Today, IGN posted a video showing off the impressive press kit sent to them by WB Games. It contained a large, seemingly heavy Batarang in a a very shiny box, with an LED screen built in that played the Arkham Origins trailer when turned on.
It is common practice in this industry for publishers to send reviewers extravagant gifts as a token of goodwill and fellowship, and also to buy delicious 10s out of 10.
Let me start by saying I'm not against the practice. I don't think it taints the integrity of a journalist to accept such a gift, if they are iron-willed enough to not let it sway their opinion. These doodads and whatchamacallits are just novelties that at least build hype not just among the press but the general public as well. It's nowhere near as venomous a tactic as posting mocked-up bullshots or blacklisting journalists who don't play ball, and receiving a nifty desk trophy is nowhere near as exciting as rubbing elbows with the talented people who make the games journalists report on.
So why am I vibrating with rage at the sight of this elaborate prop, if it's not a thinly disguised attempt to get the reviewer to sell their soul? Because the money spent on this could have been spent on making the game better.
Specifically, the Wii U version.
Doubly specifically, the online multiplayer cut from the Wii U version.
How much did each of these cost? With R&D, labor, materials, and shipping all packaged in, $100 seems like a conservative number. And they made a thousand of them. I realize that marketing is a huge part of why the triple AAA gaming industry is successful, and $100k probably wasn't even a tenth of their total marketing budget.
What irks me is that whoever is signing checks over at Warner Bros believes that marketing and review scores are so much more important than making games good. They see nothing wrong with intentionally gimping one version of the game in order to make one last marketing push.
Could $100k have paid for adding multiplayer into the Wii U version? Doubtful, but not impossible. Here's a better question: Could adding multiplayer into the Wii U version have done more for the game than trying to fiscally jerk off impressionable game reviewers? Absolutely.
Warner Bros may be scared by the Wii U's abysmal sales, and I don't blame them. They don't have to support the system but they have chosen to do so. They may think that Nintendo made a bad product and they don't feel responsible for saving it.
So who is to blame if and when the Wii U version of Arkahm Origins fails? Nintendo? Or the publisher who cut corners and have already sent their game out to die? When the sales reports come in, they'll point to their outrageous marketing, and their predictions and charts, and their magic 8-Ball and horoscope, saying they did everything right... so it couldn't possibly be their fault that a bad game didn't sell. Look at the Batarangs we made!
If somebody put a gun to my head and demanded I tell them my favorite video game company, I'd tell them they have a very strange hobby, and then choose Nintendo. To say I am a Nintendo fanboy is to be delicate, as I once got my braces caught in the cartridge slot of a N64. I plan to name my first born son Mario, my second born daughter Luigi and my third born Mohammad because Allah be praised.
So when I heard that Index Corporation was paying its bills with Monopoly money and would soon file for bankruptcy which would trigger a sale of its assets, I popped open a bottle of champagne and proclaimed loudly in a drunken haze that Nintendo would soon own the likes of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona. But what would it take for that to happen?
It should first be clarified that the sale is for all of Index, not the company's assets being sold piecemeal. It's a holdings company which owns a number of non-video game related stuff which could complicate the proceedings as Nintendo isn't the only stray dog fighting over this rotting carcass; there's the likes of Sony, publishers such as Namco and GungHo, and even other holdings companies such as Sega Sammy. Who is really most likely to buy Index and all the sweet JRPG-y goodness it can drizzle on its morning pancakes?
A bidder from left-field is always likely, a corporation flush with cash that wants to pick up some valuable property on the cheap and doesn't care if its video games, baby leashes or nuclear warheads. The valuation of Index is 'only' around $150-200 million, but even an entity that is valued at $1 billion or more would be wary about spending that much in one sitting even if there is a dump truck of cocaine and battalion of leather-clad dominatrices involved.
Sega Sammy is a safe bet; their biggest cash flow comes from gambling and pachinko (or as it's known in urban Japan, gambling) and not necessarily from video games despite owning all of Sega. Sammy could make the most out of Index, not just Atlus, and would likely leave the JRPG publisher alone to continue making amazing games.
Then there's GungHo, a video game publisher that owns the likes of Ragnarok Online and Grasshopper Manufacture, not to mention to lucrative Puzzle and Dragons mobile games which are said to generate over $100 million in pure profit every month (that's $2500 a minute, boys and girls). GungHo would also be a safe home for Atlus; you couldn't find a nicer sweatshop unless you visit the dungeons of Care-A-Lot castle.
No doubt Sony is staring intently at Index and licking its lips. The Persona series, developed by Atlus and exclusive to Sony platforms, is a smash hit with the gaming community and despite Nintendo owning 125% of my soul, I am seriously considering buying a PlayStation Vita just to play Persona 4 Golden. Though they've never been afraid to drop literal tons of cash on decade-long investments, Sony might not be in a position to buy anything right now. A vocal minority of its largest shareholders and pushing to break up Sony between electronics and entertainment due to its struggling profitability. Sony recently sold off a few of its buildings for some quick capital, the PlayStation Vita is in rehab at this point, and the upcoming launch of the PlayStation 4 has likely drained the rest of Sony's resources. Buying Index is a sure win for Sony, but they'd need a lot of luck to convince their investors of that at this point.
The situation isn't much better for my FWB Nintendo. Their recent return to profitability is mostly due to a weakening yen, and the Wii U is slowly sinking beneath the waves as the band keeps playing. CEO Satoru Iwata has made it his personal mission to post $1 billion in operating profit by March 2014 but they've put all their hope in a system that has seen industry support flee like drowning rats to the safer bets of Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo might not be interested in purchasing all of Index just to get their hands on Atlus, especially since they've passed on purchasing pure gaming studios in favor of internal development before (see: Rare, creator of Kinect Adventures and Kinect Adventures 2: 2 Sad 2 Boogaloo).
But Nintendo has the absolute most to gain from this opportunity. Atlus has nothing but powerful brands and community goodwill, and I will say right now that they will never have another chance to obtain such talent and quality IP as they do with Atlus.
Atlus games aren't multimillion sellers, and it could be a lifetime before Nintendo makes back what they put into the studio. But what they need most right now is something to make consumers want a Wii U, and Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem (a collaboration between Atlus and Nintendo, one that has fans drooling and which Nintendo has no doubt invested much time and resources) would do just that.
Not to mention that if Nintendo misses out, their current biggest rival in Sony could swoop in and ensure that another Atlus game (including the aforementioned SMTxFE) never appears on a Nintendo console again. If Index was real estate, it would be the Louisiana Purchase, the state of Alaska, and the surface of the moon all rolled into one. If Nintendo isn't shoving lunar sapphires down the throats of everyone at Index they aren't only stubborn but monumentally stupid. The only thing Nintendo has to lose from bidding high on Index is a year of profitability, $200 million from their war chest and a "Welcome to Nintendo, You Lucky S.O.Bs!" banner.
Unlike most of the industry, which is seeing studio closures and safer IPs, Nintendo is expanding. They recently shook out their couch cushions and started construction on a new HQ, started hiring more employees and are working around the clock to improve relationships with small and large developers by providing cheap development tools and updating their technological kung-fu.
In summary, Nintendo has the most to gain and the least to lose by purchasing Index. If they don't end up running after this opportunity with all their wallet it could only be "because Nintendo, duh". That anybody has any doubt, including myself, that Nintendo wouldn't end up with Atlus, is a sign that the one thing Nintendo doesn't do well is business.
I have confidence that Atlus will survive this ordeal and continue developing amazing games unhindered. They have very talented developers and in the midst of an industry that is in danger of collapsing, dragging smaller studios down with it, that their future is bright is a relief. The only question is not if Atlus will thrive, but under whose name will they thrive.