With Yoichi Wada stepping down as the president of Square Enix after 13 years at the helm of the company, Rory Michael O’Sullivan examines his legacy and downfall
Yoichi Wada has been with Square Enix since the year 2000 and has presided over the largest restructuring of the company taking it from a large independent development house to a full-fledged publisher. He has overseen the development of some of the largest games of this generation including series entries to Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Hitman and Tomb Raider as well as overseeing the launch of new IPs such as the recent Sleeping Dogs. Now, 13 years after joining the company, Wada is now stepping down as president to a more junior role, taking a 60% pay cut in the process. A forecast “extraordinary loss” in Square Enix's next financial statement is the reason offered up for what they're dubbing a “management restructuring”.
As a young man Yoichi Wada attended the University of Tokyo where he received a bachelors degree in finance. After serving an apprenticeship at Nomura Securities to build a track record of employment he shifted attention to his career goal, to become a company president by the age of 40. Deciding he wanted to work under the theme of “creating society” he chose the video game sector as his field and the company Square as his target. Wada joined Square in 2000 and brought with him plans of consolidation and development of the company. A merger between Final Fantasy's Square and Dragon Quest’s Enix was planned in 2000 but the financial failure of the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within made Enix reluctant to join. The merger was delayed until 2003 when Square Enix was born and Yoichi Wada emerged at the helm as president.
Under his presidency Square Enix acquired the legacy game company Taito who were best known for their arcade entries such as Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble. The British publishing giant Eidos Interactive famed for iconic titles such as Hitman and Tomb Raider was next in his sights and was acquired in 2009.
While Wada's business sense lead the company forward in leaps and bounds his love of the product left him blinded by emotion when it came to leading development projects. A former employee said of him: “I don’t know a company president who loves playing his own company’s games more than Wada”. He became involved in games production more as a fan than a boss and according to the employee “If anything, Wada’s mistake, his weakness was that because he loved and cherished his developers so much that he put too much trust in them”. Under Wada's leadership development cycles became longer and more bloated. The company’s flagship series Final Fantasy began weighing heavily on the company. While Final Fantasy XII and XIII were critical and commercial successes the disastrous Final Fantasy XIV underlined the risk incurred with these long development cycles should the game fail and Final Fantasy Versus XIII has entered its seventh year of active development making it the longest development cycle of any entry to the series.
Beyond that the newly acquired licences have been seen to be under performing. The failure that was Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days prompted games critic Yahtzee to decree that it “killed its franchise so thoroughly that the only acceptable sequel will be a box containing nothing but an apology letter and some chocolates". Hitman Absolution was described by IBITimes as “An unremarkable, derivative clone of a game that's barely a shadow of what Hitman used to be”. Even the latest entry to the Tomb Raider series is being written up as a failure despite having the biggest opening week in the history of the franchise as well as holding the biggest opening of 2013. Bloated development cycles have too high a risk with associated failure and put unreasonable sales demands on successes. Given the poor financial forecast it was time to put an end to this mismanagement.
Wada is stepping down as president and will not be reappointed to the Board of Directors. His salary is being slashed by more than half to bring it in line with his new position and the company's new financial situation. He will be replaced by Yousuke Matsuda who is also receiving a pay cut of 40% as well as the heavy burden of managing the resurgence of one of the few remaining iconic gaming giants.
Yoichi Wada brought good and bad to Square and Square Enix but ultimately his legacy as president is one of failure. He adopted a “when it's done attitude”, the attitude which gave Duke Nukem Forever the power to destroy a company, and it undid him before it could undo Square Enix. It is always sad to see people in the industry undone by their passion but when faced with the shark-like efficiency of Activision churning out record breaking best sellers year after year businessmen need to lead the creators, rather than the other way around.