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R P G A M E R . C O M   -   E D I T O R I A L S

Crossing the Line of Brand Loyalty
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Trent Seely
EDITORALIST



A long time ago, in the hazy days before the dawn of the internet, many gamers who were too stubborn or poor to purchase video game magazines on a regular basis relied on franchise or brand loyalty to support their buying habits. I definitely fit into this demographic during the nineties, as my destitute lifestyle left me in the catch-22 of, "If I purchase this magazine I will know which games to buy, but if I do so I won't have as much money to buy games." Thankfully, I happened to maintain this short-sighted modus operandi in a decade where my favorite game developer at the time — Squaresoft — had a pretty decent track record when it came to the cartridges they threw their brand name on.

Times have since changed. Information on a game's various qualities and proficiencies is easier than ever to obtain, we freely share opinions and impressions instantly with fellow gamers all over the world, and many of us now recognize that brand names and franchise clout can mean little in a landscape populated with cheap cash-ins and half-hearted entries in long running series. Unfortunately, not all gamers have turned away from this practice and some have even taken it to an extreme with what I would call cult-like brand loyalty.

That's not to say I have a problem with being a fan of a franchise and wanting to support it in spite of its shortcomings, though. I really like the Mana series. One of the first RPGs that I beat as a child was Secret of Mana for the Super NES, and I have since played every other entry in the franchise, save for the Japan-only mobile games. I always find something in all of them to enjoy, but I'm also not oblivious to each title's shortcomings. When Koichi Ishii, the series' creator and principal producer, asked fans what they thought of the World of Mana project, I made a point of communicating that all of the games attached to the project suffered by attempting to fit into genres that weakened the delivery of each game's narrative and in some respects did a disservice to the beautiful worlds in which the titles were set. I still bought the games, but I waited (years in some cases) until they were cheap before I shelled out the cash. To the same effect, I wasn’t vehemently defensive when others voiced their concerns and complaints about the franchise. That's what being a pragmatic fan is — understanding that you want to support a brand or franchise, but also recognizing its issues and attempting to address them (or at least discuss them).

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of cult-like brand loyalty that I referenced earlier is pretty prevalent in some fan bases and I would argue that it's detrimental to both the video gaming community and the industry as a whole.

Gamers love discussion, but who enjoys talking to a fanboy? I can't tell you how many conversations about the consistency of the Final Fantasy series, tri-Ace's viability as a developer, and XSEED's publishing habits that I've deliberately avoided due to partisan fanboys frothing at the mouth whenever a less-than-favorable comment regarding their favorite brand was made. Such behaviour is counterproductive to legitimate dialogue (as Adriaan den Ouden can attest).

Unfortunately, game developers know these clumps of people are out there, as they are often the loudest and most vocal. When Square Enix decided to produce Final Fantasy XIII-2, the company didn't do so because Serah and Noel's story had to be told per se; in many respects, "the Lightning Saga" had wrapped things up just fine with the conclusion of Final Fantasy XIII. That's not to say that Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a poor title or that Lightning Returns will be unworthy of playing, but it should be recognized that these games were the result of Square Enix's realization that people would continue to buy Final Fantasy titles in spite of the criticisms hanging over them. It is because of this knowledge that the company retconned an otherwise complete ending and created a new plot thread that would ensure episodic DLC purchases and perhaps another full release. It is the loyal sheep who spend their nights arguing with each other about which protagonist has more daddy issues (hint: it's Tidus) that have lead to this developer making games primarily based on business sensibilities instead of franchise consistency or cohesion.

Wearing blinders when it comes to your favorite brands and franchises not only makes you seem like a narrow minded conversation killer, but also forces others to endure games that capitalize off your audience and therein may potentially hurt their experience. Supporting your favorite franchise or brand is a great thing, but not when doing so means spending your money on something that isn't actually worth it — especially when that action is followed up by twenty forum posts about how everyone's opinion is wrong except your own.




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