Square-Enix: The Next Gaming Innovation Will Be Billing

The next breakthrough in games will involve how you pay for what you play, the president of Square-Enix said today. Yoichi Wada made the declaration during the traditional state of the industry Tokyo Game Show kick-off panel here in Tokyo.

"What's going to be important for the next five years is not going to be the innovations in the specifications of the hardware or software," Wada said, "But the billing ... the revenue model and how this can be firmly rooted among the users — that's when the next breakthrough will come."

The Square-Enix chief is high on the prospect of paid network games. The executives on the panel, which included the top men at Capcom, Namco Bandai, and Konami, discussed many aspects of gaming's present and near future. None proposed the perfect new payment model that Wada is seeking.

The executives did note that there is a challenge billing for full games that are sold digitally. Namco Bandai president Shin Unozawa said "it is inconceivable" to think people will pay full price — $59 U.S. — to download games. That needs to be figured out, he said. "There is a fear there... It's quite frightening to think about changing to a different model." He said that the profits in digital downloads are not there to support the today's scale of big-game development. That said, he referenced his company's successful practice of selling Pac-Man on mobile platforms for low prices.

"There doesn't have to be one title, one price," Wada said, saying that some consumers might be willing to pay smaller fees to play games for set amounts of time, rather than paying a full price for a full game."

Spinning off all of the pricing comments, Shuhei Yoshida, head of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment, said that he, at least, has seen small signs of success. He cited the financial and creative successes of small development teams creating and selling games through the Sony PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and the Wii.

"From students there may be people coming up with several hundred thousand hits [sales] per title."
The proliferation of the App store and Facebook in 2009 was also impactful, Yoshida said. It connected more people and allowed gaming and non-gaming experiences to become more of a service to users.

Capcom president Haruhiro Tsujimoto said that he likes that it is easy for fans of mobile games to show them to each other. He likes the idea of word of mouth making a game popular. So, he was asked, is Monster Hunter is it possible on iPhone? "Let's pass that question," he said.

Both Square-Enix chief Wada and Namco Bandai president Namco's Unozawa denied that the global economic crisis was hurting the gaming business or any other sector of the gaming industry. Hasuhiro Tsujimoto agreed, saying that, like the music industry, success is based on the quality of a new release.

Wada also raised a concern about demographics. He said that the Japanese market needs to address the sense that it isn't cool for adults in his country to play video games. He believes that gaming while you're older is seen as cool in the West, but not in Japan.