Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. Have I mentioned lately that I have a wonderfully dorky girlfriend? I've been replaying the Persona series from start to finish, and she went out of her way to purchase a copy of Persona 4 Arena for me. I'm not great at fighting games, but the opportunity to follow up on how my favorite characters are and what they may be doing next is pretty wonderful. It's also reminded me how much I adore P4G for both its unique characters and their clunky logic. All of this is well on display in this hilarious comic dub:
It's pretty much dead-on, isn't it? God, I love Chie. Regardless, this week we're talking about 3D Realms' decision to license a game they had no rights to license, Peter Molyneux's big fat mouth, Xbox's lack of success in Japan, and what I'm dubbing "The Mana Cycle."
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
- What's your opinion on free-to-play iOS entries in classic JRPG series?
- Do you think micro-transactions will ever feel normal in-game?
- Is it a big deal that most iOS entries in classic JRPG series will never leave Japan?
Scott Miller has a reputation for quite a few things. Some know him has a game design visionary, while others tend to view him to be obsessive in the perfection of his craft — to the point of nearly bankrupting his company over the development of Duke Nukem Forever. Right about now, I'd wager that Gearbox sees him as nothing more than a petty trouble maker.
Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction was recently announced alongside an all-too-fitting promotional website. The stated release date was February 25, though it's become apparent since the website went live that the game has been in development since September of 2013. That happens to be a pretty huge problem. You see, 3D Realms and Scott Miller no longer own the rights to the once beloved Duke Nukem intellectual property — Gearbox does. According to Gearbox, the acquirement of the IP rights was a small part of the "bailout package" a "desperate" 3D Realms requested so that the company could avoid any future litigation from its publisher, Take-two Interactive, and finish the long-in-development Duke Nukem Forever. As IP rights for all future Duke Nukem titles belong to Gearbox alone, development efforts towards 3D Realms and Interceptor's Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction was not only completely unauthorized, but a material infringement of Gearbox's rights.
Unfortunately for Duke, Gearbox caught on to this. In the company's lawsuit filing against 3D Realms and developer Interceptor, the Gearbox legal team essentially tears a strip off the offending parties. I highly suggest every gamer read the full document as it is both hilarious and tremendously insightful in regards to how Gearbox felt about DNF's quality post-bailout. There are a lot of highlights to the documentation, including a section that begins "No good deed goes unpunished," but I suppose the most important statements with relation to Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction are the ones concerned with licensing rights.
"By attempting to license the unlicensable, assign the unassignable, and effectively re-sell the exclusive rights that Gearbox already purchased in 2010, [3D Realms] breached the terms of its [asset purchase agreement] with Gearbox, as well as Gearbox's exclusive, federally-protected intellectual property rights. Unfortunately, the 3D Realms-Interceptor maneuver has left Gearbox with little choice but to bring these claims."
Normally, this would be the part of the story where I would stop and mention that all of Gearbox's claims in this filled lawsuit are "alleged" — meaning that we can't confirm or deny the validity of the company's statements until we fully understand the side of 3D Realms-Interceptor. However, they've already admitted to being in the wrong. According to exhibits filed alongside Gearbox's complaint, 3D Realms' Scott Miller and George Broussard signed a breach notice on Feb. 16, agreeing to cease use of the Duke Nukem property. Furthermore, in their reply Scott Miller stated "I am aware that Exhibit 2.2 of the APA states that 'all future development in the Duke IP' is a development right exclusively held by Gearbox. As such, only Gearbox has possessed the right to use the Duke IP in the development of any and all new Duke Nukem games, ancillary projects and materials since February 2010."
You'd probably think that the reply in which 3D Realms admitted to willfully violating the terms of their agreement with Gearbox would be the end of the situation. It isn't. Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction is still being advertised by 3D Realms and Interceptor. In fact, Interceptor Entertainment CEO Frederik Schreiber recently told Polygon, "We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed against 3D Realms and Interceptor. It's an unfortunate situation, but we have acted in good faith and are working towards a resolution. We're not all out of gum."
I don't get it. 3D Realms has admitted that it shouldn't have allowed Interceptor to develop this game. Gearbox owns the rights. Both 3D Realms and Interceptor are without legs to stand on. Why would they develop this game? Why did neither party approach Gearbox until this point? Do they not realize the wasted man-hours and money? I honestly haven't heard of any video game company doing something this profoundly stupid before now, and the only entity that can walk away from this unscathed is Gearbox.
Let me pose a question: why do you think Gearbox simply didn't allow the game to come out and then sue for royalties? If the game was a huge success, Gearbox could reap the benefits without lifting a finger. The answer is simple: Gearbox knows that the Duke Nukem IP is damaged, thanks in part to the poor reception of DNF, and the chances of this top-down action-RPG selling as well as previous entries in the franchise are slim. That being said, by pushing a lawsuit before release they can request statutory as well as punitive damages (thanks to the seemingly willful and wanton conduct of 3D Realms).
If Gearbox is successful in its litigation, and the company likely will be as it has deeper pockets than both 3D Realms and Interceptor, it may be able to acquire the assets to the game in a post-suit sale. I'd bet that the two offending parties in this situation are probably trying to sidestep the hot water they got themselves into by having Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction published under Gearbox's banner. If I were on Gearbox's legal team, however, I would humbly suggest that the company make an example of this clear infringement of their IP rights and scoop up as many Mass Destruction assets as they can in the process.
I may be in the minority, but to be honest I'm a little tired of hearing Molyneux publically say things to the press. Many know this master of promises as the creator of the Fable series and head of the experimental studio 22 Cans. He has a penchant for dreaming big, advertising innovation, and failing to deliver. To that point, he recently had some particularly harsh words for Fable III.
"I think Fable III was a trainwreck," Molyneux told Develop. "It was built to be much bigger than what it was constrained to be and eventually ended up as. If I had my time again, I'd take the advances we made from Fable to Fable II, I'd make the same advances from Fable II to Fable III and spend another entire year working on Fable III. But would it be that perfect gem that's in my mind? No." From there, he continued to detail why environmental factors ruin the scope of each game he works on. "There's an empirical decay between what the idea is in your mind and what you end up with, no matter what creative field you're working in. I talk to a lot of creative people and they're often disappointed in their own work."
People are entitled to their opinions. I'm a big proponent of that. That being said, there's something implicitly upsetting with the former creative lead of a 100+ person studio dumping on a relatively well received game that was the culmination of a lot of hard work from very dedicated people. I too have problems with Fable III. I find it to have shallow combat, a muddled plot, poor in-game economics, and a weak conclusion. I also had no love for the property management required for last half of the game. All that said, I can acknowledge that the game also did many things right, and the people behind Fable III were intent on creating the best game they could with the time they had. Hearing Molyneux wax poetic about how Fable III turned out — while ultimately refusing to take credit for it — just makes me feel remorse for all of the hardworking Lionhead developers that had to work under the assumedly atrocious conditions of his inflated ego.
No, I have nothing nice to say about Peter Molyneux. He's shown time and time again that he's more concerned with high-level concepts than he is the execution of those concepts. He's also demonstrated a disturbing lack of accountability for pretty much everything he's ever worked on. To that point, I'm glad he now works at a small company making small, experimental games. Hopefully, he stays there and stops talking to the press.
According to the latest Japanese sales charts, Nintendo's Wii U has sold more than the Xbox 360 in the region. As far as Nintendo consoles go in the land of the rising sun, 1,643,095 units sold isn't actually an impressive number. That being said, the Xbox 360 has only been able to manage 1,641,528 in all of the years it has been there. Which somehow is less than the original Xbox was able to move (an estimated 2 million in the Asian and Pacific region). Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 was able to move four times what its predecessor did during its first week in just two days — 322,083 units. It's clear that the PS4 is going to be another success in the region, but what isn't clear is when the Xbox One will come to Japan and how well it will fare. My guess is that it will fare poorly, for a few reasons.
It's no secret that the Xbox and Xbox 360 have failed to make a dent in the Japanese gaming market. On the outside, those of us from the West may not understand this as each Xbox console seems to have comparable specs to their PlayStation counterparts. However, Microsoft has a presence on store shelves in the West, while its presence in Japan has always been minimal. In fact, according to my Japanese friends, collecting Xbox games and supporting their systems has always been kind of a "hobbyist" activity.
Outside of the fact that it is a foreign gaming console in a market that has traditionally supported only Japanese manufacturers, many Japanese gamers appear to believe that the Xbox was designed purely for Western-style gamers. This is a somewhat fair position to take, as an overwhelming majority of the developers supporting the Xbox and Xbox 360 were Western, and the system was weak on genres that traditionally appealed to Japanese gamers (JRPGs, for instance). It doesn't help that Microsoft has never been able to pick up the customs of how business is done in the county.
One of the most notable complaints in many of the Japanese hardware reviews of the Xbox and Xbox 360 were that these consoles were positioning themselves as "entertainment devices" or "media centers," as opposed to video game consoles. Not to generalize based on reviews alone, but it would appear that the Japanese market prefers that the main focus of their video game consoles be that those consoles can play video games. The Xbox One, however, is even more oriented towards being a complete media center than any of its predecessors. To that point, I would say that Microsoft doesn't have a chance of being competitive in this market with its all-in-one device.
Something is clearly broken in Microsoft's attempts to penetrate the market — otherwise the Xbox One would have a solid Japanese release date by now. Unless Microsoft can foster many new partnerships with Japanese developers and begin marketing the Xbox One in a way that appeals to Japanese sensibilities, I can't see this system doing well in Japan. Even then, there may be problems.
The Mana game Square Enix has been teasing for the past half-year has finally been revealed as Rise of Mana. It will make its debut on iOS and Android in Japan later this year, and will be free-to-play. As this is a F2P Square Enix title, it will also boast insane amounts of micro-transactions wrapped around items. Some would call this pay-to-win, and I wouldn't argue with that rationale.
The game's protagonist has been revealed to be an angel/devil hybrid that fell from the heavens. Players can switch between the two forms during gameplay. Rise of Mana will also sport a centralized hub town called "Miste" where players can purchase items, gain support, and train their own personalized demon pet. Co-op will be heavily featured as each player-party can feature up to eight heroes of Mana. There's no set release date, but there is a website and a trailer that demonstrate some pretty visuals and returning characters from Seiken Densetsu 3 and Legend of Mana. As a dedicated Mana fan, I'd like to take this time to introduce you to what I'll henceforth be calling "The Mana Cycle."
In the past we've detailed the basics of The Sonic Cycle, and I would have to say that The Mana Cycle is somewhat similar. The first stage is hearing about a trademark filing with the words "Seiken Densetsu." As a fan, you feel nostalgia tugging on your heartstrings and reminisce about your time with Secret of Mana and/or Legend of Mana. Naturally, you begin to hope for a triumphant return to the series' roots. Stage two begins with screenshots and a trailer. You see that the game is colorful, like the rest of the series, and boasts familiar character sprites, but you also get the impression that the story won't have the same depth. Stage three is when you learn that the game is coming to mobile devices. Sometimes this stage and stage two will occur at the same time — making the rush of emotions nigh intolerable. The final stage occurs at release, when you realize that this new Mana title will never leave Japan and is 100 percent predicated upon crappy micro-transactions that cash in on nostalgia.
Looking at Rise of Mana's trailer, I can say that it doesn't appear to be as shallow as Circle of Mana was. In fact, it's nice to see the series return to its action-RPG roots (a void that has been filled by the Final Fantasy spin-off Crystal Chronicles as of late). That being said, I know I'll never play this Rise of Mana, and there's a weird, bittersweet tinge to knowing that. Believe me when I say that I desperately want a new Mana game (or at least an official Western release of Seiken Densetsu 3), but I would cry if a F2P, micro-transaction heavy, iOS dungeon crawler was all I got.
That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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