With Sony and Microsoft currently dominating virtually all sections of gaming news, it’s understandably difficult for developers to draw attention to anything that doesn’t scream, “I’m important to next-gen gaming!” Arguably, most affected by this sort of gatekeeping is the medley of JRPG and SRPG releases we’ll be seeing in the coming months. Excluding an ever-growing list of PS Vita localizations set for early 2014, we’ll also be seeing Time and Eternity, The Witch and the Hundred Knights, Disgaea D2, and The Guided Fate Paradox—all from NIS America and on the PS3 alone. This is to say nothing of Tales of Xillia’s HD rerelease (as well as the now-confirmed localization of Tales of Xillia 2) or the recent update hinting at a Persona 5. In spite of this, 3DS owners, in particular, likely have at least one RPG on their mind: Shin Megami Tensei IV.
Unfortunately, Atlus’ recent affairs don’t exactly match up with MegaTen-fan anticipation. The news that the studio’s parent company, Index Corporation, has declared bankruptcy doesn’t bode well for Atlus. At the same time, Index has been targeted for a fraud investigation, which only adds to the pressure. In the wake of this potential disaster, however, Atlus has not only reassured gamers that their coming releases won’t be affected by Index’s troubles, but has also taken the opportunity to demonstrate an almost insultingly simple means of garnering attention, or more accurately, racking up pre-orders.
The incentive campaign began back in April with the announcement that all first-print copies of Shin Megami Tensei IV would be upgraded to a Limited Edition bundle, including an artbook, soundtrack, and all sorts of goodies, free of charge. However, this bundle would only be available for the first production run of the game, and therefore necessitated pre-ordering the game. This alone isn’t exactly groundbreaking; in fact, it’s a common enough tactic. Virtually every game offers some sort of pre-order bonus nowadays, whether it’s the beta of another game or early access to a multiplayer map. However, the inclusion of a full-length strategy guide and design book, a handpicked and comprehensive collection of SMT music, and a one-of-a-kind box art did help distinguish Atlus’ ploy.
The most valuable descriptor here, though, is the simple label of “first-print only.” As other releases such as Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and even Tales of Xillia have shown, putting scarcity to a Collector’s Edition-esque bundle adds more value than any bit of paraphernalia ever could. Particularly, in the case of Ni No Kuni, this resulted in exorbitantly priced Wizard’s Editions (the game’s Collector’s Edition moniker) months after release, often resold at over four times the original fee. Moreover, because these Limited Edition SMT4 bundles would only be available for a short time, virtually every fan deduced something along the lines of, “Oh man, I should totally pre-order this game. I could even merchant the things through eBay and make a bit!”
I certainly entertained the idea, and quickly nabbed a few copies with just that intent in mind. I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but the mentality was surely common enough.
This is where Atlus sets their little hype farm apart from other pre-order gimmicks. See, they never actually defined how large the first production line would be, leaving fans to speculate on figures ranging from a few thousand to a few ten thousand. By playing on the ambivalence of the opportunity, Atlus ratcheted the incentive to pre-order up further. Online retailer Amazon highlights this clearly enough, as Shin Megami Tensei IV is currently topping the pre-order charts for their 3DS section, even today. More importantly, Amazon still offers the Limited Edition bundle with every pre-ordered copy of the game. In fact, a recent invoice from Atlus (via clubnintendo) specifically states that “All pre-orders, regardless of retailer, will include the Strategy & Design book, a component of the Limited Edition Box Set.” This contradicts the initial announcement that only first-print purchases would be valid for the bundle.
Having offered the game since its April announcement, it’s clear that Amazon has plenty of Limited Edition bundles to go around, which brings us to the statistical success of Atlus’ little scheme. I’m not suggesting that every SMT fan with a 3DS ran out to pre-order the game, nor do I believe that all who did purchased extra copies for personal gain. However, we can safely assume that a number of players did pre-order multiple copies initially, but likely cancelled them upon seeing the bundle’s extended sale. If the relative scarcity of the product disappears, demand drops. Therefore, if the bundle becomes common in the market, it’s not going to inflate enough to become worth reselling. Regardless, Atlus still has those pre-orders registered. For the game’s reputation, it doesn’t really matter if those orders were later cancelled; Atlus can still flaunt that raw figure from a unit perspective. Clearly, sales won’t reflect that figure, but the number itself could prove to be a valuable card in defending their now-shaky standing.
After all, what better way for Index to attract a sponsor than throw out the claim, “Our name-brand franchise brought in X thousand registered orders before release?”