Square Enix targets games-as-a-service, esports and higher digital sales

One in five copies of Final Fantasy XV sold in North America were downloads, almost one in three for Nier Automata worldwide

Japanese publisher Square Enix hinted at plans to branch out and better capitalise on growing trends in the games industry in order the ensure the success of future titles.

In an update for shareholders, the company identified a number of areas in which it believes in can dramatically improve its current business practices, hinting at how the firm's portfolio may evolve in the years to come.

For example, the publisher acknowledged the ongoing shift towards higher digital sales and will aim for higher downloads with its blockbuster titles going forward. It notes that in North America, 20% of Final Fantasy XV purchases were digital downloads, while the global download rate for Nier Automata is over 30%.

Earlier this week, the publisher announced that combined worldwide shipments and digital downloads of Nier have surpassed 2m, meaning a sales count of roughly 600,000 for the latter.

"Higher download rates help in a significant way to improve profitability on HD game sales," president Yousuke Matsuda wrote. "However, our own efforts in this area have not been sufficient and we still have significant scope to improve our margings by bolstering our digital sales rates."

Matsuda notes that the key to achieving this is improving the purchasing process, and promises a complete "overhaul of our sales sites" as well as "a variety of initiatives" that will push for better digital sales.

The president also touched on the growing use of the games-as-a-service model in console and PC games, nothing that most games place the emphasis on multiplayer and "longer-term user engagement". Square Enix is already experimenting with this via the upcoming multiplayer expansion for Final Fantasy XV, but Matsuda promised more.

"We will endeavour to develop games designed not to be played once after launch but that customers can enjoy more and play longer," he wrote. "In so doing, we will increase customer satisfaction and enhance the lifetime value of the games themselves."

Gameplay streaming was another area identified as an opportunities for Square Enix, with Matsuda saying the publisher has "a great deal of interest" in the growth of live-streaming and esports spectatorship, and "intends to proactively work to turn it into an actual business."

The shareholder update contained more proposals of potential growth areas for Square Enix, including Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X, "a resurgence for web browser [games]" thanks to HTML5, and the maturing of international markets such as India.

The disappointing performance of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has prompted the publisher to put the series on hold, and the episodic Hitman clearly didn't live up to the publisher's expectations. The firm dropped IO Interactive earlier this year, with the studio going independent as it pushes forward with Hitman: Season Two.

Nevertheless, Square Enix enjoyed record revenue and profits last year, thanks in part to the performance of Final Fantasy XV, and clearly intends to maintain this momentum going forwards.

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