Marked by numerous transactions and other acquisitions in a matter of months, the year 2022 has been particularly unprecedented in the video game industry. Among these major sales, it is difficult to leave out the sale of Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, Square Enix Montreal and all IP related to these studios by Square Enix to the Embracer Group. This transaction, done for $300 million, surprised many players in the video game industry, but others saw it coming.
The founder of Eidos Montreal felt that 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 the Embracer Group of the studios belonging to Square Enix. According to him, Square Enix’s Western Studios was a “slow train wreck” for various reasons. Despite leaving 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 main office. Eidos [pré-Square Enix] has a great tradition of development teams, but they don’t have superior knowledge of how to sell their games. And it was very clear. You look at all the great games that Eidos has made and – apart from Tomb Raider back then, it was a completely different time – Hitmans and all of these could have been six, seven, eight million unit projects. So could Deus Ex. 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 it was always to underestimate 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, starting with the revivals of the Deus Ex and Thief series, 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 to an excellent reception from the public, followed by the return of Thief in 2014, with a more mixed return despite a good performance.
“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, the Marvel era 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.
“Maybe at that point [de la signature de l’accord], superheroes were very popular. It still is, but there is a certain fatigue with superheroes. And especially in games – very few manage to succeed with superheroes. there’s always batman [des] guys from Rocksteady. There was Spider-Man. But among those that have, the success rate of superhero games is not good. Maybe it was the easy way out. They may have thought that it is easier to sell a superhero game than a conventional game. »
Subsequently, Stéphane D’Astous returns more specifically to the internal relations between Square Enix and its western branches, strained relations that have worsened over the years. Square Enix has become particularly famous for declaring certain multimillion-selling games 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 began to rise between the employees, the superiors, the studios. This crisis situation has affected the work of the teams, and this is mainly due to a lack of leadership, courage and communication according to Stéphane D’Astous.
“I was losing hope that Square Enix Japan would bring big things to Eidos. I was losing confidence in my seat in London. In their annual tax reports, the Japanese always added a sentence or two saying, ‘We were disappointed with some games. They didn’t live up to expectations.’ And they only did that for certain games that were made outside of Japan. The plan has not been successful in the past decade. I don’t know why it would be successful in the next ten years because these are 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 it’s a shame because there are a lot of good people in those studios.”
For Stéphane D’Astous, Square Enix Japan hasn’t 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, CEO of Square Enix, would have even talked about 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 about 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 not many key people were interested. And unfortunately that shows the health of Eidos’ Potential Value At least it was a slow-motion train wreck in my eyes. It was predictable that the train wasn’t going in a good direction. And maybe it justified $300 million. It’s really not much. It makes no sense “.
As of now, Eidos Montreal, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix Montreal hope to relaunch with dignity under Embracer’s auspices and bank on the autonomy of its subsidiaries. That’s all we can hope for the many developers and other talents in these studios, all surprised by this radical change and resale that took place in early May.