Japanese superstar publisher Square Enix has emphasised that online gaming is the way forward for its RPG-heavy titles and has stated that every console in the future will feature full online capabilities, according to statements emerging from the company's shareholder meeting.
Discussing revenue plans for the coming year, Square Enix warned that profits could suffer as the current generation of consoles gives way to the next-gen, but assured shareholders that investment in online gaming now would offer great returns in the long run.
To achieve this long-term profit, SquEnix is already growing its online sector faster than the market actually needs so that it is at the forefront when more and more players get the ability to play online.
SquEnix has already had success in the online sector, with Final Fantasy XI on PC and PS2 snatching the publisher a 50% share of the massively multiplayer market in Japan. According to Square, FFXI has also "beaten EverQuest in America" and is "doing well in Europe."
Other topics of discussion were Final Fantasy XII on PS2, expected to finally launch next year and sell 3 to 4 million copies in Japan; The next instalment in the massively popular Dragon Quest franchise, which was neatly ducked by the SquEnix spokespeople; and ex-Square golden child Hironobu Sakaguchi's new Mistwalker studio, which evidently has absolutely no financial connection to Square Enix.
In an interview published in the latest issue of Famitsu magazine, Final Fantasy XI producer Hiromichi Tanaka disclosed that his development team is currently working on a new massively multiplayer role-playing game for next-generation consoles.
Tanaka declined to comment on whether the MMORPG in development will be a successor to FFXI or a new product. He did confirm that the technical demonstration shown for the Xbox 360 during E3 was one of the experiments his development team had created to see what kind of graphics a next-generation console could achieve.
Tanaka also disclosed that the Xbox 360 edition of FFXI will sport graphics of a quality similar to the currently available PC version of FFXI. However, he added that the development team is seeing if the Xbox 360 can display graphics for about twice the distance than the Windows version.
The game's beta test is slated to begin simultaneously with the launch of the Xbox 360 later this year. Similarly to the Windows beta, the Xbox 360's beta test will be conducted on servers separate from the rest of the FFXI world. One of the main objectives for the Xbox 360 version's beta testing is to see if there are any problems with the game's network environment, since this will be the first time Xbox Live will be allowing a connection from an external system.
On the massively multiplayer side of things, FFXI producer Hiromichi Tanaka was equally evasive - admitting that his team is working on a new MMORPG for next-generation platforms, but declining to give any further details. He did, however, admit that the tech demo shown off at Microsoft's pre-E3 conference was one of the team's experiments with next-gen graphics, which tends to suggest that Xbox 360 is seen as a target platform for the game.
One might reasonably expect PlayStation 3 to be the other target platform, but Tanaka seems perturbed by rumblings from Sony which suggest that the hard drive may not be included as standard with the console.
He told Famitsu that he was surprised to hear that Sony is considering shipping without a hard drive, saying that unless broadband connections are suddenly upgraded to fibre optic speeds, the PS3 will need a hard drive in order to support the kind of character development required by massively multiplayer games.
According to Tanaka-san, there will be new spells, new jobs, and a whole bunch of other additional content in the game, as well as double the draw distance of the current PC version. A beta test is said to be starting soon too, though how exactly this is going to work without lots of Xbox 360s is as yet undisclosed.
Hiromichi-san claimed that the 360 version will offer a draw-distance twice that of the PC version, and will feature an assortment of new content such as jobs and the possibility of new Summon magic spells.