All Your Money Is Figged!
A fool and their money are easily parted, so what does that say about the idiot gamers who practically lined up to divest their hard-earned capital with Rabbi Schafer once again? Schafer’s track record with spending donator money is readily apparent at this point – he uses it no more sparingly or thoughtfully than if it were cheques from Activision. He expected backers to act with grace and compassion when he ran out of their money halfway through development, which they might have done if he did not squander their money on mediocre Hollywood voice talent – but it would seem there are plenty more fools where they came from.
We have all seen that former Double Fine COO, Justin Bailey, set up his own bespoke crowd funding platform called Fig in August of 2015, with Schafer on the advisory board [he also serves as a member of the advisory board of Fig’s parent company, Loose Tooth Industries]. We have seen that the company allows money for one project to be used on another, and we have also seen with Schafer’s own Psychonauts 2 campaign that he is able to freely extend the duration of a campaign’s funding period – but apparently none of this was enough to make gamers balk, as Psychonaut 2‘s asking price of 3.3 million has been funded within the last day or so.
However, all of this pales in comparison to what appears to be going on with the investor side of things. Previously investment laws required investors to possess a certain amount of capital before buying into investment schemes, but on May 16 of 2016 that safeguard is set to me stripped away – opening the floodgates for anyone with enough money to purchase a share. The first cab off the ranks [so to speak] of companies looking to capitalise on this new class of plebian investor is Fig, offering terms that would never fly with people who were experienced investors. Fig is entitled to freely share investor money around between projects just as it does with backer money, and moreover investors are not entitled to a red cent of a game’s earnings until the company has recouped their investment – it has been calculated that Psychonauts 2 will have to sell over seven hundred thousand copies [at full price] in order for investors to even make back their investment, much less see a profit. None of this is the worst part though.
The thing is that Fig is not just a funding platform, but also serves as publisher to any project that is successfully funded using the platform. As well as being a publisher Fig is also a shell corporation, and looks to have been deliberately designed to fail. The company carries twice as much debt as it does assets [120k in assets to 240k in liabilities], and Double Fine’s own accountants have already determined that it faces immanent collapse inside a year – indeed the only thing propping it up is the fact that its parent company, Loose Tooth Industries, continues [for the moment] to service its debt. Investor money is taken in by Fig Publishing, before being funneled through Fig Grasslands, and is ultimately delivered to its beneficiary [Double Fine]. Each of these is its own separate corporate entity, and only Fig Publishing holds any kind of responsibility towards investors.
In the event of a collapse developers get to keep the money invested in their projects without owing a single dime to investors, Loose Tooth Industries has no liability for squaring things away with Fig’s creditors and investors, and nor does Fig Grasslands for that matter. Meanwhile Fig investors are at the back of a very long queue when it comes to recouping funds through the sale of Fig’s meager assets, behind both creditors and Loose Tooth Industries themselves. In short Fig looks to have been designed so that its beneficiaries are able to raise millions of dollars from both backers and investors before pulling the pin on the entire operation and pocketing the money with impunity.
Investors are given no voting rights within the company, and they are not even able to trade their shares for between six and twelve months. Tim Schafer could quite literally use investor money to set up his daughter’s college fund and there would be nothing that investors could do about it. The game could even be completed, go on sale, and become a massive success – and still investors would not be owed any kind of dividend if the game is not published by Fig Publishing. This is truly the greatest shitshow on earth – and one only hopes that all of the Fig shills over at Polygon invest heavily in Psychonauts 2 so that they can be there when it all goes up in smoke!
Dark Clouds on the Horizon for Square Enix
The conventional thinking behind Square Enix’s perpetual cocktease of a Final Fantasy VII remake has long been that Square Enix were saving the game until the company was in deep financial dire straits as their ‘get out of jail free’ card. Thus, when Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced this author initially theorised that the company had gone way over budget on Final Fantasy XV, and that the company were not confident that the game was of anywhere near a high enough quality to recoup its costs – and thus Final Fantasy VII was required to right the ship. While one is still of a mind that Final Fantasy XV is probably a contributing factor in playing the Final Fantasy VII card, the decision seems to be more immediately based on at least one bad investment decision that Square Enix is being rightly punished for.
Gamers, by-and-large, are not interested in cloud-based gaming. It is the corporations who are interested in cloud gaming because it strips gamers of the last vestiges of game ownership, but gamers themselves are not interested in cloud gaming, ergo there is not much of a market for it. Why rent a game and have to deal with the technical hiccups of cloud gaming when the same titles can be had for cheap on Steam? This lack of gamer interest has not stopped corporations from pushing cloud gaming however, and readers may remember that back in 2014 Square Enix set up their own cloud gaming platform, Shinra Technologies, headed by former Square Enix president Yoichi Wada. The Shinra Technology site still proclaims it to be “The Next Evolution of Gaming”, but in truth it has proved to be more of a dead-end mutation than an evolution, and Square Enix has announced plans this week to dissolve the company after no external investors could be found.
“As a cloud platform operator, [Shinra] has been trying to raise funds necessary for further business operations from third party investors. However, [Shinra] has found no prospective investors at this point, and therefore has to discontinue its business.”
Shinra Technology Japan is set to be dissolved in June of 2016, while for some reason Shinra Technology’s New York headquarters cannot be dissolved until March 31st of 2019 [which marks the end of the 2018 financial year]. As a result of the dissolution of Shinra Technologies Square Enix is warning investors of a 2 billion Yen [or 16.8 million USD] extraordinary loss for the end of the 2015 financial year. That said, the operation of the New York headquarters is likely to be an ongoing drain on the company until it ceases to operate in 2019, unless of course its forward operating expenses have been written off as part of Square Enix’s 2015 extraordinary loss.
With this in mind, it is very easy to see how Square Enix’s decision to break Final Fantasy VII Remake into multiple parts has as much to do with them releasing the game ASAP for immediate liquidity as it does with them maximising profits by having gamers purchase multiple products at regular intervals. It is a cheap and nasty remake, the form of which has been influenced by Square Enix’s need to remedy a financial mistake. Thus, game content is set to be stretched like taffy and filled to the brim with filler content and busy work. At any rate, it certainly looks as though Yoichi Wada has finally gone the way of President Shinra!
Final Fantasy XV Will Be like The Last of Us!
Final Fantasy XV director, Hajime Tabata, has been quite busy over the Christmas break period. Last week he was singing the praises of The Witcher III, before delivering the dire New Year’s Eve threat that gamers would definitely be blighted by Final Fantasy XV within the next calendar year. This week he went one step further in his praise of Western game design by directly comparing Final Fantasy XV‘s story to The Last of Us.
“We are really trying to aim for something where the gameplay and storytelling are really one in the same. It’s important that the story progresses through the gameplay in a very unforced way, in a similar way that it was done with The Last of Us, for example. The difference is Final Fantasy XV is a full RPG so you have a lot deeper, heavy and full story that shows the development of characters along a more broad angle.”
What he essentially seems to be saying is that Final Fantasy XV will feature a lot of environmental storytelling, along with scenario gameplay objectives which function as their own plot points. This might actually work out in Final Fantasy XV‘s favour if it is able to eliminate cutscenes that are as painful to watch as the ones endured in Final Fantasy XIII. That being said, it is one thing to accomplish environmental storytelling within linear experiences like The Last of Us or, say, Resident Evil 4, but it is quite another feat entirely to tell a coherent story in a game which lacks the funnel points that are inherent to linear game design. How does one tell an effective story if gamers may never even discover their meticulously crafted narrative tableau?
It is to this point that Hajime Tabata’s second nugget of Final Fantasy XV news for the week indirectly pertains, as he has claimed that Final Fantasy XV will have the best of both worlds when it comes to linear VS openworld styles of game design. Though whether anything can ever truthfully be described as ‘the best of both worlds’ when it is so clearly a compromise does seem somewhat dubious.
“Each region will move the journey forward. How the story is handled, it’s not 100 percent pure open-world, but it’s also not a pull along the rails kind of story. It’s very much a hybrid of those two styles, which I think is the best of both of them.
As you travel through each region, you’ll see different kinds of enemies and will take different paths that make you do unique things in each one of them. As you move through each region, the options for character growth and the different skills will start branching out as well.”
Ideally what this approach to game design would mean is that the game would feature many discreet indoor locations which are designed as linear environments [much like all the locations in Arkham Knight]. What Tabata really means though is that there will be occasional bits of gameplay which change things up a little, like the Behemoth stalking section of the Episode Duscae demo. If Tabata is unable to take this approach drastically further than it was presented in Episode Duscae, then one will be unable to concede that it constitutes ‘the best of both worlds’ in any aspect other than disappointment.
Anime Double Vision: Case Closed / The File of Young Kindaichi Returns
Sometimes an anime can give every appearance of being a cynical cash-in on a currently popular anime series, yet other times animes can share a virtually identical premise on account of nothing more than sheer happenstance. The latter is almost certainly the case with The File of Young Kindaichi Returns and Case Closed [AKA Detective Conan], both of which are part of Crunchyroll’s Winter 2016 Season Simulcast, and both of which date back to the early 1990s. The File of Young Kindaichi Returns follows Hajime Kindaichi, the grandson of a famous detective, who appears to be a regular high school student, but helps the police to solve any big crime that crops up. Case Closed follows Shinichi Kudo, the son of a famous mystery writer, who appears to be a regular school kid, but assists local police as a student detective! As readers can probably imagine this author did a double take after perusing the synopsis of both these shows while bumming around on Crunchyroll. The File of Young Kindaichi Returns is simulcast on Saturdays at 4:00am, and Case Closed is simulcast on Saturdays at 12:00pm. It is a bit of a shame that the shows are not simulcast a little closer together, as they would make a hell of a double feature!