Friday, June 10, 2011
What happened to SquareEnix?
Japanese Role Playing Games have been available to buy for consoles since the original Phantasy Star was released on the Sega Master System. The genre rode the wave of popularity during the release of the PlayStation console. The company that benefited the most from the tremendous popularity was Square. During this time period, they were able to release classic and innovative franchises (Xenogears, Parasite Eve, Threads of Fate, Vagrant Story) and create amazing iterations of classic franchises (Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, and Chrono Cross). The PlayStation 2 saw a flood of equally good and interesting quality games from Square. With the publication of the new generation of consoles, the production of games has been severely limited on both the home consoles and on the handheld consoles. This culminated in this E3 where one of the higher ups in SquareEnix has lamented the lack of representation from its Japanese Development. What went wrong with SquareEnix and how can the company go back on track?
What went wrong?
The first big defection was with Tetsuya Takanashi and the Xenogears team, who left the company after the completion of Xenogears. The game was plagued by development problems and it took much longer than expected to release the game. Frustrated in releasing a game they felt was unfinished, they left Square to create MonolithSoft. The company would eventually create the Baiten Kaitos and Xenosaga franchise.
The next big one was the departure of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of the Final Fantasy franchise. He was the brilliant mind behind the creation of Final Fantasy, Vagrant Story, Kingdom Hearts, and Parasite Eve. His games were critical and financial successes for Square, so he got promoted within the organization numerous times. He felt that Square would inexorably move to other media, so he started work on the Final Fantasy Movie. The movie was a huge catastrophe and it left the organization near the brink of destruction. He was demoted and was eventually pushed out of the organization. He started the company Mistwalker that would produce some very well-known RPG’s.
The last famous well-known defection was the departure of Yasumi Matsuno. Considered one of the rising stars in Square, he created Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and led Final Fantasy XII. He was overworked and eventually left production of Final Fantasy XII. His departure left Final Fantasy XII in an enormous development mess and it strongly affected the morale of the development within SquareEnix.
Management Issues – SquareEnix has management issues; this has been made more evident in this generation of consoles than it had in the past. Good management means that the staff is properly motivated, proper people get promoted, projects get released on time, and development costs do not exceed budgets, SquareEnix has been doing the complete opposite of this for quite a while. As evidenced with the principal point of staff defections, SquareEnix has been bleeding very talented teams of people. I only scratched the surface of the incredible talent who has left the company. The pool of talent who left SquareEnix are the people behind games released during the organization’s “golden age.” The people developing the games are the reason why SquareEnix games were so good, and many of them are gone. One of the big issues in the company is that there is a sense of cronyism for advancements of management as opposed to promoting based on merit. This crony promotion of management led to many staff departures along with having people in positions they should not be at. The company has been tarnished by project delays. Final Fantasy XII was released 3 years later than they arranged, on top of that the game felt rushed with its corridor-style oubliettes and its lack of explorable towns. Final Fantasy Type 0 has had a development of close to four years (as of May 2011) and it has yet to be released on the PSP. It is on a console that is extremely easy to develop for. A better managed project should be able to release 4 games in the period that Final Fantasy Type 0 has been in development. The long development time also means that it costs more money to make the game. SquareEnix’s management issues are one of the biggest reasons behind SquareEnix’s development issues.
How can they get back on track?
Have Dedicated Development for Home and Handheld consoles – Instead of being a jack of all trades, master of none, they should split development teams into dedicated development houses to make quality games on home consoles and handheld consoles. SquareEnix has made many handheld console games, but the majority of them are poor ports and they are still treated as the stepchild of the development team. There should be a couple of development teams on handheld consoles to make quality games and release them on a regular basis. With SquareEnix knowing more about shaders while having polished game engines for home consoles; it should be much easier to pump out more games.
Ultimately, the organization will be successful when they would recognize their problems and do their best to rectify these problems.