This article is the opinion and sole property of the author and BLOT Gaming takes no responsibility and has no bias towards OR against this content.

Today, Square Enix announced a special holiday package.  Dubbed “The Holiday Surprise Box” it offers customers the opportunity to purchase seven mystery Square Enix games for £4.99, with a guaranteed value of at least £55.  This “opportunity” is blatantly anti-consumer, and poor practice on the part of Square Enix.

First and foremost, the pricing scheme.  At first glance, the Holiday Surprise Box seems like a fantastic steal!  £55 worth of games for less than 10% of the price?  A customer would have to be mad not to leap on a bargain like that…if it were actually that good a deal.  A critical eye reveals several glaring assumptions that must be made by the consumer for the deal to seem worthwhile.  The most egregious of which is the assumption that the games are worth the price-point they are valued at.  This isn’t to call Square Enix liars, as the games in question likely retail for the promised £55 or more, but value and cost are two very different things.

The Zenith of Pre-Order Culture

Source: Eidos Montréal

Square Enix is operating using obfuscation.  The identities of the games are unknown in a deliberate attempt to encourage buyers to purchase on the premise of logic resembling “It could be anything!” but in reality, the possibilities are easy to narrow down.  First and foremost, it’s almost guaranteed that these are not recent titles, both because Square Enix would gain very little from selling full $60 games for so little, and because the advertised value, which exists as the underlying reason for which one would purchase the package, is lower than the price of one new AAA game.  From a marketing perspective, it makes the most sense to list the value of the contents in a way which is accurate but conveys the highest number possible.  Therefore, if the bundle was worth, say, £210, then the advertised value would, sensibly, be around £200, to highlight the great deal being offered.  Because that value is “at least £55”, the implication is that the value is not much greater than that number, which is around the price of a single full-price game, not seven.

A second piece of logic which helps to narrow down the list of possible games: It is unlikely that the games being sold are top-sellers in their price bracket.  A cult hit like Final Fantasy VII might sell at a $12 price-point, but word of mouth and the legacy of that game mean that Square Enix is unlikely to, and has little incentive to offer it at a bargain price when the game will sell just as well at the $12 price-point.  Furthermore, if prestigious titles were involved, it would behove Square Enix to advertise this if their intent was anything other than selling the product on the mystery of its contents.

To recap: Square Enix is clearly attempting to sell the mystery of the product, not the product itself.  This is demonstrated by the lack of specification as to the details of the product.  The likely reasons for this practice are a lack of confidence in the contents of the package to be sold on their own merit, or a desire to appeal to the Christmas-y theme of receiving a wrapped package and being unaware of the gift inside.

Evolve's Poor Pre-Launch DLC

Source: Turtle Rock Studios

The former is an anti-consumer practice by nature, attempting to trick the consumer into buying a product they would otherwise be unlikely to spend the money on.  If Square Enix simply wanted to offer less-loved titles at a discount in a package, the more consumer-friendly option would be to place them in a bundle, have the identities known, and set the price-point as they desired.  Steam sales frequently show this kind of behaviour, sometimes including the entire catalogue of a developer as a single package.  As an even more ideal practice, Square Enix could simply discount the games they wish to sell, announce it, and let the buyer purchase what caught their interest.

The latter is subjectively an anti-consumer practice, as it panders to the consumer and treats them in a child-like fashion.  Mysterious gifts from Santa Claus are a treat in childhood, but as an adult, there is a reasonable expectation of responsible spending.  Games are a frivolity for most, certainly, but even in frivolous purchases, the defective and useless are frowned upon.  To step outside of the world of games: Buying a pen with a funny phrase on the side as a gift for someone else is a cute gag gift.  Buying ten million of them, at any price, is foolish.

The deceptive marketing goes beyond this, however.  While the advertisement starts out with an implication that the product contains only games, stating that the total value of the package is based purely on those seven items,  inserted midway through the advertisement is the line “Stuffed with seven PC download games, and additional store offerings, this is one holiday treat you won’t want to pass up!” which either calls into question the claim that the package includes £55 in games, or suggests that the other products included are insignificant by comparison.  In the more unlikely case of the former, the “value” could come from, for example, a £50 pair of jeans and seven games worth £5 in total.  Even in the case of the latter, Square Enix has not communicated the full value of the package and has not been upfront with even the basic contents.

The Lord of the Pitch

Source: Memegenerator

To their credit, Square Enix posted the link to the product after the quoted line, but the practice still reeks of the kind of cheap marketing seen on late-night infomercials.

Beyond the deceptive marketing, Square Enix’s offer is unfriendly to consumers in another way.  The advertisement is brief, and offers a link by which customers can immediately buy their product, but leaves many questions unanswered, requiring buyers to speak to their local Square Enix representative for more information.  While the act of opening up a method of communication is positive, the number of questions left unanswered, alongside that line, suggest that these questions are intentionally left unanswered.  In the world of print journalism, such a practice might be acceptable, due to size limitations on articles, but in the age of digital news publications, there is no excuse for passing the buck to an unspecified PR representative, assuming there even is one in a given customer’s area.

Finally, Square Enix has enacted a “no refund” policy on this purchase, stating “Please note: All orders on the Square Enix Holiday Box 2016 are FINAL and refunds or exchanges are not possible with this order.”  Even Steam, the monolith of digital distribution, has recognised the foolishness of a no-refund policy, and in an age of digital distribution, there is no consumer-friendly reason to bar returns and refunds.  A wholesale allowance of them regardless of time played or duration since purchase would be risky, but a reasonable window would help inspire confidence in consumers considering the purchase, as well as acting as a sign of good faith to the purchaser, an indication that if they did feel deceived, they could simply have their money returned.

Square Enix’s “Holiday Surprise Box” demonstrates consumer-unfriendly behaviour by way of obfuscating information and deceptive advertisement.  In a world of bad day-one launches and trailers designed to trick the audience, game publishers asking for the goodwill and trust of consumers without taking certain measures to assuage doubts is simply unacceptable.  Here, they, as part of an industry with a track record for lying to consumers, is saying “Here, trust us.  This box is worth your money, but you can’t have your money back if you disagree.  No, we won’t tell you what’s in the box.”  The low price-point is irrelevant when the company is asking us to gamble with no assurances that it will be worth our time.  For consideration, here is a list of nearly all of the games which could be included.  Many of these games, currently, only exist in a non-PC format, but, by the very nature of the “Holiday Surprise Box”, it is almost impossible to say that it doesn’t contain a hitherto-unreleased port of one of those otherwise-impossible games.  Additionally, the list contains new and unreleased games, on the off-chance that the prior statement about high-cost games is incorrect.

Source: newseveryday.com

Given the number of games on that list, consider for a moment: Due to the non-refundable nature of the purchase, any games acquired which were already owned are irrelevant.  The games with a higher price-point or more recent release date are unlikely.  The unreleased games are all but guaranteed to not be included.  The cult classics are unlikely to be included, with the exception of a token effort to give the product, in the aftermath of the revelation, a perceived value.  If one or two are included, the odds of it falling into the category of “already owned” games is proportionately higher, as the game is already considered valuable to some.

These three conditions leave only the unwanted, unknown, and under-selling to be obtained.  The first is harmful to consumers, the second is more freely remedied by way of research, rather than purchase, and the last benefits Square Enix far more than the purchaser.  This leaves only the gimmick of the unknown as the selling point of the product, and in an industry rife with deception and underhanded tactics, rewarding that behaviour is unwise.

This article is the opinion and sole property of the author and BLOT Gaming takes no responsibility and has no bias towards OR against this content.