To be honest, this is a question I’ve been struggling with for a few months, and the “sales disaster” of Metroid Prime Federation has brought this question back to the forefront. With high profile disasters like the swarm of refund requests for No Man’s Sky from customers who felt misled by promises made before launch, and such disastrous PC ports as Arkham Knight, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Mortal Kombat X, there’s a strong movement against pre-ordering games. The Arkham Knight and AC Unity were so broken, the publishers in question gave huge swaths of customers refunds. Mortal Kombat X on PC was never fixed, and thus the “Season 2” DLC and all future balance patches skipped the PC platform and only came out on consoles, leading to people like me having to double dip and re-buy the game on console to experience the same game being played at tournaments.
In response to this, smart consumers are warning each other to wait until reviews come out before plunking down hard earned cash on a new game. Pre-orders and day 1 purchases are passé in the press and on forums, and the numbers really must be down with the huge influx of pre-order bonuses and exclusive day 1 DLC content. If you shouldn’t even pre-order a game before you know it’s good, why in the world would you buy a game that you know is bad?
Well, my answer is complicated, but what it boils down to is that by buying any game, even a bad one, you are voting with your wallet for the continued existence of a series that you love.
To illustrate this point, I’m going to talk about one of my very favorite game series, and the best fighting game you’ve probably never played: Gundam Extreme VS.
I discovered the game by a Kotaku article, having known little about Gundam except what I remembered from watching Gundam Wing, G Gundam, and Gundam 0083 on Cartoon Network in my childhood, and was immediately hooked. The Gundam VS series is a 2v2 arcade fighting game series dating back 15 years. Though early games in the series were released in the US on PS2 and Gamecube, the most recent incarnations, Gundam Extreme VS, and Gundam Extreme VS Full Boost were released on the PS3 in Japan only. Due to Sony consoles being region-free and the limited amount of text in the games, the games are very import friendly to people with no Japanese knowledge, like myself.
The games themselves are incredibly fast-paced and deep fighting games, and members of the development team include people who worked on the legendary Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Though certainly very niche, the game has a dedicated audience in the US, enough to have sustained a side-tournament at EVO every year since release.
Even though the game is importable, there were those of us who yearned for the game to be translated and released in the United States. It was common knowledge in the community that perceived lack of interest in Gundam in America, combined with music licensing issues (the games have wonderful soundtracks pulled directly from each Gundam series) kept the game from international release.
It seemed our prayers were answered at TGS 2015 when Bandai-Namco announced a new title, Gundam Ex treme VS Force for the Playstation Vita. Unlike previous entries, this one was getting an English translation for its mainland Asia release. With the success of recent Gundam TV series in America like Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans and Gundam Build Fighters, it seemed the time was right for the series to finally make the jump to America. And indeed they announced a Western release and there was much rejoicing.
BUT that rejoicing didn’t make it long past the Japanese release of Gundam Extreme VS Force. The Japanese audience hated it very much. Unlike the previous games in the series, Extreme VS Force was not an arcade port, but an entirely new game, and little survived the transition from arcade/PS3 to PS Vita. The 2v2 fast arcade action was nowhere to be found. The online 2v2 multiplayer was stripped out and replaced with local 1v1. Super “burst” modes and super moves were gone. The roster was a small fraction of the size of the last game. There was no practice mode at launch (though this was eventually patched in) and like Street Fighter V, the game removed its sequential single player Arcade mode, replacing it with a strange objective-based story mode with squad mechanics. There are input lag issues that are unresolved after the “final” patch. Oh, and it was clear they were able to export it because the wonderful, licensed j-pop spanning decades was replaced by generic instrumentals.
The game overall is squishy, lacking content we’ve come to expect from the series, and overall unsatisfying. I knew this before it even came out in America. But I still bought it as soon as I was able to, and the reason I think is obvious. Because “voting with my wallet” ran the risk of killing this franchise’s chance for further Western releases. Bandai-Namco had refused up until this point to release the series in the West because they didn’t think anyone in the West wanted a Gundam fighting game. If no one bought Gundam Extreme VS Force, they could have interpreted it in two ways: 1. No one bought the game because it was an inferior product. 2. They were right all along that no one in the west wanted the game.
I don’t know, my experience with business-people makes me think that they’d fall back on the conventional wisdom that had guided them so far. The objection of course is that by buying the game, you are condoning and reinforcing the behavior that brought a low quality product, and to a degree that’s true, but they certainly know from the review scores that the game was subpar. They can see that the game is subpar from both professional and customer reviews and realize that sales could be improved further if they release a game as high quality as the previous entries in the series, but if they don’t think there’s a market for the game any more, they’ll stop producing it altogether. I do not mean to say that you are obligated to buy bad games to support the series that you love, but I am saying that voting with your wallet isn’t as simple as not buying bad games and buying good games. You have to think about the context, and exactly what message the developer is going to receive through the lost sales. Will they think the game is bad, or will it confirm to them that this particular franchise just isn’t viable anymore?
This brings me back to Metroid Prime Federation Force. It’s clear that the Metroid series has fallen out of grace in Nintendo’s eye. The Metroid game released to critical acclaim (Metroid Prime 3: Corruption) was almost a decade ago. Metroid: Other M was a very expensive critical and commercial flop. If you look at the Metroid Prime series never sold particularly well in Japan No Metroid Prime game sold over 75k copies there, and Nintendo is a Japanese company. Federation Force was probably their attempt at catching on in the Japanese market by trying something different and to gauge interest for a bigger budget, more traditional Metroid game. It was a lower-budget title that they could use to test the market without huge financial risk. The market voted with its wallet, and Nintendo read this as:
Message received, no more Metroid.