An Audience With: Yoichi Wada

An Audience With: Yoichi Wada

In many ways, Square Enix could be considered the most unashamedly ‘Japanese’ of Japanese game developers, with a long history of titles, created for the Japanese market first and foremost, which seem to have become internationally successful almost by surprise. Overseas releases have generally only come after months of slow localisation, with few changes to suit local tastes outside of bug and interface fixes.

But that position doesn’t seem sustainable in the modern marketplace. President and CEO Yoichi Wada has spearheaded a big change in the company’s direction, from its takeover of an unashamedly western publisher, Eidos, to planning the global release of Final Fantasy XIII for within three months of the Japanese launch – a record for the series. We sat down with Wada to discover the origins of this impetus for change, the future of Square Enix and Eidos, and the personal tastes in gaming of this otherwise enigmatic industry force.

How did you decide to begin working in the videogame industry?
Ever since I was a student I wanted to manage a company. In Japan what normally happens is you’re recruited as a freshman into a company and you go through your career with the goal of reaching the position of president; the president, in that sense, is only a goal. I felt that setting out to be a president as my profession was possible, so I intended to become president of a company by the age of 40.

However, it’s not possible to just become a president without a track record! So I thought that it would be best to go through some kind of an apprenticeship at a company and the toughest apprenticeship, or the most demanding company at that time, was a securities house. So I joined a securities house. But ultimately I wanted to run a company with a ‘theme’. The fundamental themes in the 21st century are creating life or creating society. A company that creates life is a biotechnology company, a company that creates society would be an IT company or a game company. Well, of course, I loved games and I played them a lot, so I decided to join a game company, Square. However, back then I was really an uneducated consumer – I was a big fan of Final Fantasy but I hadn’t realised it was made by Square!

Final Fantasy XIII, which was launched in Japan in mid December and is out in Europe and US in March

What other games were you a fan of before you joined Square Enix?
There are a lot of games that I like. And there are a lot of games that I loved. Especially when 3D games started to become popular. One that’s really stuck with me is Kenji Eno’s D. I also really liked the Myst, Resident Evil and Metal Gear titles from that period.

That period really set in stone a certain style of Japanese development, which some might say has reached its culmination with Final Fantasy XIII. How do you think these kinds of big-budget, long-in-development Japanese games stand up in the current climate?
I believe Final Fantasy XIII is going be something special, and that it’s going to be well received by the audience. But whether we are going to continue to internally create this type of game remains to be seen, because I actually feel that the team that was involved with Final Fantasy XIII should next move on to create and generate some ‘next generation’ forms of play. Internally and externally I feel there’s an expectation of Square Enix to offer something new, and I really think that the Final Fantasy team could create something completely different, but at the moment they’re strictly catering to the particular audience they have now.