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Square Enix & Microsoft: The Honeymoon Period Is Over

Square Enix & Microsoft: The Honeymoon Period Is Over

Written by Colin — 15 Jul 2010

Square Enix and Microsoft have a rather strange relationship quite akin to that of a roller coaster. Early on in the current generation's life, Square Enix was happy to offer their games on Microsoft's system, distributing exclusive titles like The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean: The Last Hope - now also on the PlayStation 3 - and just recently Final Fantasy XIII was released on both major consoles. Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada explained it as a way of expanding their audience. So then why isn't Final Fantasy XIV heading down the same route as well?

Originally codenamed Rapture, it was a brand new MMO being developed by Hiromichi Tanaka and the team behind FFXI. It was announced way back in August 2005. Since then, statements about what platform it would be on went back and forth with Tanaka first stating it was being made for the PlayStation 3 and PC in 2006. However, it was later said that Rapture was being made for the Xbox 360 and PC, with the possibility of a PS3 version being brought out at a later stage. Square Enix then reaffirmed that the game would be for all consoles at GDC 2008.

Fast forward to June of last year, E3 2009, Sony's Press Conference where Square Enix unveiled the debut trailer of Final Fantasy XIV - only for the PlayStation 3 and PC.

Just what the hell is going on here?

Square Enix have released many games on the Xbox 360 and while not all of them succeeded, they didn't fail miserably either. Star Ocean: The Last Hope went on to become one of the best selling Xbox 360 games in Japan after all. Ironically, Final Fantasy XI remains one of the few MMOs available on Microsoft's console. So what's keeping Final Fantasy XIV from becoming yet another title to add to the Xbox library, another title to reel in the revenue? One would think a mutual agreement would be viable and, in fact, Square Enix happened to be in talks with Microsoft about bringing FFXIV over to the 360.

Obviously that didn't quite work out as Square Enix soon stated that the nature of Xbox Live prevented them from bringing the game over.

"The main reason why we couldn't go with Xbox 360 was the Xbox Live system, [Live is] different to the normal internet environment, so when we wanted to introduce this game in the same environment as Windows PC it had to be PS3, so that was our choice."

Fair enough, but no sooner had Tanaka said that it was their choice to go with PS3 and PC that he then carried on to put the blame on Microsoft instead, saying that it was them who turned down the game. Just a wee bit different from what he had previously said just a mere few weeks before.

Did Microsoft really turn it down? According to Square Enix, it was initially due to Xbox Live. They felt it was simply too controlled and too tight, which is quite true. Xbox Live is Microsoft's baby, it's one of their central waterholes of revenue in the gaming industry and only Gold account subscribers - paying subscribers - can enjoy online multiplayer games. Nevermind other MMOs suffering the same experience, even putting DLC through the service has its woes. Patches and DLC have to be processed and approved by Microsoft beforehand while the PC counterparts are instantly made available.

Another issue worth pointing out is that while PC and PS3 users only have to pay for the monthly subscription, Xbox users would need to fork out subscription fees to both Microsoft and Square Enix, an option that probably doesn't sit well with Square Enix. Microsoft could allow for Silver accounts to enjoy FFXIV, much like they did with FFXI. However, the only reason why Microsoft opened their service then was because it was still in its infancy. Microsoft needed Square Enix and they needed people playing on their system. Unfortunately, times have changed and there is no reason to offer the same deal now that Microsoft is much more established. Furthermore, who's to say that other distributers and publishers wouldn't demand the same treatment should the service be opened up for Final Fantasy XIV. Activision's CEO Bobby Kotick recently stated he isn't too happy with the business model of Xbox Live since publishers don't exactly profit much in comparison to Microsoft. That's certainly one company that would take advantage of a more open online platform.

While Square Enix says Microsoft turned them down, it seems more as though Microsoft didn't have a choice in the matter. Opening up Xbox Live for but one game may as well amount to Microsoft abolishing subscription fees and making the service free. Their iron grip on the service won't be loosed so easily. It's certainly not a case of Microsoft not wanting Final Fantasy XIV on their console, they just can't have it, not with their current business model. They've cornered themselves with the close nature of Xbox Live. Allowing FFXIV on Silver subs will leave Microsoft vulnerable to other distributers that would want to do the same thing and they'd be losing revenue. In the end, it's the money that counts and one game isn't much of a loss in Microsoft's grand scheme of things, even if it's from Square Enix.