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US mobile market offers tougher challenges than Japan - Squenix exec

Publisher attempts to redress the balance with Dirge of Cerberus

Kosei Ito, head of Square-Enix's mobile division, has declared that the US mobile gaming market is tougher to break into than Japan's - but that the company is still committed to securing a foothold in both.

Speaking to GameSpot, Ito said it was "tougher" to work with US carriers due to the fact that the size of the market for mobile games "is too small."

"The two countries are definitely different. In Japan, a wide range of high-end titles and causal games coexist in the market - unlike [in the US], where a mobile game automatically means 'casual game'," He continued.

In the US, Ito believes, "Mobile games are still 'killing time' entertainment, while you move from place to place. In North America, where cars are the main transportation, it is hard to build the market. Also, Japanese carriers have made a big commitment to sell not only games but also ringtones and wallpaper."

Other factors cited by Ito include the way Japanese carriers have educated consumers about new mobile applications: "For instance, on TV [in Japan], carriers not only advertise handsets but also software, games..."

"I don't see the same commitment from carriers [in the US]... Carriers [there] are still focused on selling handsets."

Ito added that consumers expectations are higher in the US: "People [in North America] won't accept 'good enough' content. It has to be 'Wow' content that they have never seen before."

Squenix is attempting to address the problem with Dirge of Cerberus: Lost Episode, which Ito said has been created specifically for the US market. "It may be released in Japan, but no plans have been made so far," he added.

But will US consumers be receptive to a game that's based around the 'hardcore' Final Fantasy brand? Ito believes so - arguing that no one believed Japanese mobile gamers would want to play an RPG on a phone until Squenix released Final Fantasy I, which was a huge success and "created a new market."

Ito conceded that the casual game market "is bigger, and we do create titles for the casual gamer; but let's say we are preparing for next and the following year. We want to be number one when more hardcore titles start to appear on mobile platforms."

The publisher has no current plans for cross-platform gaming, however, since - according to Ito - "It requires much more time... There are [so many] technical differences between the mobile and console platforms at this point."

"Also, a gamer usually picks the best title for the platform. Some titles play better on the PS2 and others play better on the Xbox 360. The mobile handset is still special as a device."

Dirge of Cerberus is due to launch in the US this summer. Squenix has yet to confirm whether the game will also be released in Europe.

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