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Let’s Talk Squeenix

While writing my glowing review of Tomb Raider recently, I came across news from publisher Square Enix that its sales were “disappointing”. This was a completely different reaction to the one coming out of the developers Crystal Dynamics, who reportedly were ecstatic with the sales. So what’s going on here?

First, the facts. Tomb Raider, in the month or so it’s been out, has sold 3.5 million copies. It’s the fastest selling instalment of the Tomb Raider franchise since 2003’s Angel Of Darkness, and has thankfully been met with a much better critical reaction than that disappointing PS2 game. It’s also the game with the best sales on launch this year, beating the likes of Bioshock Infinite (yes, I was surprised too), Metal Gear Rising, Dead Space 3 and DmC: Devil May Cry.

So why are Square Enix so disappointed? Perhaps it has a lot to do with Squeenix’s recent announcement of losses, and it seems that they expected Tomb Raider to sell Call of Duty numbers in order to reverse this poor fortune. But only one game sells Call of Duty numbers, and that’s Call of Duty, so this assumption is particularly baffling.

Sadly, this shows a lack of real critical thinking at Square Enix’s head office in Japan. They’re essentially blaming their failings on the sales of Tomb Raider, despite the fact that it’s selling well and has been very well-received, and not turning the spotlight on their own franchises, ie. the ones they didn’t obtain by buying Eidos Interactive.

You see, the problem with Squeenix and money right now is the bloated and increasingly unpopular Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy used to be a heavy hitter, with Final Fantasy VII and X being killer apps for the PlayStation and PS2 respectively. Even back in the Nintendo days, FFVI was viewed as a masterpiece of SNES gaming. So what happened?

She happened

Fans have increasingly expressed disappointment in the series lately. Final Fantasy XII was essentially an offline MMO in many people’s eyes, with incredibly dull characters, bland locations and a world so vast that people got so lost they stopped enjoying it. Final Fantasy XIII was a shift in the opposite direction, offering up 50 hours of running down a corridor and occasionally pressing X, 30 hours of which were an extended tutorial, with a plot so riddled with holes that the mandatory in-game encyclopaedia failed to address. Actual MMO Final Fantasy XIV was marred by terrible server issues and glitches on release that were so bad its player base rapidly dropped off before any of it could be adequately fixed.

On top of this, the “success” of Final Fantasy XIII has prompted a sequel no one wanted. FF XIII-2 has been out a year and hasn’t reached the sales figures that Tomb Raider has in its month (FF13-2 crawled up to 3.1 million eventually), but is still apparently enough of a success to justify yet another sequel in Lightning Returns. The muted response to that game’s announcement spoke volumes, but Squeenix apparently weren’t paying attention.

Pumping money into the seemingly never-ending development of Final Fantasy Versus XIII (which, confusingly, has nothing to do with FF13 itself – great marketing there) most likely hasn’t helped, especially since the hype train for that has mostly likely not only passed but has been retired and sold for scrap. Nonsensical spin-off titles like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a 3DS rhythm game with a stupid title, have also contributed, particularly since that game’s sales have failed to even hit 1 million, let alone 3.5.

You know you wanna play this…wait, come back!

And yet, Squeenix seem to deem all of these things to be successes, while Tomb Raider getting the biggest launch of any 2013 game so far, critical acclaim across the board AND the fastest sales in its own franchise isn’t good enough.

What the hell, Squeenix? Why the disappointment at your Western arm for doing well? Is it because they’re producing better games and making more money than the Japanese arm, and as such, there’s jealousy at work? Because that’s genuinely the only thing I can see here, since it’s the only way it can make sense that game with Tomb Raider’s sales can be seen as disappointing.

So perhaps instead of criticising Tomb Raider’s obvious success, maybe Squeenix could learn a few lessons from it in its other franchises in order to improve itself.

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  1. Mika
    April 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

    I could not agree more.

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