Yoichi Wada Steps Down As Square Enix President
This week a veil of terror and misery has lifted from the Japanese software development industry, and yet the ramifications of this past week still fail to seem real. Square Enix
president pariah, Yoichi Wada, has been forced to step down off the back of a stunning yearly loss, predicated upon the weak sales of console software. Square Enix had previously forecast themselves as making a thirty-seven million dollar profit, following on from a sixty-four million dollar profit during the previous fiscal year – yet they have this week been forced to downgrade their financial outlook to a $138,000,000 loss.
Square Enix had previously forecast the sale of 14.9 million units of console software, yet only ended up selling 8.75 million games. This is not surprising considering that their only major console releases for the period were: Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs. It is currently unknown whether the titles in question were expected to cover the losses generated by the Japanese arm of Square Enix, or whether they actually drove some of the company’s losses themselves – but either way, they have been labelled by Square Enix as failures. Tomb Raider sold 3.4 million copies, Hitman: Absolution sold 3.6 million copies, and Sleeping Dogs sold 1.75 million copies.
It is clear that each of these products uniformly sold to the absolute upper-limits of any sound-minded estimation that could have been made of their potential, so it is quite difficult to understand the basis upon which Square Enix made their original predictions. One rather hopes that the real reason for this sharp decline is the ongoing development of Final Fantasy XIV, because otherwise it is evidence of some truly stunning incompetence, and betrays a publisher that is unable to live within its means.
Supposing for the minute that the games in question actually drove Square Enix’s losses, then it is quite difficult to imagine how that could have happened – though one imagines that inflated marketing budgets may have had something to do with it. At what point does having Lara Croft’s visage splashed across the side of the bus transcend indulgence, and become sheer lunacy? One would hate to think that the real reason for the West missing out on Final Fantasy: Type-0 and Bravely Default was that Square Enix were unwilling to commit to their imagined marketing costs.
Square Enix has revealed this week that they have sold a swathe of their free-to-play games to the well-capitalised start-up company, Sleepy Giant Entertainment, though it is uncertain whether this marks the end of their involvement in this form of software production, or whether they have simply divested themselves of their free-to-play portfolio to inject some liquidity into the company. It may be tempting to think of the ouster of Yoichi Wada as an opportunity for the company to return to form, yet one would do well to temper their expectations. A company culture, once trampled, is a difficult thing to repair, and we may even now be witnessing Square Enix’s descent into a death-roll.
No Unreal Engine 4 or Frostbite 3 For Wii U
More bad news for Nintendo’s modest, little console, the Wii U, this week, as the developers of the game engines which will power the next generation of gaming scoffed at the suggestion that their middleware be ported to Wii U. Earlier in the week DICE executive producer, Patrick Bach, shot down the possibility of Frostbite 3 appearing on Wii U, stating:
“The biggest problem we have right now is we don’t want to back down from what we see as our low spec machines. We right now don’t have support for the Wii U in the Frostbite engine. The reason for that is it takes development time. We could probably make a Wii U game in theory. But to make the most out of the Wii U, that’s a different game because of the different peripherals. We want to utilize all the power of each console. It’s about, where do you put your focus? And the Wii U is not a part of our focus right now.”
Similarly, GDC saw Mark Rein host a Q&A in relation to Epic’s new engine: Unreal Engine 4. When asked whether Unreal Engine 4 would be supporting the Wii U, Rein’s initial response was to laugh derisively, causing the rest of the room to respond in kind. Levity expended, Rein clarified:
“I just laugh at the question… Unreal Engine 4, we’re not Playstation 3, Xbox 360, or Wii U. It’s next-gen technology. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
The week’s events have not only confirmed that the CryEngine 3 is set to be the only high profile next-gen capable engine to support the Wii U, but also that Wii U third party support will at best mirror the Wii, and at worst the Game Cube [if that]. Wii U owners have been foolishly clinging to the magical assumption that games intended for the PS4 and Durango will somehow be able to scale down to the Wii U, well, let us put paid to that wrong-headed notion. This week it has been confirmed that the engine which will in all probability be the most popular middleware of the eighth console generation will not support Wii U, while also discovering that the engine powering most [if not all] next-gen EA titles will not be compatible with Wii U. It is looking increasingly likely that any third party software released for the Wii U will have to be designed specifically for the system, as most middleware ecosystems simply will not bridge the generational divide. It is perhaps not surprising that Nintendo were so quick to support Unity; the engine powering most Kickstarter projects.
No Place For Hayter?
This week’s GDC was also an occasion for Hideo Kojima to open up about the Metal Gear projects that he has in the pipeline. It was revealed that the previously announced Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is but a mere prologue to the next Metal Gear proper, and that the next Metal Gear proper is set to be the previously announced The Phantom Pain – now relegated as the subtitle of Metal Gear Solid V.
Fanbase trolling is nothing new for Kojima, but there are starker changes afoot which look to turn the franchise on its head. The Metal Gear Solid V games will mark the first time that the series has used an open-world game design. This is a drastic departure for the series, but also one which makes a lot of sense given the type of games that the Metal Gear team are known for creating – provided that the larger environments do not compromise the quality of the games, of course.
Kojima also released some far less welcome news however, and that was that series mainstay, David Hayter, was not offered the opportunity to reprise the role of Snake. There is presently a lot of chatter online suggesting that cardboard personality, Kiefer Sutherland, has been roped in to play both Snake and series newcomer Ismael. If true, then it is both terrible and infuriating that Kojima would opt to replace iconic voice talent simply to tap into Sutherland’s faded Hollywood street cred. Kojima rationalises the decision as such:
“I can say, yes, it will be a new person. I can’t say who it is yet. What we’re trying to accomplish here is recreate the Metal Gear series. It’s a new type of Metal Gear game, and we want to have this reflected in the voice actor as well.”
Kojima’s talk of renewal might play well to the layman, but it is also a lie. The Japanese actor for Snake is set to reprise his role, making this a Hayter-specific decision. Thus, it would seem most intuitive to suggest that the iconic Western voice of Snake has been junked in favour of the thin veneer of Hollywood glitz, and worse than that, Kojima will probably be applauded for this move based on no other reason than that of name recognition.