Following the US flop of its first feature, the CGI animation Final Fantasy, game maker Square Co. has announced its exit from the film business. The company expects to record a $83m (Y10 billion) net loss for the current fiscal year, ending in March.

Expecting big box office from Final Fantasy's US release, Square projected a profit of $5.8m (Y700m) for fiscal 2001. Now, however, it is scrambling to recover the $137m (Y16.4 billion) in production costs, spent during the three years as international teams of 250 animators laboured over the film at Square's Hawaii studio.

In fiscal 2000, Square posted a net loss of $26m (Y3.16 billion) The company had hoped to recoup its losses by releasing Final Fantasy at the height of the lucrative US summer season, but the film failed to impress the critics and tanked at the box office, grossing only $32m since its July 11 release on 2,649 screens.

Final Fantasy has also hit the wall in its home market of Japan -- distributor Gaga is pulling the film from its theatres just three weeks after its September 15 release at 265 cinemas, for which it was backed by an expensive marketing campaign.

The film's foreign receipts were similarly disappointing, with a total $38.5m to date, with even robust markets showing mediocre returns: France: $6.5m, Germany: $5.3m, Spain: $3.8m and the UK: $3.75m

Although Square had ambitious plans for Final Fantasy sequels and spin-offs, it is now looking for a buyer for its US-based film-making subsidiary, while shifting its strategic focus back to games.

Ironically, the Final Fantasy game series on which the film is loosely based has never been more popular -- the 10th edition has sold more than two million units since its July 19 release in Japan.