Square Enix have one of the best rosters of AAA-games anywhere in the world. From Tomb Raider to Final Fantasy – the company has a lot going for it. Yet today’s news regarding IO-Interactive is the latest in an increasingly long line of awkward failures when it comes to more western franchises. It seems that Square hasn’t quite found the sweet spot when it comes to AAA-development and western franchises – and it’s really beginning to hurt said franchises.
The game that caused today’s divorce was Hitman – a great game in the end. The episodic approach took a long time to mature, but in the end we were given a heap of enjoyable content and one of the best Hitman games to date. Yet Square Enix failed to communicate the games unique structure to the gaming world in an effective manner. Until mere weeks before release – Hitman was set to be a full-fat game. The abrupt switch in the games delivery confused many, putting others off as they wanted to see how things panned out.
This inevitably harmed the sales of the game, which reportedly cost a staggering $42 million to make. When you’re throwing that many beans at a AAA-game, it’s probably best to not experiment too heavily right before the game is set to land. The games reportedly only just sold over 600,000 copies on Steam – which pales hugely in comparison to Hitman: Absolution and gives the biggest indicator as to why Square Enix has opted for a different direction.
Yet this isn’t the first time the publisher has seemingly run at odds with the AAA-games it’s trying to sell. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided should have been a triumphant sequel to Human Revolution’s glorious return to form – yet somehow Square Enix managed to mess this up. The game was great at its core but it was staggeringly unfinished – with a single player campaign that abruptly ends with no real buildup. It sparked wide speculation that the game wasn’t given enough time in development, or that priorities were shifted as development staggered on.
Making this worse was the heavy presence of single-player microtransactions – which ran contrary to the tone of the game created. Players could buy their way to an easier experience – it felt wrong in a AAA-game priced at full retail. This created real negative buzz around the game at its release, to the point where the game’s director took to Reddit defending the additions. There was also the awkwardly slapped on free-to-play “Breach” that raised many eyebrows, with rumors suggesting this was a late addition to the game intended to extend lifespan. It was another example of Square trying to milk their games for extra money – made more obvious when the publisher released the mode as a standalone experience on PC not six months later.
Reports since the games release suggest that Deus Ex has been placed on “hiatus” – modern gaming speak for “We’re not going to do anything until people forget the mess we made”. For a franchise that had so much momentum and so much anticipation – it’s another let down by a publisher that seemingly tried too hard to have its cake and eat it.
The problem with these failures isn’t so much that the games are bad (Both are very good in reality) – they just failed to meet Square Enix’s lofty sales expectations. Much like how the Tomb Raider reboot apparently failed to meet high sales targets – even though it shifted over three million copies inside a month. A MONTH. Much like how Rise of the Tomb Raider went onto Xbox One for timed exclusivity, even though it made no sense at the time to do so (and continues to this day one of the more baffling decisions I’ve seen a company make).
Square Enix seem to be constantly working to undermine themselves, tripping themselves up instead of improving the quality of their offerings. Sleeping Dogs was a great game, but it’s likely never going to be given the shot at a sequel because it fell over those same expectations. How does it keep happening – and why has no one at Square Enix realised that throwing huge sums of money at these games isn’t going to yield the returns they seem to keep expecting.
It’s a damn shame because Hitman was on the right path. Deus Ex was on the right path. Neither of these games will likely see a new major release inside the next few years. It makes me worry for the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider game – because if it doesn’t sell well, Sqaure might just throw it onto the scrap-heap before it’s time. There’s no excuse for these great games and franchises to be put on “hiatus” all becauseSquare Enix hasn’t figured out the right balance between overspending and over-ambition.
Perhaps if they weren’t cramming awkward gimmicks into every orifice of these titles, actually releasing them when they’re good and ready – gamers would talk positively about them. People wouldn’t be put off by the negative chatter that accompanies them. It’s such a bizarre situation – and one that needs to improve.