Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: Atlus, Emulation, and You

Atlus has done plenty of good for their fanbase worldwide this year. They finally delivered Persona 5 in western territories, which was well received by critics (me included) and sold well enough to rank in American sales charts in the month it released. They also showed how they’ll remain committed to Nintendo 3DS software on a worldwide scale when they announced Etrian Odyssey V, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux earlier this year. They also plan to hold concerts for the Shin Megami Tensei franchise to commemorate its 25th anniversary next month, where they’ll show more of the next mainline installment. And those are only the highlights.

However, they’ve also taken actions showing how overly strict they are, to an anti-consumer degree. This isn’t too surprising coming from the only company to region-lock a physical PlayStation 3 game with Persona 4 Arena. And while the core Persona 5 game was good, it was a bummer when Atlus wouldn’t allow for the PlayStation 4’s Share functions to be used during it, and gave terrible excuses for why they were disabled. You’re seeing this post here because — you guessed it — they’re at it again.

This current story started when the company issued a DMCA takedown aimed towards the Patreon funding account for a group led by a developer called “Nekotekina,” who’s working on PS3 emulator RPCS3. Having more emulators around is always a positive, but a certain subset is looking forward to playing Persona 5 on their PCs using the software, since Atlus Japan has done all they can to avoid releasing their games on PC. This audience would buy a PC version if it existed, but realized this currently their best option. Unfortunately, someone at Atlus caught word of this, and wanted to kill the project before it finished.

Sometimes you just want to play games on your own…

This is a ridiculous overreach for several reasons. Not everyone looking forward to using the emulator intends to use it for Persona 5. This kind of emulator will be useful for PS3 software now and in the future, as the hardware has ceased production; the PS4 isn’t backwards-compatible with its software, so there will soon be no way to play PS3-only games besides hoping they receive remasters or rereleases to other platforms.

Also, even if refurbished PS3 consoles are around for a while, there’s no guarantee the software will, especially titles that never received a digital release. And even then, there’s no telling when Sony will take down the PS3 store, similar to what Nintendo will do with the Wii channel in early 2019. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why some would want an emulator, and they’re willing to pay developers for the hard work in creating it.

There’s historical precedent showing that Atlus is in the wrong here, despite their reasons for doing this. It’s reminiscent of when Sony sued Bleem Company over Bleem!, a PSOne emulator that allowed for users to play PSOne games on PC and Dreamcast. Sony lost the case on all counts because they couldn’t prove Bleem was infringing on their rights by making an emulator, since not everyone who uses one engages in piracy. Unfortunately, the piles of legal fees and insufficient sales forced the company to fold, but they succeeded in establishing the legality of emulators. The case is incredibly useful now.

…but sometimes, someone wants to treat you like an inmate.

What’s ironic about Atlus is how they’ve done a fantastic job going against the main theme of Persona 5. The game bucked several trends in Japanese entertainment storytelling in highlighting how people shouldn’t always trust individuals in authoritative positions, and their methods are often worth questioning. While Atlus’ sins aren’t as grievous as some villains in the game, they’re nonetheless representing the kind of company whose motives should be held in suspect. Maybe their higher-ups should play the game, or those on the development team need to steal their hearts.

(On the other hand, perhaps they shouldn’t play it, because they might misconstrue it as a jab at them and force the Persona development teams not to include similarly “harsh” themes in future titles.)

Since this story is also about people who want a PC version but are willing to go through alternative means to get it, it would be a good idea for them to stop avoiding the platform. Several publishers used to think it was a haven for piracy, especially in Japan, but they soon realized that marketplaces like Steam and GoG are secure (especially the former) and obtained good sales for software released on the platform. Atlus has stubbornly resisted the trend all this time, and it’s tough to tell what it will take for them to make the jump. Sega could push them to do it, but it’s not like they port everything to PC, either.

There’s no telling what it will take for Atlus to reverse this anti-consumer trend, but there’s fear that it won’t happen until it hurts them financially. Hopefully it won’t come to that, so we’ll see if there’s anyone in the company capable of strong-arming them into altering their methods.

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