A couple years back (this being the definition where “a couple” means “I can’t remember precisely how many”), I was talking with a friend about Phantasy Star Online 2. This, obviously, was well before its localization was announced, and said friend was firmly of the mindset that even if it were announced, it wouldn’t matter. As she saw it, everyone with an interest in the game had already tried the translation patch and played the game on the Japanese servers, and no one else would care.
Fast-forward to now, and while it’s far too early to call the localized game a success (it’s still not actually out, for example, and we haven’t seen it on PC), there’s a whole lot of positive buzz. People are excited about the game. And that got me thinking about how the formula really does exist for the game to do far better here than you might be inclined to think based on age and delays… and in a larger scope, about the ways in which existing communities can sometimes have an echo chamber without intending to do so.
So why do I think it has a pretty solid shot? Well, for the majority of its target audience, this is not only a new game coming out but a new game that has already done the awkward fumbling that every new MMO goes through. It’s launching here now with those balance issues and early jank smoothed over, complete with a huge backlog of content that will ensure that a reasonable rollout schedule offers players new things to do for roughly half of forever.
It also has a distinct visual style, it’s science fantasy rather than pure fantasy (it’s no coincidence how much of it plays up the science fiction elements), and it’s an action game; that last point makes it much easier to pick up for newcomers. Whether or not you necessarily like action combat more or less than more sedate gameplay, it’s easier to understand “press X to attack” than “here are two dozen little buttons with your abilities and you need to learn all of them to hit things.”
With the right marketing and good support? Yeah, this is a game that could easily refine itself into a solid hit, especially with the rumor that Final Fantasy XIV will be joining it on the Xbox One (making it an easy “lighter and softer” companion to that). It’s not an absolute slam dunk just by putting it out there, but it certainly is positioned to do well.
“But it’s old news,” you protest. “Anyone who would be interested is bored of it.” And to that, I point to an obvious counterexample in me.
I have, obviously, known about the game all along. I’ve known about its development, launch, original plans for localization, the stalling of same, the quiet removal from obvious channels, and so forth. I was following the theories about why the game had never been localized, knew about the English patch, and so on.
I still never actually played it despite all of this.
It wasn’t for lack of interest, either; the overall Phantasy Star series sadly hasn’t reached quite the level of cultural penetration of series like Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and the Tales franchise, but it’s still a delightful experience and has some titles which are either masterpieces or flawed-but-memorable games just the same. (Just mark me down if we ever get a Phantasy Star III remake.) No, this was purely a case wherein the amount of work needed to get the game into a playable state didn’t feel rewarding enough.
At first, it was one of those cases wherein it would be easy enough to check it out once it got localized. As that looked increasingly unlikely, it instead changed to being a case of entering a very closed community reliant on rules of behavior which were unfamiliar with no larger group to access. It was, in short, unapproachable.
And I would stress here that I’m one of the people who knew about this game. There were a lot of people who no doubt heard about it for the first time when it was announced for this side of the pond, meaning that I imagine the majority of its potential audience might not have even known it was a thing until recently.
You might think this is all an extended way of winning a disagreement with a friend several years later, but here’s the thing – at the time, I was agreeing with her. I thought she had the right of it. After all, who cares about the game any more? If I knew about it but couldn’t be bothered to play it, why would anyone else be interested if it actually came out?
It turns out that based on a thoroughly unscientific glance at the overall hype level, the answer is a surprisingly large amount of people. Or, in another sense, a not-at-all surprising number of people once you realize that the sample size being used as the basis for surprise is not actually indicative of a general audience.
Yes, this is the important part, folks.
The reality is that the enthusiast side of any hobby is a pretty small group of people. Most people do not do a whole lot of research and reading about something they have only a cursory interest in. Your cousin who used to play World of Warcraft isn’t no longer playing MMOs because they failed to latch on to one aspect or another that usually involves making them harder to play; she stopped playing because in her mind, she never played MMOs. She played WoW until she wasn’t having fun any more, then she didn’t.
You are almost certainly aware that, say, most of the people you know are less interested in MMOs than you are. But it’s hard to know exactly how broad that disconnection is from an internal perspective. Do average audiences at this point even know or care what EverQuest is? Do they even want big group content? The best you can do is try to guess about these things based on sales trends and player anecdotes, and even then that’s somewhat speculative.
About all you can say with certainty is that people want to play games that are fun and they like playing those games until they’re no longer fun. Period end. And even when your job is literally thinking about these games, observing them, and placing them in a larger context, it’s very easy to lose track of the fine details in light of all the other superfluous noise that is inevitably and constantly flying around at the same time.
So yeah, I think PSO2 has pretty good odds when it finally releases; it’s launching on one unpopular but potentially fertile platform and one popular platform (assuming the Steam launch happens as planned), and there are a lot of people who either weren’t aware of it before or were peripherally aware but will be more interested with an official localized release. It may be an older title now, but it’s not going to read that way to much of the target audience, and in a way that matters more than knowing it’s a little bit older.
Heck, it has better odds than Bless Unleashed.