A Fresh Start - Part Two

Yoichi Wada and Phil Rogers on how Eidos staff will respond to change, and what's happening to the Japanese market

Following on from part one of the interview with Square Enix president and CEO Yoichi Wada and Eidos CEO Phil Rogers, discussing last week's acquisition, here the questions focus on how the Eidos staff members will respond to the change, and why it's important for Square Enix to find global appeal.

Q: How will the Eidos creators respond to a greater emphasis on cost performance versus game quality?

Phil Rogers: Well, I know how they'll respond to that - it's the same targets and desires that we've been setting with our teams in the past year, in terms of asking how we move the quality mark forward, how we improve.

That's not just about sound quality or graphical quality, that overall sort of engagement of gameplay that we're constantly trying to improve. We've set higher demands for our teams, and demonstrated to teams the investments that we make and the required polish it might need to realise the returns that we want.

We started on this road to improving quality back in early 2008 - I'm really hoping that some of the games really begin to get a rhythm again and a pattern to deliver. And that it will please the consumer.

We like that consumers are vocal, and nobody likes to disappoint them - although I think some consumers think we don't care. We do care passionately about what consumers say, and it's great they're so vocal, and intimate, and trying to drive more into the relationship.

So I think the challenges that we've are the right ones, and our creatives and produces and art directors absolutely support them - that's the goal.

Q: You hinted that Eidos employees seem to be happy with the deal, but is that a sense you've had across the board?

Phil Rogers: Yeah - 'across the board' is a big statement, and people all think about change in different ways. It's a business that's gone through a lot of change, and I think one thing we tried to establish in 2008 was a period of rebuild, a period of confidence and looking out - and then we find ourselves a year into it and anticipating a transaction like this.

But I think the way we're seeing this is as the next step - a natural step that takes us to the nest level. It's more ambition for our business, and people are excited about that. Now, again, for other people it is a change, and that change they'll think about in different ways, but when you go into the heart of the business - and at our heart is the content creators and producers - and you talk to the other aspects of the business, it's seen as very exciting.

It's moving us in the right way, it's moving us towards offering consumers quality, innovative products. Happiness [as part of the Square Enix mission statement of "spreading happiness across the globe"] is a wonderful way to express it - it's a unique way as well, I don't think any Western company has this philosophy of making people happy.

We talk about quality and innovative gameplay, but actually when you boil it all down, this is exactly what we're in it for.

Q: In terms of the Eidos product line-up, you've already gone through a refocusing period in the past year. At the point of acquisition, will that line-up change any further? Do you have any plans to divest existing franchises, or look to expand into more original IP?

Phil Rogers: I don't think there's anything we've really discussed at this stage. I think we have a natural sense of the IPs and the games we've got in concept and production, and collectively we look to bring the right games out.

Q: You've spoken about the importance of global appeal in the past - do you feel that the Eidos acquisition ticks all of the boxes, or can we expect more additions in the future?

Yoichi Wada: The priority of buying another company has gone down the list quite a lot - of course, if there's a good opportunity we may go for it, but it's a lower priority.

The reason I say that is because we already have a number of presences across the world, and I intend to utilise those bases. I look at those bases as windows to the market, and with this recent acquisition we've opened up so many windows in the world market. Those are the places we can absorb all the good talent, create new product, and then sell to the world market.

So in that sense I'd say we've already created the right platform to do that.

It's almost impossible to create that kind of a platform overnight, so strategically it was very important to join hands with Eidos. At the moment my priority is to focus on how we can cultivate this platform further to generate revenue and profits together with Eidos.

If there were to be any future acquisition of properties it would probably be in another region, like India or somewhere in Asia, but at the moment I'm not really thinking about it.

Q: There seems to be a general feeling in Japan that the domestic games industry is struggling at the moment - what's causing the slow software sales at the moment, and what needs to happen to revitalise the market?

Yoichi Wada: From the developer side, the Japanese games industry became so successful that we didn't recruit new people. So today, if you look at the main creators of games, they're already in their late thirties.

When you look at the industry in the US, the industry has attracted some very talented people from, say, computer science and the film industries - so people from different sectors came into the industry and that kept the market vital, succeeding in creating new products.

But in Japan the old people are doing the same old job - and even the so-called new people... there are some people that you'd call 'game geeks' but it was a very closed world.

I'm the chairman of the industry association in Japan, CESA, and in that role I intend to do two things. One is to promote more international exchange, and then to promote exchange with different industries - such as TV and film.

But with the acquisition of Eidos we're now able to do both of those within one business entity.

Q: Square Enix has been very successful with merchandising its brands - will you be looking to help Eidos monetise its franchises in that way more?

Yoichi Wada: Yes, that's precisely what I'm thinking of doing - but that's just my policy, because if I were to tell the existing staff to do that it means their workload would double, and they'd just run away... So of course I'll have the proper staff in place and then try to improve the merchandising output.

If you have the merchandising capability, as well as strong characters - which we do - then there's no way we shouldn't use it to generate profit.

Yoichi Wada is president and CEO of Square Enix, Phil Rogers is CEO of Eidos. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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