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Square Enix Head: A "Very Bountiful" 2009

President Yoichi Wada discusses FF, Dragon Quest, and the perilous Japanese marketplace.

By Kevin Gifford, 01/08/2009

Square Enix is coming off a year that, by their standards, was pretty low-key. Their top-selling title in Japan was a Nintendo DS remake of Dragon Quest V that shifted 1.17 million copies, followed by a gaggle of games that did fair-to-middling worldwide. Things are on the up for the company in 2009, however -- according, anyway, to president Yoichi Wada, who sat down for an interview with Weekly Famitsu magazine earlier this week.

"I think [2008] was a year where we fought very well," Wada commented. "Without a very powerful title in the main DQ or Final Fantasy series to rely on, each game and brand we worked on this year did the best they could for us. Our lineup was centered around portable titles, and looking at it like that, they did very well."

2008 was a year when Square Enix went into the Xbox 360 in a big way -- The Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery both performed well on the platform, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope is hitting Japanese store shelves very soon. "We are working toward launching other new brands as well, which I think we'll be seeing the results of in 2009 and beyond," Wada told Famitsu. "Perhaps we did not get all of the results we wanted to from the very beginning, but this year was an important connecting point to the next step for us. With that in mind, I think we all put up a good fight in 2008."

The president of Square Enix noted a trend that has stymied many Japanese publishers over the past few years -- in the cutthroat Japan marketplace, games are either massive million-selling successes or extreme "niche" titles, with few games in between. "Up to now, you could plant the seeds for a new series and establish a firm foothold for yourself by selling 200,000 to 800,000 copies," he said. "2008 was a little different. As a result, we need to start aiming for games that can immediately sell two or three million copies -- not just in Japan, but worldwide. For better or worse, the game marketplace has become one of very high stakes."

Indeed, "worldwide" is the watchword for Square Enix in '09, according to Wada. "Our games are completely global now; we have to be global, both in terms of the consumer marketplace and where the games are developed. Being 'global' up to now simply meant Japanese companies would export game systems and titles overseas, but that's no longer the case -- you have to consider every possibility available, from selling Japan-made games overseas to selling overseas games in Japan. I think this is a sign that the game business is starting to resemble most other industries. For a game publisher, you have only two choices: become a global business, or work in an extremely narrow niche. I think that's a decision every company is facing.

So how is 2009 looking for Wada? Positively rosy. "We have some major titles of our own, and we'll be releasing titles from overseas, so there's a lot on our plate," he said. "With Dragon Quest IX's release date set in stone, our post-spring titles are the ones on the move right now. People say that other titles suffer whenever DQ gets released, but it's actually the opposite case -- whenever that caliber of title gets released, people that don't watch games suddenly check out the marketplace again. There are more eyes on video games across the board. It's going to be a very bountiful year, I think -- not just for us, but for the entire industry. All the current hardware platforms have been on sale for three or four years now. They're perfectly aged, and I think the new users that Nintendo has helped attract to games are going to be hooked for good this year. As a game fan myself, it'll be a difficult one for me because I can't make the time to play everything I want to."