Atelier Escha’s Blundering Retail Debut

We at Neko’s Shiritori have discovered that Atelier Escha has been loaded with genuinely positive reviews which display noticeable enjoyment and fairly assess flaws as well. This is a wonderful sign as the goal of Atelier Escha’s design came to fruition with their promises kept and changes for the better.

However, not all was smooth with the North American day 1 release of the game as far as big retailers go. Europe’s release on March 7 had their own share of issues, but the reality is much different there.

At the end of the day, players want to play Atelier Escha. Retailers want to sell the game to them.

Let’s compare some minor differences with how Atelier Ayesha was sold last year. We’ll focus more on the North American release as Europe had the game released since March 7, 2014.

1) Atelier Ayesha was available for pre-order on PSN. Back on March 5, 2013, people were at least able to log onto PSN and purchase Atelier Ayesha immediately on day 1 even though the release was largely unknown. Obtaining Atelier Ayesha was not difficult as long as it was in stock in retail stores.

On the other hand, Atelier Escha was never a pre-order option on PSN. Players were unable to find Atelier Escha on PSN until roughly 9 PM EST on March 11 after a major PSN update. The download time and late release left little time to play the game on day 1.

2) There was minimal confusion with Atelier Ayesha considering the March 5, 2013 release date was pretty clear. However, for Atelier Escha, March 11, 2014 was not necessarily the release date among many different retailers. We’ve witnessed differently posted release dates, as well as online orders that either have not shipped as they should have or are taking longer than estimated.

Atelier Escha managed to procure wildly different realities. Here’s some specific examples:

Best Buy – At one point their website stated a March 18, 2014 release back on March 11, 2014. Club members were extremely upset at the additional week of wait, so many made their point clear by cancelling their order. Best Buy at least fixed the incorrect release date since then, but many who ordered online with them did not have the game ship out on day 1 as it should have.

Target – Their online site shows that it’s a March 13, 2014 release and that the game isn’t sold in stores. We don’t quite understand why Target chose March 13 when both Titanfall and Dark Souls II were both March 11. Did they shift the date so Atelier Escha doesn’t get in the way of the other two games?

Amazon – Release date did say March 11, 2014 but we heard of cases of them not shipping out on day 1, leading customers to cancel and order elsewhere. As with the pre-order DLC debacle, we already have reports of customers that got their Amazon shipment and indeed got no DLC, as the Enchanted Witch costume was claimed to be nonexistent in Amazon’s systems and marketing plans.

This is just on the US side of Amazon. Since Amazon in the US never actually put any noticeable pre-order bonus up, customers soon realized there may be no DLC in the first place. Unfortunately, last week was just speculation, as the DLC code could have very well appeared in Amazon shipments. Those who ordered through Amazon in Europe had much different pre-order DLC bonuses and results. Despite the similar company names, the European region goes through a completely different system.

Anyone who ordered through Amazon.co.uk had a much different experience, as there is a very distinct page that specifically mentions that Amazon has a pre-order bonus. We were kindly pointed out that the UK division of Amazon indeed had pre-order DLC found here. [ http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000786053 ] We’ve encountered customers that have and have not gotten the DLC outfit. At this point, the game has been out nearly a week for those in the European region, so if DLC hadn’t yet been delivered, customers likely wouldn’t care at this point as the bulk of the game can be completed within two weekends.

GameStop – March 11, 2014. Everything was fine, but customers that only went to pick up Atelier Escha during the March 11 midnight launch were essentially hurried and shooed out so that they can make way for the customers who pre-ordered Titanfall and Dark Souls II.

We personally stopped by a GameStop in a big city to ask them how the midnight launch went. They said it was pretty slow, and when we inquired about Atelier Escha, they were full of reluctance. It was not a satisfying experience. There was no excitement to want to sell the game to us. As much as we wanted the Apple Pirate costume for Escha, we felt this wasn’t a vendor we wanted to purchase from. For a day 1 game, Atelier Escha certainly wasn’t visible on any display at the store, and unless a customer specifically asked for the game, he or she would never have known the game even existed.

We didn’t even mention GameStop’s pre-order DLC blunder. Apparently due to several cases of GameStop associates forgetting to ring up the receipt under the correct category in their system, many customers did not receive the pre-order DLC he or she was entitled to. It required customers to call back and bug GameStop to get it right. For those customers that didn’t raise complaints, they’re left in the dust.

Eb Games – Canada is slightly different. Although online the correct March 11 date was posted, for some reason their internal computer database system had a March 12 release date instead. This lead to the stores turning away customers that came to pick up their pre-order, instructing them to come back on March 12. Later in the day, reality struck and customers that noticed this oddity had helped retail store managers realize that the stores already have the game and codes in stock ready to sell, so they quickly informed themselves to sell immediately. This is an acceptable mistake, but there’s absolutely no way a customer would know the wrong date is in the system unless a manager checks and says “oh hey our system shows the wrong release date, it says March 12 instead of 11”.

Several customers at Eb Games and GameStop actually did not even get their pre-order DLC code on their receipt as they should have. A lot of associates were aware the game exists, but many seemed to be clueless that their company even had exclusive pre-order DLC to go with it. Picking up the game was not as enjoyable as it should have been.

GoHastings – GoHastings had a sweet online pre-order deal which was only available on March 1 to get Atelier Escha for $20. They spotted their unintended killer deal one week later and cancelled all of pre-orders linked to the $20 deal. There was nothing wrong with this move, as incurring unnecessary losses would best be avoided. This was also the pre-order phase, which allows the company to make any changes at any time. Unfortunately, customers never received an email to notify of the cancellation and had to figure it out themselves or realized it too late. Needless to say, the customers that got their pre-order cancelled never want to do business with GoHastings, even though they were compensated $5 credit that can go onto another new $39.99 game on their site.

In the end none of this really matters. At worst, some people who expected pre-order DLC with Amazon didn’t get them. Big retailers don’t lose out on anything since selling such a niche game would be undesirable for them anyways as GameStop associates have shown. To force the customer to have to actively bug the retailer for correct information on a pre-order DLC status in which at least one vendor completely dropped the ball, it’s not a pleasant sight to see. Not only do the end users lose out, but they also get extremely bad opinions of these retailers who are normally supposed to be reliable enough to buy from.

Since the Amazon Enchanted Witch damage has already been done, we elected to relay a message to Tecmo Koei of America now that there’s active proof of the lack of DLC. While we don’t expect much to happen, we would at least like them to be aware that Amazon had no signs of the intended DLC whatsoever. We merely want the truth on how come Amazon didn’t have remote signs of the DLC. We suspect Tecmo Koei did not screw up, but we do feel Tecmo Koei delivered a message to Amazon that was never received. This is much like a tracking shipping situation where the system says delivered, but the recipient clearly did not receive the mail.

Even if Enchanted Witch DLC manages to get to the correct Amazon customers somehow, this ultimately only rectifies the situation at best. We merely wanted to address this seriously to reduce unnecessary disappointment. Clearly the original Tecmo Koei plan was to get customers the DLC from Amazon as a bonus for ordering from them, after all. If this was truly an Amazon screw up, we hope Tecmo Koei considers better vendor arrangements more favorable for their customers.

There’s nothing wrong with a niche game being unpopular, but to have the game so difficult to obtain smoothly on the March 11 release date among multiple vendors is beyond us. Tecmo Koei, the reception of this game is great and reviews are highly positive, but face it, the pre-order DLC strategy fell apart. If there isn’t going to be a collector’s edition strategy, don’t bother with any bonuses if customer retail experiences are going to be full of blunders like these. We strongly hope future promotional incentives run more smoothly, especially on the Atelier series.

Another alternative is just to make the Atelier costume DLC available on PSN on day 1 and let customers decide if they want to buy it or not. DLC data already exists within the game or the company, while retailers Tecmo Koei made deals with to give more visibility to the game with pre-order incentives can’t seem to remember such an arrangement was made many months ago. Even when GameStop did have the DLC data to distribute, they still didn’t remember to provide it initially to those who came up to pick up their pre-order.

The pre-order strategy went just fine with Dead or Alive 5 vanilla way back in September 2012, so how did this same idea fall apart so terribly? Is it because Atelier Escha is a niche jRPG game that big retailers look down upon? The big retailers clearly didn’t seem to care to execute a clean day 1 release for this game. Luckily some store branches got it right, but it was still rocky at best. Customers who did online pre-orders with Amazon should have gotten the game within the estimated shipping days, with a DLC code in the package rather than feel helpless and dejected.

If past DLC releases in Atelier Ayesha were any indication, we expect Atelier Escha costume DLC to be released near April 30, 2014 to match the Japanese release timing approximately 2 months after initial release. The European Atelier games site already displays full descriptions of the DLC that should be eventually available, but there is no projected release date listed at this time. The North American Atelier games site does not even have a download page at this time.

For currently available DLC on PSN, you can already purchase the Atelier Series BGM Package for only $1.49! Although the price is half of Ayesha’s Deluxe BGM package, do recall that Ayesha was quoted to have over 1600 songs while the Escha one says only 300. The reason being is that Escha’s BGM pack focuses solely on past PS3 Atelier games, while Ayesha’s BGM pack goes significantly further back into Atelier’s historical music and even branches to BGM present in other past Gust games.

———————————————-

Update regarding resolution of Amazon DLC in the US:

Back on March 13, we checked in with an Amazon customer who did not receive the DLC. During our brief discussion, we learned that the reality was the same as we expected. Others who inquired about the DLC status with Amazon still got the same answer of “we don’t know” by reps even though the game already had been released!

We didn’t like the DLC-less reality and asked Tecmo Koei’s PR for help in delivering a simple message to Tecmo Koei America telling them that Amazon customers have never gotten their DLC. We believed that while Tecmo Koei America would never reply to a direct email from us, we were certain they would reply to their own PR. We got an answer much sooner than expected. While we didn’t get the details of how Tecmo Koei America checked with Amazon, we at least confirmed that the arrangement did exist. We left the rest of the handling to the two companies.

Tecmo Koei US (America, not EU) did give us a tweet the next morning on March 14 that Amazon was ready to send the codes. Bear in mind this was a generic retweet with comment that happened to have them mentioned, so it was not a direct reply to us. As promised, Amazon customers got their codes roughly around 8 PM EST. As a bonus, anyone who ordered from Amazon between March 11 and March 14 after the pre-order phase also got the Enchanted Witch DLC even though they weren’t eligible for it.

So what actually happened? The fact that Amazon.com did provide DLC to even those who didn’t pre-order with Amazon makes us think that Amazon forgot they even had the DLC up until March 13. It’s possible that March 14 was originally the planned distribution date, but we find that unlikely. It was more probable that the DLC code was stashed away, intended to be distributed after release, but not visible to Amazon reps. Since Amazon.com never put up a promotion page like Amazon.co.uk did, it lead to the misinformation the general public saw. This is also why both the marketing and promotions departments did not acknowledge the DLC’s existence. The DLC information was never set up internally to begin with.

Another possibility is that the DLC codes disappeared or were misplaced, so emergency codes were sent, taking a full day to arrange the distribution. This was far less likely, but we will never know the truth. This could have been largely avoided, but even had we spoken up before March 11, there’s no grounds to claim that DLC won’t be delivered. We believe our inquiry that got answered merely hastened the process. Had we sat back and done nothing, Amazon and Tecmo Koei US eventually would have gotten the memo regarding the lack of DLC, but it could easily have been another weekend before any action was taken. It’s not like they weren’t ever contacted by customers, clearly they were.

Then ultimately whose fault is it? Nobody’s, really. If you look at the Tecmo Koei US side, sure customers bailed on Amazon pre-ordering, but they likely bought Atelier Escha from another vendor. As far as sales go, it’s not any less. This isn’t like Atelier Ayesha in 2013 where a boycott of the game was noticeable enough to puncture expected sales and force Tecmo Koei to make changes with how future Atelier games would be localized. If you look at Amazon.com’s side, they did deliver the DLC. Amazon.com pretty much didn’t have the codes ready to distribute until March 14th, regardless of why it took so long.

Although the Amazon.com situation was neutralized, the situation hurts those that bailed on Amazon. There was no way anyone would have absolute confidence that Amazon would deliver the DLC during the pre-order phase when Amazon reps couldn’t find any info. Not only that, but any inquiry to Tecmo Koei US fell on deaf ears as usual. For those that bailed on Amazon, when they asked Amazon why the DLC showed up on March 14 even though the reps said no such thing existed, Amazon at least offered a compensatory solution such as store credit or a discount for the game since they do not want to lose the trust of the customer. Amazon reps also did not have the power to manually issue a DLC code after the release. Amazon clearly could have executed better, such as bothering to mention they had DLC that they obviously didn’t seem to know about. Since DLC was delivered in the end, they get a reprieve.

Unfortunately not all ended well. A Canadian customer who ordered from Amazon.ca also believed the Enchanted Witch DLC news for North America. Remember that EB games had Apple Pirate, since they’re basically GameStop Canada. Amazon.ca unfortunately is not Amazon.com, so the Canadian customer who ordered from Amazon Canada did not get a DLC from Amazon.ca. Customers who ordered from Amazon.ca were out of luck since Amazon.ca basically told them “we don’t have it and never did, please check with the manufacturer Tecmo Koei.” Well, the customer did try to contact Tecmo Koei US through various means such as email or social media, but naturally never got a response. Canada might be North America for geographical purposes, but for Amazon itself, it’s considered another region, so DLC cannot be honored.

What happened to the Amazon.ca customer was the original fear of customers who bailed on Amazon.com. The Canadian customer only got an apology from Amazon.ca, so no compensation existed. As of today, Tecmo Koei US has still not responded to him. We do not expect him to ever get a reply. Customers who ordered from Amazon.com could have very easily gotten this kind of answer, especially when the reps and departments already claimed they saw nothing of the DLC.

What we find unfortunate is that the perception of Tecmo Koei US has not improved whatsoever. While they have no reason to check with how poorly vendors were in having information about the Atelier game, nor did they screw up by any means, they definitely could have at least replied to individual inquiry or put out a basic announcement that answers the same old questions. Since they appear to have done nothing visible to the public eye, a lot of general opinion we have seen of Tecmo Koei US falls under the line of either being cheap, non-responsive, uncaring, at fault, or anything negative.

Ultimately even if Amazon.com failed to deliver DLC, that entire issue still has little to do with Tecmo Koei US. It’s not like Tecmo Koei US’ twitter feed will suddenly ask customers to direct message or email them to get Enchanted Witch DLC codes like Tecmo Koei EU actively did. Expecting non-responses would be far more likely.

So what can Tecmo Koei US change to make the next Atelier game release smoothly? Nothing really. They’ll probably do something similar to the Amazon+GameStop pre-order strategy again, considering it technically worked. Or they might not even bother to do a pre-order bonus with all the retail blunders that happened. People are already excited enough for the next Atelier game considering Atelier Escha was received extremely well.

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