Consumers vs. Creators: When Fans Collide

Consumers vs. Creators: When Fans Collide

The balance between creative expression and garnering profit for survival’s sake is a delicate dance as far as the games industry is concerned. Unfortunately, this summer’s dance has not been a favorable experience for long-time fans of Nintendo and Capcom. The two veteran companies have let down their supporters in big ways in the past month, to the point that it’s important for everyone to take a step back and reconsider what it means to be a game developer, and what it means to be a consumer.

Nintendo’s reluctance to grant North American Wii owners three high-quality RPGs (Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower) is already well-documented, but for the sake of fun, we’ll go over it one more time, quickly: Though the Wii is lacking in major releases until The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and a new family friendly Kirby game this holiday season, Nintendo of America seems uninterested in releasing the critically acclaimed RPG trio, even though the titles have already been localized for European audiences (granted, European and North American localization procedures differ, though us poor Yanks and offshore subjects of Her Majesty don’t have too much trouble understanding the thick British English and European French that dominates modern Dragon Quest localizations).

Nintendo is a publicly-traded business. Its history is dotted with very unpopular decisions, and the company is under no obligation to explain to its fans why it’s hesitant to give starved North American Wii owners three much sought-after games. Doubtlessly, Nintendo has a reason for depriving us, and it might even be an excellent, enlightening reason. “Wow,” we would say upon learning this reason, “We never thought of it that way. All is forgiven.”

But Nintendo isn’t speaking, or it can’t speak. It’s a frustrating experience for fans, and it’s made worse by Nintendo of America’s official response to the demand: “Thanks for being such great fans, but we currently have no plans to release these games in North America at this time.”

“Thanks for being such great fans?” Ouch, we done got trolled.

But there have been rumors stirring that Nintendo is localizing Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower for North America, and patient followers of Nintendo know that “No plans at this time” ultimately means nothing. It’s a vague span of time that can be called back at any time and replaced with a solid release date.

Sadly, though, even a release date can be recalled, which Capcom demonstrated recently when it pulled the plug on the Mega Man Legends 3 Project. Mega Man Legends 3 was one of Capcom’s most asked-after games for a decade. Last fall, Capcom finally announced the game was in the works for the Nintendo 3DS, but after Keiji Inafune left Capcom in October, Legends 3 was suddenly standing on shaky ground. We heard about how the project hadn’t been officially green-lit, and buyer reaction to a paid “Prototype” project would determine whether or not the full game would see release. Alas, we never got the chance to support Legends 3: The Prototype missed its release date, and Capcom outright axed the entire project in July.

Capcom declared that the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 was owed to the prototype not meeting certain standards, but the next few days gave rise to some infuriating tweets from Capcom Europe, stating that the fans didn’t show enough interest in the game by signing up for Legend 3‘s development room.

The purpose of the “DevRoom,” or so fans had been told, was to contribute ideas to the game’s creation. While we don’t know if Capcom Europe has all its facts untangled, it’s a bit of a sting to learn that the fun game-creation group that supposedly existed to bring developers and fans together is being scrutinized by men in suits behind a one-way mirror. Said suits could care less about the creative process, but exist only to flick the “OFF” switch if they believe the number of people who signed up for this DevRoom is directly proportional to the number of people who will purchase the game.

The oh-so grubby necessity of money must often take precedence over the fans’ desires: It’s not a pretty choice, but it’s a necessary one. Similarly, fans must remember that Nintendo, Capcom, Sony, indeed, any console engineer or game publisher must make choices that suit its bottom line. We depend on developers for a good time, and for the most part, they’re happy to deliver. However, we’re not a great big family, and we’re not even necessarily friends. We, the gamers, are consumers, and the developers and publishers are providers. While fans might feel affectionate towards a game, and while the ladies and gentlemen who make that game are bound to feel protective towards their work, someone higher up the ladder is more concerned with how the game will sell. That may sound cold, but he or she is also concerned about paying employees, paying rent, paying utilities, paying the nice man who brings in sandwiches on Fridays, etc.

With all that said, publishers do need to remember that there is a tactful way to treat fans, and unceremoniously wiping out a game that was announced after ten years of waiting isn’t the way to do it. Neither is having a spokesperson assuring your consumer base, “Stay tuned for a big announcement about those three games you want!…Here it is! Psyche! Ha ha ha! But thanks for being such great fans, really!”

It’s not always possible to offer up an explanation for why a project had to be taken out behind the barn, but some kind of explanation beyond “Yeah, this isn’t working out,” or, “We have no plans for [Project X] at this time” can soften the blow tremendously. Granted, wording is very important. It’s generally suspected that Capcom Europe said far more than it was supposed to about the cancellation of Legends 3, but either way, its less-than-tactful statements (“Too bad fans didn’t want to get more involved”) could have been worded less poisonously in an official statement–if supposed fan apathy is indeed what got the project shut down.

These happy mediums are going to become more important as the games industry becomes more corporate. The alternative is a distant, jaded consumer base that will hand over money and nothing more. It’s sad to think of the gaming industry as nothing more than a joyless exchange of money and product, but this summer has definitely seen two major rifts open up between the creators and the fans. Let’s hope they’re mended somehow before the cold weather settles in.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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