Current Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda is reportedly set to depart the company, pending shareholder approval in June 2023, after a tumultuous year and several perceived failures for high-profile releases. Should this approval go ahead, Matsuda will be replaced by Takashi Kiryu, who has been at Square Enix for several years, and was previously General Manager at Dentsu Innovation Initiative, a company known for its work in the metaverse.
The reasons for Matsuda’s departure were not detailed by Square Enix in its initial announcement, although there is some speculation that his role in pursuing NFTs and blockchain technologies, and his role in overseeing ‘disappointing’ failures like Marvel’s Avengers, as contributing to this shakeup.
In late 2021, Matsuda admitted Square Enix had a lot to learn from the disappointment of Marvel’s Avengers, one of the company’s first forays into live-service games that suffered from a challenging marketing campaign, launched to middling reviews, and garnered a generally negative sentiment overall. Enthusiasts had expected a stronger game, given the pedigree of its developer Crystal Dynamics, and the strength of the property. Following this release, Matsuda began enthusing about a different kind of gaming experience – one led by blockchain technology.
In early 2022, Matsuda claimed ‘play-to-earn’ gaming was the future of the industry. In an open letter enthusing about the future of Square Enix, he claimed ‘traditional gaming has offered no explicit incentive’ to people who create content for games – and that a ‘play-to-earn’ revolution could allow people to ‘contribute’ to their favourite games, while earning money for their efforts. Later, he doubled down on this stance, claiming blockchain technology could reward players who engaged with play-to-earn mechanics.
Then, in mid-2022, Square Enix announced plans to create ‘story-based NFTs‘ which would overtly monetise gameplay, and rely on players purchasing goods on the blockchain to survive. Symbiogenesis was the first NFT project to be announced, and was described as a ‘digital collectible art project designed from the ground up for Web3 fans’. The true nature of Symbiogenesis is yet to be revealed.
While Matsuda continued to enthuse about these NFT and blockchain projects, Square Enix was going through an inner crisis, with the poor performance of Marvel’s Avengers and the even poorer performance of games like Babylon’s Fall contributing to major losses. In early 2022, Square Enix decided to sell off its Western game studios Square Enix Montreal, Crystal Dynamics, and Eidos, with these companies being snapped up by Embracer Group. Despite this divestiture, Square Enix later announced plans to establish new studios.
It’s been a rough few years for the company, filled with extreme highs and lows. While Matsuda was not directly responsible for every misstep along the way, his enthusiasm for NFTs and the blockchain certainly contributed to a rise in negative sentiment towards the company, which has also been compounded by years of baffling decisions.
After 10 years at the company, Yosuke Matsuda now appears to be on the way out of Square Enix.
‘Under the rapid change of business environment surrounding the entertainment industry, the proposed change is intended to reshape the management team with the goal of adopting ever-evolving technological innovations and maximising on the creativity of the Company’s group in order to deliver even greater entertainment to its customers around the world,’ Square Enix said of the change.
Takashi Kiryu has been chosen as Matsuda’s potential successor to imbue the company with renewed vigour. While his past experiences developing within the metaverse will likely mean Square Enix’s vision for the future may remain the the same, a fresh set of eyes will likely contribute to much-needed change at the company.
We’ll hear more about this shift when shareholders vote on Matsuda’s replacement in June 2023.