Recent news coming out of Square Enix paints a picture that the Japanese publisher isn’t happy at all with the state of its AAA-development. Despite being critically well received, titles such as Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider were considered ‘failures’ by Square due to not selling in the millions. After finishing up the financial year with a monumental loss, senior executive managing director Yosuke Matsuda has announced plans to make significant changes to its approach to development. He feels consumers need to be more involved in the development process, and notes Steam Greenlight could be part of the solution.
Discussing the failure of Hitman: Absolution and other major games to meet sales targets at a financial briefing, Matsuda said: “I believe that this situation is not a one‐time event for the fiscal year ended March 2013, but is a structural issue within the packaged product sales model. As a result, I believe it is difficult to guarantee an appropriate return on our investments within the revenue model of purely packaged software,”
“It is important to consider how to change business models in light of rigidity from the perspective of pricing, and I believe that the transformation to online titles and the diversification of profit opportunities is the key. While we have stated this before, we intend to pursue this with further intensity going forward.”
To combat the problems facing Square Enix, Matsuda explained his feelings on the lack of contact with customers and how it harms development: “In a model where a game is developed without customers knowing what it’s like for many years, the product is presented to customers only after it has been finished, and all investment is recovered at one time, customers are forced to wait for too long, and opportunities for profit are passed up.
“One could go as far as to say that in today’s times, making customers wait for years with little to no information is being dishonest to them. We’re no longer in an age where customers are left in the dark until a product is completed. We need to shift to a business model where we frequently interact with our customers for our products that are in‐development and/or prior to being sold, have our customers understand games under development, and finally make sure we develop games that meet their expectations.”
Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight and Steam Early Access were all examples provided by Matsuda that would allow the frequent interaction with customers that he feels is vital to successful end products.
Alongside this strategy, Square Enix plans to develop games on a regional-specific basis, rather than attempting to make globally-appealing titles.
It is fascinating to get this kind of insight into the major publishers. Square do seem to be suffering immensely at the moment, and it would be a massive shame to see them wither away after delivering such games as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Tomb Raider, which remain some of my most memorable experiences of the last few years. It seems like the old dog is willing to learn new tricks from the indies and smaller developers though, and keeping in constant contact with potential players through the likes of Steam’s services is a great idea. Not expecting to sell 3.6million copies of games like Hitman: Absolution might help, too.