An Open Letter to Square Enix on Mobile Games

I get it Square Enix, you're having financial troubles, and mobile is a quick cash grab. The best selling mobile games (Angry Birds, Candy Crush, take your pick) worked well because they were designed from the ground up for mobile, not ported from a system retired decades ago. Recent statements by you guys seem to indicate that you're looking for stability and long-term money inflows ala MMOs. So the takeaway here is that FFXIV is helping you get back into a profitable state. This is excellent, and the work you've put into it really shows. Put your money there and keep making expansions. We want you back in the black so you have the freedom to innovate once again. The mobile rehashes of these old games (see the recent FFVI "remake") and bizarre micro-transaction disasters (All the Bravest) are quite sad. The port of the FFIV DS remake was great, but again, it was a port of a remake from a system that didn't rely EXCLUSIVELY on a touchscreen interface. I'd rather see you guys really take the mobile bull by the horns and create an entirely new series that is tailor-made to the mobile experience.

Really, anything new would be fantastic. Make a new series that can be followed and loved and consistently fresh. Make sequels, let us fall in love with the characters. We want to care. We want to be engrossed. Get juicy, take chances, be bold. We keep seeing random subpar one-shots that go nowhere. The answer isn't micro-transaction games or repainting old games. Cramming a game that was designed with 8+ buttons in mind onto a touch interface is going to be awkward to say the least.

The major idea is that you should take mobile SERIOUSLY if you want a big hit. Be FRESH! Do something new! Honestly, why does a talented company like yours just keep going for the rehash? Sure it's fast money, but it will NEVER be a run-away success, because it's old news. People want something fun, fast-paced, exciting, and NEW! Leave FF alone for heaven's sake if you're gonna stop innovating. All these games are using 20+ year-old mechanics. We've seen and heard all this before. I love you so much Square Enix. Please start living up to your potential. You've been treading water for far too long, and nobody wants to see you drown.

[UPDATE]

Many people have been Bringing up Chaos Rings as a great example of SE on mobile. To serve due diligence, I bought and am currently playing Chaos Rings. It's fantastic! These are incredibly cinematic and well-crafted games. I would say that the price point is off for most people, as they can range up to $15. The unfortunate side-effect of runaway successes like Angry Birds that rely solely on Ad Revenue is that the majority of audiences want free-to-play experiences. I think that SE is looking for something like this considering the vast array of experiments they've tried out with mobile. It may be that the company is simply over thinking it, and should put out cheaper games without such high overhead. Since FF7, the company has been stuck on the notion that Cinema-quality cutscenes will sell games. While this may be true: 1: Mobile gamers (smart-phones, not 3DS/Vita) are NOT a cinema-quality audience. Mobile needs to be simple, addictive and able to be played in short spurts. Mobile games are most often played waiting in line and on the toilet. 2: This price tag is more expensive than the majority of mobile games, which creates an expensive buy-in barrier for many gamers.

The Final Fantasy games are not sacred cows, but hatchet jobs are easily recognized. With thousands of competing titles, recycled content is only a quick fling, especially considering that all the original NES and SNES titles can be run on emulators at a much lower cost or for free (I don't condone this, but it is commonplace). Lasting mobile viability will grow from a fresh start. Chaos Rings is a great beginning, but until the company realizes that Ad Revenue will far outstrip selling games outright, they won't conquer this new medium like they desire. Here's an experiment for everyone: Go to the Google Play store and search "RPG". Of the top 250 games shown in the result, not a single one has the Square Enix or Final Fantasy name, and 90+% of these top results are free or well under $5.00. "Free-to-play" might be a four-letter word in some circles, but the numbers don't lie.

Having said that, the micro transaction fiasco that is "All the Bravest" stands as an Archetype of how not to do things. The extreme opposites of the $15.99 "Chaos Rings 2" and the potential $46 dollar micro transaction affair of "All the Bravest" clearly illuminates that Square Enix is pushing hard to make serious money on mobile. If they thought like the little guys for a change, they might actually break into that world.