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Square Enix's celebrity status: An interview with the CEO

Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda is sat in the coldest conference room in the entire LA convention center, politely ignoring the arctic conditions and explaining the secrets of the company's success.

"What I would say about our games that they have in common, and this applies to both our games from our Western studios as well as from Tokyo, we have a lot of titles in our portfolio with a kind of celebrity status," Matsuda tells GamesIndustry.biz, via a dapper translator. "Meaning that they feature really celebrity levels of characters. It's the same with Final Fantasy XV, with those four. Also with the characters in Kingdom Hearts, of course, and from our Western studios Lara Croft, Agent 47, and it's the same with Deus Ex as well. So I would say the appeal of our characters and also our stories are what really sets us apart from other players in the market."

The Square Enix booth at E3 this year is a tangle of people queuing up to play the new demo of Final Fantasy XV, which features a gigantic, heavy-handed foe and the series' traditional heavily styled heroes.

"Final Fantasy, we see it less as a series and actually more as individual, self-contained stories," Matsuda explains. "We make each one as though that one is going to be the last. Also, the teams that make them are different each time; it's never the same team that makes them twice, the creators are always different, and in that sense it's really like each one is a different and brand new game.

"Of course, there are some commonalities to the motifs - there's the crystal and what have you - but at the same time we make each one of them as a brand new game."

I ask if, as with a company like Ubisoft, the different Square Enix development teams share successful strategies. Have Final Fantasy learnings been applied to other, perhaps more Western IP over the years?

"In terms of whether we can apply the same approach to developing other games or not the first thing I have to say is that each of the development teams has their own individuality, and even with Final Fantasy the way that it gets developed depends on which team is developing that instalment.

"As to whether that could be applied to other titles at Square Enix I think that the teams that work on all of our titles give it really their utmost. I have no doubt about that. So they try to give it their max for every single title and I think that letting them do that, with their approach and their individuality, is the way to go about it. I don't think you can say, 'Well, this worked on this team so let's take that and apply it exactly to another team's project.' I think that you really have to let them leverage their individuality and if that's the way that you're going to come up with the best products."

The same is true of technology. Square Enix is known for building its own, like Crystal Tools, Luminous Studio and the now closed Shinra Technologies. Matsuda puts this "stockpile" of technology down to the ambitions of the different teams.

"In terms of technology our Tokyo team, Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal and also IO Interactive, they all have their own technologies and I think they work to use those to optimal effect. I think in so doing that's how they create the individuality of each game.

"I think if you look at it you can tell. If you look at Final Fantasy XV and see what it is that we're expressing there then you realize that's completely different from the look and feel of the universe of Deus Ex, for example. You can look at a Deux Ex game and say that's Deus Ex, you can look at a Final Fantasy and say that's Final Fantasy, and that's because of the technology we're talking about and what that allows the teams to express. They continue to advance that and I think that is one of our major differentiators."

One technology that Square Enix is just beginning to experiment with is, of course, virtual reality, showing off a Final Fantasy XV VR experience at the show. Matsuda, however, doesn't seem ready to board the hype train just yet.

"It was only just April that Oculus came on the scene and now PSVR is supposed to come out in the autumn, but we're still at the point where we can't say that all of the hardware and all of the software is really fully out there. It's only a very small number of people who have even had the opportunity to experience it, so we're kind of in the wait and see mode in terms of how things are going to look and how this is going to play out.

"Of course, when I say we're going to wait and see I don't mean that we're not doing anything. There's the VR component to Final Fantasy that we mentioned this time, and there are some other things that we're engaged in from a kind of showcase perspective. We are running several projects related to VR."

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