I keep telling people it's not. That's not just wishful thinking; that's maths. Let's look at the numbers.
Final Fantasy is Square-Enix's flagship series. The regular and predictable success of Final Fantasy (along with Squeenix's other big hitter, Dragon Quest) is what enables them to occasionally work on side projects like Vagrant Story, Kingdom Hearts, and The World Ends With You.
Check out how the last few iterations of the franchise went down. All my stats are derived from VGChartz; if you have reason to doubt their data or my intepretation of their data let me know. The exception are console sales figures which come direct from Sony.
- First release date is the first date the game was available anywhere. Final Fantasy games are released first in Japan, where they sell the greatest amount of copies, and typically follow 6 to 12 months later in the US and Europe.
- Worldwide sales is measured in units; this is copies of the disc sold, not currency. Includes sales from Japan, America and Europe.
- Console userbase at launch represents the number of units of the relevant console which had been sold at the time of the game's launch; ie the total possible number of people who are capable of meaningfully consuming the game.
- Attach rate is the worldwide sales expressed as a percentage of the installed userbase; ie the percentage of console owners who bought the game.
Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 31 January 1997
Worldwide Sales: 9.72 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 13.5 million
Attach Rate: 72%
Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 11 February 1999
Worldwide Sales: 7.86 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 54.4 million
Attach Rate: 14.4%
Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 8 July 2000
Worldwide Sales: 5.3 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 75.92 million
Attach Rate: 6.9%
Final Fantasy X (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 20 July 2001
Worldwide Sales: 7.95 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 19.57 million
Attach Rate: 40.6%
Final Fantasy X-2 (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 12 March 2003
Worldwide Sales: 5.21 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 51.2 million
Attach Rate: 10.2%
Final Fantasy XII (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 16 March 2006
Worldwide Sales: 5.01 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 103.69 million
Attach Rate: 4.8%
So, first of all, if you ever wanted to know why Final Fantasy VII is so venerated, and why Final Fantasy X got a sequel, you need look no further than the attach rates. Three in every four people who owned a PlayStation at FF7's launch bought a copy. That's just ridiculous numbers.
Secondly, just take a moment to look at that attach rate on Final Fantasy XII. With 103 million people in the marketplace Squeenix still couldn't move more than 5 million of these things out the door. Having played the damn thing this comes as no surprise to me. 5 million, it must be said, is still a very profitable game and a success that many developers would kill to be part of, but incredibly disappointing in the context of the franchise's history and the marketplace.
Anyway, the point is that as far as Final Fantasy XIII goes, Square-Enix have to be projecting sales of at least 5 million. Anything less is a massive step backwards for the franchise and is not a direction it can really afford to take after the relatively poor showing of 12. So that's the target. 5 million units sold.
The PS3 has sold, as of today, 11 million units and change. So to sell 5 million copies of the game Squeenix needs an attach rate of 45%. That's right - to do only as well as the worst-received modern entry in the franchise, it needs to sell a copy to roughly one in every two PS3 owners. And that's a rock bottom option. To meet FFX sales numbers it's a 72% attach rate (equalling the record set by FF7), and to reach the lofty heights of FF7's success it's 88% - they'd need to sell copies to almost 9 out of every 10 owners of the console.
Let's be generous and say that the new Final Fantasy launches in January next year, and over the rest of the year and the Xmas holiday Sony sells another 6.5 million consoles, which matches its sales over the same period last year. That puts the userbase at 17.5 million and makes the numbers 28% for the 5 million mark (making it the third highest attach modern entry), 45% for FFX, and 56% for FF7.
Those aren't good numbers. Those are just, however you look at it, unattractive numbers for someone in Sony's position with a product as intensely marketable as Final Fantasy XIII.
So let's take a look at what happens if they go cross-platform and release on PS3 and XBox 360.
Installed userbase (360 and PS3 combined): roughly 26 million
Attach rate for 5 million units sold: 19.2%
Attach rate for 7.95 million: 30%
Attach rate for 9.72 million: 37%
Launch End of January 2009
Projected userbase, based on previous sales: roughly 41 million
Attach rate for 5 million units sold: 12.2%
Attach rate for 7.95 million: 19.4%
Attach rate for 9.72 million: 23.7%
Looks much better already. Or, to put it another way, if Final Fantasy XIII is as well received at a January launch as VII was back in the day, and has the same attach rate, Squeenix are losing out on 16.9 million sales by remaining a PS3 exclusive - which is more units than any two entries in the franchise you care to name combined.
Sony just can't pay Squeenix enough to make a PS3 exclusive worthwhile. You just can't manipulate the numbers to make it work. So all you 360 owners can sit back in the firm knowledge that this game is going to make its way to your system in the fullness of time. All you need do is wait.