Dead or Alive, Play-Asia, and the Boogeyman

There used to be a time where you could say something dumb without people noticing. You could make a post on an internet forum, rethink it, delete it, and there were not enough people paying attention to it or you to make that deleted post your official stance. That is no longer true, as Koei Tecmo’s community manager discovered on Facebook. Faced with questions about whether Dead or Alive fanservice game, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, would be coming to western countries, the community manager explained that fear over a feminist backlash prevent publisher Koei Tecmo from releasing the game in the west. He then quickly deleted these comments, but not before a rash of stories showed up on sites like Breitbart, decrying that SJWs are actually, finally banning games.

This deleted comment became the official party line: feminists have now officially transmogrified into fascists and Koei Tecmo is a self-admitted victim willing to discuss the transgressions against them. It’s a compelling narrative. The only problem is that it’s not really true.

Lies vs. Myths vs. Sales Figures

First, it may be prudent to explain what Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 actually is. While the main series of Dead or Alive is a fighting game (even a good one, depending on who you ask), DOAX3 is taking those female characters and placing them in Barbie’s Malibu Dream House for the player to, erm, play with. They give the girls gifts, dress them up in different outfits, watch them pole dance, engage in minigames, etc. It’s pandering, but in a way that doesn’t tend to raise many hackles among people. DOAX has always been that thing people look at, make a joke about, and then move on.

I don’t think Koei Tecmo is lying, by the traditional definition of the word. I think there have been internal discussions about how well Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 would play in the west and the increasingly louder discussion of representation and feminism in not-Japan makes DOAX3 a much harder sell. I am sure this factored in to Koei Tecmo’s decisions, but you are a fool to think it’s their only reasoning. For them to claim it is would be so inaccurate that whoever said it would likely have to delete it. It is a half-truth, at best, but it is what everyone immediately clung to, because it backs up an idea some people already have. It is not hard to see why that community manager thought it was a good idea to say at the time, because it clears them of the blame for what they perceived as a faceless entity to absorb it all for them.

But if they thought Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 would sell, none of that would matter. They would have brought it over in an instant. It is difficult to get truly accurate numbers for how previous DOAX games did, but best estimates place it below 300,000 copies worldwide. The much more popular Dead or Alive 5 has managed around 1.5 million sales across three releases and five platforms, which sounds impressive until you consider any of the AAA fighting game competition. Where Koei Tecmo makes their money off the series is DLC, which has become a golden albatross around the series’ neck.

“I’m A Fighter”

Dead or Alive 5 was announced with a trailer of Ryu Hayabusa and friendly rival Hayate battling on a Tokyo rooftop. This confused many people, wondering why Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja were revealing their famous fanservice fighter with two male ninjas and focusing on the game’s battle system. Forums began discussing why Team Ninja was not using the general series protagonists of Kasumi and Ayane, buxom half-sister ninjas, to reveal their new game. Soon, Team Ninja revealed their awkward new slogan for the game, “I’m a Fighter,” emblazoned on all the advertising and pictures of their fighters. Along with this, they revealed Mila, an attractive MMA fighter whose focus was fighting first and all else second. While clearly designed to be pretty, Mila did not match the barbie doll looks of the rest of the cast, and could have fit in just as well in Street Fighter as she did in Dead or Alive. Team Ninja, it seems, wanted Dead or Alive to be taken seriously.

It didn’t work.

While most people agree that Dead or Alive 5 is the best the series has ever been, sales did not follow through. Koei Tecmo was making changes to the series to pursue the eSports scene, an arena that eluded Dead or Alive despite relative popularity. The rise of streaming has made fighting games into evergreen titles, constantly in the public eye through tournaments and celebrity streamers, and Tecmo Koei wanted a piece of that. They even included a ticker in Dead or Alive 5’s home screen, advertising every small tournament that featured Dead or Alive 5 with the kind of hope and earnestness that evokes a kind of sad smile it never worked out for them. Koei Tecmo decided to institute their Plan B, lean into its worst tendencies.

The DOA community was having a similar crisis of conscience at the time. While DOA5 was incredibly fun to play, and very much could become a tournament-viable game, the specter of creepy sexuality that hung over it was still there. If they wanted the game to be taken seriously, they had to do what very few fighting games resort to: they banned almost half the costumes in the game for tournaments. A lot of the community, especially the parts that liked DOA as a game but also liked the fanservice, hated this decision and argued against it. The community started to tear itself apart over whether legitimizing the game was worth losing their identity.

Koei Tecmo, having failed at the eSports strategy, was now pouring out Dead or Alive 5 DLC through every orifice (and for every orifice). Dozens of costume packs that were the full price of games themselves were released — Christmas packs, football packs, Halloween packs, dress packs, bikini packs; if you have a fetish, Koei Tecmo was more than willing to cater to it. They released DLC characters Marie Rose (an 18 year-old maid that looked 14), Nyotengu (a female version of former final boss Tengu, now humanoid and with large breasts), and Honoka (another 18 year-old with giant breasts and a child-like personality), all three of which became some of the most popular characters in the series according to DOAX3’s character polls. After a brief stint of trying to change their reputation, the creators of DOA now chose to revel in it.

And this is on sale for Thanksgiving.

It is this context that birthed DOAX3. The extensive whale hunting that found its genesis in Dead or Alive 5 lead naturally to Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, where they could sell expensive physical items along with the game to the audience that happily buys these things, damn the expense. Where Dead or Alive tried and failed to be taken seriously, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is the admission that the experiment is not worth the opportunity cost when there is money to be made with what they know works.

Land of the Free

Why, then, would they not bring it to America? Surely it must be because of the feminists, right?

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 comes in two flavors, a PlayStation 4 version and a PlayStation Vita version. The former, for a regular version, costs 9,504 JPY ($77 U.S. with Japan’s currently very weak yen). The latter costs 8,424 JPY ($68 U.S.). These are way above the general MSRP for video games in the United States and the games that do come out at full price (usually $60 for PS4 and $40 for Vita) are often bigger, fuller experiences than DOAX3 is likely to offer. The collectors editions for these games go up to $117 U.S., which is where I suspect Koei Tecmo is making most of their money.

Here, we have to make a few assumptions. For one, let’s assume this game is a hard sell in America regardless. Taking price out of the equation, the PS4 audience has not been kind to the kinds of games that excel on the Vita. While there is some overlap in the Venn diagram, it is not big enough to help games like Akiba’s Trip and Toukiden in the west, and thus PS4's massive install base does not really aid those games. The games that do share audiences are generally indie titles, while niche Japanese stuff tends to perform worse than publishers would hope. Throw in the problem that retailers aren’t stocking even the biggest Vita games any longer and Koei Tecmo would have to put all their focus on the PS4 version of the game at retail, which is decidedly risky.

Knowing that this game is already a hard sell, the easiest way to sell it would be to lower the price from its absurdly high Japanese price. Even at full price of $60 (lower than the Japanese price), it would be near-impossible to sell and likely not be stocked at major retailers like Wal-Mart. Easy, right? Just lower the price and make whatever money you can off it, simple.

Imagine you live in Japan or other Asian territories, you want Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, you read English well enough to play a dead-simple game like DOAX3 (which would have Japanese voices, regardless), and you are paying way over what people in the west are paying. This doesn’t just come down to the difference between yen and the U.S. dollar, you are being overcharged. Why would you not just import from America, then? It’s not like DOA appeals to a Luddite culture that isn’t aware of the different prices or how to import, especially when it’s as easy as making a regional account and buying a card from someone online. Suddenly, Tecmo’s bottom line is being cut into because they reverse-importation and the entire reason they produced this game (to take advantage of otaku culture willing to pay) has been subverted for a version of the game that isn’t going to sell well and has to be sold for a lower cost without production costs going down. Whoops.

Carpe Diem

After Breitbart wrote about the supposed reasons for DOAX3’s indefinite localization hold, import site Play-Asia seemingly had an idea. Generally more expensive than rival importers, but possessing quite a bit more history, Play-Asia makes a lot of its money off things like Dead or Alive Xtreme 3’s collector’s editions, things unlikely to make it to the U.S. in the same form. Using the deleted Koei Tecmo comments as a springboard, Play-Asia’s twitter account blamed “SJWs” for keeping DOAX3 out of the hands of western gamers. They followed this up by retweeting prominent Gamergaters in support of them, mocking any suggestion of losing business, and replying positively to people asking them to “Save the lolis,” (short for “lolita,” generally used to refer to animated depictions of little girls, often sexual in nature).

Play-Asia’s twitter was gross, juvenile, and brilliant business.

The number of reasons to use Play-Asia as an import service are dwindling every day. Games can be purchased online and there are a dozen services that can supply codes for regional credit. Physical items can be purchased at lower costs from other stores, like AmiAmi. Play-Asia’s best bet was to engender loyalty somehow and they found their way through Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. Now, as their twitter followers are exploding (with more than a few bots and new accounts, to be fair), they have the reputation of being in the corner of Gamergate and its ilk. They found a room of people slashing at phantoms and have promised to sell them whetstones in exchange for loyalty.

They exchanged what they decided was a worthless audience for a fervent one. No one knows if this is a good long term strategy, but Play-Asia is going all in for this audience.

At What Cost?

It is kind of funny how much of this controversy boils down to essentially just cost-benefit analyses. Koei Tecmo looked at the money, having explicitly said they would only bring Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 to America if there was enough demand, and decided the demand was not there. Whatever other concerns they had didn’t matter, if they thought it would make them money, they would have spun everything else. A community manager decided the benefit of blaming faceless phantoms was better than taking the heat for that decision. A community is deciding whether this series is worth their time and effort anymore or whether doing that is worth giving up what some of them like about it. An online store decided to use this to their advantage to shore up their customer base by ditching a group they decided they no longer had any use for.

All this for a game that, yesterday, almost no one cared about. And probably won’t be very good. But I guess that was sort of the point.

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