Originally published on Pixelitis.net on July 26, 2013.
Having an established fanbase is one thing, but creating a more open dialogue with them is a whole other ballgame. And it’s something that more game companies — particularly ones based in Japan, need to make a stronger push for.
One example of increased fan outreach is Capcom and the transformation its USA branch has undergone over the course of eight years. Capcom USA created a website entitled Capcom-Unity, which serves as a hub where fans of the company’s long line of games can read up on its regularly updated news blog, chat about its games in a forum and even use it as a grounds for voicing requests.
This model didn’t come at the drop of the hat. It required a lot of conversations with top executives and one employee’s willingness to take matters into his own hands.
In a recent interview with Pixelitis, former Capcom USA’s Senior Vice President Christian Svensson revealed that in 2005, he had stressed that he thought the company wasn’t placing enough emphasis on its consumers. And so after convincing late Capcom COO Mark Beaumont and CEO Hiroshi Tobisawa, Capcom-Unity was formed and its first mode of business was talking to fans at San Diego Comic Con 2006. Of note was the fact that Svensson had to take it upon himself to run the company’s booth there, given that Capcom’s events person at the time had no inkling in interacting with fans at a convention.
Game publishers that originated in Japan, like Square Enix and Konami for instance, ought to take a page out of Capcom’s book.
That’s not to discredit what those companies have done. Square Enix has made strides by hosting contests and community events, and the turnaround on Final Fantasy XIV’s disastrous release by taking in fan feedback and giving them a reboot is commendable. Konami shows some pretty good outreach via its social media pages; this is most evident in its frequent interactions with fans via the official Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid Facebook pages. And let’s not forget when Konami USA publicly acknowledged the Suikoden Revival Movement. And you know someone within the company gets it when you’ve got Mega64 appearing in its official video presentations.
But it still feels like there’s something missing.
Take Square Enix’s handling of Twitter, for example. A quick search of “Square Enix” reveals more than ten official accounts for the company, ranging from a “members” community account, a “press” account, an “events” account and even a standalone “downloadable games” account. While it would make sense to have separate Twitter handles for different regions, is there any reason why a fan of the company’s products should follow five or six Square Enix Twitter accounts? It’s overwhelming and many of those confusing handles could use a swift Tonberry-styled shank.
And while Konami does and has organized some exceptional fan events in the past, its page of events hasn’t even been updated since last year, its community “blog” features Comic Con material from three years ago and recent news posts are mere press releases without a visible author. Why not put a face behind these posts, a liaison who can communicate with Konami fans and share in their passion for the multitude of games the company is known for?
One of the most notable things I’ve gleaned from Capcom-Unity is its focus on heightening transparency. While it’s not as if the company’s about to tell any of us if it’s resurrecting Mega Man Legends 3 or creating a new Mega Man game, Svensson and to some extent the community managers have actively participated in quite possibly one of the most important tools that Capcom fans can use: “Ask Capcom.”
In this forum, fans are free to request and ask whatever their hearts desire, and titles like Darkstalkers Resurrection, DuckTales: Remastered and Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara are direct examples of games that were fueled by requests pooled from that channel by staff.
Of course, it’s not like Capcom holds exclusivity rights to reading and utilizing fan feedback; studios like Eidos Montreal have taken feedback in the past, like in the case of giving players the option to remove the augmented highlighting in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Bioware even rehauled its ending to Mass Effect 3 in response to fan backlash. Smaller studios like the late Black Isle were known to have a very close dialogue with the fans, and that was more than a decade ago.
Nevertheless, it’s strikingly more interesting when the American branch of Japanese companies who have rarely been so open with its Western fanbase decide to take that step, and in doing so shorten the gap between the corporate and fan understanding of the game industry.
Capcom’s been surprisingly transparent about why some things happen the way they do. Take its Virtual Console and PSone Classics releases, for instance. Capcom’s staff has been frank about why titles like Breath of Fire III and Mega Man Legends haven’t been able to successfully hit the Playstation Network, citing legal issues with both titles. Through Svensson, fans learned that both the PSone Classics version of Breath of Fire III and Mega Man Legends failed a legal IP clearance test. And in the case of bringing the European PSP version of Breath of Fire III stateside, Svensson had revealed that the company was in talks with SCEA in giving the denied title another shot at a North American release.
Other examples include Svensson taking the time to answer a myriad of Breath of Fire-related questions and breaking down the sort of costs a game company has to deal with on each project (the general numbers may wow you).
Sometimes the goal of ultimate transparency comes at a severe risk, like in the ongoing case regarding Mega Man Legends 3’s cancellation. In a recent posting on Capcom-Unity, community liaison GregaMan recapped how Capcom’s transparent style of connecting with fans during the development of MML3 yielded high risks that are still being felt by both the company and community.
There are, without a doubt, several projects that get canned by many publishers without their fans knowing of their existence. Yet when one gives fans an open platform and allows them to dip their hands into the development of a game, it becomes all-the-more difficult to control the backlash if it gets canceled. GregaMan considers it a lesson learned for the company.
In that same token, it’s also a lesson learned for the fans. Fans sigh collectively upon learning the cold, hard truth about these sorts of issues, but at least there are legal and enterprise reasons for the lack of a specific game coming out, as opposed to the dubious claim that a publisher “hates” its fans. Whether or not fans take these statements to heart is another matter entirely.
What’s stopping Konami or Square Enix from being able to reveal the hurdles in bringing over specific PSone Classics releases? Those thousands upon thousands of fans waiting for Suikoden II on PSN would sure like to know what’s keeping them.
Companies like Square Enix and Konami could do well from a requests or suggestions page. Even Nintendo is being more open in accepting fans’ opinions through the implementation of the Wii U’s Miiverse and its Club Nintendo surveys. And while personalities like Reggie Fils-Aime and Satoru Iwata aid in upping the company’s image, Nintendo could also benefit from recognizable faces that are a little easier to contact by the fans. Capcom, Eidos Montreal and Bioware have all done this with its assortment of community managers. Though, judging by the company’s new “Nintendo Minute” feature, it may very well be ahead of me.
Community managers have the interesting job of serving as the bridge between the corporate entity and the common fan. Since the managers themselves tend to be devout fans of the company’s various brands, it aids in fans forming a better understanding of how the game industry works.
To every game publisher out there: I challenge you to improve community relations in these ways. It’s not just good PR on your part; it makes the fans feel more appreciated.