Weekend Short-Takes: 11/8/13

Final Fantasy XIV Success Lifts Square-Enix's Fortune


Simon Wu:

I’d like to welcome Alex back after taking a well-deserved break as he got settled back into the Scottish life, after he took over completely while I was stuck behind the Great Firewall. As for Square Enix, this is welcome news for a company under siege from poor results. This result can give them some breathing space, and let them try to fight back towards better times with Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3, which are being released on both next-gen consoles. The former can build on the franchise’s current success, while the latter will definitely sell well from nostalgia. It has to deliver well, though, or the company will find itself back in dire straits quickly.

Alex Miller:

Hello everyone, I’m finally able to make my return to our little weekly news wrapup and what a week to return to. It finally seems Square Enix can stop holding all of its breath as it finally has caught a break. What will be telling is how this impacts their overall year projections to see if this can be the start of a meaningful turnaround or if its just a brief reprieve in their difficult battle to stay relevant.

Max Gruber:

I’m really starting to see a completely different company emerge from this recent success: a company that makes promising titles and successfully executes on those promises. They’re starting to remind me of the old SquareSoft from olden days. Now that they’ve finally learned their lesson and jumped back into the game, they can finally regain some lost ground that they’ve seeded and move into different avenues that were otherwise inaccessible for them with their financial dilemma. For instance, they recently signed a deal with Ubisoft and other companies to work on Project FLARE, a cloud streaming service where it would “replace consoles with a ‘virtual supercomputer’”. I wonder if that Assassin’s Creed outfit in XIII-2 was merely a teaser for what they were planning...


Valve Reveals Steam Machine "console"


Simon Wu:

Ok. I think we’re running a bit too fast with this news. Firstly, this is only the beta version of the device, with a very limited release to select people, and they don’t need to care about the cosmetic details. Secondly, there is no “Steam Machine” as I understand it, in the way we have an “Xbox” or a “Playstation.” Steam Machines are meant to be a moniker for any company that wants to make a Steam OS machine. Anyone can get in on the act, so for all we know Alienware, Origin, or Maingear could venture into this territory.

Alex Miller:

Well, here it is ladies and gentleman. I feel like we have been dancing around the steambox, mentioning it now and again and just waiting to see more, but now that we have im felt with a sense of wanting more. Its much larger and rougher on the eye than its main competitors (though if the internals are significantly better I’m sure many might overlook this) but as Max mentions below the lack of exclusives and the late entry into the market means they will probably have trouble establishing a market share. As many of Valve’s biggest fans are well settled on their PCs, the lack of these more traditional incentives will certainly make things challenging for GabeN.

Max Gruber:

As Dr. J.S. Steinman says, “He’s ugly. Ugly, ugly. UGLY!!!” I’m starting to question the Steam Machine’s success as a console, because they’ve come out and said that there will be no exclusives for the Steam Machine—so no Half-Life 3 or Portal 3, folks. It’s also coming out long after the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One come out, meaning that Valve will be playing catchup in the Kentucky Derby of the console wars. And, to add insult to injury, you don’t need to buy the device to play with the controller, as you can just download the SteamOS onto your computer and get the same feel as the Steam Machine.


Miyamoto Unlikely To Work On Next Mario, Wants To Focus On Smaller Projects


Simon Wu:

Smaller projects are important, innovation, etc. In all honesty, there’s not a whole lot that he could have brought to the next Mario, and it’s good that Nintendo realized that. But, the fundamental problem is that Nintendo can’t convince anyone to buy outside of the seven or so major established first party franchises. At this point, however, if no third party titles will work, trying to break out new first party titles is all they have left to try. It’s just worth remembering that even games like ZombiU which were admittedly third party, but developed very closely with Nintendo’s supervision to more closely integrate the tablet, have not done as well as expected.

Alex Miller:

This is a very interesting story as it is both good and bad at the same time. It is bad in that Nintendo are all but giving up on innovating their flagship series (which, to be honest, has been lacking for innovation for a few titles now). However, while other Nintendo developers can keep the cash cow alive, if not sprightly, Miyamoto can do what he does best: make entertaining games. Hopefully this is the starting point for a whole new wave of Nintendo first party original IP since, at this point, thats about all that I can see keeping Nintendo relevant in the console wars.

Max Gruber:

I like the move from him, but I think it’s a bit too late to venture off into new avenues, especially given their situation right now. I am starting to wonder if they will go into the software market, and move away from consoles entirely, seeing as the WiiU has only sold 3.91 million units. That’s... terrible.


Activision: Price Drops Could Come Sooner for Next-Gen Consoles


Simon Wu:

Excellent. I personally, despite being in this position where I theoretically should be as up to date on games as possible (read: buying the new consoles and games), simple accounting tells me that is kind of impossible at this point in time. We can debate the hypotheticals of why the Xbox is worth the $100 more or the value proposition of both the consoles and what they bring, etc. But I still can’t buy them until the first price drop. But here’s the thing: Microsoft doesn’t particularly care. It will still get the Call of Duty crowd because of the DLC timed exclusives (1080p fanatics aside) and will absolutely get the living room because of Kinect and entertainment services. The PS4, with its gamer heavy focus, will be the one more impacted.

Alex Miller:

Heartening news for any cashstrapped gamer. Even though the consoles aren’t excessively high, they could certainly do to shed a few bucks. With the timing of console releases so close this generation, I could definitely see an arms race type scenario where the drive to sell more forces either Sony or Microsoft to blink and lower prices, thus forcing the other to follow suit. Interesting times ahead.

Max Gruber:

It’s interesting that there could be price drops for these consoles some time after they launch. Typically, it takes between half a year to a year for a price drop to occur. If price drops will occur much sooner for these consoles, I think [the manufacturers] will be making a pretty good profit on the consoles—even though consoles are lost leaders.

PlayStation 4 entertainment apps detailed ahead of launch


Simon Wu:

I remember seeing most of this list last year on the Xbox, if not even earlier than that. This is really where we start to see the giant lump of the Sony iceberg we don’t usually think about come into the picture. Of course they had to have Netflix, it would have been absolutely outrageous if they didn’t. But otherwise, pushing Blu-rays has been their main entertainment drive. And I’m willing to also bet that Sony Columbia Tristar Pictures has not been so ready to have their primary content delivery machine allow other productions in so readily, though with such spectacular failures as “White House Down” and the truly terrible “After Earth,” they might not have as much leverage at the moment.

Alex Miller:

This list is the main reason why I see the PS4 slipping up to start this generation. While component wise the two consoles are nearly identical, its the software components that will really separate them. I feel that Microsoft, as a software company, understands this and has done more to round out the experience of the next gen console. They have more streaming and entertainment options and have really a true all in one home media center which, as Simon and I have said for a long time, is the new role for consoles.

Max Gruber:

It’s a respectable amount of services, but I wouldn’t say that the Xbox One’s amount of services makes the PS4 look inferior. Afterall, the PlayStation is manufactured by the Sony Computer Entertainment, which is under the Interactive Entertainment industry—keyword, “Interactive”. It’s no surprise that they’re adding services to their console, but that’s not the sole purpose of the machine itself, as evidenced by the name of the device: PlayStation, with emphasis on the word, “Play”. It does have one thing that Xbox One doesn’t have, and that is CrunchyRoll, so PS4 wins for me in that regard.


Solifluktion's picture

I have nothing interesting to say so I'll use this chance to welcome Alex back.

RAM's picture

I usually don't comment on posts (thats what the callbacks are for after all) but I do feel like I have to explain/apologize for my absence. I never meant to be gone for as long as I was, but real life got in the way hard and made itself a bitch to get away from. However, I have conquered that terrible enemy and am fully back now and couldn't be happier to be. 

explicit_baron's picture

FFXIV does look like an amazing mmorpg and I'm very happy Square Enix fixed the previous issues with the game but, I don't think this one game means Square is a completely new company.  What is really pushing Square forward is the somewhat recent acquisition of Eidos along with the rebirth of FFXIV which is proving to be profitable. I think since the release of the Final Fantasy Spirits Within film in 2001 (caused Squaresoft to get bought out) Square has been too focused on Final Fantasy and afraid to expand into new IPs. They need to make some new franchises like they did on the PS1. Square is very much like Sony, they were once on top, now they're struggling but, it's looking like they are coming back.

Whiplash's picture

@explicit baron

I know it may sound absurd, but Square Enix is like Ubisoft in some respects, which is strange, because of their recent partnership to work on Project FLARE. If you look at their track record, what is really driving their sales? Hitman wasn't raking in the big bucks. Just Cause isn't raking in the big bucks. Kane and Lynch aren't raking in the big bucks. The japanese versions of other titles like Call of Duty 4, Saints Row IV, etc. aren't raking in the big bucks. It's only been Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Dragon Quest that have been driving their profits.

And because of that fact, if they even attempt to venture off into a new IP, there's going to be a lot of expectations from two studios that are of legendary status, so if they release a subpar title (Infinite Undiscovery, The 3rd Birthday, etc.), or simply a flat out terrible title (MindJack, Kane and Lynch, etc.), they're not going to continue working on them as franchises. Why would they even bother risking a lot of money on working on them, when they already have their cash cows right in front of them?

As for your mention of the merger back when their failed film venture kicked them in the balls, I always remember this joke about that merger, because they merged on April 1st, 2003. It's often made fun of on various forums that the merger was gaming's biggest April Fool's prank of all time, because the two companies went from being the two best Japanese studios of their time, to the single worst Japanese studio.

I think mergers are actually more damaging in the long run, because you have two companies that are radically different from one another working on multiple titles. You have, on one side, Square Soft, best known for Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Kingdom Hearts (2 of those 3 games are turn-based), while on the other side, you have Enix, best known for the Dragon Quest series, and are also involved in the anime/manga industry. You have a company that has been known to only make video games, while the other is known to make video games, and manga and anime. Resources are constantly moving in and out of that company, meaning that they have less to work with in their gaming devision. It also doesn't help that the Japanese gaming industry has a tendency to completely rewrite their core engine every time they work on a title. Combine those things, and you have an incredible money sink that pulls more and more away from what the Square portion of Square Enix wants to make.

I mentioned it in that panel, but they're moving in the right direction with XIV, and that's paying out. Combine that with the falling WoW subscriptions, and they have potential customers migrating over to their MMO, resulting in more profit. In the long run, they've secured themselves in that regard. They'll be making a good $22.5 million per month from one title alone—granted that they keep those subscribers busy, which is what's happening to me.

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