When to Apologize – Final Fantasy XIV vs. The 3DS

Today I want to look at apologies from developers in the game industry. When a video game developer makes a mistake, even a massive one, the best gamers can usually hope for is a flimsy verbal apology and maybe some free DLC if it’s that kind of game. Publicized messes like Diablo 3 or Sim City can lead to minor recourse, but most disappointed gamers will never see anything. For example, Gearbox’s Aliens Colonial Marines, a game that sold itself almost entirely on footage and concepts not found in the game, was released to massive outcry and there wasn’t even an apology for the dishonestly sold and broken game. That’s not to say that all bad games deserve to be apologized for, but there are circumstances where people expect them, whether rightly or not. Truthfully, the vast majority of the time, when gamers ask for apologies, they should not get them. Gamers, especially ones posting online, tend to be a bit of an entitled bunch and every developer ever would have to permanently assume a supplication pose in order to assuage their hungry egos. However, sometimes it is beneficial for developers to apologize even if they don’t have to, and today I want to look at two high profile apologies: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and Nintendo’s 3DS. They will help me illustrate when it may be appropriate to apologize to the gaming community and when it’s probably a bad idea.

Kitties make everything better…
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Final Fantasy XIV is strange. I’m not talking about it being a revolutionary MMO (it isn’t), but for its unique development cycle. Originally, the game was released to almost universal scorn, a first for a numbered Final Fantasy game (even the currently reviled Final Fantasy XIII was given good reviews). Apparently, the game was about as broken and un-fun as it possibly could be. So much so that Square-Enix decided that instead of trying to patch the monstrosity, or simply move on to the next game, Capcom-style, they would rebuild the game from the ground up. A Realm Reborn exists as an apology to gamers, and rebuilding a game as an apology is quite a strange thing to do. Many developers are unwilling to pay for a team to patch a game, even a broken one let alone build an entirely new game on top of the old framework. At this point, it is difficult to imagine Final Fantasy XIV as anything less than a financial black hole for Square-Enix.

…Especially cat-boys.
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So why would they spend the money and commit the resources? Pride and branding of course. The fact of the matter is that the Final Fantasy brand has been sliding. While Final Fantasy XIII, and XIII-2 have their supporters, nobody supported Final Fantasy XIV. It was a black mark that even Square saw as an embarrassment to the franchise. The downside to Square’s decision to rebuild the game is purely financial, however, there are several benefits which offset these costs. Firstly, there is the transparency, which Square has been trumpeting recently, where gamers and journalists have been able to track the game’s progress. This led to a lot of positive press surrounding the game. Positive press cannot be understate, especially for a brand such as Final Fantasy which obtains a metric ton of hate on the internet for every millisecond that passes. It is clear that Square never intended to garner anything other than goodwill on this project, as evidenced by the fact they were unprepared for the huge volume of people desperate to play the game upon release. I use this game as my example of a good way to apologize. You provide a better product and are recognized by the gaming populace as going above and beyond.

Unfortunately, this still isn’t going to calm the storm against Lightning Returns.
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The 3DS is my second example, and one I am far more hesitant about. Nintendo isn’t great with launches, at least not recently. And the 3DS was hit almost as hard as the Wii U was with next to no games upon release and a schedule that didn’t look much better a year later. To combat flagging sales, Nintendo took several steps, chief among them being an almost unprecedented first year price drop. Gamers who bought the 3DS at launch were justifiably upset. After all, they were the Nintendo faithful who supported the Mario factory before the 3DS became the juggernaut it is today. In an entirely unprecedented move, Nintendo listened to their complaints, and, along with a public apology from Nintendo’s president, created the ambassador program. This program granted all early adopters a selection of exclusive Virtual Console games, and it was pretty universally accepted with applause.

This is the best reason to have bought a 3DS early by the way.
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This move, like the Final Fantasy XIV one, was done to save face. However, this one cost significantly less and set an incredibly damaging precedent. While Nintendo was playing nice, they also basically admitted to the world that the 3DS was a failure. But the 3DS wasn’t a failure. It was simply waiting for games to come out. The whole affair made Nintendo look incredibly weak in the eyes of the media and stockholders. More damaging is the entitlement they brought. Prior to this, a price drop was just that. However, now, especially with Nintendo, there are murmurings of being owed something if you own a system that is having its price dropped. You don’t. But that hasn’t stopped people from rising a fuss over the newly price-dropped Wii U. The precedent set by this move by Nintendo coupled with the unconfident position it placed them it, make me feel strongly that Nintendo shouldn’t have done this even if I personally benefitted.

Stop that, Iwata!
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In the end, an apology from the developer is always one that must be taken seriously. By apologizing, the developer is admitting to a mistake, a rather big mistake at that since the apology is public. Most developers, even ones that make less than perfect games, are still proud of their product, and generally unwilling to cower before fickle fans on the forums. The last thing that the industry needs is a tradition of apologies, which fans can demand every time a game doesn’t meet their, often, unrealistic standards. Square’s grandiose apology is probably going to end up costing them in the long run, but the good press should help to offset that cost. Nintendo’s on the other hand seems to have created a particularly bad precedent. It’s great for gamers who have been scorned to receive something from the developer, but, in general, it still isn’t a great idea to issue apologies unless the developer can get something beneficial out of it, while minimizing the negative aspects. Admitting your mistakes is great if you’re just one person, but a company has to be far more careful with how it portrays itself to the public.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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