INTERVIEW: Yoichi Wada, Square Enix

Square Enix chairman Yoichi Wada delivered the opening keynote at the NASSCOM Game Developer Conference this past weekend, where he spoke about the Japanese company’s operations in India.

We caught up with Wada-san on the sidelines of the conference to talk a little more about his views on the India market as well as more details on Square Enix’s game plan in India.

It’s been about a year since Square Enix came set up its India office. When can we expect the first project to be announced?

We’re trying to work with various game development companies in India. We wish to launch our first project by next year, but we do not have specific details on it just yet.

Will all games released by Square Enix India be externally developed by Indian studios or will you work with international studios as well?

We’re trying to develop games as collaborations between Square Enix India and Indian game developers. We want to have Indian game companies as a part of our development structure.

Aside from publishing and marketing games, how much will Square Enix be involved in the development of games?

How much we participate in the development process and how we are involved in development will depend on the development partner we’re working with.

Aside from the Square Enix team in India, will there be development support from Square Enix in Japan and other countries as well?

We may want to have staff from abroad visit India periodically for this purpose. We would like to work out some sort of process for this.

Will developers you work with have complete control over the game’s design or do you give them inputs on elements you’d like to have included?

What is to be included in a game for the Indian audience is not something we’re going to say, but in terms of the game development process itself, we’ll have a say in that.

What sort of monetary involvement will Square Enix have in these games? Will you fund development or will it be in terms of publishing, marketing and external development assistance?

In the case of smartphones, we see development and marketing as a single process. So what funds we allocate to the various areas is not something we’ve decided, but we will put some amount of funds into the development process.

Will Square Enix own all the IP released through Square Enix India?

We’ll be looking at it on a case by case basis. This is our approach all over the world, including Japan, Europe and America.

How will a developer benefit by partnering with Square Enix India as opposed to self-publishing or working with other publishers?

I believe that there are many good companies in India, but they perhaps lack experience in complete game development. They may be doing QA work for other developers, or some other part of the game’s development, but experience in complete game development from zero to hundred seems to be lacking. So we want to contribute to that.

For the India market, are there any hardware platforms that you’ll be focussing on, and will these games have to be based on Indian themes?

We’re targeting free-to-play as our business model, and smartphones and tablets as far as devices go. We would like collaborate with Indian game developers to create games that would interest the Indian audience, but that doesn’t mean that they should all have Indian themes or be based on Indian mythology or cricket.

How do you view the browser-based and social games space? Is that a platform you’re interested in for India?

While smartphones will be our main focus, we will consider these platforms as well, but we do not have enough information about them at this point of time.

Do you think the Indian market is big enough that games developed specifically for this audience can be profitable and successful?

The market is definitely going to grow and we do expect good profits, but when that will happen is not something we’re able to project yet.

Will games released by Square Enix India only be available to Indian users or will they also be released internationally?

The first thing we want to do is make these games for the Indian market, but if we have something that we think is appropriate for the global audience, we’ll take it global.

You don’t have an in-house development team in India at the moment, but is that something you’re planning for the near future?

In the future, I think it’s good for us to have our own studio, but when is something I cannot predict.

Do you have a target for how many games you’d like to release in a year?

We’re just starting out so it’s very difficult to talk numbers at this point. We’d be in trouble if we talked in numbers [laughs].

You’re yet to announce your first project. Has it been the case that you’ve talked to lots of developers but the games that have been pitched haven’t been up to the mark?

Yes, that has been the case. We feel there is still scope for improvement in the quality.

Can you tell us a bit about the evaluation process you adopt when dealing with a potential development partner?

The first thing we look at is if the company has a good game development capability. Then we look at what sort of game they are good at making, in terms of genres. So that tells if this is the ideal company for us to partner with. From there onwards we get into the proposals.

Are there any developers in India that you are working with or have decided to work with?

We have been talking to a couple of studios, but we’re not at a stage where we can formally declare any names. We’re in the evaluation and assessment stage.

How do you view the Indian market today and how do you expect it to progress over the next few years?

Thanks to smartphones, we think the Indian market is going to grow rapidly in the next three years. We’ve been doing research on the market here. The iOS platform has more paid users at the moment, but we don’t think the growth there will be rapid. The Android market is definitely small at this point of time, but it’s definitely going to grow fast in the coming years, so it would be important to focus on the Android platform.

Note: The above questions were answered by Wada-san in Japanese and then translated for our benefit

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