"It's impossible not to have noticed the shift in the games industry in the past few years as online has become increasingly prominent," says Phil Rogers, CEO at Square Enix Europe. "There are, of course, many different aspects to online play -- but we see social and collaborative play as something that players of all types are increasingly interested in."
This, he tells Gamasutra, is why Square Enix has partnered with German online games company Bigpoint, and is today announcing Gameglobe, a brand new free-to-play game platform that throws players into "limitless game worlds" directly through their web browser.
Gameglobe is an action adventure game first, and a set of game creation tools a close second. Players can begin by exploring the various developer-designed worlds of Gameglobe, with 3D environments ranging from medieval fantasy settings to more futuristic jetpack-driven storylines.
Once a player has seen enough of what the development team has to offer, he or she can then switch over to the user-designed levels and worlds and tackle a seemingly never-ending supply of content, or even try their hand at making their own levels. There is a heavy focus on this user-built content, as players can create and share their own games, worlds and environments with other players.
"The creation system in Gameglobe is something we're very proud of," says Rogers. "At this stage we can confirm that it's more than just a level editor; we will be giving users the ability to create from scratch, shaping and morphing the world to deliver their creative vision. The create tool is incredibly powerful but remains accessible and easy to use."
Adapting to browser games
Square Enix isn't exactly well-versed in browser gaming, having mainly stuck to console and PC games in the past -- hence Rogers tells us that the company approached Battlestar Galactica Online developer Bigpoint about Gameglobe's concept, due to Bigpoint's strong presence in the field.
"It was kind of new to us to be thinking about the browser -- we had some concepts worked out and gameplay to show and were really keen to talk to others who had already made first tracks in browser gaming," he says. "What was great with the team at Bigpoint is that they got our ideas straight off and also saw the value in partnerships to take their business forward too, so the choice was something pretty intuitive."
The partnership has seen the two companies set up a Denmark-based studio. First revealed earlier this year, Hapti.co is currently focusing solely on the launch and support of Gameglobe, and houses a number of former IO Interactive staffers.
Explains Rogers, "Hapti.co was set up with Gameglobe at its heart but as a studio group it has a broader vision to bring console-quality games onto browser-based platforms."
"Gameglobe is obviously a key part of that vision. What's been great in building up the new studio is how the team has created a unique mix of raw talent and very experienced talent - indeed some of the founders from [Hitman developer] IO Interactive who had left the business years ago jumped back on board, so that was exciting for us -- and seeing those guys working back alongside new and fresh faces is great. You know we spend a lot of time in the industry thinking about retention but the key for building up Hapti.co was to give people some tough and motivating challenges to go and solve."
Socialize to survive
Square Enix has really started to push its online and social presence in recent months, with growth in revenue and profit to show for it. Is the founding of Gameglobe, then, a sign that Square Enix is shifting its business to focus more on social gaming over console and retail gaming, or will its console efforts remain a key factor of the company?
Says Rogers, "We're not seeing a shift to social games as such, but rather, the industry as a whole is realizing that all games, whether they be on console, PC or handheld, need to be social to survive.
"There are, of course, many different aspects to online play, but we see social and collaborative play as something that players of all types are increasingly interested in," he explains.
"But this isn't really new; I remember discussing the book Homo Ludens (The Playing Man) with our chief creative, Janos Flosser. I think the book was first published back in the 1930s, but Janos quoted from it like it was a headline from that day's newspaper -- that it's clear that creating social groups is an essential element of how humans 'play.' I think what you're seeing now is that realization: that all games are social and that's something that's driving our business for sure."
"Now that's not to say this means we've got less emphasis over console or PC, boxed or download, handheld or online games -- triple-A PC and console titles are still a primary focus for us, so we would certainly see our work with social and collaborative gaming as an expansion to what we do, rather than a change in direction. Clearly, we believe our experience in crafting great games is something that will be of great benefit as we look at newer platforms."
Jan-Michel Saaksmeier, executive producer at Bigpoint, notes that he saw "huge potential" in Square Enix's concept from the very beginning.
Adds Rogers, "The Gameglobe team has a long-term road map for the title that will see continuous development of features and content. That said, right now our priority is getting the game out there into the hands of the public, gathering their feedback and integrating that into our future plans."
Part of that feedback will no doubt be carefully monitoring the platform's monetization outlets. Rogers tells us that since this element of the platform is still undergoing fine-tuning, he's not yet ready to reveal exactly how users can spend money in Gameglobe -- details of its ins and outs will be released in the coming weeks.
Gameglobe will enter closed beta soon, with the first beta invites being sent out "in the coming weeks." The platform will launch with a mix of user-generated content from internal testing, as well as content from Hapti.co's level designers. There will also be content from "special guests," says Rogers.