What with all this buzz and hype surrounding the new Gears and Walking Dead games coming out, you might have missed the news circulating about Persona 4 Arena finally getting a maybe solid release date in Europe. So as long as that presumably definite May 10 date is for sure accurate, that puts the European release date a smooth nine months behind the August 7 date that we got over here in the U.S. last year.
Now, that would have been a non-issue if it weren't for the fact that Persona 4 Arena was the first game, like, ever to be region locked on the PS3. I get the distinct impression that European video game enthusiasts have become reasonably adept at circumventing local publishers if they can't actually get the games they buy the rights to out in a reasonable time frame. The PS3 being region free means a discerning European fighting game fan could potentially import their games from Japan or the U.S. if they saw the need to. And that's what I feel is so galling about the way Atlus has handled Persona 4 Arena, is that they went and took away that one option these people had to circumvent their machinations.
The publisher/consumer relationship is a difficult one to parse out clearly. It's difficult to say where one party's responsibility ends and where the other's begins. But I don't think many people would disagree with me when I say that the best situation is the one where both parties win. And in the event that one party isn't getting what they want, what recourse is there in the matter? What kind of negative reinforcement does the consumer have at his or her disposal to condition publishers away from anti-consumer business decisions? What recourse is there for European fighting game fans in this situation, when Atlus went and fucked them out of the only recourse that they had?
The silver lining here is that it looks as though Atlus has probably fucked themselves with their own petard on this deal as well. They've had their Pyrrhic victory with their sales numbers in Japan. They've lost good will with fans the world over for being the first and only publisher to region lock a PS3 game. They've lost out on sales in the PAL territory that I don't foresee them possibly getting back. And they've lost even more good will with fans, in the PAL territory at the very least for this idiotically over-long delay. I really hope that price tag on the Japanese version justified all of this ill-will they've garnered from everyone who wanted to buy the game. Because that's going to hang on them a lot longer than people are going to hang on to the game's multiplayer.
Here's how this whole thing should have played out. The game should have come out with no region locking. Index would have had to look into how many sales they lost in Japan to reverse importing and considered some other, more consumer friendly solution to that problem, such as competitive pricing in Japan. Either Zen United, Atlus or both would have been left twisting in the wind after the debacle that the PAL release has been, and some party would have to be held accountable. And the European fans could have gotten the game if they really wanted it in the meantime.
As it stands though, the European fans are getting the raw end of this deal along with Zen United, who I assume is going to be the one to take the hickey when the game under performs in May. The thing is though, it's probably not going to under perform like it should. Persona 4 Arena isn't just an Ark fighting game. It's also got that story mode that's going to appeal to more than just fighting game fans. I don't think that fact is going to have them making out like bandits from this deal. But with a nine month delay, Zen United isn't getting nearly as raw a deal as the fans.
Which takes us back to the publisher/consumer relationship. I understand that these companies are ostensibly trying to provide us with goods and services, and are thus virtuous by their very nature. But when they are incapable of providing those goods and services in a satisfactory manner, then whatever benefit these companies could possibly serve to us is lost completely. Zen United is failing to provide the one service they exist to provide. So why then, shouldn't consumers fail to hold up their end of the transaction as well?
As it stands, this region locking debacle has given Atlus and Zen a safety net from the very obvious fallout their very obviously bad business decision was definitely going to cause. And there might not be any obvious and simple solution to this whole importing thing, but there definitely is an obvious solution to a nine month delay in the PAL territory. And that's to not play along like that was ever an okay thing to do. But as it stands, I can't blame anyone over there who ends up buying it anyway, since there aren't any better options presenting themselves.
Zen United or Atlus or whoever doesn't have to come to their consumers, cap in hand, asking them to stick around and telling them they'll do better next time. Nine months late, and all they really need to say is be happy you're getting it at all, since they made the decision to do this to their fans long ago. Any development at this point is practically an act of mercy. The fans aren't happy, but the publisher(s) have impunity in this situation. The balance of power is skewed in their favor, so they don't have any reason to be contrite. They've made it so that there is no other way than their way. It's the only way.