Luminous Productions is a game studio within the Square Enix Group established in March 2018. Under the leadership of Takeshi Aramaki, who assumed the role of studio head in December 2018, the studio is committed to developing next-generation games that leverage cutting-edge technology.
Yosuke Matsuda, President and Representative Director of Square Enix Holdings, gives us the backstory on Luminous Productions' foundation, describes his expectations and outlook for the studio, and discusses his take on what game development should look like, why it's important for a game studio to make a brand out of their unique identity, and his underlying philosophy on entertainment.
(Interviewer/Writer: Tomomi Yamamura / Photographer: Daisuke Komori)
"We live in a world where having a strong brand is a must for game studios. I look for Luminous Productions to build themselves an identity and flavor unlike any we've ever seen in the Square Enix Group's portfolio of studios."
To continue thriving in the game business, a game studio needs to establish its own unique identity and develop solid branding
－－A year and half has passed since Luminous Productions was established in March 2018. Could you start by reminding us how and why the studio came into being?
Matsuda: When we ask ourselves where the value of the Square Enix Group lies, the answer has to be that it lies in our creators and in the studios where they work. We are after all a group striving to provide the best possible in entertainment.
In this day and age, a studio's values, brand, and identity are extremely important. How far we can push a studio in terms of developing a unique identity is especially important, I believe. While Square Enix is a company that exists within a corporate group, it is at the same time a game studio in its own right, with a very strong identity. However, having another studio with a distinctly different identity within the same corporate group, I believe, will lead to synergies that add value to the Square Enix Group as a whole.
When we launched Luminous Productions, it was primarily staffed by the development team behind "FINAL FANTAY XV." The studio is Japan based and has a style that sets it apart from any other studio in the Square Enix group. My hope is that it will develop into a studio capable of creating top-quality games that meet the expectations of players around the world.
－－The approach you've taken with Luminous Productions, namely to establish an independent development studio out of one of your internal development teams, is quite a rare one in the Square Enix Group, I believe. What kind of differences emerge from launching an independent studio?
Matsuda: While it is rare for Japanese companies to establish development studios within their corporate groups, it's quite common overseas to have various internal studios within a group. Spinning off a team as an independent studio further underlines their identity and uniqueness, and that is something that I believe is crucial to our group as a whole.
There are several different creative business units at our Square Enix studio, each of which is like a studio with a distinct identity. As a new initiative, however, I wanted was to build a separate studio in a more clearly defined form, and that's what Luminous Productions is. I believe such initiatives will be key for the Square Enix Group to continue to thrive in the gaming business.
－－So, there's a significance to launching Luminous Productions as a studio separate from the existing development teams at Square Enix, and you are looking forward to seeing what comes forth from that effort.
Matsuda: Exactly. While the Square Enix Group has unique studios also in overseas such as Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montréal, we wanted a similarly unique studio in Japan and therefore established Luminous Productions.
－－There is an incredible amount of diversity in game production and in the game industry. What sort of initiatives do you have in mind for Luminous Productions to embark on?
Matsuda: That would be the fusion of cutting-edge technology and art. Moreover, I want Luminous Productions to pursue their own form of "cutting edge." Square Enix has always developed and will always develop unique games, but I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what new flavors and style Luminous Productions will bring to the group.
－－What do you expect the "fusion of cutting-edge technology and art" will produce?
Matsuda: Naturally, new gaming experiences--gaming experiences that go beyond anything that game fans around the world can imagine. I hope that that will be the style of Luminous Productions and what sets it apart.
－－These days companies find a great many ways to leverage their IP, but Luminous Productions will be a studio focused on games, is that right?
Matsuda: That's correct. I believe that games should come first. Of course, there may be many opportunities to expand the IP down the road, but when we ask ourselves where our core strength lies, it is in game development. As such, I believe that that's where we should concentrate our efforts.
Luminous Productions' mission is to create new IP with the latest technology
－－What types of products and IP is Luminous Productions currently working on? Considering that the studio was initially staffed largely by the development team of "FINAL FANTASY XV," I would imagine that they're working on something relevant to the FINAL FANTASY series.
Matsuda: No, they're actually working on completely new IP. "Creating new IP with the latest technology" - that's the primary mission of Luminous Productions.
－－Scale-wise, will they work in the AAA space with their sights on the global market?
Matsuda: That's right.
－－Creating completely new, AAA-quality IP with the latest technology at a newly established studio - I feel that's an incredibly challenging undertaking.
Matsuda: I agree. It's crucial that we constantly push ourselves to take on new challenges - it's something all of us in the gaming business must strive for. Square Enix along with other studios within our group will continue to take on new challenges as well, but I want Luminous Productions to really showcase their own unique identity and flavor.
－－It's an initiative on a global scale. What are your thoughts on the talent that will take part in it?
Matsuda: While Luminous Productions was originally formed from the development team behind "FINAL FANTASY XV," we are regularly bringing on new people and are actively recruiting new talent, not just from Japan, but from overseas as well. Our goal is to open our doors wide so that we can welcome people from diverse backgrounds to create games with us.
There is a great deal of mobility among game development professionals. I believe there are many developers out there who want to try their skills in game studios in Japan, particularly in a place where they can take on new challenges. I hope that Luminous Productions will be a prominent choice for people with that sort of drive.
－－It sounds like Luminous Productions is a studio where creators can try their hand at something innovative and new. I assume there are very few studios that offer an environment where everyone is allowed to take on new challenges to that extent.
At the same time, I believe some companies take a cautious stance on the production of massive AAA titles given the risks involved in investing in such productions. Despite such risks, do you believe that it's important to produce next-generation AAA titles?
Matsuda: Well, it's obviously a major investment, but again, what's important is that it results in highly original content. Since we're trying to do that at a newly established studio, that studio needs to be able to show what's unique about it. That's what will generate a major return farther down the road. There is always significant risk involved in the gaming business, but at the same time, you won't reap great rewards without taking on risk.
－－Again highlighting the importance of creating new IP?
Matsuda: It's important to maintain and innovate in our long-running franchises. Creating new things is likewise important. The combination of the two will enable us to expand our group's portfolio.
－－Your hope, of course, is that new IP created by Luminous Productions will remain a favorite among gamers for decades?
Matsuda: Yes, that's my hope. Of course, it won't be easy--it will be a major challenge for us. However, I want the Square Enix Group as a whole to strive for that constantly, and Luminous Productions will play a major part in that. I'm very much looking forward to the amazing titles it will produce.
Above all, gaming experiences have to be exciting, so the desire to create something truly exciting is essential
－－You're defining Luminous Productions as a studio that works in cutting-edge technologies in fields such as graphics and AI. That's very straightforward. What are your thoughts on research and investment into technology and on talented professionals?
Matsuda: I would like active engagement with cutting-edge technology to become a core facet of Luminous Productions' identity. Digital entertainment is deeply rooted in technology, and so long as you're developing games, you have to keep up with the latest breakthroughs.
I personally consider games as an all-encompassing form of entertainment. I want Luminous Productions to create their own identity and flavor by deciding how to leverage technology and articulate it meaningfully within the context of games.
－－So, Luminous Productions will engage in R&D, but you mean that at the end of the day, how that is articulated in the context of games is key, right?
Matsuda: Yes, the point is not simply to engage in R&D but for that that to result in products that provide gaming experiences. I don't believe in R&D for R&D's sake. Without the final output, we have nothing to provide our customers. What we gain from R&D must result in something our customers can enjoy.
How will the evolution of technology improve and change the gaming experience? Or, will the gaming experience evolve into something groundbreakingly different? I want Luminous Productions to constantly seek answers to those questions, and more importantly, to pursue exciting gaming experiences.
－－I get the impression that you want to see exciting games, but that you are also putting some emphasis on productivity and speed. Is that correct?
Matsuda: We must be focused on output and create products that can surpass our customers' expectations. No matter how much we discuss concepts internally, that is not what will reach our customers. Does the finished game excite our customers? Do they say it's amazing and like nothing they've ever experienced before? That's what matters more than anything else.
－－And that policy is reflected in your development efforts as well, right?
Matsuda: Yes, I am always saying, "No matter how epic our ideas are, it is only the final output that matters to our customers." I also tell our entire group that the output that reaches our customers and what they think of it is what makes or breaks a studio.
－－Do you have any messages for developers or other professionals who are interested in Luminous Productions?
Matsuda: I'd like them to know that Luminous Productions is an environment where they can challenge themselves. If what the studio is trying to do resonates with you, we'd love for you to join us.
－－Is there a secret to delivering high-quality titles quickly?
Matsuda: I believe each studio has its own optimal ways of working and organizing itself. It's difficult to say that there is one right answer. In particular, the more you try to create unique titles, the more complex and original the approach becomes. Similarly, the less original a title, the more cookie-cutter the structure of the team tends to be. The latter may be more efficient, but it's hard to say whether it will help create an exciting game. I think it all comes down to balancing efficiency and originality.
－－Since you are looking for Luminous Productions to take on new challenges, are you hoping that young professionals will join up and have opportunities to shine there?
Matsuda: I hope to see both people looking to gain experience and those who are already established. The drive of aspiring young professionals is important, just as are the insights of seasoned veterans. So, I'm open-minded on that point. After all, what's most important is the desire to create exciting games.
Yosuke Matsuda: President and Representative Director of Square Enix Holdings Co., LTD. Born in 1963, Matsuda joined Square Enix Co., Ltd (the former Square Co., Ltd) in 2001 and assumed his current position in 2013.