The gaming industry dances to a unique rhythm, one that's dictated by passionate fans, relentless developers, and that of the unpredictable tides of the market. Every so often, a major player in this bustling ecosystem presents us with a curious case study. Today's subject? Square Enix, and its most recent darling, Final Fantasy 16.
When you hear the name Square Enix, the images of sprawling fantastical worlds, their mesmerizing graphics, as well as deeply emotional narratives might rush into your mind. The Final Fantasy franchise, in particular, is a series that many gamers hold close to their hearts. But recent events surrounding the latest installment, FF16, give us a rare glimpse into the business side of the beloved game.
Released in June, Final Fantasy 16 had a weighty mantle to carry. Its predecessors have been nothing short of iconic and, for the most part, it lived up to the expectations - it set sales records, was a critical success, and is effectively one of the best entries in years. But, in a report by Bloomberg last week, Square Enix faced a staggering 78.5% decline in operating profit, an outcome that surely no one at the company could have foreseen. This alarming financial dip caused its stock to plummet by 15% in Tokyo, an event that hasn't been witnessed for almost three years - and many believe FF16 is to blame.
On paper, Final Fantasy 16 is a roaring success. A report from July declared the game's sales "extremely strong", touting 3 million copies sold within the initial week of its release. This figure, though impressive, fell slightly behind its older sibling, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which sold around 3.5 million copies in ten days. It's worth noting that the Remake was launched on the PS4, which boasted a broader user base. And if we journey further back, Final Fantasy 15, accessible across multiple platforms, was a sensation with 5 million units sold within a mere day.
Given these impressive numbers, where did the twist in the tale occur for Clive Rosfield, the protagonist of FF16?
Square Enix's President, Takashi Kiryu, offers a hint. Despite the commendable initial sales, Kiryu pointed out that FF16 didn't reach the highest bracket of the company's hopes - it sold well but it didn't surpass the highest expectations. His assertion attributes this to the sluggish uptake of the PlayStation 5, implying that the game might have achieved more had the next-gen console been more widespread, which is understandable since the PS5 is now lagging behind the PS4 in sales after initially outselling its predecessor at launch due to the now-solved stock shortage.
It's an interesting perspective, especially when contrasted against the knowledge that Sony's PS5 has been breaking the company's sales records in spite of the situation. Yet, the decision to release FF16 as a PS5 exclusive may not have been Square Enix's finest moment, at least from a financial standpoint. But Kiryu remains optimistic, foreseeing a spike in sales as the PS5 becomes more accessible.
While many seem to key in on Square Enix's stock prices, it's arguable that the company wasn't ever going to make the necessary revenue to offset the development costs when it's working on Final Fantasy 16, Final Fantasy 14, and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, as well as Kingdom Hearts 4 and many others, all at the same time.
With immense investments going into creating these masterpieces, Square Enix was always bound to bite the bullet - the only question was, how big of a financial risk is Square Enix taking?
Moreover, the perception around FF16's performance seems to be less doom-and-gloom within Square Enix's walls. It has paved the way for talks about potential remakes or remasters of Final Fantasy V and VI, with rumors suggesting that something related to Final Fantasy 9, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy Tactics, are all in development.
Square Enix has, over time, become a magnet for such discussions, partly because of the company's transparent sales expectations. Armchair financial analysts, equipped with snippets of business reports, often extrapolate the company's performance, attributing it to various factors from gameplay mechanics to marketing strategies. But can these digital sleuths ever truly decode the enigma that is the gaming business?
In a realm as dynamic and unpredictable as video gaming, perhaps it's essential to remember that figures and financial reports tell just one part of the story.
Beyond the dollars and cents, there lies the heart of gaming - the stories, the characters, and the worlds offering us an escape from reality. As for Square Enix and FF16, only time will truly reveal the depth of their success.
If it's any consolation, the next few quarters are going to be huge for Square Enix, with massive updates planned for Final Fantasy 14, including the Xbox port of the popular MMORPG. Between that and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth as well as any off-shoot coming from Final Fantasy 16, among others, Square Enix's coffers will be richer than ever by this point next year.