoles.  Now, I’m no Nate Silver, but since we’re talking about rumors, I may as well make predictions based on…nothing really.  Observation?  Personal life experience?  Who knows, but it makes sense in my brain, and like it says in the title, then again, I’ve been wrong before.

  1. Both Durango and Orbis will be revealed in full (with their official names) at this year’s E3, 2013.  Probably a pretty safe prediction; they have to be announced at some point.  Why not E3?
  2. Both will be released in the Fall of 2014.  I know everyone is saying this coming Fall, but I think it’s too optimistic to release so soon when both companies have announced nothing official.  Also, I think both companies are monitoring the Wii U sales closely to help guide them in this decision.  Without going to look specific numbers up, my understanding is that it hasn’t sold like original Wii has.  In fact, I just opened a tab and went to Gamestop.com, and can order the Wii U right now, and it’ll will ship in 24 hrs.  I can guarantee that the original Wii was practically sold out (at least online) when it came out, as I was monitoring that situation closely at the time, since I wanted a Wii.  Other questions to consider regarding this optimistic release date: Has the hardware even been finalized yet?  Has the physical design been finalized yet?  Are the factories (probably in China) prepping to start producing these consoles?  Do the companies have their finalized dev kits in place to produce launch software titles?  Speaking of launch software:
  3. Both consoles will be fully backwards compatible.  In doing so, both consoles don’t necessarily require a super-strong launch line-up.  What they need is a competent one, and then they can rely on the final title releases of the previous generation to get them through.  The last Gears of War (that can be played on Xbox 360 and Durango), the last God of War (that can be played on PS3 and Orbis), etc.  It would be puzzling if they decided to launch new consoles and nix the backwards compatibility entirely.  It would basically require a strong launch line-up, and again, I’m not sure that developer’s have had enough time to develop anything for the next generation.  It’s rumored the Grand Theft Auto V is coming out late this year.  Imagine if it came out, and could not be played on Durango or Orbis?  Keeping backwards compatibility would basically guarantee that the hardcore audience would at least consider upgrading.  Imagine: “Wait, I just bought GTA V, and I can’t play it on this thing?  Why did I buy it again?  Where’s my 360?”
  4. Both consoles will have 2 launch versions, one at around $349.99, the other at around $399.99.  I can’t imagine either company, especially Sony, even considering launching a console at the $599.99 price point.  I think everyone found out with the launch of the original PS3 that the $599.99 price point was simply too rich even for the most hardcore.  When one considers the current state of the economy, it would be…interesting, if not risky to go into $600 territory.  In my opinion, at least.

That’s it for my predictions of the upcoming rumored consoles from Microsoft and Sony, which probably means they’re all wrong.  Oh well, c’est la vie.

Game Producer Quest, Part 08

So CES 2013 (Consumer Electronics Show) is going on right now.  I’m not there, though I wish I was.  Easily the item that I’m most intrigued by is the Razer Edge tablet by…well, Razer.

Ooohhh...gamey.

Ooohhh…gamey.

Known primarily for their boutique PC peripherals, they headed into uncharted waters the past few years when they released their Razer Blade laptop (no pun intended), another item I’m keeping my eye on.

So I’ve held off on tablets, unless you count my fairly new Kindle Paperwhite (which I don’t; it only reads books, to be honest.)  That’s not to say the iPad doesn’t intrigue me, but the Razer Edge (formerly codenamed Project Fiona) has kept me away from an iPad purchase.  I want to know more about the device.  To top that all out, with the XBox surface tablet from Microsoft rumored to be in development (I’m assuming this rumor is true), I’ll probably hold off on an investment until all three have been released, and I can get a sense of which one is best for me.

One thing I was glad to see about the Razer Edge is that the gamepad controllers are detachable, which I always wondered about when Project Fiona was demoed at a previous CES (I think it was CES…probably CES…but then again, I’ve been wrong before.)

Yes, they come off.

Yes, they come off.

There’s also a keyboard dock attachment not dissimilar to the recently released Surface tablets from Microsoft.  Razer Edge with Keyboard Dock Another thing that’s neat is that the tablet has another docking station that can connect to your television, so whatever game your running can be played at higher resolutions and on more real estate, if you wished.

Let’s see, I count three USB ports, 1 HDMI, headphone & mic jack, and something at the end that’s too small for my eyes to decipher. D’OH!

There are two versions being advertised at Razer’s website, the regular Razer Edge, and the Razer Edge Pro, which has a faster processor (i5 Dual core vs. i7 Dual core), more memory (8GB vs. 4GB DDR3), beefier graphics card (1GB DDR3 vs. 2GB DDR3 on an NVidia GT 640M), and more storage (64GB vs. 128/256GB SSD).  Both run Windows 8 and sport Stereo speakers.  Really cool, though like all mobile devices, I am curious about the battery life of both versions.

I’m also curious about the ecosystem you’re buying into.  After all, even though it runs games, I’d like it to do more than that.  Since I don’t have a mobile Windows 8 device, I can’t speak to that.  Though that may change in the next few months.

One thing I’m a bit disappointed by (though the year is young, so this may yet happen) is a third announced refresh for their Razer Blade laptop.  They’ve already refreshed the hardware once, but I look at the specs, and it’s still not where I think it needs to be considering the price point it’s at.  Close, but no cigar.

A final piece of hardware that I’m keeping my eyes on is Valve’s Steambox, which as far as I can tell, is a tiny console that will allow one to play their Steam account games on one’s TV.  Pretty neat, but how much are people willing to pay for this, I wonder.

Life Quest, Part 01

I have to admit that I hesitate to write and posting this.  Then again, one of my new year’s resolutions is to post on my blog weekly.  So here you go with my thoughts on the recent Newtown tragedy.  It hits a bit closer to home for me because I was essentially raised in Newtown, CT.  My family and I moved to Newtown when I was seven, and my two older brothers and I essentially grew up here.  It’s funny to hear the two diverging views on Newtown.  For the older folks in the community, Newtown is a nice, peaceful place.  For younger generations, it’s a small, boring town in the middle of nowhere.  Neither view is incorrect, though the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.  I’m actually writing this in Newtown, living in my folk’s home as I job hunt.  I was actually looking at job postings when I logged out of my email and the headlines on msn spoke of a shooting in Sandy Hook.  I clicked on it, wondering if it could possibly be referencing Sandy Hook, CT (which is part of Newtown,) and to my surprise, it was.

It reminds of 9/11 in the sense that as it was happening, a part of me couldn’t believe what was going on, and yet all the major stations were covering this one event.  Conflicted is easily the word that applies to my feelings.  A part of me didn’t want to believe it was happening, and yet another part of me wasn’t all that surprised.

Of course, this would be tragic regardless of where it happened.  A madman with a weapon goes into a school, killing innocent children and a few adults.  Still, to be perfectly honest, Newtown hasn’t felt like home for me in quite a long time, but that doesn’t matter.  No community deserves this.  And I must add that I am a bit…annoyed that of all the things Newtown will be known for, it will be most known for this one evil event.

There are no perfectly safe places anywhere.  But I do think that it would behoove school systems to begin investing their budget towards stronger safety measures.  Anywhere from 2-4 security guards on staff would be a smart investment, in my opinion.  I have mixed feelings on gun laws though.  I’m simply not convinced that making the acquisition of firearms more difficult will make a difference, as madmen and psychopaths likely don’t acquire their weapons through legal channels.  At least, in my opinion; then again, I’ve been wrong before.  Still, I do think that tougher punishments for the people who do acquire their guns through illegal means may help.

My parents and I went to the local diner the other day to celebrate my dad’s birthday.  The diner was surprisingly not too busy, though there was still a small media presence enjoying a meal there.  The waitress spoke to all three of us at length about the tragedy.  It was…good to talk about it, I think.  Positive, constructive conversation about the event, how to make sense of it, and how to proceed to make things better is always a good thing, I think.

We passed by the memorial on the way home.  I may drive back there and take some pictures to post here.  In the meantime, I managed to get this post in before the end of the week.  I’ll see if I can keep up a weekly posting rate.

To paraphrase an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graphic novel: Life is good, and life goes on.