During an investor call in November 2023—made public this week and spotted by My Nintendo News—Square Enix CEO Takashi Kiryu acknowledged the company’s failure to market much of its recent catalog, and raised intentions to “slim down” the publisher’s lineup. As in, publish fewer games.
Square Enix has been in a funny place for a while now. The company’s apparent obsession with web3 bullshit like blockchains and NFTs has courted controversy as of late. And just as that noise started to fade—following former CEO and blockchain stan Yosuke Matsuda’s replacement—the new CEO Takashi Kiryu decided to go all-in with artificial intelligence in the most tone-deaf way imaginable. That news was rapidly followed up by the revelation that Splatoon clone Foamstars has AI-generated art. And this all followed a year where the publisher pushed out a huge array of games that it barely seemed to notice it had released.
It seems the latter issue hasn’t gone unnoticed within Square. During the November meeting Kiryu told investors that he sees the company’s marketing as “lacking.” He explained that “not only is content increasingly being sold digitally, but the range of devices capable of delivering content is also diversifying,” which seems like it might be a very roundabout way of saying, “We need to remember we make games for things other than the PS5.” He continues, “Because our portfolio has included strong IPs like the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, we have tended to focus our resource allocation on content development…we need to strengthen our publishing function, which manages our marketing.” Translation: we need to spend less money on making games, and more money on promoting games.
Kiryu identified that Square Enix’s customers represent more than just those chasing the two tentpole franchises. Rather pleasingly, he named the wonderful PowerWash Simulator as an example of an “outlier in our portfolio” that made them a lot of money. In more management gobbledegook, the CEO added, “I want to increase our development proficiency by strengthening our internal development capabilities so that we are able to achieve greater diversity in our title portfolio.” Which could mean, “We should make more cool, weird shit.”
However, “more” is not the operative word for Square’s future. When asked by an investor whether the company was trying to cover too many bases, Kiryu replied, “I want to structure our development function so that we are able to ensure higher quality from each title by slimming down our lineup.” Running that through Google’s CEO to Human translator I get, “We need to do a better job with fewer games.”
This seemingly contradictory position, of wanting to make a more “diverse” range of games, but also make fewer games, isn’t entirely resolved in the discussion. When asked why Square Enix has struggled to slim down its lineup, Kiryu said that developing “a wide variety of titles” in response to perceived customer desires had “resulted in the splintering of our resource pool.” However, his solution appears to be to focus on AAA and indie games, and not those that “[fall] somewhere in the middle.”
“It has become possible for even indie titles to make their presence felt,” Square’s CEO said, like he’d just woken up from a coma he entered in 2006, and seeming to suggest that games that aren’t one extreme or the other are no longer wanted.
It’s certainly a confusing series of messages. Square Enix says it has spent too much on developing games, and too broad a variety of games, but needs to make a more diverse style of games, and hasn’t spent enough on marketing outside of the two big franchises, but the reason games have failed is because they weren’t indie or AAA enough?
2022 to 2023 saw Squeenix release or re-release 28 games, and while you’ll have heard of Final Fantasy XVI, Triangle Strategy, and Octopath Traveler II, it’s less likely you also noticed The Diofield Chronicle, Star Ocean: The Divine Force, and Paranormasight. It makes sense that the company would want to trim this lineup down, especially after the last two years also including flops like Babylon’s Fall and Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai, and Forspoken’s poor sales. But it’s hard to say how so many of the RPGs you’ve already forgotten came out, like Valkyrie Elysium, Live A Live, and Voice of Cards might have fared if given better marketing.
What definitely doesn’t seem likely is that the company’s reputation can be improved by web3 scams and AI art.