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Square's World Is Mobile

By Coolsetzer, January 21st, 2013

Over the past twelve months, Square Enix has released a total of seventeen different games on the Apple App Store. Compared to just six titles on traditional consoles, there certainly seems like a disparagement on between what is getting released for what platform. Their predisposition to release so many games on iOS is a definite shift for the company, whose majorities of past games have been on popular Nintendo and Sony machines. In addition, nine games have been ports that have been on other systems as well, such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. So why has there been such a change on what is being developed and released? For that matter, why are so many fans disappointed with the company?

Before publishing their own games on Apple gadgets, SE experimented with several cell phone games in Japan. A Japanese only title named Before Crisis, a prequel to Final Fantasy VII, was the most profitable, which saw two other releases on other carriers in that country. In 2007, they started releasing ports of older games on the Wii Shop Channel, and expanded to include the Japanese PlayStation Network as well1. Prior to developing games for the Apple platform, SE released several games in North America for different mobile carriers with little success. It wasn't until the IPhone revolutionized the cell phone market and became globally dominant that SE was able to find an untapped market for their lower cost game production. While continuing to support the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, they also released approximately eighteen games on iOS from 2008 to 2012. Since those platforms are now discontinued, 2012 has seen a doubling of games released on iOS.

When asked why Square Enix is developing so many social games, President Yoichi Wada said that they're cheap to develop and more consistently profitable than console games2. Taken at face value, you can extrapolate that for them, console games are expensive to develop for, and they are not profitable a majority of the time. More so in Japan, where the company is headquartered and gaming culture has moved beyond home life and into public places. Also, SE executive Julien Merceron stated in an interview that, "This [console] generation has been way too long," meaning that those extended lifecycles can be harmful to developers3.

That's not to say that the transition has been smooth between them and the Apple audience. SE's first large scale game, Chaos Rings, was released with a price of $13,which was considerably higher than most other IPhone games. Ports of their older games are consistently higher priced than their counterparts on PSN as well. Not only do they charge a premium price for their full games, they have been notorious for bugs. The main reason for this is because of compatibility issues whenever Apple upgrades their operating system, which is currently version 6. When the IPad was released, that caused further confusion in the market because they were different formats. SE was further criticized for not making several of their games universal across both products. Combined with frequent crashes on older devices and long periods of their games not being updated, it irritated consumers.

In addition to the challenges of bringing their games to a touch screen platform, SE experimented with different pricing models in order to make their games more accessible. Episodic games, similar to Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, were released. However, Drakerider and Final Fantasy Dimensions received negative user reviews because the cost to download the entire game was still expensive, $16 and $30 respectively. Games with an In App Purchase (IAP) model, like Final Fantasy All The Bravest and Theatrythm, are not well received. In order to get all of the downloadable content from those games, it costs $47 and $150. There are a few free-to-play games such as Guardian Cross and SolaRola, although according to European Mobile General Manager Antony Douglas, higher priced games are performing better4.

When asked why they charge so much for their mobile games, a spokesman replied that their games have been optimized and reconfigured specifically for the platform5. He went on to say, "Each game is priced individually and evaluated based on the type of game, depth and overall experience it provides for players." What this can be taken to mean is that their pricing structure won't be influenced by the consumer or comparable games at lower price points. Neither have they lowered their prices on any games. Some encouraging news is that last month, they had a sale on selected iOS games from between 30% - 50% off the original price.

The problem that many mobile users have with the company is the fact that most other games on that platform start at $1 or $2 to download onto their i-device. Many others are free. The market is divided into two groups: Free and Paid. Premium quality apps such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City average around $5. Very rarely do others cost $10 or more. Unfortunately, many buyers have stated that they feel ripped off when they are forced to purchase additional DLC in order to get the complete experience. Some users have gone on to say that their outsourced games have become a money grab, and they should be ashamed to publish garbage apps that require them to buy optional characters and stages.

It's clear that the company has alienated some fans with their choices in the mobile market. No other traditional console developer has put in more effort to break into the smart phone world of gaming. In leading the way for other companies to follow suit, it remains to be seen if similar developers can compete and outperform Square Enix when it comes to the success they have already had in their digital games distribution.




11.20.2013 10:33am

Well, SE may get on the Vita bandwagon this next year with Final Fantasy X/X2 Collection. Other than that, they haven't shown much interest in the Nintendo 3DS, with only two high profile releases last year. Interestingly enough, Final Fantasy V was released with a discount price of $8.99. They raised the price to $15.99 a week or so ago with no warning. Final Fantasy VI is upcoming on iOS as well. Hopefully, we'll see a third party controller, since iOS 7 includes support for one.

09.21.2013 7:46am

Square has lost their passion. Now it's just cheap production and high selling prices. Give me a controller over touch screen any day.

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