It's an all-star line-up from Square Enix over the next six months, with the return of Tomb Raider, Just Cause, Hitman and Deus Ex. We speak with Europe and Americas CEO Phil Rogers about managing expectations in a perpetually changing games industry
It feels like Square Enix is in a constant state of restructuring, with regular changes to how you operate. Are you finished now?
I don't fell like we are constantly restructuring. We are always looking at our business and working out how to best organise stuff. The industry changes and one of the big things over the last couple of the years has been the European team working hand-in-hand with the American team, and since March this year we've had them working officially across LA and London. So there have been some changes there, but we do that to make our business better and so we can invest in different areas. We want to always improve by changing and it is what we have to constantly do.
It's a big six months for your Western IP, with the return of Hitman, Just Cause, Tomb Raider and Deus Ex. Last time you had a line-up as strong as this, you sold almost 9m games [2012/2013 with Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Absolution and Tomb Raider], but that was still below your targets. Have you set more realistic expectations this time? Have you been more cautious with budgets?
We're always careful with how we manage development. This new generation has installed well. If you go back two years, few companies would have predicted that [PS4 and Xbox One] would have gone in as fast as they have. That gives us confidence. But we're constantly learning and trying to predict where install bases will be, how things are going to resonate... but we've also learned that great games can sell for a long period. For us it's not just about a day one spike and then forget about it, what we are trying to do is make sure we continue to engage and build sales over a longer lifetime. The way consumers are discovering games has changed, it's more viral, community and word-of-mouth-driven. They are reading more gamer reviews now than perhaps press reviews.
Is this ‘community' thinking the reason why you're releasing Hitman as a download-only game this Christmas, and updating it with free DLC over time?
We are dev-centric. When you are in the final months of development, that's when some devs have their most creative ideas. It's then that they understand the tool chain, how to create great content... really they are at their peak. With Hitman Absolution [developer] IO realised its creativity was peaking and that it could continue to deliver more content. That seeded the idea that, with the next Hitman, it could have an ever-evolving, ever-deepening world. This is definitely a studio-led initiative that supports a lot of Square Enix's goals as well – experimenting and pushing boundaries around how consumers perceive content and how long we support our games.
Look at Just Cause, yes we have Just Cause 3 coming, but we still have hundreds of thousands of gamers every month in Just Cause 2... it is five years old. At the time of shipping Just Cause 2, nobody would have believed that. So we're rethinking how we deliver stuff to gamers.
Surely though, with Hitman coming out during the Christmas period, it would make sense to release it in a box?
Boxed is an important part of the whole Hitman experience. We feel that at some stage people will want to buy it in a physical form, when it's all completed and packaged up. We will talk about that towards the end of the year. How digital and boxed work in harmony is going to be really important, not just for us but for the entire industry.
You only announced Hitman a few months ago, and it's coming this December. Bethesda has done something similar with Fallout 4. What do you make of this trend?
To have such a long protracted period... can you maintain the excitement over that period? For some games, to shorten that period is great. I think you'll see more of that. Publishers are even announcing games that you can play that night. People are starting to expect a short-term or even instant release period. Ten years ago, launch was the end of a long cycle, but now it's the start of a multi-month or multi-year relationship with gamers.
What made you decide to put together an E3 press conference this year?
We felt we had a lot of important messages and some great games to show. Yes E3 is a trade show, but it isn't, it's an event that captures gamers around the world. So to have a one-off showcase dedicated to Square Enix experiences, which we can broadcast to millions, is a great way for us to engage.
Would you do it again?
Yes, we would. Timing has to be right, but E3 is a huge opportunity.
Your biggest E3 moment didn't come during your press conference, but in PlayStation's when Final Fantasy VII Remake was revealed. The reaction in the room was deafening. How did that impact you?
As a whole business we felt humbled. The thing that really surprised me is that during the first three seconds of the trailer, people got it. Some had to wait to the end of the trailer, but for a lot of people they got it instantly. And it was like a wildfire. Everyone involved was delighted. Was that the biggest cheer that night? Was it the biggest cheer of E3? It was certainly a great experience.
One of your recent successes has been episodic new IP Life Is Strange, which has come via a partnership with developer Dontnod. Are you targeting more third-party deals like this?
We are always looking. We didn't know much about Dontnod, and we needed production leaders to make sure that the relationship worked. But it's an investment worth making. Our London Studio team is the same group that decided there was a Batman property to work on with Rocksteady, and Arkham Asylum spawned from there. This is the same team that worked with Avalanche in the early days of Just Cause. And it's always looking for new relationships.
In a little over three months, Square Enix will release four of its most lucrative brands:
Rise of the Tomb Raider – Xbox One–November 10th
The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was such a success that Microsoft has paid big money to secure temporary exclusivity to this blockbuster.
Just Cause 3 – PS4, Xbox One, PC–December 1st
2010's Just Cause 2 sold over six million units and still has active players. Square Enix is already advertising it – you couldn't escape the game at E3 and Gamescom.
Hitman – PS4, Xbox One, PC–December 8th
The new Hitman will be released digital-only initially, with extra missions and locations distributed for free at regular intervals. A physical SKU will follow.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PS4–Xbox One, PC –February 23rd
The sequel to 2011's acclaimed Human Revolution is part of a broader strategy of turning Deus Ex into another multimedia IP for Square Enix.