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Yoichi Wada - Part Two

The Square Enix president talks Batman, ChampMan - and Final Fantasy development

Part two of the exclusive interview with Square Enix global president Yoichi Wada follows on from the first part in which he discussed the progress of the integration of Eidos into the global business, and offered his views on the importance of new IP to the industry.

Here in part two he talks about some of the specific franchises the company has recently released, including the success of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the experimental pricing for Championship Manager, and how Final Fantasy XIII is coming along.

Q: Batman: Arkham Asylum was a big success recently - why did it perform so well, do you think?

Yoichi Wada: I wasn't involved in that one - it was the hard work of Eidos. But my impression is that there's a common factor in successful franchises - people work very specifically and pay careful attention to the details.

So those people involved in the Batman franchise... it's almost like a cult when you look at their approach to art and technology, and also in the development process.

Q: That was a deal signed by Eidos with Warner before the acquisition - do you think future deals with fellow publishers are likely, or will you focus on proprietary IP?

Yoichi Wada: We want to have the main focus on our own IPs - but with Kingdom Hearts we do work with IPs from Disney, and that'll be something we do in the future as well.

But we won't take a movie, for example, and just convert the whole thing into a game.

Q: Square Enix has been involved in CG films, MMOs and merchandising as well as videogames - how do you see the evolution of convergence?

Yoichi Wada: As you know, Disney and Time Warner are very proactive in approaching developers, so I do think we saw convergence of media - and people are more aware of that happening.

Ultimately, when consolidation happens, I think it will be triggered when we see a change in the business model - and I think that will happen some time in the next ten years.

When that happens we want to bring ourselves up to the top league of the market.

Q: When you talk about a "change in the business model" - what exactly do you mean by that?

Yoichi Wada: Looking at the current structure of the media and entertainment industry, it's segmented based on how that media is distributed. So you have movie viewers, computer shops, TV stores... the record industry kind of died away, but we have the music distribution companies. Depending on how the media is distributed we had a different sub-sector within that industry.

But as the data becomes digitised distribution is unified with online channels, and at that point we'll definitely see a convergence of the business model, and see a new structure played out.

I think everyone in the world is exploring how it is going to look like in the future, and what kind of platform will be used. We ourselves don't have the answer to that question yet.

But I think there will be a big difference between the companies where all the employees are aware the change is happening in the market, and those where people aren't aware of the reality.

Q: Championship Manager was recently released under an experimental 'pay-what-you-like' pricing structure - how did that go, and will it be repeated for other Square Enix games in the future?

Yoichi Wada: For Championship Manager we will continue to try out new things, because it's important to for us to acknowledge what kind of business model is appropriate for it - including the pricing.

It's not really about trying to change the fundamental aspects of the game, but trying to come up with the best service, the best strategy. In that sense we will be trying out many different things going forward.

It's going to be like a trial-and-error approach, so at this point it's too early to say if it's going to be a success or not.

Q: One of Japan's biggest software exports is the Final Fantasy franchise - next year will be a big year in that respect, so how are preparations going for the launch of Final Fantasy XIII?

Yoichi Wada: They're going very steadily.

Q: What's left to do? With a project that size, QA must be a big part of it.

Yoichi Wada: We've completed the master of the Japanese version, and for the US and European versions we're just adding the final touches. The last stage of development has gone very smoothly this time.

Q: How much impact do you feel being on next-gen platforms will have for the franchise? Some games series' have transferred well, others have struggled... are you confident that the game on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will be a step forward?

Yoichi Wada: It took us a tremendous amount of time to develop the software for this generation, so that's a lesson for the creators.

Q: Is it the biggest development for the company to date?

Yoichi Wada: Yes - it's gradually becoming bigger compared to the past, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Q: And are you happy with the platform mix, now that the PS3 Slim is out on the market?

Yoichi Wada: The ideal situation for developers would be to have a single platform worldwide - but that's impossible, so with multi-platform, if you can expand your user base, I think we have to accept that reality.

For the current generation, the ideal for us would be a long platform cycle and the prices to come down gradually, so that we can expand that user base.

Yoichi Wada is global president of Square Enix. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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