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Square Enix Facing Big Losses For 2010 210

eldavojohn writes "It's no secret that Final Fantasy XIV took a lot of heat early on, which required extensive damage control. And the Japanese tsunami (which appears to have added $7.5 million to their losses) certainly didn't help. But if what early investor reports are saying is true, then Square Enix is expected to report $148 million in losses for the closing fiscal year. Expect title cancellations (which might add to the hurt) and a very painful realization for the owner of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior (PDF). Perhaps a move to re-releasing classics will prove more fruitful than high development cost MMORPGs?"
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Square Enix Facing Big Losses For 2010

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  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Friday May 13, 2011 @05:23AM (#36116088) Journal

    Square-Enix's problems mirror, to a large extent, those that have afflicted the wider Japanese gaming industry (including, once you discount early Wii hardware sales, Nintendo), during the current console cycle.

    At the heart of this is a failure to evolve their games and franchises to reflect changing times and tastes. If often feels like the modern Japanese games industry doesn't recognise anything between "no change at all" and "total ground-up redesign". It's instructive to compare how the most successful Western developers have managed franchises and general gaming concepts over this time. If you look at the likes of Bioware, Bethesda, Bungie, Blizzard, Valve, even some of EA's own internal development efforts, you can see a pretty ruthless evolutionary approach to design. When a game comes out and the studio begins development either on a sequel or even a new property, the first thing that seems to happen is a look at what people liked and didn't like about the previous game, with this being factored into the development of the sequel.

    Take Bioware as a case-study here. Baldur's Gate came out in 1998 and was pretty successful. However, it was the sequel, which came out a couple of years later, that really revolutionised Western RPGs. Why? Because Bioware had evolved the franchise, removing aspects of the original game that had been "a bit too pen and paper" for CRPG players (such as no-pausing-on-the-inventory-screen mechanics and large amounts of wilderness crawling) and had expanded the areas that had been well received (adding further complexity to the casting system, expanding character dialogue trees and so on). Once Bioware moved on from the Baldur's Gate series, they continued releasing RPGs that very clearly had BG in their DNA, but which shed some of the pricklier aspects of the old series, while borrowing popular elements of Japanese RPGs (such as the "active party" system). Then having reached a point where they faced a serious conflict between hardcore RPG gamers and the more casual crowd, they essentially "fork" their games, with the Dragon Age series pitched for the hardcore and the Mass Effect series for the action demographic. That isn't to say that Bioware don't make mis-steps - Dragon Age 2 feels very much like a mis-step, and Jade Empire can probably be seen as one with hindsight - but an evolutionary approach like this makes it much easier to get back on track after a wobble.

    Then compare Square-Enix's management of its premier RPG property - the Final Fantasy series. There's no evidence of a planned evolutionary approach to the development of the series - just an odd mixture of clinging to past certainties combined with random-throw-of-the-dice leaps into the dark. There are elements of the Final Fantasy series on show in FF13 which feel like products of another era. Random encounters (and I'm sorry, but making them visible on the field map doesn't make them any less random encounters) have been pretty much entirely ditched in the West. Our developers have figured out that - surprise surprise - gamers don't like spending a couple of hours runnng in circles in a dungeon just to level up. Yes, levelling up is part of RPGs, but any Western RPG worth its salt these days ensures that it is done via interesting sidequests and subplots. And yet there they are, still at the centre of the flagship Japanese RPG series (and pretty much every other JRPG).

    The throw-of-the-dice element seems to come in the way that Square-Enix completely changes its battle and level up systems (and often even wider mechanics) for each installment in the series. At times, this has been a strength. It does keep the games from feeling a bit too samey. But when the throw of the dice produces a result that people actually like, it inexplicably never seems to get developed any further. So, for example, FF12's move towards more open-world gameplay was pretty widely welcomed, even by people who didn't like much else about the game. Yet then FF13 comes out and is basically a 30 hour tunnel for the player to

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