For several weeks after its release, every game store I went to was sold out of Square Enix's 3DS game, Bravely Default: Flying Fairy. The game has proved to be a hit in Japan, thanks in part, indirectly, according to producer Tomoya Asano, to Japan's biggest pop idol group, AKB48.
According to Asano, in an article covering recent hit games in this week's issue of Weekly Famitsu, as an original title, the biggest goal in the development of Bravely Default was establishing a trusting relationship with gamers for a solid fanbase. For that, Asano looked to two examples. One was Square Enix's own game, Fantasy Earth Zero. "I had a chance to see an offline event for Fantasy Earth Zero." Asano recalled. "Seeing administrators listen to player input and offer services, I recognized that that was what built trusting relationships."
The other source of inspiration was the Japanese pop idol group, AKB48. "With AKB48, I looked to how they make the 'process part of content.'" Asano explained. AKB48 has famously had national member popularity contests or even documentary movies about members being chosen or graduating the group. "It's this 'showing the effort' that is the true value of AKB48." continued Asano. "They show people everything and people accept what they've shown and become fans."
Where most games will release a single demo to whet players' appetites for the game, Bravely Default had a total of 6 demo releases over its development phase – the last of which offered over 10 hours of gameplay. With each demo, the development team gathered user feedback and modified the game accordingly. This sort of development model seems good on paper, but is a lot harder in practice it turns out. "Showing a work in development requires a lot of courage." Said Asano. "But by showing everything we had and improving on it, we were able to build up trust." The team also utilized outputs like Twitter to connect with fans and allow for word of mouth to spread. As a result, Bravely Default managed to sell 120,000 copies in its first week (leading to weeks of "sold out" signs) and at present has sold over 300,000 copies total.
The development team does recognize that this approach method in game development is not a surefire thing. Head PR man, Ryutaro Sasaki said in the article, "PR-wise, we've done nothing new. We may do another title down the line where we release multiple demos, but there's no guarantee that will bring the same results." He added, "This is the result of the diligent efforts of every member on the team."
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy is currently out in Japan. No word on an international release, yet.