Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The #1 Question Fans Need to Stop Asking - And What to Ask Instead

As a fan working in fan industries, I tend to find myself on both sides of frustrations. Just as I'm cross about a new game or show release being delayed, I'm also aware of multiple reasons why it could be happening. I may lament choices made in a piece of entertainment I love, while retaining awareness that it was for financial reasons rather than storytelling ones. So when complaints arise about things in fandom, I end up being equal parts empathy and business brain.

Recently on Twitter, there arose a fantastic discussion on one very specific breed of question that, merely in its asking, raises a lot of communication problems. It's as difficult in licensing as it is in event running. And it takes a few forms:

"Will you be licensing this game?"

"When will you bring this guest to the con?"

"Are you picking up this show?"

From a fan standpoint, it is an extremely logical question. We like certain creatives. We are fans of certain pieces of entertainment. And, as a group reliant on companies for certain experiences, we would like to know -- and feel it's fair for us to know -- if these are things we can expect.

On the one hand, the dissemination of entertainment through major companies does mean those companies need to make good on promises to the public. On the other... these questions are impossible to answer for a number of reasons.

Why can't you say yes?

Okay, so let's say the fan mentioned a game or show or potential guest we really like. Maybe, amongst us, we are all agreed that this is a path we would like to take. Maybe it's even in the works. So why can't we just say yes?

Announcements run on deadlines: Let's say you've asked us if we're ever bringing Joe Kickboxer to our event. Now, as it happens, Joe's agent is currently countersigning the contract, and we're planning to announce him as a guest next week. So the answer to your question is yes.


Part of the whole contract situation is that everything has to be square and signed and to everyone's liking before we can announce Joe's presence at our event. If we just tell you that yes, we will be announcing Joe in the future, we've broken our contract. And that's not just a courtesy thing -- sometimes contracts change at the last minute. Maybe Joe's daughter gets engaged in the intervening week and The Date is our con weekend, so it falls through. Maybe there's something else. Either way, announcements run on deadlines, both for contract reasons and because of people like me who run social media and need to know when things are happening.

As someone on Twitter put it, "If we tell you we're going to announce something, we've effectively announced it."

An unscrupulous businessperson could take advantage: Let's say you want your favorite game company to license Dino Dance 2000. Or whatever. You ask them, are they gonna get it? Well, the CEO likes that game. They all like that game. So you know what? Yeah. We're gonna do it.

Now, Dino Dance 2000 is run by a pretty crappy company, as it happens. They've heard that the localizers have essentially given a verbal promise to deliver a localization. Now they decide that they're gonna hike the price so they can get as much out of the localizers as possible. And if they don't pay up? They have to tell their fan base, "Oh hey, just kidding, we can't afford it."

Or, flip the script. What if the localizers are the unscrupulous ones and announce it with no contract in place. Now the creators are the ones stuck with putting out the fires that announcing it's not a real deal will cause.

But Kara, you cry, business deals happen on the fly all the time! Look at Twitter! Well, no, they don't. Otherwise you wouldn't be seeing them covered by BuzzFeed when they do happen. Things like Robert Downey Jr. "convincing" Marvel to release Infinity War early in real time are generally planned in advance. They're fun, they're amazing good will, and they're entertaining for the people who get to take part. But that particular situation was almost certainly a case of the studio deciding to push the release forward and sorting out a way to announce it in a fun way.

As for actors agreeing to make movies with each other, casual verbal contracts, etc., these are all industry peers we're talking about. They're either friends already or mutual fans. When it comes to a situation like signing a guest or licensing a work, there are very few situations where "Hey, you know, I'd like to do this" in an unplanned public setting actually goes off without a hitch.

We can't see the future: As I've mentioned before elsewhere, sometimes we just don't know. There are things we'd love to do, and that we'd love to say yes to. Like guests, for instance. You want that guest, we want that guest.


What if something happens to them? What if we find out behind the scenes that they're awful to work with? What if they don't like us? What if we can never get the finances or schedule to work out? We don't know. Even if we agree that something or someone might be a good acquisition, we may unwittingly be lying to you by attempting to predict the future.

Why can't you say no?

Sometimes we can: Occasionally, with things like licensing certain titles or running certain types of programming, we can say "no" simply because it doesn't fit our message. For example, a family-friendly company running adult programming. A video game localization company obtaining a game created by someone it isn't worth associating with. A frankly bad show.

There will occasionally be cases where the answer is simply "no" based upon the nature of what is being asked. And at times like that... well, that's one of the few occasions where we can be clear.

Again, we don't know: Perhaps there's a guest we think we can't afford, or a title we think we have no interest in, but circumstances could change. Dear God, did I think we'd be getting Peter Capaldi to (Re)Generation Who by 2018? My cautious estimate was next year at the soonest. But I never said a flat "no" because on the off chance things worked out well, I didn't want to be a liar.

Fans don't want to hear that: Look, if you asked a game company if they were bringing your favorite game over, and the CEO looked you dead in the eye and said "No," you wouldn't be a fan of that, would you? Business decisions aren't made against the fans, but phrasing and presenting things a certain way would allow for them to feel like they were.

Why can't you just say you don't know?

We try that and people get all cross.

This is not to say that everyone gets cross. Not at all. But when I answer "When are you bringing [my fave] to ReGen?" with "When our finances and schedules align in a way that allows for it," I tend to get dissatisfied looks. Which I totally understand.

I mean. Look. It sucks that the real answer is "We don't know" or "We'll do it if we do it." Trust me, whenever people asked me if Crunchyroll was getting Junji Ito Collection, I was right there with them. (Thank God they did.) I get wanting an answer. I get hating suspense. And I get wanting to know which direction to face and which company to support.

But the fact is... sometimes an answer does not exist. And giving a "yes" or "no," even just to finish the question, can cause more issues than just admitting that we don't know.

What can I ask instead?

One thing I don't want people thinking is that companies don't care what the fans want. We do. And in fact, many things companies have done during my time with them come about because we know fans want them. Lots of our (Re)Gen guests have been a "maybe" until enough fan enthusiasm tipped them over into our "yes" column, and the experience was amazing.

So even though the question itself is unhelpful, the enthusiasm is very helpful. And there are absolutely ways to express this that go straight where they need to.

Consider asking this of conventions: "Where can I go to make guest and programming suggestions?"

And this of localization companies: "Is there anything a fan can do to help your company obtain more [type of entertainment]?"

Not only does this express your interest without cornering the spokespeople, it also ensures that your request will go to someone who can do something about it. Not only that -- if they don't currently have a suggestion form, your question may spur them to do so!

Scrupulous, kind entertainment companies do not work against their fans, and not having an answer (or the "right" answer) isn't a sign of something being hidden. If you want to see something happen in your chosen fandom, addressing it the right way through the right channels not only helps see the change get made -- it also spares a lot of awkwardness.

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