Square Enix President Speaks At Online Game Conference
02.28.05 - 8:58 PM

Square Enix president Youichi Wada held a keynote speech at the Asian Online Game Conference 2005 in Tokyo today. At first, Wada explained the revolution that the game industry has gone through over the last decade. After the hay-days of the arcades, game consoles entered the stage and players could enjoy their games at home. At this point, genres like RPGs were born. Ten years later, Sony Computer Entertainment introduced its PlayStation and the quality of the games' visuals improved significantly. While the Square Enix president acknowledged that some people were suggesting, the focus on high-quality visuals had led to higher development costs, he pointed out, that the time to refine visuals had simply come.

Looking ahead at the next decade, Wada predicted that not all games would be network-enabled in the future. He explained that while networks finally enabled people to communicate, the communities of current online games were still pretty small. How much fans who currently play MMORPGs will embrace the genre, will determine whether it can break into the general market.
As far as the mainland Chinese market is concerned, Wada said it was not comparable to the world's three largest markets (North America, Japan and Europe). He pointed to the fact that more Chinese fans are still playing games in internet cafes rather than their own homes. If one would set up a chain of internet cafes, it was possible to control the entire market. Hence the situation was comparable to the Japanese market at the height of the arcade boom.

When referring to his company's current MMORPGs, he explained this stance using concrete examples. In the case of Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix is first selling a disc (containing the client software) and then in a second step, charging users monthly fees for playing the game. These fees are necessary to finance the costs of server equipment and the game's administration. In the case of Cross Gate, pre-paid cards are used to pay for these monthly fees. Those pre-paid cards, according to Wada, are in fact comparable to the 100 yen you throw into an arcade machine to play.

Regarding game design, the Square Enix president noted that game design could also be referred to as community design. Not only were major game companies successfully operating online games, but also many companies which have specialized in the development of network games. He continued to explain that not only do creation and management of online games differ from offline games, but that in fact this was a service industry.

The next topic which Wada raised was a familiar one: Polymorphic content. Instead of the current, vertically divided structure, Square Enix aims for a structure where users can access the same content from various platforms.

The key accessory to play games, Wada argued, wasn't the disc inside the console or PC, but rather the memory card. As an example, he stated, he would cry if he lost save data after having spent 28 hours playing a game. Unlike the data, the disc however can be replaced. The situation was similar with online games. Here as well, companies should ask themselves what was important to users and what were they paying for. According to Wada, the content itself was not as important as the community aspect. Therefore, multi and cross platform games were essential.

Looking at potential problems, Wada mentioned that currently social norms were non-existent within the internet community. Currently, if a problem occurs in an online game, people always reach the same verdict: The game is to blame for the trouble, and hence is bad. However, for the Square Enix president this trend is dangerous, since always blaming the game will eventually result in a lack of control within the internet community, and lead to the creation of a lawless area.

Chris Winkler