Nobody wants to be manipulated. But there is a sector where manipulation is openly granted as both parties -- companies and consumers -- agree to play together.
The gaming market is the very sector in which players knowingly allow publishers to pull some strings by modifying the lucky box item ratio and implementing special promotions for newbies.
In general, most gamers remain largely silent or passive about publishers’ extreme and unfair behavior. Instead of actively protesting unjust practices by developers and publishers, gamers simply call it quits and move to other games.
But there is a threshold that publishers should not cross. Netmarble, which runs the Korean version of Japanese mobile game Fate/Grand Order, violated the unwritten rule in a way that sparked a wave of angry responses and highly visible protests.
Since 2017, Netmarble has held special New Year promotions for both new and existing users. This year, the publisher kicked off the special giveaway promotion as usual, but stopped on Jan. 4, following protests by Japanese Twitter users.
At the heart of the dispute is that Fate/Grand Order publishers outside of Korea only offer such giveaway promotions to newbies, not existing users. Netmarble’s generous promotion policy, therefore, is unfair to existing users in other countries.
Fair enough? Not really. Korean users of Fate/Grand Order have long been unfairly treated in terms of promotional events. Many giveaway promotions held in other countries were not provided to local users, so the New Year promotion was taken as a compensation to strike a balance.
Netmarble, strangely enough, did not announce the reason for halting the event. A couple of days later, it issued the first apology, riddled with strange comments that puzzled users, without clearly explaining why it carried out the unprecedented move.
To appease users, Netmarble later issued two more statements, offering empty promises of a better service, but failing to come up with specific measures.
Fate/Grand Order users in Korea, meanwhile, raised funds and rented out LED panel trucks to express their feelings, which generated a storm of responses on online communities, many of which criticized Netmarble’s strange policy about-face that disregarded a sizeable number of steady players who forked out a sizable sum of money to purchase items.
Since users have continued to express anger and high-profile YouTube gamers covered the dispute in a negative light, Netmarble issued a series of apologies, and eventually revealed its plan to restore the New Year promotion policy that includes existing users, in its fifth statement.
Netmarble’s poor handling of promotions basically stems from the distorted view that consumers, users and gamers are to be taken advantage of or forced to pay money for service or products.
Netmarble’s mistake was not realizing players would be quick to act for unjust and unfair practices, even though they willingly pay for items or services they like. To some extent, players let publishers manipulate promotional events and items. But there is a limit that publishers should avoid crossing.
In the mobile gaming industry, the publishers’ move to modify item specifications or lucky box percentages greatly affects the gaming balance, and sometimes nullifies all the valuable items that users have collected by paying a lot of money. Giveaway promotions also influence the overall structure of the game.
Some game publishers carry out too many promotions or introduce too powerful characters in a short period of time, destroying the long-term investment of existing users overnight. Such reckless act is seemingly aimed at pushing gamers to purchase new items, which can translate into higher profits.
But gamers -- by extension, consumers in general -- are no fools. They know exactly what publishers are trying to do and will take actions, which now include renting out LED trucks with protest messages.
By Yang Sung-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.
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