DEC. 10, 2015 • Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd. has included the North American market for its Holiday Surprise Box this year. For $9.99 in the U.S. and €6.49 in Europe, consumers will receive Steam codes for five downloadable PC games from the Square Enix catalog. The promotion runs between December 8th and the 18th, after which the mystery titles will be revealed and the five game codes delivered to purchasers. The holiday promotion started in 2013, and was reprised in 2014, for the European market only, however. The North American online store relied on per-title sales previous to this year. The 2013 Surprise Box featured four titles, and last year’s promotion included six – Deus Ex: The Fall, Lara Croft: Guardian of Light, Murdered: Soul Suspect, Nosgoth Founders: Warlord Pack, The Last Remnant and Thief: The Master Thief Edition.
Impact: Chance, or surprise items has been a staple of Japanese toy marketing for decades. Gashapon got its start in coin-operated vending machines where licensed manga characters were dispensed in plastic capsules. The difference compared to similar vending machines in the U.S. is the quality and desirability of Gashapon in Japan is much higher. More recently, these collectable toys have migrated to sealed blind boxes where the buyer knows what the possible figure in the series might be, but does not know for sure what is inside the box until it is purchased. The concept has also been extended to freemium virtual item sales to the extent that DFC Intelligence classifies them as a separate category from traditional video games. This category has come under scrutiny by regulators in Japan when the practice has veered too close to online gambling. What Square Enix is doing is trying to extend this concept to digitally distributed AAA games with the possible opportunity to build higher consumer awareness as well as sell catalog titles. We think Square Enix enjoyed some success in Europe, which is why it extended its Holiday Surprise Box to North America. The concept was also picked up last October by the charitable-based Humble Bundle, which rolled out its Humble Monthly that delivers codes for a mystery set of PC games every first Friday for $12 per month.
Overall, the idea of gashapon has not translated very well to many markets outside Japan, especially for higher end products. However, this is an example of the many types of marketing promotions that are currently being tried. Now that the business of retailing PC games has largely shifted to digital download services such as Steam, figuring out new ways to market and promote content are evolving and adapting to the new distribution system. In the latest report on the PC Game Market, DFC discussed how digital distribution opens up major opportunities and potential for savvy marketers. This is just one example of a type of promotions that would not be feasible with physical products.