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Square Enix LA studio to focus on digital titles

Thu 20 Nov 2008 1:27pm GMT / 8:27am EST / 5:27am PST
Publishing

XBLA, PSN and WiiWare titles all under consideration, with headcount to grow to 30 in 12 months

Square Enix's US president John Yamamoto has told GamesIndustry.biz that the company's new in-house development team based in Los Angeles is currently concentrating on the market for digitally downloadable games.

And after successfully adopting Epic's Unreal Engine 3 for The Last Remnant, the studio is also assessing multiple middleware solutions and feeding back its findings to Japan for future releases.

"All formats – Xbox Live, WiiWare, PlayStation Network – are all viable formats for us," said Yamamoto. "We started the in-house development team a couple of months ago and we're starting with downloadable content because the team is still small.

"Gradually, I want to expand that team, and also evaluate lots of middleware, because western middleware is much more advanced compared to Japanese middleware. So we will study and feed back information to Square Enix in Japan."

He added: "I think it’s always good to introduce new ideas, techniques, and processes into the company in order to stay on the cutting edge. The Last Remnant was the first time we had built a game using an outside development engine, and it taught our developers to find new and creative solutions in order to achieve their objectives."

With a skeleton crew of only three members, Square hopes to boost numbers to as many as thirty within the next 12 months.

The company has made a number of significant moves outside of Japan in the past few weeks, including teaming with Gas Powered Games to publish the sequel to Supreme Commander, and picking up Frontier's LostWinds for release via WiiWare in Asia.

Yamamoto also confirmed that Square Enix is currently in talks with developers across the globe for more titles, and is interested in creating new IP and publishing existing franchises.

"We're not only working with Gas Powered Games, we're also contacting multiple studios in England, other European countries, and the US and Canada. We're talking with other studios right now," he revealed.

"We are interested in studios that have their own established IP and we're also interested in creating new IP as well."

At E3 in July, Square Enix announced that the latest Final Fantasy title – a franchise traditionally associated with the PlayStation brand – would also be published on Xbox 360. Now, Yamamoto has gone so far as to declare the time of platform exclusives over.

"I really believe so. Not so long ago the PS2 dominated the market so if we developed an exclusive game for PS2 then we could enjoy a very good profit. But that time is already over. To maximise and spread our games to as many users as possible I think we have to go to multiformat – the Xbox 360, PS3 and also the PC as well.

"The Japanese market is very strong and back when we could concentrate on developing games for just one console, business was very good. But the one-console market is over," said Yamamoto.

While Square Enix won't be abandoning its home market, Yamamoto agreed that some developers in the region focus purely on a domestic audience, missing global opportunities.

"I wouldn’t make a generalisation about all Japanese developers, clearly, some have had continual success worldwide. However, I do feel that there is a tendency for Japanese developers to focus too heavily on the domestic market.

"With increased competition from overseas developers, Japanese companies must recognise the need to appeal to a broader audience," he said.

"When developing a game in Japan, the developers talk to other Japanese developers, sales teams, marketing teams, and naturally, the game they are developing becomes targeted to Japanese consumers.

"Japanese videogame software sales represent less than 15 per cent of the global market. It’s my job to communicate to our headquarters in Japan that the western market is growing rapidly and that it is extremely important for Square Enix to be a major global player," he added.

The Last Remnant is released for Xbox 360 in Europe today.

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