Mikan Watch #85: Kantai Collection

Posted by DiGiKerot in Gaming, Mikan Watch at February 12, 2014 on 6:46 pm

From the Japanese Internet game (and soon anime) otaku phenomenon Kantai Collection (or KanColle, for those who dislike typing), as the starter furniture for your office. Someone has drawn an adorable cat over one of the oranges on the box.

The Borg has me, I guess? I mean, I’d struggle to necessarily call KanColle a particularly great game, but it is a compulsive blighter none the less, and certainly interesting as a thing that exists. It’s arguable that it’s popularity is defined more by social reasons than the quality of the actual product itself – it’s a collection of cute and/or interesting character designs with a basic game wrapped around it, but that’s been enough to sustain fan discussion and the usual associated derivative work output (at huge quantities), which in turn piques enough interest in others to try and play.

I say “try” because, for the unaware, there is a hurdle to jump even just to get access to the game. It’s certainly more of a pain for those of us outside Japan than those who live there, but even then, just becoming a Teitoku requires a combination of a bit of free time, and a lot of luck.

Entry into KanColle is meted out using a lottery system. On most days of the week, they will add new servers to the games now vast array of backend hardware, allowing anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000 new users into the game. In order to become one of these lucky fellows, it requires the user to log into their DMM account and navigate to the KanColle portal at the specific time specified on the New Server Announcement post on the KanColle twitter timeline (via a VPN or Proxy if you are outside Japan). At this point, the user will be prompted to refresh their web browser every five or ten minutes, each refresh resulting in a random chance of actually being given an opportunity to join one of the newly added servers. Refresh too frequently – even by a few seconds – and apparently it actually reduces your chances of being successful. Typically registrations go within about twenty minutes of becoming available, and some unlucky folks report, to this day, going for over a week of daily registration attempts without being successful.

This entry gating process does have two curious effects. For one, it effectively staggers the discussion of the property – if everyone got in at once, it’d be a flash-in-the-pan situation where a ton of people would be talking about it all at once at initial launch, only for it to peter out as people tire or drop-out of playing. By limiting access, whilst it may reduce the number of people talking about it at once, it does ensure continued discussion – not just from people playing, but from those frustrated about not getting in or excited about finally getting through the lottery – which is rather potent in terms of advertising in this social-media world.

The other effect is that having to jump that access hurdle does result in the player having a certain amount of investment just going into the game. If access was easy, people would probably drop it before they could get over the games initial hump. Instead, players go into it with just enough investment to stick with it long enough for it to get it’s insidious claws into them.

That said, this is really just what causes a lot of people to register KanColle as being of interest in the first place – as with many popular IPs in recent years, a lot of the ongoing popularity is sustained by the creative audience who, as with the likes of (early) iM@S or Touhou (or Vocaloid to a certain degree), latch onto is as something defined enough to be interesting, but loose enough to allow them almost free reign in effectively establishing an fan-canon surrounding it.

As a game, there’s actually frighteningly little to it – whilst there’s a campaign of sorts, it’s not like there’s a narrative or any pressing reason to clear it other than the fact it’s there and potentially results in access to more ships. There’s a kind of PVP, but it’s more-or-less just a specific levelling option than anything that you would see out of many Western games of the ilk (Infact, actual ingrained ‘social’ aspects are presently practically non-existent – not that it precludes Twitter boasting). There’s the Pokemon “gotta catch them all” aspect, but there’s not like there’s anything at the end of that particular rainbow either.

The game, however, does do a very good job of making the player set themselves sort-term goals, then frustrating them just enough for it to be satisfying to meet them, whilst not actually agitating enough to put them off playing entirely. There’s a certain endorphin rush associated with unlocking your first heavy cruiser or battleship, or a building specific ship daughter required to meet one of your quests (or is just particularly cute), and it’s certainly satisfying to finally defeat both a boss fleet that has proved troublesome and the bloody Compass-chan who’d been confounding your chances of actually getting to it.

That it’s the kind of low-impact, low-attention game that can be dipped in-to and out-of between episodes of anime, just to set timed background events in motion, kind of helps as well, even if it does occasionally result in the accidental sinking of the idol of your fleet…

(I’ll let you make whatever judgement you want in regards to my choice of Flagship Ship Daughter in the screengrab above…)

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