Looking back on 2016, one of the more striking take-aways that still resonates even now was during EGX Rezzed in April. Specifically, in one of [venue] Tobacco Dock’s enclosed rooms, taken up by an all-encompassing stand with the words Square Enix Collective emblazoned across – accompanied of course by promotional imagery and artwork of the games on show alike. It was striking because something, whatever it is/was, told me this sort of thing shouldn’t even be. That even now, in this indie-prevalent industry of ours, a stand dedicated entirely to independent projects – regardless of the stature of the publisher backing said assemble – is a preposterous acclamation.
I say this not because I have some misguided disdain towards the very idea of indie projects having their own nestled stand (not to mention an entire room to themselves). Rather, even now, it’s almost surreal that the indie scene has (thankfully…and justly) garnered such a crucial and respected place within the industry. But while publishers like Devolver Digital, Merge Games and the prominence that is tinyBuild may themselves be wholly representative of some of the more overlooked (and at times, incredibly enjoyable) titles on the market, Square Enix Collective has, over the past couple of years, grown into one of the industry’s most interesting and most diverse channels of thriving independent talent. More so given that the very company undertaking this very venture are one of the biggest names in video games at present.
You could argue that the titans of the industry getting in on the action is both a no-brainer as much as it’s an inevitability born by way of continually changing, continually evolving consumer habits. That Sony, Microsoft — even the likes of EA, whom have thrown their own figurative hat into the ring with their newly-announced Originals line this year — see the benefit, as well as the potential green, in providing non-AAA entities a platform of which to express themselves. But it’s safe to say, as the months have progressed, that Square Enix Collective has quickly become one of my more fonder regions to keep a close eye on. A consumer-influenced, pre-crowdfunding platform that shines a light on works-in-progress that may (in another scenario) have slipped under the radar; allowing users to vote on whether they want to see said project come into full fruition.
The very notion that developers can submit their work without any underscored or absolute requirement other than, possibly, you should actually be making something — not to mention the sheer lack of publisher endorsement via some “recommended” or “trending” tag that the likes of Kickstarter can often mistake for beneficial coverage — is but one small part of SQE’s interesting philosophy as much alternate take on what has become a slightly risky misguidance that crowdfunding can often bring.
That’s not to say Collective hasn’t helped with games that’ve been on their platform whilst also looking for financial backing at the same time; SQE themselves are very open about the fact those projects they are actively promoting may also in a status of nearing monetary targets and even subsequent stretch goals on such a platform like Kickstarter. But for the most part, SQE’s priorities going forward lie with the determination of user input — even if said input is a pure binary decision between “Yes” & “No” — that circumvents between a continuing conveyor belt of projects given equal opportunity to glisten and shine as much convince potential consumers to closely follow the project and one day, hopefully, financially invest in its final build. It’s a much fairer system than some pseudo-open channel wherein trending popularity and the groupthink this usually fuels, often trumps equal opportunity.
In all honesty, SQE have taken up much more of my gaming time because of how many ideas are submitted — be it in terms of coverage or outright playing these very creations — than what I would have initially suspected. While fellow indie-supporters like tinyBuild can certainly vouch for having a diverse portfolio of new releases published this year, as well as some other upcoming titles I’ll be sure to keep a close eye on, Square Enix Collective have the honor of convincing me to try out (and subsequently like) genres I never would have dared touch with a twelve-foot bargepole. Whether it be the paranormal, ghostly affairs of Goetia, with its interesting spin on conventional point-and-click mysteries; Bulkhead’s much-improved first-person puzzler with The Turing Test. Square Enix can already claim the fruits of their work are certainly there to see.
Even brief previews of genres I’m used to yet still came off surprisingly interested with Black The Fall, Tokyo Dark, Forgotton Anne. And that’s not including the likes of Soulblight, Pine, A Dragon Named Coal & Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King (another project, if not targeting 2017, still has my full attention). Games, each with their own distinctive art-style and aesthetic; each trying out different and/or new ideas. Each, most importantly, given equal light and equal footing on a platform that is all about asking a simple question: “would you like to see more of this?” But critically, crucially — perhaps, you yourself might argue, is a mere necessity in our increasingly social media-influenced era of communication — they’re one of the few groups that actually let their presence be felt…and felt rather warmly…even through something as simple as a question or mere positive comment.
Yes, marketing, PR and all that jazz can at times get in the way of the most important areas in video game development (as much this culture’s evolution and, bluntly, preventing things from not turning out complete crap) and believe me when I say I’m one of the first to look past the capital B-capital S even in the least of controversial moments. But going to these events, trying out some games and getting the opportunity to briefly chat to these guys, these developers — the men and women behind these projects — is a bloody great thing. It is! Even something as a simple response on Twitter, no matter the size or scale of response, if we’re cranking up the importance here, will only help break down the division between the industry, the press and the very consumers that help keep all this going.
We are a three-way symbiosis of communication and constructive critique. Yes we’ll have our down’s and our extreme down’s from time to time, but as far as I can recall, Square Enix Collective’s humble, understandably supportive persona online is one I can respect and get behind. Of course, I’ll criticize and complain when criticism and complaints are due, my point is that I see Collective’s use as much understanding of social media and crowdfunding-esque promotion as one of their most unique assets going forward.
And all this is why I’ve been quite surprised at how promising Square Enix have established their little Collective adventure on both the web and in the industry in general and thus why I felt it necessary to write up a [somewhat] brief evaluation on this rather pleasant year for the industry giant, least in this particular corner. It’s why too so many SQE-affiliated games are among my own personal watch-list and why, if you’ll spare me a potentially sappy outpour here, I will continue to cover (and enjoy it more so) this side of the industry. Square Enix Collective’s success might well be, as the name might suggest, a collective effort, but it’s one I feel can thrive evermore in 2017. Oh yeah and their logo’s pretty swanky too.