How exactly did Square Enix get so much, so wrong?
Square Enix was probably hoping to have a better day when it released Final Fantasy: All The Bravest on the App Store yesterday. Speculation of a new port from the publisher's RPG back-catalog was rife following the reveal of a new teaser site, but what arrived instead was a shallow game of mindless tapping fronting an extraordinary premium pricing store. It's fair to say we didn't mince too many of our own words when we reviewed the game yesterday.
This isn't the first time players and press alike have rebuked Square Enix for its high premium pricing strategy, particularly when stacked on top of an already premium game - although that disgruntled commentary has previously been limited to mobile-specific websites. Instead, the release of the game has prompted condemnation from sites as wide-reaching as Kotaku and Forbes. Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade summed up the prevailing mood most effectively yesterday evening with his blunt, yet eloquently titled article: 'Final Fantasy: All the Bravest on iOS is a steaming pile of in-app purchasing horseshit'.
So, the story's traveled a good deal further than the usual circles of mobile gaming. But why now, and why this particular Square Enix title? That Final Fantasy: All The Bravest is barely a game - and is in fact better described as a shop that charges customers for entry - only tells half the story of why it's attracted so much ire.
With its thin and vapid gameplay, the company has first of all managed to reinforce every negative stereotype associated with mobile gaming, stereotypes that are entirely contrary to the significant achievements made by a talented development scene since mobile gaming's early, tentative days. But while there's still no shortage of games that come up lacking on the App Store, All The Bravest also pokes bluntly at gaming's most significant healing wound.
The concept of DLC across all platforms has evolved a great deal since its introduction towards the end of the sixth generation of consoles, and publishers have become a good deal more restrained when it comes to deciding just how this extra, post-release content should be perceived, valued by, and delivered to its audiences. Final Fantasy: All The Bravest cleanly kicks the crutches away from that progress with its dollar-a-sprite content, and is brazen in doing so.
Then there's the Final Fantasy series itself, one widely considered to be in a bad place right now, and where the developers are considered out of touch by many long-term devotees of the franchise. The greatest irony to be found in this mess is that a retrospective game like Final Fantasy: All The Bravest could have restored some of that faith, and represented a genuine bit of fan service to remind the most hardcore followers that the company still cares for them. Instead it amounts to a rather contemptuous response to that devotion - perhaps the most likely explanation for why this particular title has found itself being so roundly ridiculed within the wider gaming press.
Square Enix doesn't have too many choices right now when it comes to handling the fallout from this specific title - and it's important to acknowledge that the over-riding negative sentiment clearly isn't universal. It can't change the monetization of the game though without angering those existing customers, and it can't refund customers without legitimizing the complaints that have so often followed in the wake of previous releases. At this point, the publisher can only really wait for the noise to die down, then have a good hard think about its future mobile strategy.
Now that the eyes of the mainstream gaming press are on the publisher's mobile strategy, something will have to change before the next game arrives on the App Store. Ultimately that can only be good for mobile games, mobile gamers, and the indie developers who do so much more, so much better, and with far fewer resources at their disposal.