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Final Fantasy: Record Keeper Loot-Drop Controversy Highlights Need for Transparency in Free-to-Play Games

The Western iteration of Square-Enix's unique mobile RPG, Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, turned a year old in March. The game, which brings new and old Final Fantasy characters together for epic battles against familiar foes, has remained consistently popular since its launch.

In fact, Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is so popular that hundreds of players gathered on the game's subreddit to try and calculate whether or not the game's publisher, DeNA, is tampering with drop rates for a highly-anticipated event.

An "event" in Record Keeper is a timed festival that highlights a specific Final Fantasy universe or title. The most recent event, which is at the root of mobile gaming's latest free-to-play controversy, revolves around Final Fantasy Tactics. During the event, players are supposed to be able to draw powerful Tactics-related weapons and armor, Gashapon-style.

Unsurprisingly, the more powerful weapons and armor are that much harder to score. That's nothing new for Record Keeper, which lets you pay for draws using Mythril (which you earn in-game) or Gems (which you purchase with real-world cash).

But members of the Record Keeper subreddit have been doing some number-crunching, and they're accusing DeNA of tampering with drop rates for the Final Fantasy Tactics event. Here's the breakdown so far.

Obviously, the Record Keeper subreddit is using imperfect science here. While the ongoing poll is interesting, it shouldn't be accepted as definite proof that DeNA is messing with its rate drops. For its part, DeNA stoutly denied any such tampering when it was confronted by Forbes.

At the same time, Record Keeper fans can hardly be blamed for their suspicions. When a large group of dedicated players stands up as a collective and says "There's a problem here," that group shouldn't be ignored -- especially since many Record Keeper enthusiasts have been doing their thing on a day-by-day basis for better than a year now, and are therefore familiar with the ins-and-outs of free-to-play mechanics.

If these players sense the wind has changed, they probably have a good reason for believing so. After all, mobile game publishers don't always play fair when it comes to premium loot drops. Granblue Fantasy, a mobile RPG that's hugely popular in Japan, was the target of similar controversy last month when a player spent thousands of dollars on the game's crystal-based Gashapon system to try and score a rare character, Anchira. He succeeded after cracking open 2,276 crystals at ¥300 ($2.67 USD) apiece, totaling roughly ¥655,000 ($6,065 USD).

Granblue Fantasy is published by Cygames, not DeNA, but the message Record Keeper fans are sending should be heard by all of mobile gaming's publishing giants: There needs to be a lot more transparency about loot drop algorithms. If people want to spend crazy amounts of money pursuing a 1% drop, that's totally their right as a citizen of the free world. But they deserve to know the odds. We all do.

DeNA supposedly agrees, telling Forbes "[W]e are discussing how we can provide greater drop rate transparency so that our fans can make their own decisions based on it to enjoy our title in the future (...) We value long-term relationship with our customers the most."

If DeNA is smart, its promise for transparency won't prove to be empty PR corporate speak. Mobile gaming isn't for everyone, but people who enjoy it enter an unspoken contract with publishers when they delve into a long-term investment like Final Fantasy: Record Keeper. If said publishers are honest, up-front, open-handed, players are far likelier to stick around and spend money.

If, on the other hand, a publisher decides to jerk its players around, it should keep in mind that we're never more than one download away from the next shiny-looking mobile RPG.

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