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Game On: Square Enix to sell off most of its western development wing

UPDATED: Thu., May 5, 2022

Swedish gaming giant Embracer Group announced on Monday its intent to buy out most of Square Enix’s western development wing for $300 million.  (Square Enix Co.)
Swedish gaming giant Embracer Group announced on Monday its intent to buy out most of Square Enix’s western development wing for $300 million. (Square Enix Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

It was announced on Monday that Square Enix intends to sell off the majority of its western studios and intellectual properties to Embracer Group, a massive Swedish video game conglomerate. The deal is valued at $300 million and set to be finalized sometime in July to September.

“Deal” is the right word here because for that sum, Embracer will get its hands on Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montréal and Square Enix Montréal – development studios totaling around 1,100 employees.

Perhaps even more importantly, Embracer will also acquire the rights to IPs like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Thief and Legacy of Kain. It’s not a great comparison, but when you consider that Microsoft is set to grab Activision-Blizzard for $68.7 billion, that $300 million starts to sound pretty cheap.

This buyout could be a good thing for gamers. Embracer already released a straightforward news release about its intentions, citing the acquisition as “an opportunity to invest in these franchises.” It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the publisher could mishandle things worse than Square Enix, which bought the same studios back in 2009.

Square Enix oversaw the development of a 2014 Thief revival that received middling reviews and sold poorly, as well as two well-received Deus Ex games before quietly putting the series on hold after a cliffhanger ending.

Square Enix canceled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun in 2012 after the game spent three years in development and looked mostly complete. On the flipside, Square Enix did manage to treat Tomb Raider with proper respect, creating some memorable and profitable games for the long-running series.

But the nail in the coffin seems to have been Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was developed by Eidos-Montréal and released late last year. Despite decent critical reviews and great reception from players, Square Enix quickly announced that the game failed to meet sales expectations and sliced the game’s price in half, from $60 to $30.

Less than a year later, the publisher plans to sell to Embracer and said outright it would be using the cash from the sale to invest in “fields including blockchain, AI and the cloud.” I don’t have a lot of confidence in Square Enix – in recent years, the publisher can seemingly only be pleased by the sales figures of mega franchises like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts.

For whatever reason, many game publishers are rushing to leave traditional sales models behind. The proliferation of microtransactions in live-service games – think Fortnite, Destiny 2 or Apex Legends – is hardly news, but now there’s talk of adding elements of blockchain and NFT into games, too.

So far, Ubisoft is the only publisher to actually implement NFTs into video games, but EA, Sega, Nintendo and Konami have all expressed interest in doing the same. The logic is the only thing that could be more alluring than limited-time cosmetic items is completely unique cosmetic items that can be traded via cryptocurrency.

God forbid game publishers just focus on making a good game. Embracer seems like the lesser evil next to Square Enix. In recent years, it has gobbled up the likes of Koch Media, Coffee Stain Holding and Gearbox – and the output quality has not suffered. Embracer is certainly no EA, which is notorious for buying up countless studios and promptly driving them into the ground.

I’m a simple man – I’d just like to see some of these classic franchises get another shot at life. The original Tomb Raider games still have a passionate modding community, and it’d be nice to see some collaboration between the fandom and developers.

Legacy of Kain tells one of the most fascinating and ambitious stories in all of video gaming despite not seeing a proper game release since 2005. Out of all the recent video game acquisitions – and there have been many – this one fills me with the most hope. Do the gaming community proud, Embracer!

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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