Speaking to the current state of video gaming, Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda says he’s of the opinion that “even if Japanese imitate Western games, they will not be able to produce good ones.”
Matsuda shared his thoughts on the topic during a recent interview with Yahoo! Japan published on April 15th and centered around discussion of Square Enix’ future prospects in light of gaming’s continuing growth, beginning with a brief nod to how important gaming is to some.
“I believe that playing is a sign that one is a person,” Matsuda opened the interview (via DeepL). “As it is said that people are creatures of play – homo ludens – and without entertainment, I believe that the mind would die.”
Continuing, Matsuda asserted his view that a game creator being dedicated to their vision affords any given title the highest probability of success, as that passion would resonate with like-minded players.
“Our job is to continue to innovate the fun in entertainment,” he explained. “So, what is interesting? If we knew this, we would have no trouble. In the case of games, I think that if the creator has strong beliefs and persistence, there is a high probability that the game will succeed.”
“I am sure that somewhere out there, there are like-minded people who share the same beliefs as the creator and who empathize with each other,” Matsuda posited. “And now, when someone says, “This is interesting!”, the reputation spreads around the world as soon as people start to say, “I’m a master [at this game].”
Turning to how his role as president is involved in games development, Matsuda told Yahoo! that he believed in taking a hands-off approach to his employee’s work, comparing “being involved in the production of a game from the position of president” to “waiting for a dish to be cooked.”
“If you intervene too much while the development team is hard at work, because you are worried, it will not go well,” he said. “You should not open the lid of the pot too many times or peek into the pot without permission just because you are concerned. So we think it is important to patiently wait for the developer, who is the cook, to make the food.”
He added, “Good or bad cooking conditions can be seen in the facial expressions and words of the members of the team. In fact, we can often tell by talking to them in person, so we can only guess from the atmosphere.”
Turning to the topic of the video game market itself, Matsuda observed, “Nowadays, the game market has become globalized,” noting that “The domestic [Japanese] market used to be large, but now it is spoiled next to China and the US.”
“If you are not recognized even globally, you cannot do business,” he bluntly stated.
Yet, Matsuda warned that despite this new potential for developers to reach audiences across the globe, any attempt to appeal to a particular demographic by emulating their style would ultimately result in failure.
“Interestingly, however, even if Japanese imitate Western games, they will not be able to produce good ones,” he claimed. “The drawings of monsters and the visual and audio effects are all somewhat Japanese. And players around the world know that [a given element] is what makes Japanese games good.”
“Overseas markets are important, but it is not enough to develop for them,” he clarified.
Despite the generally positive outlook of Matsuda’s comments, they appear to stand in direct contrast to some of Square Enix’s previous actions.
Their notorious “ethics department” – itself having regained recent infamy thanks to a relevatory job listing – would suggest the company is more than content with Japanese games being modified for foreign sensibilities, and matching age-rating boards even if it would alter the original creator’s vision and alienate the aforementioned “like-minded” fans.
Another contradiction can be seen in how Square Enix is currently themselves tasking their own subsidiary Luminous Productions, a Japanese developer through and through, with developing a Western-style game in Forsaken.
Set to launch on October 11th for PC and PlayStation 5, Forspoken will see a young New York woman, Frey Holland, thrown into the fantasy world of Athia, where she suddenly finds herself developing magical powers and must subsequently fight for survival amidst pursuit from the land’s tyrannical rulers.
However, while the game’s aesthetic and mechanics will bare the ‘Japanese flair’ mentioned by Matsuda, its story will be penned by Western writers Gary Whitta, Amy Hennig, Allison Rymer, and Todd Stashwick.
Combined with the president’s admission that the company does not develop games with Western audiences in mind, it seems Forspoken is Square Enix’s attempt to find the ‘development sweet spot’ between creating games that are tonally-jarring imitations of different styles or sticking wholesale to their own identity.
Do Matsuda’s comments match with how Square Enix has been operating? Let us know on social media and in the comments below!