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Turning Fantasy into Reality

Square Enix president Yoichi Wada talks about his company's relationship with Microsoft, films, MMOs and the future of the industry.

While genuine surprises were few and far between at E3 this year, one of the more unexpected announcements came during Microsoft's press conference when Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada came back on stage at the end and revealed that Final Fantasy XIII would hit the Xbox 360 in North America and Europe.

To talk a bit more about that announcement, as well as explore a range of other issues, spent some time with the man himself. How does it feel to have the Final Fantasy XIII news out there now, and be able to talk about it?
Yoichi Wada

We always wanted a lot of users to enjoy the game, so we wanted to put it on the Xbox 360, and we're happy that we could finally make the official announcement. But more than that, we've had a very positive response from the audience, so we're very happy about that too. It was one of the biggest cheers in the Microsoft conference. What does that tell you about the status of the Final Fantasy franchise, even when there were a number of other high profile titles being displayed?
Yoichi Wada

It was a positive response, and we feel a lot of support from the media, and users as well. The title has a lot of focus on it - a lot of people are watching out for it - so we feel that we have to make a really good game. We feel a lot of responsibility, and we don't want to release anything that's not fun, or half-baked. How important is the relationship with Microsoft - FFXIII and the other RPGs, such as Infinite Undiscovery could be pivotal for it in the region?
Yoichi Wada

We're now in the age of the multi-platform, but depending on age and territory, users have different tastes. Therefore it's very difficult to just deal with one company or one hardware platform - in order to offer our product to the vast majority of gamers we need to deal with multiple companies and platforms.

In North America Microsoft is doing very well with its hardware, and for that reason it's a very important partner for us. How important is Square Enix to Microsoft?
Yoichi Wada

In Japan we know that the Xbox 360 isn't really that strong yet, but for me I feel very calm about dealing with any company, and we're not partnering exclusively with any particular company.

You might think that we'll release FFXIII for Xbox 360 in Japan, but that's not what I mean. We always consider the territory and hardware for titles, and I just want to make sure that we're neutral about dealing with companies. Square Enix has some experience in releasing films - how do you see the convergence of media for videogame publishers?
Yoichi Wada

In the future I believe this convergence will probably go further. The main point at the moment is to own original IP - it's very important - and if you own original IP it can be utilised for movies, music, and a great variety of other activities.

When you look at Capcom it has its own IP, and that company is engaged in a number of activities around that IP. We've had our own IP for a long time, and it's an advantageous position to be in, so I think from now on I think we'll be able to work on a greater variety of activities.

I want to emphasise that owning our own IP was a key strategic decision I made, and we try not to utilise other company's IP as far as possible. It was a very intentional direction.

Actually Western companies have only really been talking about original IP in the last couple of years, and recently they're having more and more interest in the subject. It's been difficult for videogames companies to translate its products into other media well - what's the secret to doing it successfully?
Yoichi Wada

I'm not sure that we've actually been that successful in that translation. But in my opinion I think each media has its own unique characteristics, as well as its own users and customers, as well as its own culture.

So we really need to understand those elements, and I really think that game-makers shouldn't make movies as game-makers - we have to do a professional job, that's a very important thing.

We need to partner with professionals in order to do a good job in each media - making movies, making anime, writing novels, and so on. Have you found it interesting to see traditional media companies like Disney, Warner, CBS, coming into the videogames space?
Yoichi Wada

Actually I expected that to happen - although it really started happening a couple of years ago I've been anticipating it since 2000. My opinion about the future is that convergence will continue, and that eventually we'll all be in one huge industry. How do you see the games industry branching out into new directions?
Yoichi Wada

I think it depends on the field - we'll see the key people evolving, while others will have new content, but I think there will be a variety of paths depending on the content and the field.

On the customer's side, their communication tools, devices and environments will be become more convenient - more utilitarian - so they will probably determine which content and fields will evolve over time.

As for the evolution, a variety of different types will occur, for example in games probably very high-cost photorealistic games will be created, but even casual games are growing as well. Various types of convergence will happen, and it will be very interesting to see. What are your thoughts on the MMO space at the moment?
Yoichi Wada

Our MMO is a very good source of income for us, and the game is growing significantly - not just in the US, but globally. The genre itself will very much evolve, but as for what it will become, it's hard to comment on that - but it will change. Because of the different business models in the genre - subscription models, micro-transactions, and so on - they're all helping the field to grow.

But I have a totally different angle when it comes to looking at the industry. Prior to home videogames, there were arcade titles that you had to go to a specific location to enjoy. People have also always enjoyed films and music by going to the theatre or concerts where they had a communal experience with others.

But today, people just listen to music alone through CDs or their iPods, and watch movies at home on DVDs. Videogames have also provided a similar experience, with users enjoying it on their own and in their own time.

I think that MMOs were the first to provide a communal experience in recent videogames history. People can now share an entertainment experience, despite it being virtual. I think it fulfils a primal need that people have to connect and partake in entertainment experiences together, in an age when digital entertainment has become so individualised and personalised.

I think that's a very interesting element that we have to consider, and I'd like to develop our content and products with that in mind. Nintendo managed to reinvigorate that sense of social, even family, gaming - are you surprised that the Wii was so successful, and that it translated to well to Western markets?
Yoichi Wada

Actually there was a demand for the service, so I was surprised that Nintendo did so well, but I wasn't surprised that it was accepted - we saw that demand across the world. It's brought in new audiences to games in the West at least - do you see those people as potential new audiences for Square Enix games?
Yoichi Wada

I hope so! I think it's really fortunate that Nintendo made that platform to attract them, and we'd like to create new products for those users. Do you have specific plans for that platform?
Yoichi Wada

Actually with the Wii, we also appreciate the core gamers - fans of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But we have various types of games, with content to satisfy the various types of consumers - not only casual games, but something like learning titles, for travelling, for wine.

So we're ready to offer various types of content to various types of users.

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

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