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Square's Plans for PlayOnline

Announced at Square's Millenium Conference was PlayOnline, a worldwide network for users to experience Square's games on a further level. This included online games, but also the ability to download music and read comics. Final Fantasy X was the first to be announced to use this network whereby gamers could connect to PlayOnline and download strategies and hints, as well as chat to other gamers. With Final Fantasy XI however, users would need to connect to PlayOnline to play the game, as it will be a multiplayer online RPG. Square plans for at least four to five million players in Japan alone, and 10 million around the world. For Square, there are two main aspects to this plan.

One aspect is the change of business structure. For Square, instead of simply improving the contents on PlayOnline, "[they] are implementing the form of charge which is 'Monthly fees + charges for use of a part of the content'" (Vice President Sho Suzuki). It is similar in this way to the well-publicized merger of America Online and Time Warner. Until now, the business success depended on the popularity of a title, but once PlayOnline is implemented Square can rely on the secure profits from fees.

Another aspect is the improvement of profits. With software made for consoles, the software maker must pay a certain amout of royalties for each product. However, PlayOnline "at first will be compatible with only the PlayStation 2" (Vice President Sho Suzuki) but in the future it will also be used on computers and at game arcades. As the payment of royalties to hardware makers lowers, sales increases through the Net, therefore "Profit increases greatly" (Vice President Sho Suzuki).

One problem they may face is the cost of Internet fees. It is not certain that by Summer of 2001, Square will be able to realise "Monthly Internet fees of 3000 to 4000 yen" (Square). Vice President Suzuki says, "We want to implement a plan whereby as we lower fees, we increase users, which will cover that loss from commission through fee collecting agencies."

Another problem is the uncertainty of Square's ability at providing a network. Because the PS2 which is supposed to be used over other systems was designed for a fast cable Internet connection, it does not have the standard modem. For this reason, Square has the need to release the necessary hardware for an Internet connection. At present it has not been announced who will be responsible for developing the hardware or making the server. Depending on the company in charge, it is unsure whether it will proceed as they planned.

On a final note, Final Fantasy IX will also use a network. However this is slightly different from PlayOnline, as it is going to be released on the PlayStation. In cooperation with NTT Communications, who are also helping Square with PlayOnline, Square is not going to release a strategy guide for sale. In stead, you will connect to a network called I-Mode through NTT DoCoMo cell phones and obtain strategies and hints. This is perhaps Square's way of getting used to a network.

It is interesting to see how events will unfold. Although there is still quite a long time for PlayOnline to be implemented, Square must begin massive plans for this ambitious project.


by Sachi Coxon
Source: [Biztech News]
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