Moving Beyond Kickstarter: Innovation inside the Industry

Two major things have happened regarding the Japanese Role-Playing Game genre recently.

First, Square-Enix announced that it’s revolutionizing its business strategy. While the most prominent part of that thrust was to find ways to monetize games while they’re still in development, the company also stated that it is changing how it connects and interacts with its customers and fanbase. Specifically, their report bemoans the fact that the company maintains radio silence on the status of games, leaving its fans out in the cold.

square-enixIf there’s a less specific way that Square could refer to Final Fantasy Versus XIII while still maintaining vagueness, I don’t know of it. And as a huge supporter of Project Crystallis, I am loving this announcement, and I’m eager to see what Square has to say at E3 next week. Information about Lightning Returns, the HD remake of Final Fantasy X, and Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMix are all slated for presentation, but I doubt Square would release this report 2 weeks prior to gaming’s biggest annual event if they had no plans of talking about Versus XIII. The timing even synchronizes with Tetsuya Nomura’s promise that the silence on Versus XIII would be lifted soon. I have high hopes.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 6.06.26 PM

Second, Operation Rainfall announced a partnership with Language Automation, Inc, completely blowing away any expectations anyone could have had about OpRa’s future after the localization of Pandora’s Tower. The strategy behind this is genius: Operation Rainfall has become the collective voice of all niche gamers, and it is the one organization that has genuine credibility with both consumers and publishers.

The partnership works like this: OpRa will have polls to measure which games its followers want to be localized most. It will conduct these in a competitive fashion, like a bracket-style tournament. At the end, Language Automation Inc (LAI) will then approach the IP rights holder for the winning title(s), and offer its services at steep discounts. In doing so, it lowers the cost of localizing a title. When paired with the promise of OpRainfall’s fanbase and marketing push, niche titles that may have been risks outside of Japan become more promising.

OpRa-LAI-Partnership

These two moves signal, for me at least, that the jRPG industry is finally getting ahead of the ball. Square Enix is the jRPG developer/publisher with the best name recognition outside of Japan, and it’s reforming its business practices to become consumer-friendly. From the consumer side, OpRa shows that consumers are getting increasingly savvy about finding ways to show publishers what they want, and OpRa, unlike similar groups, has a track record to demonstrate that its promises of profitability are credible.

Over the past couple years, Kickstarter has been the main mechanism for individual consumers to get actively involved in game development. The site has let them turn internet usernames into real cash, something that the industry unquestionably understands. Developers from Double Fine to inXile to Obsidian have all been able to use that mechanism to bypass the trials of getting a publisher’s backing, in order to simply make their games, and build strong relationships with their fanbase in the process. But Kickstarter only works for small scale projects. Even the most-funded videogame was only funded to the tune of $4 million, and their initial goals were around $1 million or less. While a great midway between AAA games and the indie genre, Kickstarter has limited utility, and a game is only as powerful as its press coverage.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter has its uses. It’s an outside alternative to the traditional industry structure, whereby developers are subservient to publishers, who pay the checks and fund the marketing push, yet the developers bear the ultimate responsibility for cultivating a relationship with consumers. (Just think of the Mass Effect 3 scandal. People were angry at Bioware, not EA.)

But the close, albeit coincidental, timing of Square Enix’s announcement and OpRa’s partnership with LAI suggests that every player in the industry – publishers, developers, tertiary (localization) firms, and consumers – are finding new ways to interact with each other in the web that already exists.

And seriously, Operation Rainfall deserves huge props for finding new, exciting ways to stay relevant. Whether in Political Science or International Relations, it’s an established fact that once an organization completes its mission, it often withers away; it’s too politically popular to end, but it doesn’t do anything anymore. OpRa has turned that on its head. The organization is still an amazing source for news, its editorial staff is top-notch, and the partnership with LAI has the potential to give OpRa a new prominence in the industry.

All that’s left is to see what Square unveils at E3. And they must explain why Amazon just delisted Versus XIII.

Note: I know I haven’t posted for about 2 weeks. I’ve had 3 posts between 50-90% done, but I started my summer job, and it’s going to be extremely busy through next week. So, I blame that.

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2 responses to “Moving Beyond Kickstarter: Innovation inside the Industry

  1. We haven’t fully seen the effects of Kickstarter’d games yet, but I’m hoping that if such projects are popularly successful that any possible future iterations have a greater amount of funding. Furthermore, and this is being optimistic I know, but maybe if they are indeed successful they may nudge the gaming industry as a whole toward a more genre-diverse future.

    • Games are already pretty genre-diverse. Some genres have far more market share than others, but there’s a lot of variation, and there will always be new ideas. Still, Kickstarting a videogame is mainly used to bypass the need for a publisher, however. Hopefully, Kickstarted games will be successful. But, if publishers become easier to work with for both developers and consumers, then Kickstarter may lose some of its current prominence in debates about the industry.

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