Marked by numerous transactions and other takeovers in the space of a few months, the year 2022 has been particularly unprecedented in the video game industry. Among these major sales, it is difficult to omit the sale of Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, Square Enix Montreal and all the IP related to these studios by Square Enix to Embracer Group. This transaction, concluded for 300 million dollars, surprised many players in the video game industry, but others saw it coming.
The founder of Eidos Montreal felt the tide was turning for Square Enix
It is with our colleagues from GamesIndustry that Stéphane D’Astous, the founder of Eidos Montreal, spoke about the sale to Embracer Group of the studios belonging to Square Enix. According to him, Square Enix’s western studios were a “slow train wreck” for a variety of reasons. Despite the fact that he left Eidos Montreal in 2013, Stéphane D’Astous explains that the relationship between Square Enix and its studios was already complicated.
“It was a trajectory that we could predict. I left because things were missing from the head office. Eidos [pré-Square Enix] has a great tradition of development teams, but they don’t have superior knowledge on how to sell their games. And it was very clear. You can look at all the great games that Eidos has made, and – other than Tomb Raider back then, that was a whole different time – the Hitmans and all of those could have been six, seven, eight projects million units. Deus Ex could have been that too. We hit some good numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I always thought the way Eidos sold games was so traditional and conventional. It was not innovative. And that was always underestimating the quality of the games. I was hoping that when Square Enix bought Eidos in 2009 it would change things. »
Eidos Montreal was structured with three production pipelines, kicking off with the Deus Ex and Thief series revivals while helping Crystal Dynamics relaunch Tomb Raider by handling the multiplayer component as a third project. In 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was finally released with an excellent reception from the public, followed by the return of Thief in 2014, with a more mixed return despite a great achievement.
“The Deus Ex development team was one of the strongest I’ve assembled, and it was really united. They knew the challenges ahead. With Thief, I didn’t have the luxury of having a core group of people who had worked together before, so I went and recruited strong, very strong people, but they didn’t have the opportunity to work together on previous games. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why it hasn’t been as smooth as Deus Ex.”
More recently, it was the Marvel era that was front and center for Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics with the signing of a multi-project deal with Marvel resulting in Marvel’s Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy last year.
“Perhaps at the time [de la signature de l’accord], superheroes were very popular. It still is, but there’s a certain fatigue with superheroes. And especially in games – very few manage to have success with superheroes. there is always batman [des] guys from Rocksteady. There was Spider-Man. But among those who have, the success rate of superhero games is not good. Maybe that was the easy way out. They may have thought that selling a superhero game is easier than a conventional game. »
Subsequently, Stéphane D’Astous returns more specifically to the internal relations between Square Enix and its Western branches, tense relations which have deteriorated over the years. Square Enix has notably become famous for declaring certain multimillion-selling games to be disappointments.
In certain meetings, the administration of Square Enix did not hesitate to downplay the performance of its studios, however good they were. The pressure started to mount between the employees, the superiors, the studios. This crisis situation has impacted the work of the teams and this is due in particular to a lack of leadership, courage and communication according to Stéphane D’Astous.
“I was losing hope that Square Enix Japan would bring great things to Eidos. I was losing confidence in my seat in London. In their annual tax reports, the Japanese would always add a sentence or two saying, ‘We were disappointed with some games. They did not meet expectations.’ And they were doing that strictly for certain games that were made outside of Japan. The plan has not been successful for the past decade. I don’t know why it would be successful for the next ten years, because it’s the same people, the same actors are there. It’s a train that’s slowing down and needs an injection of energy or money or something, but the train is slowing down. And that’s unfortunate because there are a lot of good people in those studios. »
For Stéphane D’Astous, Square Enix Japan has not invested as much as expected, hence the descent into hell internally. Now, some rumors point to Sony’s interest in Square Enix Japan. Yosuke Matsuda-san, the CEO of Square Enix, would even have spoken of a garage sale according to Stéphane D’Astous. Thus, this would explain the sale of three AAA studios and their IPs for $300 million.
“They have around 1,000 employees. Eidos has about 1,000. They basically have Borderlands and others, and Eidos has five times as many IPs. So why four times less? I guess there weren’t a lot of key people interested. And that shows the health of Eidos’ potential value, unfortunately. It was a slow-motion train wreck, in my eyes, anyway. It was predictable that the train was not going in a good direction. And maybe that justified $300 million. It’s really not a lot. That does not make sense “.
From now on, Eidos Montreal, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix Montreal hope to relaunch with dignity under the aegis of Embracer, betting on the autonomy of its subsidiaries. That’s all we can hope for the many developers and other talents of these studios, all taken aback by this radical change and resale that occurred in early May.