Square Enix Lays Off Western Employees, Shifts Toward Multiplatform Releases

Square Enix is the latest video game developer to restructure its business. Earlier today, IGN reported that Square Enix will move away from platform exclusivity and “pursue a multiplatform strategy” going forward. This initiative, which the company is calling “Square Enix Reboots and Awakens” (snappy), follows Square Enix’s profits dropping 15.8% since this time last year, despite its Digital Entertainment sales going up 2.6%. While not explicitly mentioned, it’s understood that the legendary RPG franchise Final Fantasy is at the heart of this; the last couple of games, Final Fantasy XVI and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, were PlayStation 5 exclusives, which greatly diminished their potential sales, particularly Final Fantasy XVI, which didn’t meet Square Enix’s sales expectations.

Platform exclusivity isn’t the only thing changing at Square Enix, though; Video Games Chronicle has learned that the company will be laying off employees in its “American and European arms.” The layoffs were announced by the president of Square Enix, Takashi Kiryu, at an internal meeting and were revealed to VGC by “people who were in attendance.” The firings will happen this week, and most will be people working in “publishing, IT, and Square Enix’s Collective indie games division.” This and the move to multiplatform releases are part of a structural reform that seeks to “rebuild overseas business divisions from the ground up.” It brings to mind Microsoft’s recent closing of some Bethesda studios and combining others to cut down on costs, with a focus on bigger franchises.

It looks like the video game industry is feeling some pain right now. I have to admit, platform exclusivity never made much sense to me, at least from the developers’ perspectives (unless they’re owned by the company making the console, in which case they may have no choice). I get why Sony would want a game to be available only on PlayStation 5, for example; it’s good for sales of the console, and it forces people with multiple consoles to get the PlayStation version of the game. But the developers are leaving money on the table. And having God of War or Spider-Man or whatever exclusive to my choice of consoles doesn’t make me feel special, as it seems to do for some; what do I care where someone else chooses to play the game? I’m sure there was some reason for it – maybe Sony has to pay a developer extra for a PlayStation exclusive – but the drawbacks would seem to outweigh the benefits to me… and I guess that’s true because Square Enix doesn’t want to do it anymore. And it sucks for the customer, who gets shut out of games he’d like to play without spending $400+ on another console. (Am I still bitter about Ultimate Alliance 3 being exclusive to Nintendo Switch? Yes. Yes, I am.)

As for the layoffs in the West, it looks like just what Square Enix says it is: a restructuring with a focus on their bigger AAA games, like Final Fantasy. You have to wonder if they’re using this to get rid of some problem people as well; for example, do localizers work in the publishing department? Perhaps they’re culling a lot of those guys to please a customer base that’s clearly unhappy with them, not specifically at Square Enix but in general. That VGC article also says that Square Enix’s Japanese offices “promoted a new group of creators to its executive officers and placed checks on producers’ influence over individual projects.” This suggests they’re looking to put an emphasis on creativity and artistic freedom, with fewer suits getting in the way of a fun game. And there are few people who hate fun in video games more than Western game developer employees. (They’re pretty much tied with games journalists.) Kabrutus seems to think this is the case as well:

I can see that, and moving away from console exclusivity could be a step in that direction as well. Look at what Sony did to Stellar Blade; they can get away with it (if they do; Grummz’ petition is still growing, and you can sign it here if you like) because the game is a PlayStation 5 exclusive. But what if Stellar Blade were also available on Xbox or PC, and Microsoft decided not to censor the violence or Eve’s costumes? Gamers would have at least one alternative, and Sony would lose a lot of money over their prudish, control-freak nonsense. Maybe part of Square Enix’s reasoning is that they don’t want to be caught in the quagmire Shift Up currently finds itself in, unable even to point their finger at the real culprit. Sure, Square Enix is a much better-established developer than Shift Up, but it also just lost a bunch of money and would like to reverse the trend. I don’t know enough about the layoffs and restructuring to say whether they’re good or not – none of us does unless we work there – but the multiplatform releases are clearly a good move for the developer and for gamers.

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