Pondering a North American Release for The Last Story Part 3

Monday, February 13th, 2012

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Before Xenoblade Chronicles was announced for North America as a GameStop exclusive, I had completed the first draft of an article.   An article, that upon said announcement, I had believed to become obsolete. The article in question detailed the various alternative means of distribution that Nintendo of America could take to release Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower stateside.  My intention was to not only show how the games could be released, but to show means of release that would benefit Nintendo in ways outside of just profitable game sales.  With Operation Rainfall’s sponsorship of “The Last Story month”, I have decided to revisit the themes of the article as a 4 part series focused entirely on The Last Story.  In order to bring about discussion of the points I raise, I have also organized a short roundtable with other members of Operation Rainfall to close out each article.  These 4 articles will be released as a series over the course of “The Last Story month”.
            This current generation for the XBOX 360 and the Playstation 3 saw a renaissance of HD remixes of classic titles.  From major hits like God of War at retail, to digitally distributed gems like Beyond Good and Evil. Nintendo’s competition has been able to avoid droughts by clever use of their digital distribution platforms.  On Nintendo’s own standard definition console, we even got a decent number of previously unlocalized titles on the Virtual Console service.  So isn’t it then feasible to imagine a future in which the Wii-U’s retail lineup gaps are punctuated with downloadable titles that were previously unavailable in certain regions?  “Disaster: Day of Crisis”, “Zangeki no Reginleiv”, “Fatal Frame 4”, and “Another Code R” make up only a minority of the completed Wii titles Nintendo never published in the Americas.  Does it make sense to petition and fight for every one to receive a full localization? No, it does not.  But perhaps another option could be made available with the Wii U’s rumored superior online infrastructure and storage capacity/methodology.
            Let us consider the benefits of Nintendo releasing titles like “The Last Story” by digital distribution.  The first and most obvious benefit is the cost. The game is fully localized, and without any production or shipping, the cost of distributing the title would be as minimal as the countless apps released for smart phones and tablets.  Second, and most importantly, the title would be a great showcase for their upcoming digital distribution service. Remember World of Goo? Could there have been a better game to showcase the kind of small, simple, and yet wonderfully unique and well crafted titles that Nintendo wanted their Wiiware service to represent?  Similarly, a digital port of a title like “The Last Story” could be Nintendo’s way of saying they are now ready to deliver large scale content on a digital platform.
 Here, Dragan fondly remembers what Avenue Q taught him the Internet was for.
            I personally believe that digital distribution is our future.  It is the way music has already gone, it is the way movies are already clearly headed, and it is even the way games have gone on the PC and Smart Phone/Tablet markets.  Services such as Valve’s Steam and EA’s Origin are already in place and are popular, offering full large scale games through digital distribution.  Sony is offering their entire retail lineup on their Vita handheld by digital distribution as well.  Current generation consoles such as the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360 already have fairly large digital titles, as well as Demos of retail games.  The most relevant example was the announcement and showing of Ubisoft’s “Ghost Recon Online” as a downloadable title for the Wii U.  So the Wii-U will already be home to large scale downloadable content.  Why not some of our missing Wii titles? Why not “The Last Story”?
Ryan, current Co-leader of Operation Rainfall
I agree with Tyson that the Wii U and the “Nintendo Network” is the perfect platform for releasing “niche” titles like The Last Story that might otherwise not get localized due to costs.

I am all for digital distribution of console video games. It is extremely popular on the PC, and if done correctly, if can be successful on consoles as well. Tyson makes some great points on how digital distribution can lower the cost of games. The current problem is that games being offered on PSN and XBOX Live are being sold at retail price. Lower the price of digital games by $10 or even $20 dollars and only the most dedicated collectors will be looking for retail copies. I’m not saying that this is realistically going to happen anytime soon. As long as there is a larger market for retail, digital games and retail games will cost the same.

Mike D., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast, former Operation Rainfall PR Staff
I agree that the Wii U could be a fantastic venue for Nintendo to release their more niche titles, but I’m not sure if digital distribution is the place we should look. The U will be fully backwards compatible with Wii games, but not GameCube discs; therefore, I imagine we’ll see digital distribution of GC games, but not Wii games (which, for most, will be easy to find used at cheap prices). So where does that leave The Last Story?
Why not as a remastered HD launch title for Wii U? The console will already be a magnet for HD remakes. Since third parties seem a bit skittish to compete with Mario or Zelda at launch, Nintendo could launch a game that most certainly won’t be competing with Ninja Gaiden III or Killer Freaks. It seems that we’re all a little more apt to roll the dice on launch games (Red Steel, anyone?), so why shouldn’t Nintendo see exactly what type of audience The Last Story has when their shiny new system is getting its greatest exposure?
Alex B., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast
All the points I read above me are great, so I want to try and bring a few of them together:
Tyson argues that with Ghost Recon, the WiiU is already going to feature retail-size content on its digital distribution service, and that this digital distribution helps Nintendo overcome some of the distribution costs associated with retail games (I’m assuming disc pressing, packaging, shelf space, etc); Ryan argues that the prices of digital games should be lower than retail, like in the PC (Steam, Origin, GOG); Mike argues that the best way to approach a release of The Last Story is as an HD remake set for the WiiU’s launch, when it won’t interfere with bigger Nintendo titles or 3rd party efforts.
I can imagine a near-perfect scenario based on these things: The Last Story gets released as a digital, HD remake during the WiiU’s launch window. Initially, it’s price will probably be $50 (and I’m sure I and many others would buy the hell out of it), but within time it could drop steadily and continue to get good sales, like Steam’s digital releases do. The Collector’s Edition could still be offered through retail, or at least the way Collector’s Editions do on Steam, with extra artwork and soundtracks included.
Digital Distribution and Streaming platforms are on the rise, is the end of retail games nigh.
Richard, current Co-Leader at Operation Rainfall
I might stand alone on this one, but I hate the prospect of a digital only console future.  Sure it works on the computer with services like Steam and GOG.com but computers also tend to only need to be upgraded and can still play legacy games.  With consoles it’s not that simple, every 5 or so years we have a new console making the older console obsolete.  Recently we’ve seen that backwards compatibility isn’t that important to the companies as it used to be.  The PS3 is still selling well, the Wii just dropped it with its current incarnation, and the Xbox 360 has a very limited selection of games you can play from the original.  My fear is if it were to go all digital, would they support the content of an older console well into the future?  With a physical product I don’t have to worry about that since I can just pop the disc in and play the game.  Digital I have to depend on the company if I were to delete the game and want to play it again at some point to download it again.
I also don’t really like HD remakes so much, but that’s just my personal opinion, I like owning the original versions of games.  However, technically if they skip out on the wii version to do an “HD remake” of The Last Story and release it here, then it’s not much of a remake since it never existed in North America prior to that, it’s just a release.
Chris, former Operation Rainfall PR guy
I agree with Richard that there is a danger of digital distribution only in an environment that does not support backwards compatibility.  But as an avid Steam user there is another angle that makes me more open to digital distribution on consoles: the future is coming sooner, rather than later, and whether you like it or not.
This isn’t to say brick and mortar stores are going to go the way of the Dodo.  Instead, the issue is piracy and Digital Rights Management (DRM).  Recent US Court of Appeals decisions have created the following law: if a piece of software says you cannot redistribute it, then you can’t.  As a result, you do not in fact own the software — whether it is the digital code or the physical disc.  Instead, you only own a license (have permission) to play the game.
In other words, publishers now have a legal pathway to obliterate the used game market in the United States: via digital distribution + DRM.  That’s right: you would be paying $50 only for permission to play a digitally distributed edition of The Last Story.  Sure, Steam and GOG are more palatable systems because they are centralized, have a bunch of sales, and have a number of high quality releases.  But the rules are still the same.  Publishers have flocked to these services in order to control who gets their software, reduce costs, and help the bottom line.
Will pirates continue to find ways around DRM and ignore DD services like Steam? Yes, obviously.  But in case you have been living under a rock, changes in how we get games are already happening.  This is the direction all digital media is going.  Nintendo already needs to shape up its digital distribution strategy.  Yesterday.  They charge too far above what the market is willing to accept for the software they offer.  They never offer discounts to drive business.  They have nothing telling a Wii user what new/discounted/hot DD games are available when they turn on their console.  How are people going to purchase games from a service they know nothing about? What incentive do they have to buy from Nintendo’s service when they can get games cheaper from other services?
Digital distribution is a great avenue for Nintendo to release games like Xenoblade and The Last Story while minimizing financial risk to them.  I would hate to see them miss the boat and get left behind next gen – because they already have this gen.
Marko, current Co-Leader at Operation Rainfall
While not a fan of digital-only, I most certainly understand the issues of expense versus profit. If it is more feasible from a financial standpoint to release a game digitally-only, rather than retail, I’d definitely accept that over never seeing the title in any legitimate form in my region. PC has done digital distribution since as long as the internet has been around, and 360 and PS3 both have excellent online infrastructure in place, along with a solid marketplace where retail or retail-quality games can be purchased.
Microsoft and Sony have shown that consumers are willing to spend retail prices for digital content, which involves none of the expense of packaging and distributing a physical disc. If digital distribution means I have a much higher chance of seeing titles previously seen as “risky”, then bring it on. That future is looking pretty bright.
“PC has done digital distribution since as long as the internet has been around, and 360 and PS3 both have excellent online infrastructure in place, along with a solid marketplace where retail or retail-quality games can be purchased.” – Marko, current Co-Leader at Operation Rainfall
Tyson, Co-founder of Operation Rainfall
The business of multimedia art is most certainly in flux, even the very concept of “owning” an album, a movie, or a game has changed.  While some of us struggle to give up the hard copies we have come to associate with ownership, others eagerly anticipate the day in which all of our content is soft.  I feel that once everything does go the way of digital distribution that two important changes will occur.  First, we will have fewer barriers between our content and those who made it.  Second, there will no longer be a suitable excuse for the current game of regional releases that large companies play.  We will take a giant step towards a “world market” for content.
Make your voices heard during “The Last Story” month; Is this the best way to release “The Last Story” in North America?
I would like to thank Ryan, Mike, Alex, Richard, Chris, and Marko for contributing to this roundtable discussion.  We at Operation Rainfall would also like to thank Nintendo, Monolith Soft, Mistwalker, AQ Interactive, and Ganbarion for making the games we are so passionate about.  Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to, supported, and covered Operation Rainfall since it’s inception last year.  Keep fighting!

Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 1
Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 2
Pondering a North American release for “The Last Story” – Part 4