Muses: Atlus’ War On Free Publicity

I know guys, it’s hard to believe… two muses posts right in a row. By now we’ve all heard of Atlus’ archaic restrictions on Persona 5 content, but for those who haven’t, take a second and go visit the Atlus website to see them outline their restrictions and to read their subsequent threat to their fanbase.

Reactions have been seen all over the internet, from content creators both big and small. Forbes called it ‘Ludicrous and Absurd’, Jim Sterling released one of his best videos ever entitled ‘Oh Atlus, Honey, no…’ discussing the topic, and even Square Enix has released statements about how this type of thing hurts sales more than it helps (although it was in a Japanese interview so links are hard to find).

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, and since it is a subject that touches fairly close to home as a streamer who mostly streams JRPGs, I wanted to take some time to actually go into detail about my thoughts on the subject.

Note: This article was written before the recent update, but I’m still going to post it because the basic content is still fitting. The update to the policy outlines that they’ve lightened the restriction to 11/19. I fully expect that in a few months we’ll hear that they’ve lifted it entirely. The video will touch a bit more on the lightened restrictions.

First, let’s do a brief overview of the guidelines Atlus has proposed:

  1. As far as videos go, they want length limited to 1.5 hours.
  2. They want us to avoid ‘major story spoilers’, and give a few examples as to what those might entail.
  3. They ask that videos be focused predominately on either dungeon-crawling/combat or exploring Tokyo.
  4. They don’t want any content streamed past the in-game date of 7/7. (Recently edited to 11/19)

There are two obvious reasons why Atlus wants to do this. And, in the end, I can’t really blame them on either count. They want to reduce the flow of spoilers, and they want to ensure that playing the game is the most reliable way to get the story. It makes sense. I get it, I really do. But at the same time, there are several things about this that leave me upset at them. The biggest thing is the insulting and dismissive way it treats their customers. I can’t justify a company treating their fans the way this statement from Atlus does.

They’re Either Lying to Us or Insulting Us

If they’re not genuinely concerned about spoilers and the real concern is lost sales, then they’re lying to us by saying otherwise. If they are genuinely concerned about people ruining their game experience through spoilers, then they’re insulting their entire fanbase by saying they lack the collective willpower to just avoid streams of the game. It’s not like John Travolta’s sitting there telling you to watch the stream for another hour with a gun to your head while getting a blowjob. Okay, fine, most of us would probably be fine with that… but it doesn’t happen. This isn’t hacking in Swordfish, it’s an optional form of entertainment.

Ask any streamer of story-based games, a lot of viewers simply won’t watch certain games because they want to avoid spoilers. I have a few viewers who regularly will only watch up to the point they’ve played so they don’t spoil themselves. This is perfectly normal and it is one big reason why a lot of story-based games tend to get lower viewercounts than other things on twitch.

They Threatened Us, But Way Too Late

If Atlus had come out with a statement saying that they’d really prefer if people didn’t show content of a certain type until a certain date so people had time to play it… I think most people would have been okay with it. I probably would’ve just put off buying it for a month or two, streamed Horizon and Mass Effect this month in stead, and done P5 a bit later when I could stream it. But that’s not what happened, they flat out threatened us. Threatening your fanbase is never a good idea. And threatening them to keep information hidden is an even worse idea. Someone really needs to show the big wigs at Atlus Japan the following Wikipedia article: The Streisand Effect.

It’s so difficult dealing with copy right crap these days…

But what makes this all worse is that they waited until after all of the streamers who were planning to stream the game had already bought it to let us know we couldn’t stream it. I have never been so livid at a gaming company as I was when I found out that they had released this restriction partway through the game’s release day, after I’d already purchased and downloaded the game. This is the type of policy you need to outline weeks, if not months, before the game comes out so people can be aware of it before buying or pre-ordering the game. Not only that, but the game has been out for around half a year in Japan, with no signs of any streaming restrictions. I even watched a small part of a stream of the Japanese game months ago. Just enough to see how interesting the aesthetic was without spoiling myself on the mechanics/story.

This is what angers me most. They not only threaten us, but they threaten us after we give them our money, and they only do so when the English version comes out. I guarantee you I won’t be Day 1 streaming any more Atlus games, regardless of how excited I am for them. I’ll wait until I know they’re not going to pull crap like this and see if I still feel motivated to play the game by then.

It Seems Like A Really Bad Business Decision

We’ve had statements from at least a few other companies, with Devolver Digital’s counter to this being the most pointed, stating that they’re happy for us to stream their games. But it’s more than that. I can speak from personal experience that I have sold copies of games. One of my viewers went from having never heard of Legend of Heroes to now being a pretty big fan of the series because they watched me stream part of one of the games. I’m not going to try to claim to know the financials of all of this, but the people watching my stream fall into three categories: people who are further in the game than I am, people who would have never played the game anyways but like to watch my stream, or people who are thinking about buying it but are curious to see if it might be worth their time. The fourth category, people who are avoiding spoilers, simply aren’t watching.

Given that, they’ve already got sales from category 1, category 2 are lost causes to them, category 4 they’ve already got sales from most likely (or will soon). It’s only category 3 that are a concern. Which leads to the question: why don’t they have confidence in this game? All accounts point to it being extremely good, possibly even a contender for game of the year from some outlets. Given that, I would think that they’d want the people in category 3 to see the game, because seeing it would make them more interested in it. So what are they so afraid of? 

This type of thing really makes me wonder if Atlus is just that out of touch with the current gamer’s inclinations. People use twitch to get a combination of a demo and a review of the game. They get to see the game in action, hear a trusted opinion on it, and then they can make an informed decision about buying a game. But people aren’t likely going to stream it at all if they can only stream part of it. That’s a lot of very positive word of mouth for what seems like a very good game that they’re risking losing. Fortunately for them, people are still streaming the game, so they’re still getting it. However, there is a lot more negative discussion happening since a lot of the streams seem focused on the restriction, in stead of the game.

The other thing that isn’t getting enough attention is one of the biggest sources of longevity for games right now: speedrunning. While speedrunners often skip most of the cutscenes/dialog/etc, they will still be in violation of these restrictions. As a result, I wonder if the big RPG/Persona speedrunners will simply avoid the game entirely. This removes the potential for the game to get revitalized sales when events for the speed gaming community happen. I know a few people who have bought games after watching them get played in events like AGDQ or other major race events, so I can be 100% confident it does happen. But if these restrictions are never lifted, then I doubt many speedrunners will risk their streams trying to learn a game they may never be able to run publicly. That seems like a real shame.

So What Am I Really Saying Here?

Well, quite simply, I think Atlus’s Japan office is an organization that is really out of touch with the way modern gamers consume the medium. I think they fail to understand the appeal and the benefits of streaming. I stream games so that I can turn what is normally a single player experience into a more social event. I stream games so that I can introduce my friends to the games I love. I watch streams so that I can see how other people approached games that I loved. And I watch streams to be exposed to games I would’ve never played myself. These streaming restrictions are basically telling me that I should be anti-social and not share the experience with my friends… and I think that’s a very archaic way to look at gaming.

Twitch has allowed us to be social even while engaging in what used to be an anti-social medium. I don’t want to go back to those days. I like being able to discuss the game with people, to be able to celebrate my victories with others and to be able to have people there to make light of my many, many defeats. I enjoy having a community to be shocked at the game’s twists with me, having others behind me guessing at the game’s story alongside me. And I don’t like Atlus trying to take that from me… especially in regards to one of the games I was most excited to share this year. I’m not saying they’re wrong to do so, it’s their IP – it’s their right. But I think we can all agree that they went about this in all the wrong ways, and that this type of restriction is simply out of touch with the times and that it’s going to cost Atlus a lot of good will, even if it doesn’t cost them sales.