Hello! Welcome to this week’s Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!
This week, we’re focusing on the big Square Enix news.
Square Enix Sells Tomb Raider, Developers to Embracer
In a surprise move, Square Enix have sold Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal and Square Enix Montreal, along with a bunch of their Western IPs, including Deus Ex, Thief, Legacy of Kain and, most notably, Tomb Raider. The buyer is Embracer Group, a monolithic beast that’s currently devoured most of the mid-tier of the industry; they already own the likes of Gearbox, Deep Silver and THQ Nordic. (link)
It’s a surprise move, and one that manages to say so much about the industry as it currently stands. Which is why I’ll be focusing on it so closely this week in lieu of other stories, because there’s so much to cover here.
In order to understand what’s happening here, we need to look back at the history of these studios. Square Enix acquired British published Eidos Interactive back in 2009, turning them into Square Enix Europe and bringing most of their properties under their wing. Only the Eidos Montreal studio retained the original name.
Since then, however, Square seemingly haven’t really known what to do with their shiny new Western division. Poorly received titles such as the Thief reboot showed a lack of understanding of what these properties were about, and poor marketing led titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution underperforming. Even the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy was deemed to be underperforming by the Japanese publisher, despite these games getting some of the best sales figures for the franchise in years.
Recent years have shown little improvement, with Square Enix gaining the Marvel license and handing it to Crystal Dynamics. This was a decision that shifted development of Shadow of the Tomb Raider to Eidos Montreal, which in turn resulted in the cancellation of a planned sequel to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
And the result of this reshuffle? 2020’s Avengers game, which was often derided for repetitive gameplay, pointless live service elements and an art design that leaned so close to the MCU without quite hitting it that it landed straight in the uncanny valley with a Tony Stark that looked more like Jack Whitehall than Robert Downey Jr.
It was a flop, which analysts believe cost Square Enix $200m, and last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy game from Eidos Montreal, which was much better from all accounts, suffered a muted reaction off the back of it. (link)
It seems that all this was too far for Square Enix, whose CEO admitted that maybe Crystal Dynamics, a studio known exclusively for story-driven single-player titles, weren’t the studio for a live service game. The sale to Embracer is a drastic decision, but it’s one they clearly decided was worth it.
What Do Square Enix Get Out of This?
Honestly, I can’t see this decision as anything other than a bad business decision from Square Enix’s perspective. The sale of most of the old Eidos IPs, along with three development studios, only brought in $300m at a time when most major acquisitions in the games industry are in the multi-billions. Sure, it’s given them back the money lost on Avengers, but not much else. And let’s be honest, Final Fantasy XIV probably made that money back overnight anyway.
The sale of the IPs is especially baffling, as most of the time the only reason we see IPs come under the ownership of another company is during a merger or bankruptcy. We can see this in both parties of this specific transaction, as Square Enix acquired these IPs through their purchase of Eidos Interactive (a merger), and Embracer began their absorption of the industry when Nordic Games purchased a bunch of assets from THQ as it liquidated (bankruptcy).
So for a publisher to just casually toss aside a big chunk of its catalogue for relative pennies is strange. Sure, they won’t be footing the bill for future Tomb Raider games, but they also won’t be making any additional income from Steam sales of the entire series, streaming or purchasing of the three movies, or sales of any of the comics (which, in a twist, will now go entirely to Embracer going forward as they also just bought Dark Horse, the company that published those comics). Which is no small amount, as Tomb Raider is (or was) Square Enix’s second biggest property after Final Fantasy.
Bafflingly, Square Enix have said they’re interested in using this $300m to invest in the blockchain, in other words they’re putting all their chips on the square marked NFTs, which their CEO Yosuke Matsuda has previously expressed enthusiasm for. Of course, one day after the sale was announced, the NFT market collapsed by 92%, making that decision look much worse than it initially seemed. (link)
Is the Sale Good for the Games?
So what happens with the games and developers who make them? The good news is, this looks like it might be a great thing for many of these neglected or misunderstood titles.
Despite being an unmoving pulsating mass devouring all, Embracer are very good at preservation and respecting the properties they buy. Indeed, last year they reformed TimeSplitters developers Free Radical Design specifically to invest in a new entry in the series. And for a beloved franchise that’s largely been dormant for 17 years, that’s a big deal. They also have an ambitious project for preserving gaming history, and that’s always a project I can get behind. (link)
So if you’d like to see Deus Ex, Thief or Legacy of Kain back on top, there’s a very real chance that Embracer may be willing to make that happen. We already know that a new Tomb Raider instalment is on the way, thanks to a community announcement last year that they were “unifying the timelines” and a recent announcement that the new game would be made using Unreal Engine 5. Embracer have confirmed this game will continue development as planned.
It’s easy to see a lot of benefit to this sale to everyone except Square Enix. It’ll be worth paying attention to both companies to see how this sale impacts them both further down the line.
Let’s start with the smaller releases this week. Wildcat Gun Machine (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One) is a bullet hell dungeon crawler that sees you battling horrible flesh beasts. Best Month Ever! (PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox) is a narrative adventure about a young mother taking her child on a road trip across 1960s America to teach him all the essential skills he’ll need to know for life. Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit (PC) is a point and click adventure set in Lithuania, as a young woman uncovers secrets of the past. And Oaken (PC) is an Early Access card battler all about attempting to save the Great Oak that gives in inhabitants life.
Loot River (PC, Xbox) has been described as Diablo meets Tetris, which is a bizarre concept, but one that makes sense when you see the game in action. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler where you can move slabs of the world around to your benefit, and fitting these pieces together is key to your success.
Citizen Sleeper (PC, Switch, Xbox) is a narrative-driven cyberpunk game about surviving on a space station at the fringes of a corrupt intergalactic civilisation. Much of the gameplay has been inspired by TTRPGs, so this could be an interesting one.
Warhammer 40k: Chaos Gate Daemonhunters (PC) is yet another game in the ever-present grimdark Warhammer universe, and once again I have no idea how to describe this as the franchise is so far outside my frame of reference. This game’s a tactical RPG though, so basically expect fancy chess with space orcs, I guess.
Game of the Week
Game of the Week this week is Trek to Yomi (PC, PlayStation, Xbox), a stylish samurai sidescroller.
A hack and slash game set in the Edo period, you play a warrior seeking revenge on those who destroyed his village. Much of the gameplay sees you fighting off opponents from both sides in a 2D plane.
It’s also gorgeous, adopting a black and white, Kurosawa-esque visual style that demands your attention. Its combat animations are also gorgeous, flowing between one another like water.
Trek to Yomi feels like all the best parts of Ghost of Tsushima condensed into a sidescroller, and I’m all for it.
And that’s all for now! See you next week for more from the world of gaming!