After putting forward his company’s likely takeover of Eidos, Square Enix president Yoichi Wada said “Eidos’s products are highly complementary to our business and will accelerate our aggressive expansion into Western markets.” The Eidos name is recognisable in the West, primarily in Europe because of Championship Manager – but highly complementary? Eidos and Square Enix are an odd fit, with the former’s traditional Western series like Tomb Raider, Thief, and Deus Ex sitting awkwardly next to Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, two Square Enix series that epitomise Japanese RPGs. It’s not the games that are the oddest fit, however; the tarnished reputation of a creaky, former giant like Eidos does not marry well with Square Enix’s clean, presentable outlook. This is something akin to Beauty and the Beast, but maybe without the happy ending.
Ten years ago the two companies were far better matched. Whilst Square Enix revelled in its ascent to global prominence via the success of Final Fantasy VII, Eidos’s share price had risen a staggering 400 times between 1993 and 1999. This was thanks to the exponential success of two key intellectual properties, Tomb Raider and Championship Manager.
Released in 1996, Tomb Raider sold over 7 million copies on the PlayStation alone, its sequel going on to sell over 8 million – only the first two Gran Turismo games and a certain Final Fantasy game sold better. That unexpected success spawned the Tomb Raider film five years later. Despite being a strong contender for the worst film ever made, rightly critically slammed from here to high heaven, Tomb Raider somehow grossed $300m worldwide, and remains the most successful video game film adaption to date.
As for Championship Manager, the Sports Interactive-developed soccer management sims topped the European PC charts throughout the 1990s, and produced huge sales relative to the minuscule development and publishing costs. At the close of the century, this once tiny company that used to create video compression software were now a huge force in the world’s fastest growing industry. Where did it all go wrong?
Answer: everywhere. Primarily, there was a failure to innovate the Tomb Raider series. Released in 2000, Tomb Raider Chronicles lacked originality and polish, despite an improved graphical engine. GameSpot famously described it as feeling five years old, and coupled with a mushrooming public intolerance for how Eidos were marketing their buxom lead with saucy photos of real-life Laras, this damning reception led to sales that dwindled heavily. Three years later, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness barely registered on the sales charts, and by 2005 Eidos had stagnated what was an unstoppable global phenomenon just six years earlier.
Around this time the SI/Eidos split hit, with Eidos holding on to the IP. The IP proved to be meaningless because their in-house development team churned out poor mimics of SI’s games. As a result, and despite the successes of games like Thief, Hitman, and Deus Ex, Eidos were now officially in trouble.
In March 2005, the company admitted that cash reserves were just £12m, a minuscule amount for the world’s fastest-growing company of the 1990s. This prompted a takeover by British games manufacturer SCi Entertainment (who later renamed themselves as Eidos Plc), but losses remained high, with stock reaching an 18-year low. Studios were closed with massive layoffs, and the downward spiral appeared to reach crisis point this year when Tomb Raider: Underworld fell far short of expected profits despite a reasonable critical reception, underlining the necessity for another takeover.
Eidos haven’t just butchered their IPs, but their reputation as well. They lost a lot of favour with the large Championship Manager fan base after the SI/Eidos split. Then in 2007 they were rumored to have pressured GameSpot to retract their low Kane & Lynch review score, allegedly the cause of Jeff Gerstmann’s high-profile dismissal — one sure-fire way to give yourself a bad reputation is to instigate the removal of gaming’s most beloved commentators. Earlier this year, after being laid off by Eidos, ex-Crystal Dynamics Creative Director Eric Lindstrom apparently posted on the Tomb Raider forums, revealing that Underworld’’s upcoming downloadable content was annexed from the retail game because of time constraints. Eidos Plc is a blemished company, and it’s surprising that Square Enix has chosen them as their conduit to increased Western prominence. Is this takeover a case of the right company, or just the right time?
Square Enix has repeatedly cited the strength of Eidos’s IPs, and there’s certainly interest in the next Deus Ex game. In fairness, Tomb Raider has enjoyed something akin to a comeback in the capable hands of Crystal Dynamics. It will be interesting to see how the Japanese giants remould this once-great English brand, and whether they can use its high-profile IPs effectively. Part of me thinks that I should abhor the deal, mourning the loss of a British giant to Japanese hands. The other part of me thinks that, whilst Eidos may not be what Square Enix needs, Square Enix is exactly what Eidos need. This is a genuine chance for the British publisher to rebuild, and if that means Tomb Raider RPG, so be it – with the British games industry, it’s a matter of taking what we can get at that moment.