As we see changes in the market in terms of people going to Apple's devices, and releasing low price-point games where you can add more content, people get this expectation that they can try a game on the cheap and decide how much they want to invest. It's very different from selling people a $40 disc.
TT: For The After Years, there are about 13 total scenarios, and so it's actually kind of the opposite concept. If you think of it as a $50 game, each of those scenarios was about $3. Instead of offering a full-course meal, you can offer each of the items to people as an a la carte. That's kind of the opposite business model, and the opposite way to look at it, but it's definitely an interesting way to offer the content to your audience.
To go back to what you said just before, you said that there's a possibility of being responsive to what the audience wants from the game in that kind of model. Were you able to do that with the original release of The After Years on mobile platforms in Japan?
TT: The major development arc didn't change; we had that set, but we did definitely tweak some of the things like the character reactions and the way their relationships unfolded.
The development team's staff looked at what fans were saying online, and part of what's key to entertainment is answering some of the hopes that fans have -- and then going the opposite of what they hope for as well. It's a fine line, but we definitely did pay attention to those details.
It's becoming increasingly important, especially in the age of social media, to engage with the fan base and be aware of what people want because there's so much discussion between people about what they feel. It's not just fans talking to fans anymore; it's fans talking to the world.
TT: Definitely. In terms of that, I think it would be very interesting if users and developers kind of come together and share the development, essentially, and create something together in the future.
When this game was originally released, you couldn't easily get feedback from fans, particulalry in the West. Nowadays, you'll find out many people's opinions very easily, even in America. So it does profoundly change your relationship with your audience, I think.
TT: When I was creating Parasite Eve, I was in LA and Honolulu for about a year and a half, working with the U.S. CG staff to finish up the game. Those people who were working on it were all fans of Final Fantasy IV and had grown up on that game. The fact that I have spent my career creating new things with this variety of people is really something that I hold a lot of pride in, and something that also has given me a lot of confidence.
I'm sure you have a lot of discussions about it internally, but there was a period where Square games were the most acclaimed, and it's not as consistent anymore. What might bring that time back, in your opinion? How could you approach that sort of period again?
TT: I don't think it's just about Square; it's Japan overall, where we put an over-importance on technology and really let slide some of the important use of story and concept and, really, the collaboration and coordination between the teams. I think, if we find a way again to have teams come together and motivate them and really share their energy and their knowledge, that will really bring that back.
[Tokita pulls out two smartphones -- a Japanese device and an iPhone.]
These two smartphones really exemplify what I mean in terms of an overreliance on technology. Whereas the iPhone is really well-balanced and easy to use overall, this Japanese phone has a lot of great tech features, like a 12 megapixel camera. You don't necessarily need something that high-end. And it's waterproof, and it has a TV antenna. But it's really hard to use. They focus so much on these tech aspects that they've forgotten to create something that's user-friendly.
I was at Tokyo Game Show, and this is a term that I heard a few times: Galapagos. I'm sure you've heard about, referring to Japanese technology evolving in its own way. It seems almost like that's how the game industry went, too, maybe.
TT: Right now, we're thinking about it in a way-too complex way. It used to be that our creativity could run free because we didn't worry about the end result. We could just be original and creative, and whatever came of it was original and creative. Now, we're becoming too concerned about marketing and all these other aspects, and that's limiting us right now. There's this saying that essentially means that "you're crossing the bridge and checking every stone while you're crossing it" -- that's how I feel development is right now.
I like to reflect on Final Fantasy IV and, at the time, how far ahead it was. It's not to say that Square Enix doesn't make games that are on par with what's being made contemporarily, but you don't push as hard anymore.
TT: Right now, we're so influenced by everyone's opinions, and the internet, and everything you hear, and what everyone else is making. I actually think it would be better if we would shut all of that out and just made what we want to make. That would create something that would be more original.
I feel like creating things without getting too hung up on little details, and paying more attention to the importance to the concept itself, is the way to move forward.
I always think of Japanese games as being very detail-oriented, though. Maybe that's not what you mean. I always feel like it's the little touches that make a big difference.
TT: In Japan, I think what's interesting is that things started with manga, and there's a very strong influence of Osamu Tezuka. He was a doctor, and started to create these manga in his free time, and he was really looking up to Disney. That was his main inspiration, and then he started creating animation, as well. People who saw that and wanted to make movies and make animation got into that field.
When I was young and looking to see what I could do creatively, game development was the field that came up -- from my love of manga and animation. That progression of manga, anime, and games is very unique to Japan. The fact that young people who were free to create and express the way they wanted developed these new fields in entertainment is something that's very unique and interesting to Japanese culture.