Square Enix considering multiplatform strategy

Japan's biggest RPG maker moves toward multiconsole game releases; Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy to stick with a single platform for now.

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Since this year's E3, Square Enix has been flirting with the idea of releasing its games on multiplatforms for the next generation of consoles. Now the company appears to be taking the idea more seriously. According to reports by Mainichi Interactive and ITmedia, Square Enix president Yoichi Wada may be bringing editions of some of the company's most famous franchises, including Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, to multiple consoles in the future. Most Square Enix releases have been released for one platform, specifically Sony's consoles, in recent years.

During a press conference held on Wednesday, Wada explained that there has always been a dominant platform in the market for the past 20 years, from the days of the NES and SNES to the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. But Wada believes that golden rule is changing, and he expects things to be very different for the upcoming next-generation consoles.

According to Wada, Microsoft's Xbox currently counts for only a seven percent share of the Japanese game market, while the PlayStation 2 is dominant in the country with a 79 percent share. In America, the Xbox's market share is much higher at 22 percent, while the PlayStation is a bit lower at 60 percent. A deeper look into the American sales figures shows that the two consoles have been shipping at about the same pace for the past year, indicating that the US market no longer has a dominant console.

Using the figures, Wada explained that the consoles are starting to sell differently depending on regions of the world. He expects that the differences will become even greater with next-generation consoles, particularly with the expected variation in each console's price. "We will be facing an environmental change that we've never seen before," Wada said. "The next-generation console market will be divided between 'low end' and 'high end' according to the consumer's needs. There won't be a single dominant machine. The game consoles will be sharing the user market."

While Square Enix has always released its games on the most dominant consoles, Wada commented that a multiplatform expansion would be essential for Square Enix in the future if its consumers split to different machines as predicted. Wada commented that major titles such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest aren't planned for multiple platforms at the current time since they're fully tuned toward one console, but he also said that things could change in the future.

Both the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series have been exclusive to Sony's PlayStation and PlayStation 2 since their seventh installments, but Square Enix has been showing signs of a multiplatform strategy of late. Final Fantasy XI, for instance, has already been released on the PS2 and PC, and is slated for release on Microsoft's Xbox 360.

Square Enix confirmed at E3 that a Final Fantasy title is already in development for the PlayStation 3, although whether it will be FFXIII has not been revealed yet. Sony Computer Entertainment is currently the fourth major shareholder of Square Enix, holding an 8.63 percent stake of the company.

In terms of actual development on the next-generation consoles, Wada addressed Sony Computer Entertainment's decision to include middleware in its development kit, saying that it will be a benefit, especially for the mid- and small-sized companies.

"Up until now, we were building every game [and its programs] from scratch. But that won't be possible for the next generation consoles when considering their specs. Using middleware will be an important factor in development," Wada said.

Just how greatly that middleware and Sony's part ownership of the company will impact Square Enix's multiplatform expansion plans is unknown at the current time.

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