About a year ago, Mike Fischer stepped into the role of president and CEO of Square Enix's U.S. division. We first spoke to him very soon after he joined the company. Since that time, he's clearly been making decisions on how the U.S. division slots into the global corporation, which has the twin development pillars of its Japanese studios, based primarily in Tokyo, and its European organization, the former Eidos, and its array of owned studios.
He is clearly not insensitive to the changes in the market, and sees a lot of opportunity ahead; he also seems convinced that some of the trends that are grabbing the headlines now may only be fads, and is trying to chart a steady course for a division of the company that has primarily acted only as a publisher of games developed in other parts of the world by owned studios up until this point.
Fischer, who got his start 20 years ago at Sega in Tokyo and has, as he told us previously, "worked in the international marketplace for quite a few years" sees the industry growing and thriving, and for this reason has licensed Wakfu, an MMO developed by France's Ankama Studio, as one of the first products of his tenure at the helm of the U.S. organization.
To find out more of his plans, in this interview conducted at last month's E3 show, read on.
What have you learned in the last year?
MF: Well, that's the one question I wasn't ready for! What have learned in the last year? I think the one thing I've learned is that there is no such thing as a stable period in our industry. Our industry has been going through a period of transition for the entire 20 years I've been in it, and so the first thing that I learned is that that's never going to change.
So I think that it's really not about getting your business to a point where everything's fine, it's about creating a culture where you're constantly driving the change and staying at the front of what the trends are.
Can you give me some examples of things you see the company doing now that speak to that?
MF: Well, some of them I can talk about. Some of them are projects that haven't been announced.
But I think you've seen announcements already about our continued focus on a more net-based business, and I am in a very unique position in my role here, as the head of the U.S. organization, because I have the great Japanese content coming out of the studios in Tokyo, but I also, now after the Eidos acquisition, have this lineup of Western games.
That leaves me and my organization free to really pursue a lot of the more leading edge opportunities in online and social games. And I'm obviously looking at not massive games on an FFXIV or FFXI scale, but smaller, more agile opportunities. One of them you see here, Wakfu, already, that we've picked up. That's developed in a partnership with Ankama Studio.
And we're looking at a lot of projects along that type of opportunity, where it may not necessarily be a big internal project, but we can be smaller and agile. What frees me up to do that is the fact that I have the fantastic lineup like you have here of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Deus Ex, Hitman, Tomb Raider, Heroes of Ruin, and that gives me a stable platform that allows me to do a little bit more risky, a little bit more creative opportunities.
You can't be risk averse when you're throwing your weight into new areas. Risk aversion is for the console space, where there's a well-defined audience and a well-defined target, right?
MF: Yeah, exactly. And we're fortunate, because we have some big franchises there. I mean, it's tough to come in with nothing, but it helps me to be able to know that I can plan on a steady business throughout the year, and then take a few risks here and there to try something new.
Whether it's through acquisition or through internal imperatives, you've seen some of the other traditional publishers push hard on social and mobile. For you, most of that stuff has come out of Square Enix in Japan so far. Do you want to grow both out of the U.S. at this point?
MF: Well, yeah, as you pointed out it's been 11 months, so clearly there's a lot that we're working I'm not ready to announce. But the thing for me is that we're not necessarily coming out with completely different strategies for each region. It's not as though we're focusing on the U.S. organization to do A, Europe to do B, and Japan to do C. It's just a fact that with the big content coming from East and West, I think it's a little bit more liberating to go out and try new things, but that by no means is a signal that they'll be doing less anywhere else.
They released the Lara Croft Guardian of Light from the Eidos Studios that's now on iOS, but I think you're going to continue to see them looking at opportunities there. Japan obviously released [Facebook game] Chocobo's Crystal Tower, so we're doing our feelers.
I'm also interested at looking at some collaborations where we can mix IP that we find in the U.S. with some of the teams and the support from Japan as well. So a whole lot of opportunity there but, for now unfortunately, no names or release dates.