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E3: Square Enix's John Yamamoto

The US and Euro boss on PS3, platform exclusivity and simultaneous releases.

Square Enix will have a smaller presence at the new, downsized E3 than in previous years, as the publisher made its most significant announcements at a special event held in May.

There will be plenty of games on show however, including the latest instalments in the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series, plus The War of the Lions, Front Mission and Heroes of Mana. sat down with John Yamamoto, president and CEO of the company's European and North American arms, to find more about his opinion of the new E3, the PlayStation 3 price cut and Square Enix's forward looking strategy. What kind of presence are you going to have at this year's E3? How will it compare to previous years?

E3 has totally changed. Cost wise it's much smaller, and also the time for preparation is much less. We're not designing a new booth or holding a press conference this year.

We'll miss some things, but we're happy with not having to spend as much time and money as we did on previous E3s. So there's a good side and a bad side.

The likes of Ubisoft and Tecmo have recently been talking about how E3 is very much a US event now. What's your take on that?

E3 used to be the world's biggest show and everyone used it to make big announcements. It's losing that function now. The Tokyo Game Show is held in September and Japanese publishers will focus on that more than E3, I believe.

So you will be saving announcements for TGS?

Yes, some of our announcements will be done at TGS rather than E3.

What about the Leipzig Games Convention?

So many people visit and it's expanding every year, but it's still more like a German show. As an entire European show, Games Convention might not be enough yet.

You've been president and CEO of Square Enix Europe for several years now, but recently you also took on the same duties for the North American arm of the business. How are you finding your new role?

I oversee the European side and the United States side. There are so many similarities between both territories, and also so many differences. When we think about marketing ideas, we not only include the US but all the Western countries - 44 PAL territories.

I don't just see it as the US and Europe. The British and French markets are different, the German and Spanish markets are different... There are different languages, demographics and cultures.

In the past, you've talked about making studio acquisitions as a part of your strategy to focus more on the West. But you don't seem to have made any moves in that respect - is it still part of the plan?

Actually, we don't have any concrete plans going on right now, but I'm still very interested in working with Western developers. I think this E3 will offer a great opportunity to meet industry people, developers and other publishers, and discuss this type of thing.

European gamers are still complaining about having to wait a long time for your titles to come out in their territory. What steps are you taking to deal with this issue?

Our major titles are RPGs, and they contain so many languages and voiceovers. We try to make the localisation of the best quality, and that takes time, but it's improving.

Recently we did Heroes of Mana, Chocobo Tales and Final Fantasy Tactics, and we shortened the time gap between Japan, the US and Europe. Our ultimate purpose is to release titles in five languages at the same time; that is our ultimate goal, and we're working on that.

For one of our biggest upcoming titles, Last Remnant, we're working to simultaneously launch in the United States and Japan - and we're aiming for Europe. We're still assessing whether that's feasible, but it's a goal.

Do you mean across all of Europe? Or just English speaking territories?

It's still being considered.

What about next-gen Final Fantasy? Will you try to go for a simultaneous release with that too?

We'll try our best.

You've shown strong support for the DS lately. Has that strategy paid off?

We saw the hardware trends, and that the DS is selling very well in Japan, the US and Europe. So we released some remakes for the DS, but we're also working on new titles as well. We have games like Dragon Quest Monster: Joker, that's sold over one million units in Japan.

What about PlayStation 3? Konami has said that they're concerned Sony's planned price cut isn't enough, and hinted that Metal Gear Solid may not always be a platform exclusive...

We're watching the hardware trends closely and also the marketing strategy of the platform holders. I think USD 500 for PS3 is still a bit expensive for most gamers. Most of them think that price is still high.

Do you think Sony should cut the price in Europe too?

Yes, because they started at USD 600 and EUR 600 - so maybe it would be better to come down to EUR 500.

PlayStation 3 sales seem to be lagging behind those of Wii and Xbox 360 - at least in the West, as 360 still isn't doing very well in Japan. How concerned are you about that?

It's true that 360 has a big share in North America and other English speaking territories like the UK, Australia and maybe Nordic as well. Looking at Sony's history, Sony is selling PS2 all over. Even in Spain, Italy - they're very strong. I think it will depend on the titles available in each area.

If sales don't pick up, if Sony doesn't cut the price further, would you - like Konami - reconsider making Final Fantasy exclusive to PlayStation 3?

When it comes to platform strategies I talk with the entire group, so maybe I'll avoid answering that.

[At this point, a Square Enix spokesperson added At previous E3s and other shows we've announced different Final Fantasies for different platforms, and I think that will continue."]

John Yamamoto is president and CEO of Square Enix Inc. and Square Enix Ltd. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.
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