UPDATE 8/7/17: Square Enix has made an announcement on the pricing changes two weeks after the fact, apologizing for not communicating the changes beforehand and stating their intention to revert the changes for a period of 60 days. That’s exactly what they should have done to begin with, but better two weeks late than never.
Welcome to what is apparently part three of a post series that I am retroactively entitling “Square Enix Did Something Stupid Again”.
Following on from the launch of Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion a month ago, many players in Russia and Brazil awoke on Tuesday morning to find that the Steam Wallet subscription prices for their regions had been raised dramatically with seemingly no warning. Brazil by 80%, Russia by a whopping 315%.
This was likely done in an effort to equalize prices throughout every region, as the new prices, converted into USD comes out to just about $15, which is what those of us in the US pay. This may seem fair if you don’t understand the general idea behind purchasing power, and similar useful facts, such as how the average monthly salary in Russia is 1/5th of that in the United States. In the metric of sheer ‘shit you can buy with this amount of money’, $15 converted to Rubles is worth a lot more than $15 USD spent in the United States. The same comparison page linked above also puts the average cost of an internet connection in the country to less than the new Final Fantasy subscription cost. There’s likely a decent number of players who can no longer afford or justify paying the new subscription cost and will be forced to stop paying because of it.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand much more of economics than that, because that’s not even really the point of this latest outrage. I’m not Square and I don’t know how much it costs to keep their game going on a per-player basis. I suspect that the change was made because keeping those regions paying their lower prices had become unsustainable over the past few years and not that Square simply decided to price out a large chunk of paying customers from their service for shits and giggles.
No, I’m here to talk about the real, obcscenely shitheaded part of this decision. The fact that Square Enix didn’t tell anybody this was going to happen.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. The Terms of Service for Final Fantasy XIV state that Square Enix can change the game’s pricing model at any time and only have to give a reasonably notice of 30 days to those with automatically renewing subscriptions. Those people were apparently given the news that their subscription prices would be rising as the TOS dictated. However, this news didn’t spread very effectively among the communities in those regions, judging from the amount of surprise those who didn’t have an auto-renewing subscription reacted with on Tuesday. In fact, at least one person on Reddit contacted Square Enix customer support asking if the new prices were a bug, only to be told they were intentional.
As of the time of writing Square Enix has yet to make any kind of official announcement on the price hike and, other than the tech support conversation, the most official communication players in the affected regions have received was an employee forum post made on Thursday in a thread complaining about the already implemented and still unexplained hike. There are truly all kinds of new and interesting forms of poor communication happening here.
This shitheadedness is just expounded by the fact that almost exactly one month ago the game’s latest expansion was released, the standard edition costing around $30-40 USD depending on the currency used to purchase it. So, was Square Enix wary of announcing their pricing changes right as a lot of players were getting ready to put down another lump of cash, fearing a loss in sales from those who would no longer be able to afford the subscription after the changes went through? Or did they just not think people in other countries would not mind a sudden and unexpected 315% price increase one month into a new expansion.
Surely a more consumer friendly strategy would be to announce the adjustments before the expansion release, which is when most things in MMO’s get overhauled.
Although surely distressing for those affected, and not to mention poorly handled, this change probably wasn’t to be entirely unexpected. Last year Blizzard raised the subscription cost of World of Warcraft in Brazil by 50%. With a two week notice beforehand, mind you, which is better than nothing. It may also be worth noting that Blizzard seemingly still took into account the disparity of purchasing power in Brazil and the United States, as the new Brazilian subscription rate converted to USD is still only around half that of the US.