Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn producer Naoki Yoshida recently talked at GDC about how the focus on graphics killed Final Fantasy XIV and how Square Enix revived the game. During a pre-GDC interview with Famitsu, he shed some light on his thoughts about making MMORPGs with a free-to-play model, versus subscription-based titles.
Famitsu began by asking about Yoshida’s thoughts on subscription and free-to-play games, and why he believes Final Fantasy XIV must be a subscription-based game.
“I don’t recall ever saying that it ‘must’ but rather, ‘a good choice to go with,’ says Yoshida. “Actually, when the MMORPG rush started around 2005, about 100% of them began with subscriptions. The reason being, when there’s a stable subscription, you can easily see how much profit you can make each month. And you’d also want a stable development team to go with it.”
“When there’s a F2P model, it goes like, ‘we sold this much for this month, but who knows how much we’ll sell next month,’ and also makes employment unstable. When that happens, the developers will also feel uneasy, and it makes it harder to draw the roadmap from there on.”
“In order to have customers enjoy the game for longer periods of time, you’ll want to properly release content on a regular basis,” Yoshida says. “With that in mind, you’ll need a good development team, and in order to support that, a stable profit would be better.”
“I’ve always thought that MMORPG producers are all very nice,” says Yoshida with a laugh. “That’s not because of all the profit [they’re making], but because they’re making money in a stable fashion, and properly investing it back into the game. The reason they’re able to continue doing that, I believe, is because the content that comes from the updates is just fun.”
“When you go F2P, you can’t make money from the game’s content itself, but rather, you have to make profit from items and things based on time, or else the game can’t continue. However, even if you’d like to focus on updating the content, you’ll be required to work on many items and the shops used to sell them, and that’s not related to what makes the game fun, right? When you want to put 100% of your energy into making new content, but you have to split 30~40% of it into ways of making money, you might end up thinking, ‘why am I making this?’”
“However, developing MMORPGs costs a great deal of money, and in order to acquire such vast funds, you need to go through all kinds of investors to put in money as you develop,” explains Yoshida. “When you start a subscription-based game and fail to deliver the gift of all the subscribers you promised to the investors, they will immediately sense the risk, and say, ‘I’d like to have my money back,’ or ‘I can no longer invest in you guys.’If that were to happen, there’s no way you can keep going with the subscription.”
“Once you can no longer charge customers, you won’t even be able to update anymore,” he continues. “In the end, you’ll be forced to go F2P in order to immediately increase sales so that you can pay back the investors, while you try to keep it going. I believe that is the harsh reality of the present day.”
“Also, I believe that players lately don’t like the idea of having a daily time restriction,” Yoshida says. “I personally feel that way, too. Instead, starting out lightheartedly, then suddenly having a high voltage of gaming experience, and you can quit whenever, but when you look at the total [time played] you realize that you’ve spent an incredible amount of time on it—I believe something like that is what’s ideal now. I think games that have that going, with PvP features, such as League of Legends or World of Tanks, are perfect for F2P.”
“In the end, I believe it boils down to choice,” concludes Yoshida. “When it comes to business models, you choose from things like “what’s best for what game,” “what kind of experience you want it to convey,” and “how you’ll administer it”; it’s not a matter of simply what’s best, what’s strong, or what’s weak… well, I plan on talking about it at a GDC lecture.”
“Really, you can just change your choices depending on the games. If demands change, you can also just change your choice. Rather than having a backward way of thinking like ‘I’m going to change it because we’re not making profit,’ go with a more positive one like, ‘I’m going to change it to increase the number of players.’ If there’s a misconception that I’m just persisting in subscriptions, then it’s wrong.”
Famitsu then asks Yoshida whether, if there’s demand from players to sell them items [in Final Fantasy XIV], he would do it.
“If it won’t have an effect on the game’s balance, and the demand is there, and we can deliver such items, then sure, I believe we’d sell them,” answers Yoshida. When asked about selling items that could change a character’s appearance, Yoshida also says that he believes that would be fine to sell.
Famitsu concludes the F2P talk by asking when Yoshida made up his mind on the subject of selling purchasable items.
“The demand from players [for them] are really high…” he replies.
“Even for one of the question items for our next Letter from the Producer, there was a question that asks ‘when will we be able to start buying items?’ and it had about 400 thumbs ups on it. I felt that the times sure have changed.”
Images courtesy Famitsu.