In “A New Year’s Letter from the President” shared via the Square Enix website, Square Enix President and Representative Director Takashi Kiryu shared a few thoughts about the company’s 2023 decisions and 2024 plans. Somewhat surprisingly, much of the letter focused on Square Enix’s investments in (and intended applications of) generative AI technology.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential implications had for some time largely been subjects of academic debate,” explains Kiryu. “However, the introduction of ChatGPT, which allows anyone to easily produce writing or translations or to engage in text-based dialogue, sparked the rapid spread of generative AIs. Its release made it apparent that the applicability of generative AI was by no means limited to text, and the subsequent months saw a quick succession of launches of new services and content that expanded generative AI into a variety of domains with close ties to digital entertainment, including images, video, and music. I believe that generative AI has the potential not only to reshape what we create, but also to fundamentally change the processes by which we create, including programming.”
Later in the letter, Kiryu briefly expands upon some of the ways that technology can be implemented to expedite the development of the company’s various projects.
“We also intend to be aggressive in applying AI and other cutting-edge technologies to both our content development and our publishing functions,” says Kiryu. “In the short term, our goal will be to enhance our development productivity and achieve greater sophistication in our marketing efforts. In the longer term, we hope to leverage those technologies to create new forms of content for consumers, as we believe that technological innovation represents business opportunities.”
Other topics that Kiryu addresses in the letter include Square Enix’s future investment strategies, comic publishing plans, current development pipeline, and thoughts about how Square Enix can expand its video game publishing efforts. However, Kiryu’s thoughts on AI technology have understandably dominated the conversation about the letter due to both their controversial nature and the ways they mimic the tone of the rest of Kiryu’s strategies and statements.
Before we dive into all of that, though, there are a couple of pieces of context worth keeping in mind. First off, this letter certainly reads like it’s largely intended for the company’s various investors. Many companies publish letters to their investors this time of year, and those letters tend to be pretty…dry and focused on things that generally only excite that specific crowd. Furthermore, this is one of the first significant public statements that Kiryu has released since becoming Square Enix President in March 2023. His relative inexperience in that specific position makes these statements more interesting and could certainly impact his views on these topics in various ways.
Having said that, there are several things about Kiryu’s letter that will undoubtedly be concerning at best and horrifying at worst for many Square Enix fans as well as those who use the actions of such a major company as a compass for the direction the rest of the video game industry may be heading in.
For me, the saddest part of the letter is the section where Kiryu mentions Square Enix’s ongoing interest in “blockchain entertainment/Web 3.0, AI, and the cloud.” Well, Kiryu’s predecessor (Yosuke Matsuda) previously argued that blockchain technology was going to be a big part of Square Enix’s future and the future of gaming, much to his eventual detriment. Yet, not only does Kiryu suggest that Square Enix needs to “optimize our resource allocations” to support some of those investments that remain socially controversial and fiscally unstable, but he does so in the same letter where he bullishly embraces the similarly controversial use of generative AI technology as a major part of the company’s future.
Mind you, the letter includes little mention of how that technology will practically be implemented to assist Square Enix’s developers, which is both a crucial piece of missing information and arguably the entire problem. In a letter seemingly intended to open the minds and wallets of investors everywhere, a vague mention of the vague benefits of vaguely defined AI technology is seen as something worth getting very excited about in the minds of people whose money and decisions will end up impacting the games we play and the lives of the people who make them.
Coming off of a year that saw widespread layoffs across the video game industry, it feels especially ignorant to suggest that the future of your cornerstone video game company will be based on technology that many fear will not only negatively impact job availability/quality within the industry but to do so in a letter that frustratingly brushes aside previously misplaced optimism in failed pieces of trendy volatile technology. Like other public proponents of generative AI, Kiryu suggests its initial implication will be used to “enhance our development productivity,” but that reference to using that technology to “create new forms of content for consumers” is a haunting reminder that the current success of even seemingly reasonable modern AI applications fuels the threat of AI-generated content on a massive scale.
Do you know what you won’t find in that letter? A single mention of a Square Enix video game. Not only do legendary franchises like Final Fantasy not get a nod, but those glowing implications regarding how AI technology is going to change everything for Square Enix include almost no examples of how that technology will practically help a video game publisher and developer create better games or improve the situations of the people who make those games.
At a time when legacy Japanese video game studios like Nintendo and Capcom are enjoying historically successful runs while largely focusing on the quality of the games they make (and the franchises in their legendary catalogs), Square Enix is increasingly feeling like one of the biggest representatives of the other side of the industry. Like Konami before them, they consistently seem to be more interested in cashing in the good work that made them so notable in the first place for whatever technological trends people are willing to throw money at with not nearly enough questions asked.
But hey, this letter wasn’t really meant for us. The letters that are meant for us are the love letters to gaming that the developers of Square Enix titles like Octopath Traveller 2, Final Fantasy 16, and the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth continue to write year after year. It’s just a shame that letters like this one highlight the ways that supporting those games sometimes means supporting the success of video game companies whose decisions increasingly seem intended to only really benefit the people this “Letter from the President” is really meant for.
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