Few modern publishers can lay claim to a portfolio as rich, rewarding and culturally diverse as that of Square Enix. Having made its name in the JRPG game, the Japanese company has spent much of the last five years acquiring quality properties from around the world.
From Mass Effect action figures, to Star Ocean manga, Taito arcade classics to Eidos’ originals the company’s back catalogue is practically overflowing with big-name, big money content – or so it might seem. Despite reviving many-a lucrative license in its quest for mainstream success — think Deus Ex, Thief and Tomb Raider etc. — the company has been forced to endure some rather significant losses also.
Having committed around 10 billion yen (roughly 100 million dollars) to “reforms and restructuring efforts,” the studio had seemed poised to take on the world with a bevy of high quality, mainstream titles. Now, according to Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda that global strategy is being rethought.
“in the past, when we developed console games with a worldwide premise, we lost our focus, and not only did they end up being games that weren’t for the Japanese, but they ended up being incomplete titles that weren’t even fit for a global audience. […] If you focus too much on the global aspect, you might lose sight of who you’re actually making the game for. For example, if you look back at 2013, we’ve had some home console games made for a global audience that struggled.”
The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard. They implemented a vast amount of ‘elements for the mass’ instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible. It was a strategy to gain mass appeal. However, what makes the Hitman series good is its appeal to core gamers, and many fans felt the lack of focus in that regard, which ended up making it struggle in sales.
So, as for the AAA titles we’re currently developing [as] series, we basically want to go back to their roots and focus on the core audience, while working hard on content that can have fans say things like ‘this is the Hitman, we know’. I believe that is the best way for our development studios to display their strengths.”
Matsuda credits the runaway success of 3DS RPG Bravely Default with shifting the company’s attitudes toward the global market. This one instance, claims Matsuda helped reveal the wider appeal of classic JRPGs, as well as other, similarly complex and fan-centric efforts. The studio lead continued that where once gamers had been divided into disparate, localized niches, their greater connectivity now allowed them to be seen as one, larger and therefore profitable collective.
“With […] all of the collective fans, there’s a sense of mass, which loses the image of a niche market. […] For the new games we’ll be developing from this point on – while this may sound a bit extreme – we’ve been talking about making them as ‘heavy JRPGs.’ I believe that way, we can better focus on our target, which will also bring better results.”
While Matsuda’s approach will certainly benefit the JRPG market, which doesn’t so much evolve, as continually tinker with expected norms— it remains hard to tell just how well this new ethos will transfer over to other properties. The likes of Tomb Raider and Hitman both remained largely unchanged for the majority of their early years, which eventually led to spiralling fan indifference and inevitable change. Simply put, Matsuda’s desire to retain ‘core values’ could prevent some series from enjoying modernized and exciting transformations, of the kind that brought Lara Croft back into prominence.
Can a franchise continue to evolve while maintaining core values? Will any licensed properties suffer from this new approach? Should other publishers follow Square Enix’ lead? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to keep up with all of the latest Square Enix news, right here on Game Rant.
Bravely Default is now available for the Nintendo 3DS family of handhelds.
Final Fantasy XV – the latest entry in Square’s long-running JRPG franchise has yet to receive an official release date.
Follow Sam on Twitter @GamingGoo.