One of the problems facing developers of story-based video games is that people want to spoil it for everybody else. When Square Enix released the legendary Final Fantasy VII in 1997, they didn’t have to worry about the possibility of hardcore gamers completing it rapidly and then releasing the ending on YouTube. They also didn’t have to worry about people playing pre-order or review copies and doing the same thing.
Nowadays everything is different. There’s little risk to companies who make sports games or the like; EA Sports don’t have to worry about the latest version of FIFA being leaked online with game-wrecking footage attached, but if you make a cinematic game with a story attached, you’re at the mercy of the uploaders. Before Red Dead Redemption 2 had even been released, reports and footage of the game’s ending had made it onto the internet. For the development team at Rockstar Gaming, who’d poured their entire lives into making the game, that must have been devastating. It seems that just like with the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie, or an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’, there’s always someone out there who wants to ruin it for everybody else by posting spoilers.
For the much-anticipated launch of Kingdom Hearts 3, a collaborative project between Spare Enix and Disney, the developers have come up with a unique way to minimize that risk as much as possible. Namely, they’ve released the game without an ending.
That isn’t a design flaw; they’ve decided to treat the game’s final scenes as DLC. As gamers, we’re now conditioned to expect that the game we buy in a shop or order online isn’t the ‘complete’ game. There may be additional levels, additional characters or additional objects that either has to be purchased separately or will be released at a future point after the release of the original game. Normally, we have to pay for that additional content. Square Enix isn’t asking us to do that; they just need us to complete the game first. When that happens, the game will download the epilogue, and that’s your reward for playing through the whole game instead of just peeking at the end on YouTube.
This, of course, doesn’t prevent people from playing through the game as fast as they can and then uploading the footage anyway, but it does at least slow that process down, and gives the average gamer time to enjoy their purchase without spoilers. It could even become the way of the future if the process is deemed to be a success.
It’s understandable that Square Enix would want to go to such lengths to protect their property; getting Kingdom Hearts 3 to the market has been a long, long road for them. The sequel was announced for the first time at E3 back in 2013 and is a crossover project that would make ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ nervous. The seemingly incompatible worlds of the ‘Final Fantasy’ series of games are blended together with stars of the Disney Pixar movies. That means combat appearances from Anna and Olaf from ‘Frozen’ and Woody and Buzz fro ‘Toy Story’ among others. Just the fact that Disney would allow their property to be used in what is effectively a science-fiction fight game is surprising. We expect the commonly accepted industry knowledge that cuteness tends to convert into hard cash probably helped with their decision.
Introducing lovable characters into video games is a tried and trusted tactic. The success of the ‘Yoshi’ franchise is a testament to that, along with every ‘Pokemon’ game ever released and ‘Kirby’. Even slot games are in on the act, as the existence of the Fluffy Favourites casino site proves. Nobody knew that adorable stuffed toys would be deemed attractive playing companions by slot game players until somebody tried it, and it became one of the most beloved slot games of all time. Just like the conventional video games we’ve mentioned, the original slot spawned several sequels, and all have proved to be popular. As we said, cuteness makes cash.
Although we personally haven’t seen the ending to the game, we understand there’s a good reason why the developers want to keep it secret. After playing through a number of Disney-themed worlds, players are rewarded by a ‘secret movie’ that takes the form of the epilogue. The movie is said to not only tie in heavily to the Disney theme but also wrap up several elements of plot from the previous two ‘Kingdom Hearts’ games as well. In short, there will be a lot going on, and much of it will be hard-hitting content that would lose its impact if it was seen without the context of having played the game the right way.
As well as helping to keep the secrets of the ending under wraps, hacking the end of the game off in this way could prove to be an effective deterrent against piracy. Developers generally know when a pirated copy of a game is brought online, and so they can block that pirated copy from downloading any additional content. Therefore anyone who acquires a pirate version of Kingdom Hearts 3 will never be able to play through to the ending. Even if the attempt to suppress spoilers doesn’t work, if releasing the game this way proves to reduce the level of piracy that it encounters, it’s likely that other developers will take note, and consider it for their own future launches.
Perhaps more importantly than anything else from Square Enix’s point of view, their unusual approach to the launch has got more people talking about Kingdom Heart 3 than there were previously. Free publicity is always a blessing, and they’ve done an excellent job of ensuring that this release gets plenty of it. Whether it’s a guard against spoilers, an ingenious new way of fighting back against software pirates or just an incredibly elaborate publicity stunt, everybody (including us) is now talking about Kingdom Hearts 3, and the possibility that it’s the first of a new breed of video game release techniques!