Friday, May 9, 2014

Two Companies Diverge

It's not too difficult to name the two video game developers that had the most influence on my childhood. The first is Square-Enix, formerly Squaresoft and Enix, creators of such games as Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, etc. There is no other developer that even comes close.

The second, though, has to be Nintendo. It probably doesn't need to be said that games like Zelda and Metroid are some of the best in creation, but even more than that, Nintendo created much of the hardware that facilitated Squaresoft's game development. So, you know, there's that.

It's sad but interesting that both companies have fallen on somewhat hard times. Huge losses, wayward philosophies and lots of Internet jokes at their expense. It's also interesting that the cause of these problems are actually blamed on opposite factors. For Square-Enix, it's said that they've ignored their old school fans and design ethos and focused too much on the mobile, social future of games. For Nintendo, they're said to be stuck in the past, refusing to create a robust online system and creating hardware that's at least a generation out of date.

I'm not sure what to say about that disparity other than to point of the humor in it. But this week did bring some new revelations for both companies. The first is good news: Square-Enix is revising its profit estimates upward because of strong sales, especially of its flagship MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV. It's impossible to see this as anything but proof of the power of focusing on your core games; notice that the story isn't "Square-Enix Forecast Bolstered By Success Of Facebook Games." I expect this is good news for fans of SE's classic games. I expect continued support of the Final Fantasy brand because of this, and maybe even some revivals of some old favorites (I want more SaGa!)

Now for the bad news. Nintendo posted a half-billion dollar loss for their most recent fiscal year, mainly because of poor Wii U sales. Unlike the SE example, it's hard to pinpoint this on an exact cause. I mean, yeah, the Wii U isn't selling. But why isn't it selling? And more to the point, why is Nintendo refusing to do anything about it? Thusfar, any changes have been minor to say the least. I like my Wii U, and I'm not one of those who think they need to release a brand new uber system ASAP. But they need to do something, and like many conservative Japanese companies, they're resisting that.

Yes, more games would be nice. But more than that, we need some surprises. We've got Mario, and yeah, it was good, but Mario games are expected to be good at this point. Mario Kart 8 is on its way, and it looks ... like Mario Kart. Fun, of course, but not something that will make Wii U's fly off the shelf. E3 is coming up, and if Nintendo wants any chance of turning this ship around, they need a "wow" moment. Something wholly unexpected that gets people's attention. I don't know what it is, but I'm really hoping for it.

No comments: