Game Producer Quest, Part 15

Just an update on the whole Ni No Kuni fiasco I blogged about a couple of weeks back, I received the free guide late last week, so Namco Bandai made good on their promise.  It’s a nice gesture for their Collector’s Edition screw-up, though as I said in a previous post, I sincerely hope they do not make any Collector’s Edition of Dark Souls 2 exclusive to their online store, as long as they continue to use Digital River e-commerce “solution” (I use the term loosely.)

I was wondering if there’d be any news this week about the upcoming Xbox, (aka Durango), in response to Sony’s PS4 reveal last week, but Microsoft continues to play things close to the vest, which I’m actually fine with.  Maybe some of my predictions will actually be more accurate about the upcoming next-gen consoles.

Lately, I’ve been playing Fire Emblem: Awakening on my 3DS.  It’s a terrific game, well worth playing if you like or appreciate strategy games.  Of the top of my head, it’s the 13th game in the franchise, which is rather impressive.  Not all of them have been localized in North America, but enough of them have been to develop a fan following of sorts.

We're falling!

We’re falling!

There are some things about it that stick out for me, not the least of which is the experience of actually playing a Nintendo 3DS.  The battery life is, in a word, awful for a mobile device.  Especially with the 3D on, wireless on, brightness fairly high, etc.  Even if you turn all those things off, it’s still nothing worth bragging about.  I actually researched this, and the 3DS XL apparently boasts better battery life, but still not enough to warrant a $200+ purchase / upgrade, in my opinion.

Speaking of 3D, there are times when playing Super Mario 3D Land where it’s better to turn the 3D on, and other moments when it’s better off.  However, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first game I’ve played on the system where I prefer the 3D on at all times.  From the seriously stunning anime cut sequences to the terrain maps that make up the bulk of your gameplay, the 3D actually enhances the experience.  With that said, due to the poor battery life, I actually turn it off.  It’s not my preference, but it’s a trade-off between a better experience vs. being able to play the game for longer periods of time before needing to recharge, which is much more often than I’d like.

As far as traditional Fire Emblem gameplay goes, one thing the franchise has done since its inception (I believe) is for units (the characters your control) to die permanently.  In other words, if they die in battle, they won’t return for the rest of the game.  However, for Fire Emblem: Awakening, they introduce two optional game modes: Classic, which sticks to the permadeath I described, and Casual, where if units due in battle, it won’t be permanent.  It can be argued that the game was meant to be played in Classic mode.  It’s an argument that I actually personally agree with.

With that said, I play in Casual mode.  Why?  It comes done to time investment for me.  With limited time to play games (work, family, friends, etc.), casual mode allows me to enjoy the game, forgive the mistakes I make, and allow me to continue with all my units in tow.  I can appreciate the challenge of classic mode, where you try to find the best way to keep your units alive, but it often involves replaying the same map numerous times, which eats up time like you wouldn’t believe.  Just one mistake, and you either find yourself needing to accept the death of so-and-so, or hitting home and starting over.  Depending in how much time you take building a unit up, or if you find yourself attached to a particular character, and this decision can be rather agonizing.  Also of note that there are two units in particular that, if killed, results in game over.  Additionally, It’s true you can save during battle, but battle saves are deleted when you resume them, so you can’t start over from a certain point in battle repeatedly.

For the record, I do have a second save (three saves in total are allowed) devoted to classic mode.  However, progress in that save is far less than my casual mode game, which I believe is close to…around the ballpark of 80% done.  Once I’ve finished the game story-wise, I’ll probably start devoting more time to class mode, frustration and all.


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…