Tanaka's Twitter Sent the Wrong Message

Square Enix inadvertently caused controversy by failing to communicate early.

Call it the tweet heard ‘round Eorzea.

In the time it took for Final Fantasy XIV producer Hiromichi Tanaka to call out the “foreign media” on Twitter, we instantly realized that Square Enix still hasn’t mastered the art of communicating with customers outside of Japan.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Square Enix’s biggest problem is a failure to control its message – more on that in a bit.

Discuss this in the ZAM forums.

The catalyst for Tanaka’s tweet was confusion over the surplus and fatigue system in Final Fantasy XIV. Soon-to-be players are desperate for answers about this new system, and why shouldn’t they be? A system that restricts experience points in any way, shape or form seems to go against the very core of the Final Fantasy franchise.

It’s safe to assume this system has a purpose. It’s also safe to assume (probably) that Square Enix wouldn’t implement such a potentially unattractive feature if they felt it would drive away scores of potential subscribers.

Which means, when all is said and done, that we probably don’t need to worry about this. In fact, an explanation of this system from Final Fantasy XIV director Nobuaki Komoto posted on the North American beta site confirms this system isn't as rigid as players originally feared.

Unfortunately, the playerbase was left to grasp at straws because Square Enix wasn’t proactive enough to answer our questions ahead of time.

Seems like only yesterday I was writing a lengthy editorial criticizing the Final Fantasy XI development team for ninja-nerfing a job and then ignoring the cries of the playerbase. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In the wake of that editorial, Square Enix’s community representatives posted an apology on our forums and vowed to be more vocal on community sites.

To a certain extent, Square Enix kept its word. The company’s North American community representatives did make themselves available for interviews on specific topics. They also worked with premier sites to promote special community events and contests.

However, Square Enix clearly didn’t go far enough.

While we (the Western media) spent the first portion of the FFXIV beta bound and gagged by the Non-Disclosure Agreement, the Japanese media enjoyed a wealth of interviews and information straight from the development team. This is not a new trend. Much of the breaking news from Final Fantasy XI also originated from the Japanese media. Even with this surplus and fatigue issue, Square Enix was much faster to post an explanation of the system for Japanese readers, leaving the Western media to rely on second-hand translations in an attempt to corral the news.

Players who live outside of Japan want more from Square Enix than the occasional opportunity to talk about recently released content patches. We want to connect with the men and women behind the game. We want the ability to pass our questions along to the development team, knowing that in time those questions will be answered. We want to hear about changes to the game before they happen; otherwise, how do we know our input matters?

Most of all, those of us in North America and Europe don’t want to be referred to as foreigners. We want to be called customers.

That said, I’m going to make another assumption that Square Enix values us as customers. The company just has a strange way of showing it sometimes. I also believe the development team wants to be more connected with us. Why wouldn't they?

Which brings me back to my earlier statement – the rift between Square Enix and its Western customers exists because the company fails to control its message.

The concept of a company controlling its message in the media is simple. By proactively providing journalists with interviews, information and story ideas, companies can set the tone for how they are portrayed publicly. Of course, journalists in the Western media are not content with being spoon-fed story after story. Which is why in addition to providing a constant stream of story fodder, media-savvy companies also make themselves available to answer questions from reporters on a regular basis.

Journalists (and online forum administrators) are busy people. We’re under tremendous pressure to generate content on a daily basis. Companies that proactively work with the media often successfully control their messages and build closer relationships with their customers.

On the other hand, companies that shun media contact often find themselves on the wrong side of the public relations discussion. While writing for a newspaper a few years ago, I wrote a holiday fluff piece about a Starbucks Coffee where hundreds of customers had bought java for the people in line behind them. A couple days later, I called the same store to write a small, equally positive follow-up story. My call was immediately transferred to the company’s corporate office, where media flaks refused to let me speak with anyone at the store I was writing about. Not only did Starbucks kill its own positive story, but the company inadvertently reinforced its image as a faceless coffee behemoth amid a sea of smaller, neighborhood coffee houses.

Square Enix faces the same kind of problem. The company has a reputation for having poor customer service and a strong preference for its Japanese customers. Even if Square Enix does place a higher value on its local customers (which wouldn’t be wrong or surprising, given the large number of Japanese subscribers for Final Fantasy XI), the company should do everything in its power to portray itself as not playing favorites.

Also, by failing to proactively engage its customers around the world, the company has encouraged its customers to seek answers to their questions elsewhere – even if that means running with rumors from random Internet message boards.

The leadership at Square Enix is on the right path. Nobuaki Komoto's explanation of the surplus system on the North American beta site -- which includes an apology for the delay in information -- seemed to arrive much faster than would have been the case a few years ago.

Yet there's still plenty of room for improvement. Translators could facilitate periodic Web chats between the development team and premier site administrators. Questions could be e-mailed, translated and e-mailed back with a relatively quick turnaround. Square Enix could also allow its North American community representatives to answer media inquiries.

The bottom line is this: Square Enix must get better at controlling its message, or risk alienating its share of the MMO market.

Imagine if the development team had issued a full explanation of the surplus and fatigue system before implementing it into the beta. There would have been no shock or confusion when testers noticed their experience per kill dwindling. None of the premier sites or gaming magazines – either Japanese or American – would have used information that wasn’t confirmed to be true.

No confusion, no rumors, no angry tweet from Tanaka -- and no backlash from the community.

Square Enix can let this keep happening for another eight years, or the company can enjoy a more quality, connected relationship with its customers around the world.

I know which option I'd choose.


Post Comment
# Aug 31 2010 at 2:42 PM Rating: Decent
is call publicity effect

how great is it now that everyone talk about it? free promotion is always great, the sites that never talk about ffxiv now talk about it, how cool is that?

is like a singer leaking out his/her/their songs in the internet before the official release, and everyone talk about

is like halo leaking out the game by the so called german dude/gang/hacker or whatever before the actual game is really release

this is the oldest trick in the book and welcome to the reality bcoz the earth is spinning

Edited, Aug 31st 2010 4:44pm by gary345
old news...
# Aug 30 2010 at 1:08 AM Rating: Decent
I know SE for almost 20 years now and i have to say that all you wrote is very true. I was running a fansite in germany some years ago (squarenet.de) and we had a very large community, about 100k visitors a day and what not. Every little news we got was a translation from various japanese sources, even the famitsu print magazine...

This was because SE didnt give out any information outside of japan and they still tend to keep it that way. I dont see why they should change this.
Complaints about this behaviour are as old as SE itself, so dont think anything changes just because a lot of people do complain... they are also very good in ignoring the western comunity. We have to deal with it or just leave them alone. Its SE's choice and they already made it.
Grossly Unfair
# Aug 28 2010 at 12:37 PM Rating: Decent
27 posts
I understand your fustration of not getting access to information.

But to say they are trying to deliberatly treat Japan players better then Western players is very irresponsible. It breeds hate between our cultures and shouldnt have any place in our society today.

The makers of this game are japanese, and its alot easier to communicate in japanese then it is english, its that simple, dont read more into it then whats really there.

shame on you for writing this. Theres other ways to be just as effective in getting a company to give you info without dividing the people of the game.

And you wonder why JP only is found in japanese players group comments.



Edited, Aug 28th 2010 2:52pm by pizzamike
Grossly Unfair
# Aug 29 2010 at 1:33 PM Rating: Decent
575 posts
Wow "PizzaMike", you are an idiot. If you have had to deal with SquareEnix through the years of FFXI there is no debating two facts: 1) They have horrible customer service, 2) Their Japanese playerbase is treated differently than everyone else.

He didn't call SE racist. He didn't make racist comments himself, yet you seem to be implying he did something morally wrong, by pointing out facts with your constant "Shame, Shame on you"s. SE is horrible at public relations and customer service, especially (if not only) out side of Japan. There is no racism in that comment. Other Japanese developers do not suffer from this problem. And like the article said, SE probably wants to be better in this department, they just don't want to bad enough to do what it takes to fix the issue.
Call it what it is.
# Aug 28 2010 at 10:38 AM Rating: Decent
Call it what it is. Crappy customer service and crappy treatment of it's fans outside of Japan.

This article is very apologetic to SE.

"That said, I’m going to make another assumption that Square Enix values us as customers. The company just has a strange way of showing it sometimes."

No they don't they've failed in that respect for YEARS with FFXI and one of the reason I stopped playing. I really hoped they would fix this issue and start listening to there customers all over the world, but that seems to be a sure failing point already.

Blizzard maintains company owned and operated forums in every market it operates in and has staff that are a part of the company that speak the language. And it has been shown that EU, NA, and Asia markets opinions matter for to Blizzard cause you can see the changes that start on those regional sites actually have an effect on the game.

But in the meantime the only contact any EU or NA customer has with SE is the suggestion box on their website or when they decide to end their subscription.
good post, Thayos
# Aug 28 2010 at 12:13 AM Rating: Decent
17 posts
I want to know what keeps them from releasing information to both markets at the same time. Is the language barrier that great between the JP and NA/EU departments? Are they just trying to be super-cautious with their translations into English? Is my subscription worth less than a Japanese customer's? The delay just spurs a lot of questions and speculations, imo.
Random thoughts
# Aug 27 2010 at 6:53 AM Rating: Decent
This write up reminded me just how poor the communication team was back in Final Fantasy 11. It was one of the main points that drove me out of the game, along with the fact that there was a rather apparent favoritism towards the Japanese community when it came to certain issues. (Notably, they gave Japan a year in advance to establish themselves in the game, and as such, gave the NA community no options but to go with what the Japanese had decided would be the market price.) This has always been a prickly point with me because it's just bad business and it is slowly alienating the people who have loved the series of Final Fantasy from the company who made it.

In the end, a very well written post and something that Square-Enix desperately needs to look at.
Good Job Thayos.
# Aug 27 2010 at 2:45 AM Rating: Decent
1,822 posts
Very Nice Writeup Thayos. I approve. Two big thumbs up (b'-')b
Well, I'm all down for them being more vocal...
# Aug 27 2010 at 2:30 AM Rating: Decent
But if this 'change' somehow means completely aping the West, then please don't change. I think one of the problems is that a lot of us in the West don't understand how the Japanese do business, let alone Japanese culture. This is part of what prompted many developers to say "Let the West do their thing, and we will do ours. We don't understand each other." I mean, look at what Japanese companies have been doing lately -- putting out games with "tailor made" characters for "Western tastes" and they have been laughable! Because they think we hate their aesthetic (save when it comes to violence or fighting scenes.) I just really think people need to take a step back, figure out how we can work with Japanese companies. Give them little nudges and pushes, but please don't ask them to turn into another company.

well done
# Aug 27 2010 at 2:17 AM Rating: Default
544 posts
Excellent article. One can only hope they get this idea into their heads. With that last salvo they probably have already alienated some of their customers or at the very least left them wary and more gimlet-eyed on how they treat us "foreigners".

That said, its time for some serious damage control. Someone at SE needs to step up to the plate and start to placate to us on some level.
# Aug 26 2010 at 11:46 PM Rating: Decent
9,526 posts
Well written. Communication is certainly key.
Great article
# Aug 26 2010 at 11:37 PM Rating: Default
Agreed 100%. SE needs to communicate better with the community on issues. I would like to see some more interviews where they answer some more of the tougher questions instead of just side-stepping them like have done time and time again.
# Aug 26 2010 at 11:16 PM Rating: Good
1,566 posts
Well said.
Square-Enix seem to think that brand recognition translates to sales. When in reality it only creates interest.
This is a giant spoiled by a very devoted following, and a glowing reception from media no matter what throughout the 90s and early 2000s.
The market has changed. It was SE's own newly inducted US president who said the company must "evolve or die." Well, positive media attention is a part of that!
# Aug 27 2010 at 2:27 AM Rating: Good
Sephrick wrote:
Well said.
Square-Enix seem to think that brand recognition translates to sales. When in reality it only creates interest.
This is a giant spoiled by a very devoted following, and a glowing reception from media no matter what throughout the 90s and early 2000s.
The market has changed. It was SE's own newly inducted US president who said the company must "evolve or die." Well, positive media attention is a part of that!

Well, looking at FF12 and 13, it DOES equal sales. But fans are getting tired of being delivered poor quality FF products (in comparison to games like Mass Effect and Star Ocean at least).

They're slowly coming round. The success of 7/8/9/10 got to their heads, I think.

Four or five years ago, during XI's heyday, we wouldn't have even have got this from them.

I'm cautiously optimistic about XIV's future, and I'm hoping XV takes more from the earlier FF games than the recent drivel we've been fed.
# Aug 30 2010 at 10:22 AM Rating: Decent
Star Ocean 4 isn't very good, i hope you are kidding.
And you can't compare a development process like FFXIII with a game like Mass Effect :)
stupid senix
# Aug 26 2010 at 10:02 PM Rating: Good
1,536 posts
That is their biggest problem and they'd be stupid if they don't work on this.
stupid senix
# Aug 27 2010 at 1:53 PM Rating: Decent
418 posts
It's true, IMO. Maybe if foreign media wouldn't be so quick to come to their own conclusions, people wouldn't get the wrong answer from people who don't actually know what's going on.

He did nothing wrong.
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