Although some things should be left to run their natural course…
Square-Enix seem to have finally got it.
In a development that is so rare for the games industry it could be classified as an endangered species, the Japanese publishing giant looked towards the global success of Bravely Default – a game not intentionally developed for a Western market – and numerous attempts at games designed specifically to have as global an audience as possible. The reality was stark and unavoidable; Bravely Default not only sold well, but made money, as opposed to games such as Thief and Tomb Raider, which have both been relative disappointments in many ways. The lesson learned?
“If you focus too much on the global aspect, you might lose sight of who you’re actually making the game for.”
This sudden and acute case of common sense is an anomaly in a market greedily hunting for the next million; but it’s no less important for a company like Square-Enix, who lost their way somewhat years ago when focus shifted from their traditional Japanese roots to trying to keep up with what Western developers and publishers were doing. Rather than seeing what they had, and how wonderful it was, they were blinded and dazzled by short-term successes across the pond, hunting around desperately for a slice of the pie despite the pie being eaten already. To use a saying I enjoy, “Sure, my garden has grass made of solid gold, but my neighbours Astroturf just looks so inviting…”
This isn’t unique however to Japanese developers though; the industry has been caught in this trap for some years now, with varying degrees of success to show for it. Whilst it’s possible to outmanoeuvre a rival with a quality product – most of the time, the ideals are short-sighted and driven solely to create wealth at the expense of the consumer and company name. There’s very little other way to explain the likes of Thief – trying so hard to be Dishonored, the new kid on the block in a genre Thief used to have all to itself. But Dishonored succeeded because it was great; it had focus, knew what it wanted to be. Thief… didn’t. It ended up a shadow of the pretender to the throne; usurped by lieu of its own narrow-minded focus.
It’s also true that the more people who pile into a market, the less market each one will have. Sharing an audience is a nice idea in theory; but hype campaigns and PR rubbish does encourage and indeed, reward in some cases the segregation of titles within a genre. Rather than enjoying a wide variety of first-person shooters, the market is fragmented into camps; one likes Call of Duty, one likes Battlefield, one likes Killzone, one likes Halo and so on – and all sides are so often pitted against each other in the most pointless and ridiculous fanboy war in the known universe. They’ve been conditioned to only accept THEIR chosen game as the market leader, as the primary Holy Grail, and everyone else therefore must be wrong. It’s a crusade that only demonstrates how hilariously inept marketing has become – I mean, why grow a genre and encourage people to spend money in fertile new ideas for the genre when you can convince people to just throw all their money into your bank account, eh?
Few games demonstrate how disastrous this can be than Resident Evil 6; once a survival horror game, now… actually, it’s hard to know WHAT to call Resident Evil 6. Capcom tried to shoehorn in so many genres and concepts and ideas into the game that frankly, the essence of what the series once was is diluted under a flood of pretty bland tapwater. The idea was sound enough; appeal to as many people as is humanly possible by doing as much as possible. But, to use an old Robin Williams punchline, “too many balls in the air”. By trying to be EVERYTHING, Resident Evil 6 ended up a whole lot of nothing much at all, swerving wildly from safe territory to complete failure in the blink of a scene. It’s the prime example of what happens when you focus all your attention on being everything to all people; you simply can’t do enough well to be anything more an average. Jack of all trades, Master of none…
We’re seeing even now some rather egregious developments in the market; a focus on “Definitive Editions” of games released in the last year or two, being rehashed and re-released on the PlayStation 4 and XBox One (no, it’s not going to hide the fact neither machine has many games to go around right now! How cute, they’re scared of Nintendo!), and on quick turnover of studios (Never a healthy way to nurture new talent), but that said, maybe Square-Enix’s sudden epiphany denotes that there’s hope for everyone (even EA!). It takes sometimes just one game to remind a company of what they had, rather than what they want. To show them that consumers will pay for quality products, rather than cheaply-manufactured tripe.
At a time when we’re seeing the retail price of these games creeping up a little and staying resolutely at the higher end of their RRP, it’s also evidence that in reality, quality does come at a premium. And that if you’re going to ask someone to part with sums at the higher end of the RRP scale, they’re going to expect that quality. If you can’t deliver it, you’re doing everyone – from the industry to the consumer – a grave disservice.
Let’s hope that such a shocking outbreak of common sense is contagious. Capcom in particular could do with coming down with a case of it. Maybe the industry could even have a little pox-party? I’m sure they’d all benefit from a case of Sanity.
Still, welcome back Square-Enix.
No more Lightning. Understood?