It’s no secret that FINAL FANTASY XIV was met with a rocky launch and recieved a poor reception from both fans and critics alike. After essentially ditching the directorial staff, openingly calling the game "damaging" to the brand and dropping subscription fees, Square Enix finally feels confident enough in the game to talk about charging again and that much-delayed PlayStation 3 version.
Much of the change in attitude can be attributed to the replacement Producer & Director Naoki Yoshida, who has led the XIV team to conduct extensive title updates, community outreach and actively take on fan opinion in an attempt to fix and better the game - almost out of character for Square Enix's Japanese Development teams.
Coming out of this interview with Yoshida-san it's hard not to be optimistic about Final Fantasy XIV with the enthusiasm, dedication and plans for the future he has. To open the interview, Yoshida-san wanted to share a statement with us:
Yoshida: So as you know, it’s been a little bit more than a year, since the official launch of September, 2010. The biggest thing is that we have fixed a lot of problems since that launch, but even so, for the past year we’ve had the support of the community—they continued playing the game, they continued to support us. It’s been that support that’s helped drive us this past year making all the changes that we have to move towards a new FINAL FANTASY XIV.
We recently made the announcement of the road map to 2.0, but it wasn’t necessarily for new players. This is more for the players that we have now, to basically show them that there is a bright future on the horizon, that we’ve made the changes, and that if you continue to play, you’ll be able to experience all of this great content over the next year leading up to 2.0. We appreciate your continued patronage, but also that you continue to support and play our game.
Yoshida: Back right around patch 1.18, when we were getting ready to bring in the auto-attack system, a lot saw that and thought, “Oh, it’s going to be XI-2!” When they got in and actually played with the auto-attack, they realized that it was really different from FFXI, even though it looked the same. They found that it was more action-oriented, a lot faster. Now in 1.19, we’ve added the Ifrit battle—you’re not just standing in a static position, you’re going to have to move around depending on the mode that the main boss is in, depending on the attacks that the main boss does.
Also, at one point - in our next large patch - we’re going to be adding what is called “self-combos” where players are going to be able to put together their own combinations of different attacks, and be able to create a more action-based, speedy type of battle system. While it is auto-attack, it is different from XI. We’re not saying that XI is a bad system, we’re just saying that both of these have their benefits.
RPGSite: Obviously, you’ve been very open with the fans since taking over, how and how much do you feel that this has helped FINAL FANTASY XIV?
Yoshida: When I came onto the project back in December of last year there were a lot of problems with it. The players felt the same thing. Basically, but communicating with the players, and saying, “Okay, we think this is wrong with the game,” the players tend to agree with us. Getting on the same level, and showing that what the players are thinking is exactly what we’re thinking. By expressing that, and keeping that crystal clear to the players, then they begin to trust us. By saying we’re on the same page, and we promise we’re going to fix it, that they’ll hopefully believe us and continue playing.
Because of the rocky launch there’s a lot of people who said at that time, “What was Square Enix thinking when they decided to do this?” and they lost that trust that they were supposed to deliver a certain product and weren’t able to. We gave them this promise, and we didn’t follow through on this promise, so there is that damage that we received from that. But to repair that damage, to repair the damage of a broken promise, we have to show them by keeping new promises. We made these promises in our announcements, and then we follow-up by keeping those promises to slowly rebuild that trust. The biggest part of that is continuing communication. I love to communicate with the players, and I know they love communicating with me, and we want to continue that.
RPGSite: Such as the recent YouTube video you did, right.
RPGSite: Keeping with that subject, do you think developers of the single player games such as FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 and FINAL FANTASY Versus XIII might benefit from the same level of openness?
Yoshida: This is a personal opinion, but a game publisher and a game producer should be giving a player something beyond they expect. That’s what makes the experience that much better, but at the same time, there’s things like user interface, game length, level design, things that players have their opinions on, things that they expect. Not listening to those opinions can be damaging, and so it’s always good to get opinions on things like that.
However, it’s not like Square Enix is doing nothing, as maybe you know, on the same day we released the announcement for 2.0, in Japan they selected a bunch of players to come in and test out FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 to come in and play and give their opinions. They’ll then take those opinions and then incorporate them into the game. So the company is moving in the direction of opening up communication lines—talking with the players more, getting their opinions.
RPGSite: Such as the Fan Meeting before TGS, right?
RPGSite: Before FINAL FANTASY XIV launched, Tanaka-san was very forthcoming in saying that he would have liked XIV to be on the Xbox 360, but Microsoft policies have obviously prevented that from happening—he said you would continue to look into it. With the current state of the game, has that idea fallen off the list of priorities? Or are any other platforms in consideration for the project?
Yoshida: Like I mentioned before, the one thing to regain that damaged player trust is to keep those promises, and one of the promises was to release a PlayStation 3 version - we made that promise long, long ago, and we still haven’t kept it. We made that promise not only to the players, but to Sony as well. The first thing that we need to do, to regain that trust, is to fulfill those promises of bringing the PS3 version. Our priority right now is getting that version finished.
Currently, as stated in the road map, we’re designing a new graphics engine to replace the one that we have. This new engine will allow for play on broader environments. So [we’re] currently on high-spec machines only, but with this new engine, it will allow us to run the game on lower spec ones.
Of course, because the game is developed on the PC, moving it to the Xbox 360 platform wouldn’t be that difficult, but as we said before, the thing we have to get done first is getting that PS3 version done. Once that’s done, we can take the next step from there. We are continuing our talks with Microsoft, but then you think, maybe next year Microsoft might be announcing their next hardware, and so our decision is do we wait for that next hardware? So we’re going to wait and see what’s happening after we delivered what we’ve promised.
[block align="left" artwork="ffxiv_v2_conceptshot.jpg" game="148"]A concept image of what Yoshida hopes FFXIV 2.0 will look like.[/block]RPGSite: With the new graphics engine, by chance will it be using the Luminous Studio engine?
Yoshida: As you know, it was recently announced, but the Luminous Engine is being more designed for console games, where the emphasis is more on passive types of games with high quality graphics. Because it’s a one player game, it’s about showing what’s there, but for an MMO, it’s different, it’s more about having lots of things—characters on the screen at the same time. You’re in a community with many, many people. The [Luminous] Engine is more developed for a console type of system. To get something that would be more suited for an MMORPG, what we did was we borrowed some of the engineers that are working on the Luminous system, and had them help us rebuild an engine that would be able to display high quality graphics, but is more tweaked to displaying many of those rather than just a passive type of image. That’s what we’ve been doing.
RPGSite: Similar to how FF Versus XIII is taking the lighting portion of that engine and using it in their game?
Yoshida: It’s different in the sense that it’s not a part of the existing Luminous Engine, because if we were to wait until that engine was completed, we wouldn’t be able to get the game out in time. What we are doing is taking people who are working on Luminous, and having them use their knowledge—some of those things that will be used in Luminous as well, to make a completely new engine. You mentioned the lighting—yes, probably the lighting we’ll end up using will be similar to what will be used in Luminous, but it’s not like we’re waiting for Luminous to be completed.
RPGSite: With the PS3 version of the game, what will you be doing to attract PS3 customers once the game comes out? 2013 seems like a long time from now, especially since, as you know, it was originally announced in 2009. Also, Sony might be announcing their new console as well next year, so what will you do to make it worthwhile for those players who have been waiting, and waiting for this game?
Yoshida: Graphic-wise, usually MMOs won’t put a strain on the graphical capabilities of a system. It’s more about getting the base onto the system. We’re not very worried about this next technology coming out being able to display what we have now. The biggest thing comes down to, that yes, maybe in the near future, a new system will be released, but when it is, the market will be small. The market on the PS3 is still going to be large at that time.
By releasing on the PS3, even if a new system is close, you’re going to get that big market of people who already have the PS3. By releasing on the PS4 instead, you’re going to lose those numbers, because only a small amount of people have it. Also, we’ve made people wait so long, so we want to offer this at a low cost. By offering it to the PS3, we’re able to keep those costs down to ensure that the maximum number of players that want to play it can play the game. That’s what’s important.
It doesn’t mean we’re sitting around doing nothing. We have our plans, and there will be a time when we can talk about those as well. It’s not like we’re ignoring the stuff that’s coming in the future.
RPGSite: Have you considered bringing FINAL FANTASY XIV to the PlayStation Vita?
Yoshida: Yes, currently this is all post-2.0, but because we’re doing a reconstruction of our server system, in those plans, we’re going to make sure that the servers can be accessed by outside devices such as smart phones. Not just the Vita, but also smart phones, so that kind of access will be allowed. What that will open the door to is things like applications that people can used to check their inventory, or check the market and purchase things from the auctions. Those are the things we are laying for in our server foundation, so we can be ready to implement those after 2.0.
For example, beyond that, maybe an application that lets you raise your chocobo, and then transfer it back into the game.
RPGSite: With the new server systems, will the major game breaking issues such as animation lock, server lag latency, positioning imprecision, and interface lag be greatly reduced?
Yoshida: Yes, all of these things will be fixed.
RPGSite: Are you also fixing the issue on the PC version where for some people still when you ALT+TAB out, it crashes the game?
Yoshida: Yes. That’s something that should have never been an issue.
RPGSite: Will the newly introduced graphics engine support Direct X 10/11? Or will it still be limited to DX 9.0c?
Yoshida: With the development of the new engine, the first phase—the first thing that we are prioritizing, is to have a graphics engine that will support high-end users, low-end PCs and the PlayStation 3. The quality of graphics will be the same across all three, but depending on your system, it’ll be about how many characters can you display… how many effects can you display, draw distance.
You won’t have to have a high-end PC to have great graphics; the high-end PC people will be able to see more stuff, and for the low-end, we’ll be able to limit that so those people can still play it, and so PS3 users can also run the game. That is our first phase. Once we have gotten that ready for 2.0, the next step is getting that ready for Direct X 11. That might take between 6-8 months, but it’s on our schedule. We are pushing it back because if we had put that together, then it would mean delaying the release 6-8 months, so first thing’s first.
RPGSite: Not to mention, not everyone has a DX11 system.
Yoshida: It’s a very long schedule, and if you have too much stuff that you want to get in, then it just delays that release. We thought we could make that a step—release [2.0] first, and then go from there.
Yoshida: With the release of all that information, and the announcement of the billing system, it kind of came as a shock, and a lot of people were saying, “Why now? Why are you starting now?” It’s not that we’re starting right now, I want to make it clear that it’s still 2 months in the future—after the release of the 1.20 patch. Players still have a 2 month period to play all of the updates we had in 1.19, and they’ll also have a chance to play 1.20 before deciding whether or not to pay to play.
To give you an example, back at the YouTube Producer Letter Live, we received a lot of different questions from around the world. One of those questions was, “I just stopped playing FFXIV, but I’m thinking about coming back because you put in all this new stuff. Why should I play this game?” And at that time, I answered, “Well, I still believe the game is about 50% complete.”
Why was that 50% number given? At the time of 1.19, we were able to release the chocobos as mounts—not just a background item, you’re actually able to ride them and call them at any time. We were also able to release airships, also the Ifrit battle—things that finally made it feel like a FINAL FANTASY game; things that were lacking from XIV, things that give it a FINAL FANTASY feel. On top of that, we had finally set up a foundation where we could continue on that. In the future, we’ll be releasing moogles… a moogle-based battle, and also the Garuda battle. The things that were lacking in XIV to give that FF feel, we think we’ve gotten the game up to what we can have confidence in.
If we finally have this FF type of feel into it, why did I still say 50% at that time? That’s because, at the time of 1.19, there was still a few things that we consider staples of MMOs that were still missing. Those two things are a very strong player search system, and the other thing being a market search system. At least something similar to what FFXI has with their auction house. Because these two are missing, we still can’t say that we’re beyond 50%, but as I said before, in 1.20, we will be releasing both of these features. By releasing both of these features, we feel that number is going to be bumped up, because we’re finally getting these major things in that we were lacking. This will move us up in that percentage. This is why we decided, after 1.20, when [players] see those changes, to ask for payment.
Releasing the announcement for billing at the same time as all of this new stuff for 2.0 was done because a lot of people would be paying attention to things like the screenshots, artwork, etc. To get the attention that we had lost, people who had played it, but then had left… by making the announcement here, we hope that people who played before might say, “Maybe I should try it again.” They’ll have a chance to play over the next two months, the stuff in 1.19, the new stuff in 1.20, knowing that certain things will be coming in 2.0, and decided that maybe, yes, a lot has changed… maybe I should start playing.
Of course there will be some people who say, “Well, I like what they did here, but I don’t want to start paying yet because I still don’t see what is there in 2.0. So maybe I won’t play.” While others might decide to start playing in 1.21 when we release the new job system. Looking at each individual, and what they want to do in Eorzea, and giving them the opportunity to let them play what we have now, see what we have in the future, and make their decision when they want to come back, and when they want to pay.
To get to the final part about how many people do we want to retain… we’re not really worried about the numbers now, because we’ve made, and we’ve promised to our players that we’re going to be doing this. Even if numbers drop off, we still have those promises to keep, so we’re going to continue following that plan. Hopefully, even if it does drop off, the players will know that this is our roadmap. We’re not going to drop off, even if we’re not able to retain 100% of the numbers.
Yoshida: The one thing that we can do, no matter how many people decide to pay or not to pay—we have to continue showing how serious we are about keeping the promises we broke. Getting back the trust, showing them we’re serious, and that means some will come back for the PC version, and the PS3 launch. Perhaps if they see we’re working hard on it, maybe they’ll want to try it before the PS3 launch. We’re not going to change anything based on the numbers, we’re going to do what we’ve promised.
RPGSite: I know this was mentioned a long time ago, but will there still be cross-platform play between the PC and PS3 versions?
Yoshida: Yes, that has not changed. The thing is, we will be adding new world servers at the time of the PS3 release.
RPGSite: Can you explain what you’re doing with the story component of FINAL FANTASY XIV? When the game launched, it just seemed like those elements were missing—how do you plan on making the story more engaging for players?
Yoshida: Probably the biggest problem with the main story is that you get that opening scene, but before you can get to the next quest, you have to advance in level so far, that by the time you get to that next quest, you pretty much have forgotten what’s happened in the beginning.
It’s definitely one of the things that we’re looking to change, one of the big things being, filling in the gaps that exist right now between each quest. By filling in quests that players will be able to play before they get to the next point, it will help them learn more about the world, learn more about the NPC characters, more about side stories to lead them up to that next part that is currently empty. We hope to have that in by post-2.0.
The main scenario quests have very high quality cutscenes, which take a lot of manpower to produce. We felt that currently, we need to bring players a lot of content in other ways as well. If we concentrated on that, then too much focus would be taken away from other things. Right now, we’re concentrating on making more side story quests, as well as the 7th Umbral era content—all of this new story that is happening in the lead up to the world change in 2.0. Seeing that story that’s leading up to those changes—we believe that right now, that’s our main focus. We want players to play this event as something they’ll only be able to experience now. Once that is finished, we’ll go back to those old quests and fill them out, making sure they become more important.
RPGSite: Last question… what core mechanics—if any—are being drawn from western MMO developers? Such as the option to do things like swimming and jumping?
Yoshida: I’m a very hardcore gamer, and one of the first things when I got onto FFXIV was that I wanted to add a jump feature. When I threw that out to the community, what surprised me was that a lot of players were against that idea. Their complaint was that you shouldn’t be able to jump in a FINAL FANTASY game!
Just because it’s in all the other MMOs, does it fit with the image of FINAL FANTASY? For example, people didn’t want to see Lalafells jumping all around.
Personally, I don’t like the fact that my character is bound to the ground, so I definitely want to add a jump feature.
RPGSite: That’s interesting because they added a jump option to XIII-2, and I haven’t seen much negative reaction to that.
Yoshida: Everyone probably wouldn’t mind if their character could jump, but maybe there’s a lot of people who just don’t want to see everyone else jumping!
A lot of the Japanese players of XIV that only know about that game as well as FFXI, so they’re used to having a character that can’t jump. They don’t realize that you can jump in every other MMO in the world, so they have that aversion to it.
It’s not only Japan though. If you look at our forums, there are a lot of people, even in North America, who don’t want the jumping feature.
As for swimming, it would to be something that wasn’t just swimming. If we were going to put this in the game, we would want to make it a part of the game. For example, swimming to certain dungeons to do things, battles in water, etc. While this isn’t something we could put in for 2.0, it might be something we consider for the next expansion pack. We’d make sure that it would have something worthwhile.
We do have the swim suits, so they have to be good for something, right?
RPGSite: Thank you very much!