Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why Final Fantasy XIII Will Not Be A PS3 Exclusive

The latest entry in the Final Fantasy franchise is beginning to loom on the horizon, and Square-Enix are currently sticking to their story that it's going to be exclusive to the PlayStation 3.

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 XI, being an MMO and therefore having a substantially different sales model, is not included here.


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.

Launch Today
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.


Chris said...

Nice analysis, Greg - but one slight flaw.

"Sony just can't pay Squeenix enough to make a PS3 exclusive worthwhile."

No, but Sony *can* pay Squeenix enough to make the PS3 lead time long enough to make it worthwhile for both parties. In fact, if the deal has already been made (which it must have been) there may be no way Squeenix can break it even if they wanted to.

It's quite possible, as you suggest here, that FFXIII will arrive on 360 in time - but how long is that time? I'm personally happy to wait for anything - few things are so exciting to me to want to play them immediately - but most console gamers are impatient. They want it (whatever it is) NOW.

I think that even a six months or a year lead time on the PS3 is worth Sony's money - it *will* drive sales of the PS3, and Sony need this desperately.

And Squeenix? As you intimate here, they can still put it out on 360 later if they think it's worthwhile to do so. Win-win for them! :)

Best wishes!

Lightguard said...

You're also forgetting about sheer pig-headedness; look at Metal Gear Solid 4.

Although, to be honest, it's more or less Konami letting Kojima dictate the terms, which wouldn't happen with Squeenix and Final Fantasy.

Greg Tannahill said...

Thanks for the comments. Overnight I also thought of another arguments for the other side: (1) that the 360 has vastly lower sales penetration in Japan, the key market for Final Fantasy, which means the cross-platform sales boost is likely a little lower.

On the other hand, the high attach rate for FF7 is directly linked to its release very early in the PlayStation life cycle, with a correspondingly small amount of software competition. I don't think FF13 can expect to gain that kind of advantage at a January launch so a 30% attach is probably optimistic.

It's true that Final Fantasy is a title that can be expected to drive PS3 sales, particularly during an Xmas-season release, but I think it's fair to say that this is included in my existing prediction of sales to January matching the same period last year. Halo 3 was a huge driver of 360 sales and that's what the sales curve looks like over on Microsoft's side.

Regardless of what happens with FF13, I think it's almost a given that the fate of that franchise isn't staying with Sony. If the DS Dragon Quest does well you might see Squeenix moving that entire line to portable, where an installed userbase of 70-something million looks much more attractive for sales.

Arkem said...

Well said!

I would also imagine that PS3 attach rates would be lower across the board due to the number of people who bought a PS3 for the blueray player. This decrease would likely show greatest in non-casual games like the FF series (with casual games and general appeal/sporting games least effected).

Of course I'm just making this up.

Greg Tannahill said...

No, that's a valid point. Hard to estimate how significant the effect will be.

Xantar said...

I take it, then, that you don't buy into all the PR about how the revolutionary White Engine has been built from the ground up to work on the PS3 architecture and renders battles in a way that is not possible anywhere else?

GregT said...

Not unless Squeenix are brain dead. Even if they unwisely locked themselves into some exclusivity contract back before they realised that the PS3 was made out of dead babies, they've got to be quietly preparing themselves an out. Even if they can afford to take the hits on lost sales with this iteration, they can't be happy about the damage the franchise will take with two games in a row missing the mark.

Mark said...

ffxiii will not fit on a non blu-ray disc. The end.

Greg Tannahill said...

Seriously? That's your argument?

You remember when you bought Final Fantasy 7 through 9 for the PlayStation, right? The multiple discs?

Besides which, if they can't fit the thing on a single DVD they're being almost criminally inefficient with their compression. And "criminally inefficient" are usually words I'd use when criticising Squeenix. (Bafflingly esoteric, perhaps, or contemptuous of their audience occasionally, but not inefficient.)