Digimon Story and Consumer Relations

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is available for Playtation Vita and PS4.

Digimon was part of the normal Saturday morning cartoon block when I was about eight years old, and naturally I loved it. It hit a lot of the same surface-level appeal as king-of-the-mountain Pokémon (kids on adventures with their cute-yet-fearsome monster friends), but hit on a different set of core strengths (more traditional, higher-stakes story arcs with a strong focus on its cast of many personalities).

So of course I jumped on Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth when it came out a few years back, because hey, to my knowledge there hadn’t been a proper Digimon RPG since the days of the original Playstation. (It turns out there had been a couple, mostly portable, but those clearly slipped well under the radar.)

A dozen hours in, I didn’t seem to be having quite as much fun with it as I heard tell from other players, so I did something quite typical of 2016 and hopped on a discussion board to see if I had inadvertently missed something big or hamstrung myself with a few unlucky choices. Then I came across a curious post that I won’t link here (partly because it seems to have been deleted since) that read something to the effect of:

“Let’s all give the localization team a hand for a job well done!”

Two issues with that:

  • There’s no evidence to believe that any employee from Bandai Namco (the publisher) ever browses around That One Forum.
  • The localization job for that particular game was… lacking. Distractingly so.
Very Inconsistent capitalization on the first Screen you see In The Game. Fairly representative of the game as a whole.

While certain things do trickle up back to major game developers and publishers (independent studios and individual professionals are another ballgame), it’s a real uphill task. Most don’t even provide official avenues for consumer feedback, especially without a proof-of-purchase. Even in numbers it can be a challenge, especially for overseas studios – the massive groundswell needed for Operation Rainfall to reach the right ears comes to mind, and in particular an interview with this game’s producer Kazumasa Habu suggests that before seeing a list of petitioning users to the tune of 65,000 people, the Western fanbase wasn’t necessarily in scope as a viable market for JRPGs. (This one of three times in documented history where an internet petition has been show to affect change.)

And so, in reaction for being thrown a bone, we get leading forum posts “thanking the developers” for any element that people find above-passable about a title, rather than opening a thread for discussion (which would be, y’know, what a forum is designed for). And in the interest of fairness, clearly that wasn’t the prevailing opinion, as the remaining searchable comments on the topic are all tepid at best and notably critical at most-of-the-time.

But it’s an odd thing, for a userbase to assume such an open dialogue with the designers of a product and try to directly push encouragement or grievances onto those with their hands on the production process. It’s something you can see to varying degrees throughout other sectors of the popular entertainment industry, as well, with fans shouting their appeasements and gripes into the void until some public relations employee picks up on the crowd reaction and reports back through their own lens. That’s about where the buck stops in the professional world – there’s not nearly so much impassioned and directed reaction to, say, a change in one’s regular shampoo’s formula (despite the fact that we will use it nearly every day) or usability options in our email clients (upon which we depend for professional work).

Maybe it’s the fact that video games are nestled in that weird bridge between media that we consume and product that we use. The internet is rife with commentary and criticism for the former (this very blog being part of that), with popular fiction openly encouraging viewers to come back with different interpretations and impressions to fuel discussion. Stories are what we make of them, etc.

But that has a strong tendency to bleed into areas that gradually become less cut-and-dry, like audio quality, graphical fidelity, technical performance, and the quality of copyediting. Audiences can become very vocal about these things, making the public relations work for video game companies an interesting tangle that lands much closer to the actual production than almost anything I can think of.

I don’t claim to be nearly an expert on this – I’m not sure that this is a problem specific to games. Maybe there are materials engineers at the Volvo factory who make substantial adjustments to their work based on commercial drivers grumbling on Twitter.

Heck, I’m not even sure that this is necessarily a problem to begin with. Really, it’s just a feature of the public internet providing a very visible-if-indirect avenue of feedback. And for better or for worse, I think that’s giving us both a stronger sense of camaraderie with the makers of these games and a bit more of a sense of a stake in their successes and failures.

It’s a weird place to be in – glad that some dude at Atlus might be reading my comments, but not expecting them to return my calls.

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