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Square Enix: Hitman lost players by seeking mass appeal

Yosuke Matsuda pledges to concentrate on core audience for future AAA releases

Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda has pledged to take the company "back to [its] roots" in AAA development.

In an interview with Nikkei Trendy, translated by Siliconera, Matsuda lamented a loss of focus in Square Enix's products, all in the name of reaching a global audience.

"If you focus too much on the global aspect, you might lose sight of who you're actually making the game for," he said, referring to the company's 2013 release slate, which included IO Interactive's Hitman: Absolution.

"The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard. They implemented a vast amount of 'elements for the mass' instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible. It was a strategy to gain mass appeal.

"However, what makes the Hitman series good is its appeal to core gamers, and many fans felt the lack of focus in that regard, which ended up making it struggle in sales."

Matsuda offered Bravely Default on the 3DS as an example of a game that was made for a specific audience in Japan, but went on to sell in countries all over the world. This sort of thinking will inform Square Enix's AAA strategy from now on.

"For the new games we'll be developing from this point on, while this may sound a bit extreme, we've been talking about making them as heavy JRPGs. I believe that way, we can better focus on our target, which will also bring better results."

Matsuda has spoken about ringing in the changes at Square Enix ever since he took over from Yoichi Wada in March 2013. In April, he promised to "fundamentally review" the way the entire company worked and the sort projects it developed. By October, he was describing an "urgent need for reform" within the company.

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Latest comments (10)

Chris Madsen2 years ago
EA did the same mistake with Dead Space 3.
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 2 years ago
Publishers hardly learn
EA with Fuse
Blizzard with Diablo III
THQ with Homefront
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 2 years ago
The bugs probably didn't help much either...
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Show all comments (10)
Michael Ball Studying Computer Science, Georgia Southern University2 years ago
How ironic that the likely solution to Squeenix's woes will be to simply go back to basics. Hopefully other publishers will follow suit.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany2 years ago
@Rogier
You and @Chris just gave the example I was going to post. Just adding that at least Blizzard admits this with the expansion of Diablo III like Square-Enix did with this statement. Let's hope this is the beginning of something good.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 years ago
I've not played it TBH, but my wife is a hardcore Hitman fan and she was very frustrated with the linear escape sequences in Absolution. She likes to ghost the missions and hated being "discovered" for narrative reasons and forced to switch genres to proceed. It's encouraging to see big publishers acknowledge and learn from their mistakes.
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Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster2 years ago
It's nice to see SquEnix openly admitting that they feel like they messed up by 'going mainstream', regardless of the accuracy of that comment. There are companies (EA I'm looking at you) that will purchase IP, then destroy the integrity of said IP trying to make it mass market. It takes a lot of ego-quashing to allow your review process to publicly come to the conclusion that you messed up the direction of the IP trying to make it 'pop', because it generally requires shareholders to hear that the CEO did the exact opposite of what was right for the product.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Andrew Ihegbu on 1st April 2014 2:28pm

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Nic Wechter Senior Designer, Black Tusk (MGS Vancouver)2 years ago
I think this article raises some good points but its also important to not be too reactive to what gamers say. A lot of the time what people say they want and what they actually want aren't the same thing.
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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship2 years ago
It's one of the biggest risks to a 'nearly' franchise - publisher dissatisfaction with 'only' a couple million sales leads them to dilute or alter the franchise core gameplay in an attempt to capture a wider audience. Usually involves adding chase sequences to stealth games (see Splinter Cell, Hitman), removing as much inventory management and complexity from RPGs (see Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fable), adding multiplayer to everything, and making sure there's lots of set piece scripted sequences and lots of voice acting. Full on Call-of-Dutification.

Usually results in no change to the franchise sales, and an angry and disillusioned set of core franchise fans. The solution is to accept that certain franchises sell more than others based on core genre and intrinsic appeal to a certain demographic, and that once a franchise audience is established, you're probably better serving them than risk losing them by chasing everyone else. Cut your cloth accordingly. A good Hitman game is going to sell approximately X million. Therefore building a Hitman game for less than Y will mean it's profitable! Rinse, repeat.

In other words, good wisdom from SquareEnix here! I approve.
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David Serrano Freelancer 2 years ago
The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard. They implemented a vast amount of 'elements for the mass' instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible. It was a strategy to gain mass appeal.
But what type of "new players" did Square Enix want to get? Consumers who didn't play video games? Consumers who only played non-core / hardcore games? Inactive core gaming device owners? Or active core players who'd never purchased or played a Hitman title before? And more importantly, how did Square Enix rationalize that dumbing down elements of Absolution would be the most effective strategy for appealing to any of those groups?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 3rd April 2014 8:30pm

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