LOS ANGELES — Square Enix is one of the few video game companies that does a good job straddling East and West. It makes Japanese role-playing games as well as big Western titles such as Tomb Raider and Deus Ex.
We talked about this unique position of Square Enix with Yosuke Matsuda, who became chief executive of the Japanese company after longtime CEO Yoichi Wada stepped down to run Shinra Technologies, a supercomputing cloud games startup. Matsuda held a rare press briefing at E3 yesterday, where the company unveiled new titles such as Nier and a new studio — Tokyo RPG Factory.
At this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Square Enix games — Final Fantasy VII, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided — each had big roles at the game industry tradeshow’s big press briefings. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What was the thinking behind choosing to do a press conference this year? You haven’t done that in a while.
Yosuke Matsuda: The simplest reason is that we have a lot of games to present this year. We didn’t feel that we’d be able to effectively showcase the entire lineup at just the booth itself or at the first-party conferences. We wanted to showcase everything all at once, so we decided to do our own Square Enix conference this year.
GamesBeat: Square Enix still feels like a very interesting company. You have Western content and visibly Eastern content. I wonder how you think about that as a global company.
Matsuda: We feel like we have a great position in the industry. We have a unique company. There aren’t many out there with both Western and Eastern titles in the way that we do.
GamesBeat: Sometimes it seems like you have to play a chess game with the platform owners — which exclusive to give to which platform. Do you have any observations about things like Rise of the Tomb Raider going to Xbox One and Final Fantasy VII going to Sony? Will those eventually make it to multiple platforms?
Matsuda: Of course we have relationships with all platforms, so it’s hard to go into much detail, but with regards to what we have announced, they are exclusive. It’s exactly as we announced it at the conferences.
GamesBeat: What observations would you have about Japanese RPGs finding a home in the west? Why is that happening lately? Is it the particular games coming out? Is there are more global taste developing among gamers?
Matsuda: Going back to the last generation of games, a lot of Japanese publishers were a bit too cautious about the Western style of gaming, or Western games in general. Because they were so conscious about that when creating their own games, that could have factored into those types of games not doing as well. But it’s very important for us to draw on the uniqueness of our creators, draw on their strength. By doing so we’ll be able to create more appealing games. Rather than copying what others are doing, we’re focusing on what our creators want to make, what they believe in. Those all factor into creating better products. In that sense, with Square Enix and our creators, we believe we’ll be able create more appealing RPGs. As you saw at our conference, we have a large variety of games in our lineup — in the West and in Japan as well. We have a great variety of interesting games. We believe we’re becoming a publisher with a very interesting position in the industry.
GamesBeat: I’m sure you heard the big applause that happened when they announced Final Fantasy VII at Sony. Did you know that kind of reaction was coming?
Matsuda: We were aware that Final Fantasy VII has a lot of fans around the world. A lot of people have been waiting for a remake. So we anticipated that reaction to a certain extent. But actually listening to the excitement that came out of our announcement, we once again realized how much this game is loved. It was great to hear.
GamesBeat: Does that give you any dilemma about doing remakes as opposed to doing brand new Final Fantasy games?
Matsuda: Regarding remakes, we’ll look into doing them if there is consumer demand. That said, at our core is creating new Final Fantasy games. The core value of Final Fantasy is to continue to test the limits and create unique new experiences that exceed the previous titles. That’s where we’re at with the brand. That’s always at the base of it. Final Fantasy VII was a special case, in light of that core value.
GamesBeat: What do you think about the larger investor community and how to keep them excited about Square Enix? We have a very interesting world now, with Supercell valued at $5.5 billion, Telltale succeeding with Game of Thrones, Activision succeeding with Skylanders. It’s a very different game business now. What’s your strategy to make Square Enix as important as ever in this kind of world?
Matsuda: This is true of other gaming companies as well, but those that pursue and deliver interesting experiences, those are the companies that come out and top. Continuing to pursue content that’s interesting and fun, it all comes down to that. What’s expected of us, what people are hoping for us to do, is to continually create and deliver fun and exciting game experiences. If we’re able to deliver something that takes off, then of course we’ll have that kind of outward-facing value.
GamesBeat: What’s your own view of technology and what’s important for Square Enix? I bring that up because I know that Shinra spun out of Square Enix. You decided that was something better produced by a separate company. Why would you do that? What potential do you see in that kind of technology, or anything else Square Enix could invest heavily in?
Matsuda: Regarding cloud gaming and game engine research, we expect to continue to do a lot of that. We find it very important. Of course we expect growth in cloud gaming, as well as VR and other types of technologies. Those are things we’ll continue to look into and create content for in the future, potentially.
With Shinra in particular, in addition to cloud gaming research generally, they hope to create a platform for cloud gaming. With Square Enix being a content developer primarily, that positions us in a different area compared to a platform company. We felt it would be best to separate the two companies because of that. It’s also important to get other third parties to provide content for this platform, not just Square Enix. In order to grow the company moving forward, and also in terms of getting financing from third parties, the possibilities become greater with Shinra as a separate company.
GamesBeat: How have you decided your appropriate participation in mobile games? You’ve been experimenting with mobile. Do you feel like you know what you want to achieve in that area?
Matsuda: We’ve done various things across the mobile landscape, but one thing of real interest has been trying to engage in multiplayer gaming on mobile. We have various projects that we’re testing out and developing right now. Social elements in mobile are very popular as well, and those will become more prevalent.
GamesBeat: Will we ever see a new Final Fantasy Tactics?
Matsuda: I apologize, but we can’t talk about any unannounced titles. It just launched on Android, though.
GamesBeat: It’s good to have fans. I wonder how much Square Enix will raise some of the new thinking about fans that’s happened in the game industry over the last few years. We have remakes. We have esports. We have user-generated content. What are some new ways of thinking about how to relate to all the fans you have?
Matsuda: We’re trying out everything you mentioned there. Regarding user-generated content, the new Hitman game definitely fits in that area. We have a couple of games in Japan we’re creating that aren’t in the western style, but they’re geared toward a more Japanese style of esports gaming. We hope to experiment with those types of experiences and implement them moving forward. We’re actively testing and trying ideas like that.