Brand Loyalty: Good or Bad?

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

Isaiah 43:1

You never, ever see such dedication to brand loyalty as you do in video games. For better or worse, people associate themselves with “fandoms”, groups of people gathering around a piece of pop culture media that they particularly enjoy. Constantly will they complain about the quality of further entries into their favorite franchises, given praise where praise is due and even when such adoration isn’t warranted.

The smaller the group, the more likely you will see an insular subculture defend itself from all comers. They see such interlopers on their excursions and hope to drive them away from their beautiful, pristine land of plenty. Everything should remain as it is, like the remnants of a long lost civilization; change anything about their favorite property, and you must work hard to convince them of its quality.

The fatal question, then, lies in this: do the companies which own said favored brands deserve our devotion in such a way? Should we buy shoddy products simply for the sake of future eschatological hope? Should we continue to evangelize for that brand, even as its internals crumble and the community lies in wait for a revival? Waiting for that long, for a company that only cares for profit, for a business that really doesn’t care about your passion other than in terms of dollar amounts, can wear on a man’s soul.That, my friends, turns the critic into a fan and a fan into a critic.

Arc System Works, creators of the Guilty Gear and Blazblue series of fighting games, released a few PC ports over the years; they didn’t set the world on fire, mostly because Japanese developers don’t see the need to transfers their games onto personal computers at all. See, the entire arcade fighting audience goes to arcades, strangely enough! If ArcSys develops a game for the arcade, they find it much easier and lucrative to use consoles; their familiarity with this process means arcade people play in their homes to practice for further fighting later. There’s a doujin (read: “indie”) market in Japan with fighters of its own, but that isn’t nearly enough for ArcSys to turn a profit on it (also: being owned by a major corporation like Sega puts a damper on that prospect).

yatagarasu

Games like Yatagarasu emerge out of that scene, and work fine on PCs around the world.

Frankly put, then, when ArcSys chooses to bring their games to PC, they tend towards a few different negative trends. Often, you end up with an outdated version. ArcSys operates on the arcade business model, and as such the competitive viability of their fighting games. Guilty Gear XX has, to my knowledge, received somewhere in the range of 5 updates with new characters, newly balanced play, and added mechanics. These come in what the Western audience would call the “expansion pack”, but released as a full-fledged new product after location testing at arcades and several months of internal testing in general.

Add the factor that ArcSys isn’t an English company with huge concerns outside Japan’s borders, and you can imagine what happens: outdated PC ports with no ability to change them. Localization takes time, money, and a publisher willing to do a good job and not just a quick cash-in. Most of the publishers of ArcSys in the US simply own the rights, rather than actually contacting the company. They don’t get patches, they don’t get DLC, and they’re standalone; there’s no infrastructure that supports a proper PC release, even when the arcade board basically houses a PC in it. Worse, they often don’t have any online play. The recent Steam release of Blazblue: Calamity Trigger is a travesty in that regard! Optimization problems like decreased framerates, sadly, make that port one to avoid, no matter how tempting to the fanbase.

Apparently, the game’s selling well, but I can’t imagine being satisfied without the competitive elements that make fighting games interesting in the first place. I love Daisuke Ishiwatari’s soundtracks as an additional bonus for 8.99 USD, but (since I own it already), should I show support for a horrible port? Will they fix it in the future? Can you hope that way, or do you merely set yourself up for disappointment? Why should this even be a tough decision?

Blazblue

Delicious sprites? I don’t know, you tell me.

Although on a small scale, we tend to direct our piety towards wrong ends. The natural tendency of human beings towards our own suffering happened since the Fall, and nothing much changed except the new objects of our devotion. In antiquity, we worshipped and served gods of wood and stone, and God punished the Israelites accordingly with too many things to list:

25 “When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed.

27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. 28 There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.

Deuteronomy 4 is just one of many call-outs, condemnations, and divine acts regarding the evil of idolatry. Our idols come in more subtle forms, provoking us to action even when we don’t want to do it. They hide within the recesses of our mind, begging for a chance to spring the trap of rationalization. If you want it enough, any action works within the vein of the story you’re writing. But who said the narrative was yours to write in the first place? As a Christian, God owns you. He made you His. Calling Jesus “Lord” (Romans 10:13) isn’t just an act of salvation, but submission. You drafted a contract, He paid for your sins, and you better believe God will keep up His end of the bargain – but will you?

Just because the agreement exists in abstract within a spiritual realm you cannot see doesn’t mean you didn’t make it. Your fallible mind will convince you otherwise, as it is wont to do. But this does not change the fundamental fact that God owns you, owns your life, and owns your devotion. Idolatry merely exists to trip you up and set your eyes on tempting, yet fleeting, prizes.

Don’t buy crappy products out of a misguided sense of loyalty or a religious sense of pride in a brand you love and enjoy. It doesn’t, and won’t, work. Bad products deserve to die in the marketplace, and “gauging interest” means “taking your money with the promise of taking more money in the future”. They don’t care about you; God does. Quit placing your faith in thing below, and look to things above.

Heck, I might still buy it just for the novelty of playing the game on PC, but I could just buy Guilty Gear’s latest update for about five more dollars on PSN. Decisions, decisions…

EDIT: Apparently Arc System Works IS aware of this particular release, if this tweet (and this one) are anything to go by. Not that the points above don’t still stand, but better to be equipped with more information.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • TheSonyBastard

    The only reason this shoddy port is getting attention and sales from the PC audience is because they think this will gather interest in Aksys to port their other (and newly updated of course) products. The problem with this line of thought is that 1.while it may have worked once with From Software that doesn’t mean it will work twice in the same practice and 2.if Aksys actually wanted to test waters you would think at least they would give a shit by actually porting it themselves and not some third grade no name port makers (and incidentally compare this practise to SNK Playmore which they did it right in this regard). But I guess the biggest problem is that while there is a audience for these types of games on the PC market (hell there’s every single market available on the PC) why bother gauging interest in a small curious market when you already have avialable markets with a bigger audience that’s interested in your products?

    • Zachery Oliver

      All valid points. I just don’t think ArcSys sees a need to go for the PC market anyway. Of course there’s an audience, but does it justify the cost? Plus, From Software is primarily console, which does change the situation a whole lot (not that the DS port wasn’t bad anyway!).

      And really, it’s a horribly shoddy port of an old, OLD version of a game getting its latest version released in North America in a little more than a month. With no online play due to the GFW closure. Surely if this new release on Steam was a sign, we’d have heard something by now.

      Maybe ArcSys will reconsider in the future, but I highly doubt buying BB:CT licensed out to a Korean company (who happens to hold the rights) is going to change hearts and minds.