Former Square Enix President Explains Why They Make Smartphone Games And Remakes

By Sato . January 28, 2014 . 1:01pm

Since his resignation as CEO and president of Square Enix, not much has been heard about Yoichi Wada and what he’s been up to. During a recent presentation covered by 4Gamer, the former president spoke of past events that led to the change of Square Enix’s business model.

 

Square Enix have recently released several remakes such as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. Wada is asked if this is due to the company’s lack of new IP. According to Wada, the company’s business quality was not at its best when he assumed office as the president, and that’s how it all started.

 

After going through several brainstorming sessions at the time, they decided that releasing games that the development staff members could have confidence in would lead to better results for the company. So, the plan was to start out by making sequels and remakes of existing IP, followed by increasing the amount of new IP.

 

However, this is what Square Enix had planned about five years ago, and since then, they’ve faced several challenges such as delays in the development of games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, coupled with slow progress while attempting creating new IP.

 

Additionally, they required several directors and other high-ranked staff members in the development of Final Fantasy XIV, which made it even harder to come up with their next “big hit” IP. For this reason, Wada began questioning whether it was required to only focus on high-end titles.

 

It was out of the question to pause the development of said high-end titles, as it would be much more difficult to resume development after stopping.

 

And so, Wada decided that it would be in Square’s best interests to continue on with these projects, even if it meant facing further hardship.

 

As a result, Square Enix staff were working on high-end titles with less than your average number of staff members, but at the same time, they needed some form of steady cash flow. This is where mobile and social games came in to help the company. With the use of games that required payment to play for certain periods of time and items that could be acquired with cash, Square Enix began using social games as a reliable way to make profits, according to Wada.

 

In addition to it being a low-risk plan, it allowed Square Enix to continue working on high-end new IP development. This business model that allows them to no longer rely  on the sales of physical games, was created by Wada and is still being used by Square Enix, as they continue working on next-gen titles.


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  • Tinye

    I guess if it helps make better big IP/future games then that’s ok but it doesn’t seem like it’s completely working.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/xxHiryuuxx Tohsaka

      Honestly, it’s hard for me not to see the reason as ‘lol because it prints money’. Much of it seems to be a cash grab reason anymore.

      Reason behind thoughts: FF ATB leads the pack followed closely behind by ‘espier’ and General Leo’s Shock crashes the game…

  • Quan Chi

    FFVI smartphone SUCKS!!! Remake for your remake :P

  • revenent hell

    and here I thought it was just because phone games and remakes where cheap and easy to do and not because SE was lacking in good ideas…… I mean the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy NEVER made me think they just sucked/end sarcasm

  • Samsara09

    Hats off for them,they did great to open up and talk with their fans.too bad some people won’t read this and will continue to bash them.
    It was just as most expected…still,hope they latter explain why the are so cold with sharing info with us about XV and other games they have been teasing.

  • JonathanisPrimus

    “Square Enix have recently released several remakes such as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster.”

    These are not remakes. Final Fantasy III on DS is a remake. Kingdom Hearts ReMix, and the FFX Remaster are enhanced ports.

    Their new IP initiative seems to have failed as they inexplicably kept them exclusive to platforms like 360, and PC. While Wada might not agree, it’s pretty clear that their mobile offerings have negatively affected their handheld output. Compare Square Enix’s offerings on 3DS and Vita to their offerings on DS and PSP in a similar point of time, and you’ll notice a severe drop off.

    • Haganeren

      Well in the case of Kingdom Hearts it’s a remake… Square Enix had recreated all the assets of the game because it lost the firsts ones !

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/xxHiryuuxx Tohsaka

        In its principle, though, that isn’t a remake; it’s essentially the same game as before. Very little changed for its release outside of updating the look in terms of content overall when comparing it to Final Mix on the PS2.

        Taking it into the same context, FF3 DS is quite a significant change up from FF3 NES and can hence be called a remake.

        • Grape Monet

          They did take the time to upgrade the models of certain characters, though. Plus they rearranged the music.

          That said, 1.5 has a lot of flaws, like a false widescreen (they chopped the top and bottom of the original screens off to make them fit) and inconsistently-sized subtitles, among other things.

        • Anon-non

          But then, FF3 DS plays exactly the same way. Going along your argument, the only changes were cosmetic. In this case would you argue it’s still a remake or a very drastic remaster?

          FYI In music terms, a remaster is a song that has been refined to improve its audio quality; nothing is re-recorded again. I don’t know if this could be applied to video games.

      • Bobby Jennings

        No, it’s not. And I still believe that’s a stupid excuse. They claim to have used the DDD Sora sprite but in the HD port, he still has those “women lips” from the PS2 version. I call BS.

    • Guest

      for KH, I think they can do revert factory their own data from the PS2 disc…

    • Charles

      People love to split hairs.

      • Tom_Phoenix

        It’s not splitting hairs when one requires far more time to develop than the other. I would think that creating brand new assets from scratch or reusing already existing ones would make for a pretty significant difference.

    • LaserVision

      Neither of these conclusions make any sense.So two flops on the 360 are what blew everything up?

      What’s affecting handheld games has more to do with how those consoles are doing than anything else. The idea that SE can just redo everything they did 5-7 years ago ignores everything we know about technology.

    • Ric Vazquez

      True

  • DrakeClawfang

    I have no problem with remaking and re-releasing titles, go ahead. I think TAY was unworthy of 3D, and FF6′s ports graphics are too cartoony at times, but go ahead. My problem lies with making them smartphone exclusive. We have the Nintendo eShop and PSN, use them. It just makes sense, the sales of these remakes would be much higher.

    • ElAbuelo69

      Did you not read the article? It’s way easier and cheaper to develop for smartphones. It’s way harder, time-consuming, and employee-requiring to develop for handhelds.

      Secondly, you don’t need to pay license fees on the Play Store, whereas you do on handhelds. I think iOS is an annual fee only to keep them on the App Store. Therefore the ROI is way higher than handhelds.

      Thirdly, like it or not…it’s working.

      http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=758765

      • DrakeClawfang

        How hard can it really be to take something like the FF6 port they just did and adapt it to work on a 3DS? FF6 and FF5 obviously use the same graphics engine from Dimensions, so how expensive could they be compared to doing FF4 DS for smartphones?

        True, the returns may be higher for smartphones, but using the other handhelds increases the customer base. No doubt, a lot of people out there have smartphones, but I know some friends who are interested in FF6 but don’t have smartphones, or have them but don’t like touch screen controls. I’m in the same boat as the latter, I don’t like using touchscreens to play games, the option is nice but I find it awkward at times. If they ported the remake to the 3DS or PSN though, I’d buy it.

        In addition, at least in the circles I frequent, there’s a sort of stigma attached to smartphone games, not helped by the All the Bravest debacle. Like, some of my friends think that even if it’s a remake of a game they know, smartphone games are quick and lazy cash-ins. Releasing them on the PSP, Vita, and/or 3DS would eliminate that. And especially these days, can the Final Fantasy brand really afford to be seen as that way?

        • LaserVision

          I agree with you. I believe phones should be for phone stuff and games go to my handhelds.

          But we’re in the minority.

  • subsamuel01

    I actually don`t mind the remakes, especially for games like Kingdom hearts which has not had a console game last gen.

  • Monterossa

    It will be fine if they port those iOS games to the Vita. shouldn’t be that hard.

    • Jonah Paley

      Give the Vita some games I want (FF Dimensions?) so that I have an incentive to buy it (I’m not buying a system for 1 game, and unless Final Fantasy Type-0 is ported to Vita and released in the US, the only Vita game I want is Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc) AND give people who don’t care for cellphone games a handheld device port? Killing two Chocobos with one Stonega spell here, you are. Brilliant.

      If only Square Enix was as brilliant as you are. Also, if only I had enough pocket money to actually buy anything over $10 while also paying my FFXIV subscription.

    • Suzaku

      If I were Sony, I’d be working really hard to try and partner with Google to bring Android OS to the Vita, even if it means releasing a new model.

      • http://www.playingwithpower.net/ KiraV

        I’d love to see the mobile games come to Vita, but I don’t think getting it to run Android would be the solution– changing the OS would be a big deal, and the resource usage would likely be different. Building on PS mobile to make easier porting tools would probably be a better solution.

  • Ash_Riot

    The guy greenlit both Nier and Drakengard 3 as well as the Tactics Ogre PSP remake; he gets a pass off me.

    • The Watcher

      Cool profile pic.

  • Tiredman

    This doesn’t explain the downward spiral in quality from the Company over the last 5 years or more. All of their high level IP games tend to suck nowadays. Their development division has gone downhill while their publishing division has done pretty good, except for wanting 5 million copies of games sold instead of respectable 2 million. So end my book, they have no clue how the real world games market works and think that just because they release something, it should be a 5 million seller. That is why Yoichi Wada had to step down, well, one of many reasons. If they would get rid of a few more of their top honcho’s, they may actually be able to right themselves after all this time.

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      Because unlike in other companies, their company morale is in the shitter

      • Tiredman

        No clue if their morale is, but their over all reputation is. A lot of people won’t buy “new” Squeenix titles nowadays because there is at least a 50/50 chance of getting a overpriced soap opera with lousy gameplay.

        • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

          Lol yup.

        • rekka_zan

          But… but… Deus Ex… and Tomb Raider…… Sleeping Dogs….

          Well, SE is ‘only’ the publisher but hey I think they should count.

    • icecoffemix

      They have difficulty entering HD era, much like many other japanese developer. There’s a horror story about FFXIII development hell somewhere in the internet.

      • Tiredman

        Biggest reason behind that is because they have completely lost the knowledge of what makes a good game. Extreme stories and the top of the line graphics aren’t it. They should of cut back ambition to make a practice game instead of completely destroying half or more of Final Fantasy’s fans hopes and dreams for a good FF game.

        • icecoffemix

          Well the story about FFXIII goes along the way of they want everything to be crammed in the engine thus it took very long time to complete, meanwhile the only work done for the game are assets, that goes on for years. The actual game only took 1-2 years to complete so it was clusterfuck of epic proportion aka Final Hallway XIII.

          Then again, looking at XIII-2 and 3, you’re probably right. Probably too much executive meddling like they did with FFXII.

    • Suzaku

      The thing is… The Square studio has really only released a couple “high level IP games” in the last 5 years. FFXIII and FFXIV.

      The XIII sequels have been an attempt to squeeze more out of XIII because they can’t really justify the time and money spent developing it otherwise. A Realm Reborn has also apparantly defied expectations and turned FFXIV around.

      In the same span of time, not including Eidos/Enix, they’ve made KHBBS, Nier, Dissidia 012, Final Fantasy Type-0, Theatrythm, KH3D, Final Fantasy Dimensions, Bravely Default, Chaos Rings 1&2, and Drakengard 3, all of which have been really well received, along with various ports, and several succesful smartphone/arcade games which never made it overseas.

      I mean, it’s really easy to say “Square Enix has fallen into a bottomless pit that they’ll never recover from,” but the reality is that line of thinking is based almost entirely on FFXIII. Meanwhile, those same people seem to be clamoring for Bravely Default or heaping praise upon it.

      • DeathDias71

        Actually XIII was always intended to be a trilogy of games. They weren’t trying to ‘squeeze’ more out of it because it was part of the plan from the beginning. Which is the reason they spent so much time on the lore of the planet. (Poorly introduced in the story. You shouldn’t have to restart a game to understand what is going on at the beginning of it…)

        And actually FFXIII is still a financial success for them. Their financial woes came from the original failed launch of FFIV and the money spent to fix it into A Realm Reborn. FFXIII at no point has been financial burden for the company. Despite peoples complaints about the games. Sales figures don’t lie.

      • Göran Isacson

        I wouldn’t really say that THEY developed Chaos Rings, Bravely Default, Nier or Drakengard. The KH games and (to my knowledge) Dissidia and Theatrhythm are their babies, full cred to them there, but those other games are, I think, outsourced to other actual developers. SE funds them, as far as I know, but they don’t MAKE them. That honor belongs to other developers who work underneath Square-Enix, but I don’t think their employed game developers were that involved with them?

      • Anime10121

        Dont forget TWEWY!!!

  • Varnes

    Well that makes me feel better about SE’s recent heavy leaning on smartphone titles, if it benefits games like FFXV in the end than i am glad they use such a strategy, now just make sure that FFXV and KH3 live up to expectations (if SE screws up KH3 there will be blood!… not really more like intense forum complaining XD)

  • Valtiel Ikari

    so… wen there will be a FF7 remake?
    EDIT: wow, so many negatives just because FF7 is significantly meaningful to me and since they say they are doing remakes and stuff of older titles I half jokinly, half hopeful did a coment on the RPG that got me into RPG

    • Jonah Paley

      VII will never…be a memory.

      (No wait, since VII is never getting a remake, I guess it would ONLY be a memory? Whatever)

    • echokanon

      My guess is they are actually secretly making or at least designing more episodes for FF7 already. But as long as FF15 is not released, they could not announce it otherwise there would be many controversy or complaints. G…

      • Anime10121

        I hope so, I’m not even one of the “FFVII best FF EVAR” types and yet, I’d like to see them continue that big ass cliffhanger from FFVII DoC.

  • Kazekage Gaara

    Haha give us some more Dragon Quest dammit :(

    • icecoffemix

      Super Light.

      Welcome to SE future.

  • 無尽合体ブランタコブスキ

    Why can’t I hold all these remakes?

  • d19xx

    As long as they make those classic games available again, I got no problem with it. Now how about that Final Fantasy XII HD? :)

    • Milton O’Bannon

      I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about me. I loved ff XII with a passion. The battle system, exploration, the numerous side quests and secret bosses, and even its political story.

      • d19xx

        I agree. The game would also be 100x better if they give Vaan a shirt…

  • RoyalR R.M

    I wants Final Fantasy XII HD.

    • Jonah Paley

      I’m Hyped von Remakesberg! Don’t believe Wada’s lies! Ivalice LIVES! (inb4 konpon568)

  • Mir Teiwaz

    I feel like they would have been better off making Final Fantasy 14 into a single player RPG instead of spending untold millions making a WoW clone with a Final Fantasy coat of paint.

    It sounds like it was detrimental to their creative ability to have so many people tied up in making it.

    • Jonah Paley

      WoW clone or not, FFXIV A Realm Reborn has been a major source of cash and good publicity for SE (unlike the original FFXIV). I can’t quite pinpoint why. Once you get to end-game and the end of the story as of patch 2.1, you either repeat content in Hard Mode (Primals, dungeons, Ultima) or farm dungeons for philosophy and mythology tomes. Done all the quests that give anywhere near decent XP? Enjoy being bored to death while grinding up your other jobs! And for a casual player like me, Extreme Mode Primals are a nightmare (Incidentally, a mount called Nightmare drops from the EX mode Primals). And who the hell is gonna be able to do all of the Binding Coil of Bahamut before 2.2 nerfs it, considering the difficulty level of Coil Turn 5? Not anyone in my Free Company or in my linkshells, I’ll bet.

      And yet, somehow…not only does it all work, but I am in love and addicted to it.

      Tl;dr: It makes no logical sense to enjoy FFXIV: ARR’s post-game, but humans are not creatures of pure logic, and thus ARR is awesome. (Unlike some other Square Enix games this generation) Yoshi-P is a magician and he is conjuring a spell that binds us all to Eorzea. Praise the Twelve!

    • Godmars

      Would have been better to spin off FF Online *AS* FF Online Rather than keep it within the full franchise.

      Nevermind the first “lazy” attempt with FF14 which apparently actively ignored all things FF11 did wrong and right.

    • icecoffemix

      Better for you and us? maybe.

      Better for them? Nope. FFXI is still the most profitable FF yet.

    • Suzaku

      In the long term, FFXIV will likely be a huge source of profit for them. FFXI remains their most profitable game of all time, so it’s understandable that they’d sink a lot of time and money into FFXIV to ensure that it’s not a flop.

  • Godmars

    Would think it had something to do with disregarding the value of story and character development. Being overly focused on presentation and appearance, CG cutscenes, rather than developing gameplay which would allow players to preform acts “within” a cutscene.

    • Jonah Paley

      Agree that they’ve been dropping the ball when it comes to the first two, but wasn’t acting within a cutscene one of the big things in FFXIII-2? Or do you mean being free to take more actions than rapidly mashing a button when given a prompt?

      • Godmars

        In FF7 your group escapes the Shinra building in a dramatic cutscene which immediately lead to a highspeed highway battle with you controlling Cloud on a bike.

        By FF10, Yuna leaps to her apparent death only to summon Valefor to save herself. Yet *somehow* throughout the game she’s repeatedly kidnapped by Al Bhed. Nevermind Tidus stealing “her” story and summoning trials.

        • Arrei

          Forgive my ignorance, but how are those two scenarios related? The FF7 example refers to allowing the player to play something during a climactic scene, but the FF10 example merely refers to inconsistency within the story.

          • Godmars

            Its about immersion and involvement. That if the attempt had been made to make FF10 as involving as FF7 tried to be will all of its mini-games, it very likely would have been a different game.

          • Morricane

            I wouldn’t exactly have missed said mini-games in FF7, however…

          • Godmars

            Can’t help but feel that I’m failing to get my point across. That its not about the mini game, but rather its development into the main game. That it represented doing more than going through point A to Z spamming the X button and wading through cutscenes to move the story along.

            Or rather the failure to develop it because such would require creativity and was deemed “too expensive”. That’s why later games shied away from them. Became less about an actual and defined world and instead whatever a dev thought they could get away with.

            Which is what we got with FF13. The beautiful but empty busy work of the Crystarium instead of just leveling up.

  • Callonia

    Ahh, well at least I now understand why Squareenix does it now. :)

  • SirRichard

    Wanting to prop up your console business with phone market profits is fine and dandy, but does that really justify releasing All The Bravest?

    Square Enix seem to have some real management problems, Wada here reveals that they didn’t properly co-ordinate new projects around the development of FFXIV, they just went ahead with development of things despite staffing issues and so on. Poor management could also explain why multi-million sellers still end up as failures in their eyes.

  • Fox

    But Square Enix doesn’t do remakes. They do ports. And most of ‘em are pretty bad ports at that.

  • DarkWaterClone

    I know most people want FFVII remade but I so would prefer Vagrant Story. That is one of thee best games Square ever made and I would love to get a chance to play it again with a fresh coat of paint.

    I know I can play the PSN version but I would prefer the remake so then they can make a sequel or prequel.

    • Armane

      Why would you want a sequel/prequel without Matsuno’s involvement?

  • NimbusStev

    Their business model is pretty much: “Let’s remake every Final Fantasy. Except FF7. Because our fans actually want that one.”

    I’m not so sure I’d agree that their recent trend is a ‘low-risk’ plan. It is low-risk in the fact that it’s a cheap way to make a buck. But the more they cheapen the Final Fantasy series, the more they hurt it as a brand. Square has pretty much destroyed their reputation in the eyes of most of their long-time fans.

    As Nintendo is currently proving with the Wii U’s lackluster sales, the casual fans are a shallow bunch. They follow what’s trendy and don’t really care about brand loyalty. There will come a day when Square can no longer survive on smartphone remakes. And when that day comes, they’re going to wish they hadn’t driven away the old fanbase.

    • Godmars

      Or their executives will float away on gold parachutes having bankrupted the company, other companies will buy their IPs in further attempt to make a buck, and some of the coders and game programers not bought with them will make indie groups and then “spiritual successors” to those IP.

    • Anime10121

      “Let’s remake every Final Fantasy. Except FF7. Because our fans actually want that one.”

      Except they havent remade 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, or anything past VI for that matter. Hell the only game’s they’ve actually made remakes of are III and IV, the rest have been simple remasters with updated sprites/character models.

      A remake in the ways that most “fans” want of 7 would be something no company in their right mind would create. A high end graphical rehaul of a 10 year old game that would require brand new assets like an “open world” and the like (as lets face it, people wouldn’t accept a console FF with Pre rendered backgrounds in this day and age), it would cost a fortune! There has yet to be a console RPG made with the size and scope of the map that FFVII had (well besides the PS2 Tales of games/Vesperia but those games arent graphical powerhouses and still relied upon psone/snes styled maps) and there likely wont ever be one, as the costs would just be far too huge.

      JRPG’s aren’t anywhere near as successful nowadays as they were in the past. Thankfully, the genre itself still sees many releases, but most are small niche titles that will MAYBE do a couple hundred thousand worldwide, and nowhere near the millions of sales it’d take for a true blue Final Fantasy VII remake to be successful. The original game sold around 10 million, It took FFXIII two games to reach that milestone (and on 2 different platforms). Sure you can argue that the XIII series wasnt that good, but even then no other recent JRPG has even been CLOSE to being as successful world wide as FFXIII by itself. Even the fantastic Nier/Xenoblades/Ni No kuni’s of the world, have struggled to even ship a million copies, if even that :(

      tldr; With the JRPG market as it is now. A FFVII remake just isnt viable.

  • rekka_zan

    “Because why not.”

    JK, anyway I think pretty much everyone who’ve been keeping track of SE’s conditions for the last 6 years already knew the answer.

  • Göran Isacson

    So essentially, they needed some income on the side while their big budget project bled them dry? Understandable. I’m mostly just curious as to what all those difficulties that arose during the five year period were, and WHY they came to be. Also, did XIV bleed the development groups of manpower even BEFORE it got released as the buggy original release, or was that AFTER the first version got released?

    Also, I wonder how much money the mobile market makes them in comparison to the main console market. and if it’s enough so that they’ll figure that it IS more profitable to maybe cut back on consoles and focus on mobile.

    Also also- it’s interesting to have it confirmed that they made all those sequels and re-releases because they weren’t in a good place confidence-wise with their output, and so they wanted to revisit what they knew was succesful in order to get their groove back. I kinda wonder what, if any, lessons were learned in their blast to the past and how that may affect their future games.

  • http://www.gamefaqs.com/features/recognition/21421.html?type=4 Kashell

    There’s no need to explain why: we are all aware that they are lazy as ****.

  • BlueTree

    I remember considering Square a developer, and before I knew it, they had changed without me really understanding why. Taking a step back to look at the market, it’s clear that they’re a large company with brands/strategy more in line with something much smaller. There are many people who think fondly of Final Fantasy games across the board, as well as other more obscure (though still fondly thought of) titles they’ve made in the past… but now Square is a shadow of that. It’s not what they do, and I don’t know if I care to be part of that, in the same way I feel about Capcom when it became more of a company than something I would associate with creative output.

    Clearly there’s a divide, and I can’t really ask Square to do better business… that’s not the problem. And if you asked me to expect better games, well, it’s clear that there’d be a conflict of interest involved. I’ve pretty much moved on without thinking, and if they put out something related to what I enjoyed in the past, I’m not past the idea of looking back, but I think it’s safe to say they’re a different company and we’re in different times.

    Nothing lasts forever.

  • http://www.playingwithpower.net/ KiraV

    I don’t mind Square’s focus on remakes and mobile ports, but I think it’s a shame that they aren’t using it cross-pollinate with traditional machines. I would love to see FF Dimensions on 3DS, or any of their mobile offerings available on Vita even if they came directly from phones via PS Mobile.

  • Andrew Boyce

    You know, SE doesn’t REALLY have to rely on new IP. They are sitting on top of other good franchises if they really want to do something. They can either make up for the atrocious “The Last Birthday”, or actually make a sequel to “The World Ends With You”. Is this so hard?

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