I have been trying for the better part of two years now to understand the corporate strategy that Square-Enix is executing, and I’m just about ready to give up.
My understanding of the workings of a company operating in a capitalist, consumer/retail economy is that you create a product you believe to be desirable to the market. You then charge a price that will generate profit while at the same time being low enough to encourage customers to purchase the product in significant numbers, thus increasing your profit.
That seems to be the basic goal behind most businesses. But Square-Enix’s continued path of alienating gamers—especially now, with the announcement of a THIRD Final Fantasy XIII instalment—makes me wonder if the people in charge are playing by different rules.
It’s baffling in the extreme because Square-Enix actually has sure-fire, winning market strategies available to pursue. They have for years now. Their market—or fanbase—want a new Final Fantasy game. They also want a new Kingdom Hearts game. And they really, really want to finally sit down and play Final Fantasy Versus XIII which was announced six freakin’ years ago. The one thing that is a guaranteed License To Print Money is an HD remake of Final Fantasy VII. Instead they choose to focus their resources on what is—at least from a fan perception perspective—their weakest FF title to date and alienate and already frustrated market even further.
The Final Fantasy XIII series, at least financially, is not a failure. The combined sales of the two current instalments in the series have sold over 10 million copies across the PS3 and Xbox 360, so the game can’t be accused not making Squenix tons of money. And that, right there, is the big problem. The series has sold well, despite the fact that critically, it is one of the weakest entries in the entire FF franchise.
Final Fantasy XIII, from a narrative perspective, is a failure. The story, themes and characters lack the cohesiveness and appeal that past games in the series have enjoyed. Where people have expressed fondness and attachment for characters like Yuna, Locke and even Balthier, Hope, Serah and especially FFXIII lead Lightning have drawn the ire of long-time fans for undeveloped, one-note characterization with no appeal or reason to care for them. Even the plot of FFXIII has stumbled, with the latest instalment falling on a forced, unconvincing reliance on time travel and time paradoxes to justify any and every nonsensical development in the story. After all, why bother spending all that time fretting about logical progression in your narrative when any crazy, random element can be thrown in and excused as a time paradox?
The company also has a new focus on Western studios is even more impressive with hits like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and upcoming titles like the new Tomb Raider showing far more critical and commercial promise than the games produced internally within the company itself. Like the ongoing FFXIII saga, these games are going to make Squenix money. Unlike the FFXIII saga, these games tend to review well, earning dollars through the merits of the gameplay and consumer enthusiasm rather than playing on the hopes of fans that this next iteration will “finally be good again.”
Square-Enix seems to have decided, at least for now, that if their games are selling well, it doesn’t matter whether their fans actually like the games. The problem with this line of thinking is that it forgets entirely that the fans are what made the company prosper to begin with. Once they leave, the non-fans—who are far more fickle—won’t provide the same, reliable financial staying power as a loyal fanbase.
The fans themselves are tired of Lightning and her cosmic-scale antics, but whoever is in charge of the project at Squenix obviously is not. In fact, whoever is in charge seems to really love Lightning and is determined to bring her out again and again in an effort to MAKE the fans like her. Fortunately for that guy, the fans are, at this point, so desperate for any FF game to redeem the series that the sales of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII are likely to justify the expense even if the game tanks critically.
In the end, perhaps it’s not that Square-Enix hates its fans, so much as the fans that hate themselves. Or perhaps the fans believe, like an abused spouse, that whatever punishment they receive they probably deserve.