Roundtable - January 1, 2003 - Part I

Justin: Hi, this is your friendly roundtable moderator returning once again to bring you RPGamer news discussion goodness. Before we begin with the questions, however, I'd like our panel for this week to introduce themselves.

Cortney: I'm Cortney Stone, a newsie here at RPGamer, virtually on the bottom of the proverbial totem pole.

Alex: Hey all. My name is Alex Wollenschlaeger and I run the Japandemonium column each week. Right now I feel rather guilty for playing hooky from school today.

Ed: I'm Ed Walker, I started off in New Media and now I run Theme Central and do some back-end development for the site.

James: Hello there, weather fans, I am James 'Geothermal' Smith, a former RPGamer staffer. I used to work for the site as a lowly mediate (media updater). But alas, the life as a page updater just got too glamorous for me. I feared that it might destroy my down-to-earth world views that have caused many to praise and love me. So I was fired... er, quit. But I'm glad to offer my 19 years of gamer experience to this table.

Googleshng: and I'm Googleshng, you probably know me from RPGamer's Q&A column and the many past roundtables I have been in.

Justin: Now that you know a little something about our panel, it's time to find out what they think about our topics. Perhaps the biggest revelation in the RPG world in 2002 was the announcement of the two largest RPG developers, Square and Enix, merging into one large company. Do you foresee this being a good or bad thing for RPGs, and how do you think this concentration of talent will affect the quality and originality of RPGs in the future?

Googleshng: I really think that merger is getting way too much public attention all around. You've got two labels with half a dozen or so largely independent teams working under them fusing into one label with two dozen teams milling about. I suppose there's better odds of getting everyone involved with Chrono Trigger back together if they want to do another, but by and large I don't see it having any real affect on the games released, just how they're marketed.

Cortney: Some fans have been jeering this merger, either out of fear that their favorite games will diminish in quality or fear of corporate mega-conglomerates in the game industry. Personally, I prefer the wait-and-see attitude adopted by the more sensible people. I think that since two great companies have just pooled all their resources and creativity, there is now a significant amount of potential waiting to be unleashed. We'll just have to see if that truly comes to pass, or if it collects dust on the shelf in the name of quick profits.

Alex: I have to agree with both of you. I keep on hearing about how the two companies are going to ruin each other, and I have to say that a lot of people are really jumping the gun on this. The merger is happening purely for financial reasons, and at least for the immediate future, I don't see there being any big crossovers.

James: I think that it will definitely affect the number of RPGs we see coming out, that much is for sure. Less competition will mean less need to bring out new games at important times. But the merger doesn't just make the one company or the other go away. There are still just as many people making RPGs and who need to bring in the big bucks, they're just under the same roof. As Google said, most of the work is done by groups that are pretty much in today gone tomorrow anyway. So I don't see the market changing all that much, no.

Googleshng: I'd have to disagree on the lack of releases honestly. Square and Enix have never really gone head to head on releases per se. I mean, Square cranks out a game every few months, with someone else usually releasing a few to compete, and Enix as a developer is more of a glacier than Nintendo.

James: Also, since Square was pretty much bought, I think that its teams, directors and so forth, are going to be pretty concerned about making their new bosses see them as necessary to have around. So I don't think that you'll see a big drop in the amount of games you see from them.

Alex: That being said, I am excited to see what does happen when the two companies do start to work together on a project. There is great potential here for some innovative games, but also for milking of the fan bases. One thing is for certain, with two enormous camps of fans, the game will be a blockbuster. Not that they are necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you.

James: I can't really see them making some sort of crossover though. Certainly not one that would please or even excite both camps of fan enough for it to sell well. I mean, if I saw "Erdrick meets Cloud" on the selves, I'd cringe, not cheer.

Googleshng: Well neither company is very big on recycling characters to begin with so no. I think we're all just talking about a crossover of development staff here.

Alex: Yes, precisely.

James: But good people are good people. It's not like I could tell you "Put this Director with this artist and man will this game be great". However, this will certainly give both companies a much broader pool from which to form teams, for sure.

Justin: Really, the biggest effect I can see this merger having is in the possibility of exclusivity deals. With a company this big that, more or less, IS the RPG market, they obviously have a lot of clout when dealing with hardware manufacturers. Imagine the demands Square Enix could make in their favor if they either signed exclusivity deals with certain hardware manufacturers or threatened to ignore other manufacturers. Basically, those systems would be out an entire genre, which I don't think Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony could afford.

Ed: Yes, throwing your weight becomes far more effective when you have more to throw around.

Alex: Justin, you're right. Square Enix could basically singly-handedly decide the next console victor if they signed an exclusive contract.

Justin: I don't know if I would go that far, but it would certainly affect sales.

James: Yeah, it's not like the independents give Square and Enix much competition in the RPG field. Some exceptions exist, but none that I see turning system makers' heads. Ugh, Shadow Madness...

Justin: In my eyes, the RPG market has more leverage right now than any other genre, simply because it's now more or less controlled by one body.

Googleshng: And those companies would be out a good number of potential consumers. Plus there's honestly a large number of talented departments you're leaving out in the cold. I can name a number of developers who can keep an RPG lover happy without those two. Heck, the Dreamcast had a lot of RPGamers in love with it, and all it had was Sega.

Justin: That's true, but when it comes to mass-market RPGs with name recognition, Sega is a distant third to Square and Enix.

Googleshng: I never said it wasn't, I'm just saying it's a bit of a stretch to call Square and Enix a monopoly.

Justin: Well, it appears that the general consensus is that there's more potential for good than bad in the merger, but for the most part, we'll have to wait and see.

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