My conversation with Naoki Yoshida, the current steward of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, did not being with a question, but a statement.
As you know, three years ago, the original launch of Final Fantasy XIV, wasn’t the best of launches… It was a very, very rocky launch. And we got a lot negative feedback, and we lost a lot of trust from our fans. And then, when we announced that we were rebuilding it, there was a lot of people that were skeptical.
But, while we’ve been rebuilding, rather than saying ‘Oh, 1.0 was terrible, so I’m not even going to give 2.0 a chance’ the Western fans and the Western media have kept an open mind for the past two years, and have watched us grow, have watched us during the rebuilding process, and have given us a second chance this entire time.
And because of the rocky launch, and because of the impact the original game had, when we launched on August 27th, we thought that the fans would be a little bit more weary, that they would wait until what other people heard of the game, before coming back, and thinking ‘okay, I’m going to let my friend play; if he thought it was good, then maybe I’ll join.’
But, as we said, because the Western media and Western fans had such an open mind during this whole process, way more came in than we ever expected at the beginning, and that was the cause of the server trouble. We jut had so many people come in when we expected a slow, gradual rise. And so, for the past week, we’ve had our server teams working around the close to alleviate these problems.
We have a big server maintenance planned for the days ahead, to increase the number of data servers in the Americas alone. We’re also going to be reworking the way duty servers work, to reduce the load across all servers. And hopefully these things will help those people that are still waiting patiently to get into the game, and welcome them into A Realm Reborn.
And so, in these three years, what we’ve been focusing on, which have been our mantra, are the three pillars. And that’s having a great story, having great gameplay experience, and having the greatest graphics in the industry. And on-top of all that is our great community, who have supported us from 1.0, though thick and thin, and adding to that, this new community that have joined us for the first time.
And using this as a foundation for building this game, and continuing to build this for the next five years, ten years, into the future. At this fan event alone, we’ve had over 5,000 people join us, and that’s been very exciting for us to see, these people giving us all this support.
Can you tell us more about the fan response?
Naoki Yoshida, Director: We’ve seen two different kinds of responses. First is from what we call the legacy players, the ones that played the original version (1.0) and stuck with us while we were updating that and also building the new version (2.0). Those guys have been there, all throughout the tough times, and we worked with them over these past two and a half years to build this great game.
They waited so long, and stuck with us, without giving up on us. And then they come here, to tell us thank you for making a great game, when it was actually us who have to tell them thank you for sticking with us for so long.
[The other response, from] the other set of fans are those who are just fans of the [Final Fantasy], fans of the genre, or just fans of games in general, who didn’t play the original version of Final Fantasy XIV. And they’re just starting at A Realm Reborn, or maybe they’re just people that had a friend who played Final Fantasy XIV and invited them here, and found the game to be really fun, so they picked up a copy for when they go home.
People who have no other relation, and they get together in this battle with 8 people, and they win their shirts, and they exchange phone numbers, and you’ve got people creating friendships. It’s that MMO experience, but in the real life. And these people that are new to the game, experiencing and falling in love with it here, and becoming fans, that’s just really great.
The focus appears to be on making Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn a game that can complete with other MMOs. So are typical MMO players the target audience?
A Realm Reborn is a MMORPG, before that, it is a RPG. And before even that, it is a Final Fantasy game. So we’re making this game for Final Fantasy fans… something that feels like a Final Fantasy game. We feel that our fans are Final Fantasy fans, and amongst them are MMO fans. But, in the background, we’re making something that conforms with the global standard, so in that sense, we’re building something that any MMO fan can also get into.
What has been the biggest challenge to convince a Final Fantasy player who has played every single installment, but skipped XI and XIV. The ones who go ‘MMOs are not for me, I don’t like them’. What has been to convert detractors?
One thing we did, which we felt was a very interesting type of PR is, when making our trailers, especially this year, we decided to show very little or none of the user interface. We focused more on the Final Fantasy-esque story, the models, the characters, the creatures, the theme… things that had that very Final Fantasy feel to have. So many so that, people were surprised after seeing them, were surprised to discover that it was an MMO afterward.
We wanted to convince people that this is a [traditional] RPG that focused on story. And what happened was, beta players found themselves going ‘Oh, it’s not nearly as hard as I had convinced myself it would be!’
Everyone knows that you have big plans for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, with a very ambitious and aggressive roadmap. Creatively, that’s a lot ahead of you; how much is already planned and how much is contingent on fan feedback?
The way I make my roadmaps is usually I’ll create an outline. I did the same thing for the original version, 1.0, while making 2.0 as well. I made outlines for both and presented them to the development team, and they work off of that, and gives us updates, to make sure everything is going well.
We already have roadmaps for patches 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, so that’s about 9 months in advance, as well as, before leaving for PAX, we finished the main scenario for the next expansion, 3.0, and submitted it for review. So we have a lot stuff planned out. But within all that, we have spaces that we like to keep open, and that’s for when we get feedback from the community.
Like, if they come to us and go ‘we want more solo content’, things we didn’t expect. We’ll be ready, to put content in and have it fit the rest of the plan they. It’s not a super rigid plan, there’s flexibility… we want to build the game with them.
What has been the most surprising piece of feedback you’ve gotten and not just related to A Realm Reborn? Simply that which simply left the greatest impression.
When I joined the 1.0 team more than two and a half years ago… this was one of the first things I added… and it was one of the first changes that I made… in that game, there were healing spells: Cure, Cura, Curaga, etc.
When you think of a normal game, you have your low cures, your middle cures, and your big cures… the small cures will only do a little but cost very little, and then you have spells that will cure everyone, but they will take up a lot of MP. It’s about working those numbers and finding a system, figuring out which cures to use and how. That type of gameplay is pretty standard across the industry and all games.
But this game was so broken that it didn’t even have that. You only had to use Curaga [one of the most powerful healing spells, which happened to use zero MP].
So, one of the first things I did was to fix those numbers, make Curaga take a lot of MP, to change the numbers of the healing. And after that first patch, we got so much negative feedback from a couple of players. Who went ‘Hey, I can’t Curaga all the time! Where’s my MP! Give me back my MP!’
I wasn’t so surprised by the comment itself, but the fact that, these players are not children, they’re gamers. Gamers like you and me. It means, probably at the beginning, when they first saw that system, they thought ‘What’s wrong with this?’ But in a matter of three months, they got used to that. And seeing how players can get used to even the most strangest and craziest of environments, something that’s so strange and wrong becomes right to a player, in just a matter of three months… and then, when trying to change that environment… you can crush the players and create a lot of stress for them.
It basically taught me how important that first impact is. To have great balance right at the beginning. Because if something is wrong, people will get used to what’s wrong, and when you try to change it, they’ll be against it.