FFXIV Yoshida and Fox Interview
During the end of Day 3 at PAX Prime I had a chance to sit down along with a representative of MTV (they cover MMORPGS now?!) to interview Final Fantasy XIV’s producer, Yoshida, as well as lead of the English localization team, Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, to get some much needed updates on the rocky launch and what was to come for this monumental surprise hit of the summer.
Yoshida Opening Statement
Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy PAX schedules to travel to our event at the Red Lion Hotel. As you know, ARR launched on August 27. For the past 2 and a half years, we’ve had so much support from not only the North American fans but the NA media as well. And for that we’re thankful.
So because of the rocky launch we had with the first FFXIV, and when we decided that we were going to tell the world that we were going to start from scratch. And we expected to be brushed off as a joke. That ended up not being the case. We expected our second launch would be slow and gradual. That people would be wary and wait to see if their friend or some trusted source liked it, and then get into the game if they heard good things. Well that wasn’t the case. There were so many people that our servers were vastly underprepared. As such Square’s server team are putting in overtime preparing new servers to ensure that those still waiting to get into game will be able to as soon as Wednesday (Jap time), September 4th. AKA Tuesday the 3rd in North America.
And so for the past 3 years, the basis of our development have been to build on three pillars.
Have the greatest story.
Having the greatest game experience.
Have the greatest graphics.
Combine the three as a base to support the greatest community, both from our original launch as well as the newcomers with ARR. To create a sustainable title that will continue on for five to ten years and beyond.
Are digital sales suspended still?
Big server maintenance for September 3rd dedicated to adding four new North American/EU servers. See our primary issue is the stress the Duty Finder tool is having since it matches all twenty five worlds in one server to find parties. Instead we’ll be breaking these up into about fifteen each. After we see that this change resolves the issue, then we’ll look into reopening Digital Sales.
A lot of North American players unable to log-in ended up spilling over to Japanese servers are refuges to take advantage of the low activity since Japanese servers were typically less populated during the evenings when NA gamers would play. Will there be plans for server transfers to restore these established characters back to NA servers.
We’ve been working on world transfers for quite a while and it’s nearly ready to go. First we’re going to focus on seeing everyone into the game to see just how large our player population truly is, and then figure out how we’re going to roll out server transfer technology.
The MMORPG field is becoming vastly overcrowded with titles and competition is quite fierce to keep games running now. What did you learn from your initial launch that will help FFXIV overcome this competition?
When making FFXIV: ARR, we’re not making a new IP. We’re basing it off an existing IP. And so we don’t focus on making a new MMORPG. We instead focus on making and advertising it as a new Final Fantasy game. So we ask how does this stand out as a unique Final Fantasy experience versus other titles in the IP.
So you look at what we’ve done at major conventions like E3 and PAX. When selling a regular MMO, they typically put a bunch of stations up to play the game from the start. But to truly understand what an MMO is like, you can’t just play for a few minutes to truly “Get It.” That’s why we showcase the Final Fantasy feel but throwing people straight into an Ifrit battle, or the Golem battle, so that even though they’re playing an MMORPG, it feels like an epic console battle. Just now with other players in a community atmosphere.
So while I wasn’t involved directly in the original launch, I can say what Square-Enix learned from the initial launch. And what we learned is that our name brand isn’t enough to sell a product anymore. We have to understand our fans, change with our fans, and adapt to changing market conditions to stay relevant.
Why do you feel that now was the ideal time to launch FFXIV: ARR and to continue going with a B2P plus subscription model?
We’ve come across this question quite often. With so many F2P on the market, why would we go subscription. We feel that it’s not about which model is right and which is wrong. We feel that neither is truly correct, it’s just about what type of development process and MMORPG you intend to support. For us to create the type of large scale game we wanted, the subscription model was what we needed. The subscription model is good for large scale MMORPG development. It allows for a stable development team that you can maintain over a long period of time. And the regular updates create a sustainable standard that will keep your fans loyal for long period of times.
And at what part of the extended beta phasing did you know that it was time to take a chance and push a relaunch. Personally if I was on the team during the first 2 beta phases, I would have still been worried about the success of the title.
The first time we realized that we were getting close to a successful relaunch was right after beta phase 2. We had just over 900 individual suggestions offered that we were able to implement into the title. And seeing the reactions at E3 and during beta phase 3, we knew we were on the right track. We had to keep it under wraps prior, despite all the pressure from the marketing and sales side of the company to push for sooner.
Did you develop FFXIV with the expectations of an extended lifetime of updates and expansions akin to World of Warcraft, or rather is it intended to have a finite lifespan within the FF series of constantly progressing titles.
Well when you look at just how long the success of FFXI has lasted, you understand that FFXIV could be the next great extended success. As such we went into developing the game with a ten year plan to bring that type of atmosphere of extended progression to our players.
When talking smaller scale, we hope to have a patch system involving large scale patches every three months. Currently development on 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 or in other words the next 9 months of content are already in development now. Plus just this week we’ve completed the draft for the storyarch of our first major expansion, 3.0, which has been submitted for review while we attend PAX.
Players asking for Primal updates will see King Moogle in patch 1.1 with either Ramuh, Leviathan, or Shiva arriving as early as 1.2. And there’s plenty more in the works that should catch our players quite off-guard as well as harder versions of existing Primals.
A constant problem with offering various starting hub-towns dividing your playerbase is after the initial wave passes through, future new players are welcomed to an MMORPG atmosphere by literal ghost towns. Do you have plans either through gameplay mechanics or future updates to prevent this from happening while keeping these beautiful major cities bustling hubtowns.
The game has been designed not only for the hardcore but also for those who only know the series through the console games who are just now stepping into an MMORPG for the first time. That’s why the game is designed to be a solo experience for the first 15 levels and then players move on from these starting towns after getting their feet wet. If they feel the towns are well designed or enjoyable players to hang out, they can go back. But we don’t want to introduce elements that force them to just to gain progression.
However, that doesn’t mean there will be no reason implemented. In the way we’ve designed the storyline, each of the three major city-states houses one of the grand companies. And these grand companies will progress various elements of the storyline. So you may be visiting from time to time. So you will always see high level players visiting the towns. As for the fields being empty, we don’t feel this is going to be a problem.
Plus you have the multi-class system in place so more experienced players might return to these towns to start their character on new class paths.
Yes we’ll be occasionally implementing new classes like the Ninja as well as other hybrid upgrades for missing combinations of what is currently in the game. I’m sure this will create that “new class smell” rush of players back to the starting zones to visit the application guilds and fill the low level fields again. We’re hoping to implement new field content and new FATEs as well to ensure players aren’t stuck grinding through the same experience every time. There are also seasonal events that we hope to have maybe once per month that will lure players back to the starting towns to join in the festivities.
The Process of localization is such a major undertaking of any MMORPG, but especially one as large as this. How do you go about making this happen?
Because this is a simultaneous worldwide release, including English, French, and German, we can’t use the standard process of sending out the Japanese version and waiting for a while for the rest of the regions to catch up with localization. Instead we bring the localization team into the development team, stationing them in Japan. This speeds up the process immensely since we can directly ask the developers for the information we need. This helps because Japanese has odd quirks like saying sentences that lack a subject or verb. So we can be told straight from the horses’ mouth and not have to worry about guessing what was originally meant due to rushed deadlines.
We also have some of the best translators in the business who have customized the tale to each region so that not only will it make sense, but it will contain humor and references that make sense to the speakers of their respective language.
FFXIV has put an immense amount of time on its emote system. But there isn’t any joint emotes in the game, such as patty-cake, carrying, hugging, or riding mounts together. Do you have plans to ever implement this?
Actually we have been testing some kinds of interactive emotes between characters. The reason we haven’t implemented any yet is we wanted to start off with just the individual emotes to give the players the opportunity to become their own character.
If you notice, with all five races, each wave is done in a slightly different way. So we want the players to learn to roleplay their own characters based on these individual quirks and individual backstories. Once that’s established, then we will start to move in to meet demands for interactive emotes like slap and hug.
The other reason we haven’t implemented a hug or what not is some people are going to use them to do some racy videos that they’ll post on the net and cause some overbearing parents to start raising complaints. And we don’t want that negative press at launch considering how realistic our character models are.
How does it feel as a major developer to come to PAX Prime and be face to face with your game’s fans?
To put it simply, it’s very exciting. As Japanese developers it’s quite rare to be able to come to the western audience and meet our fans. And it is these western fans that kept us going, kept the faith alive, and gave us the hype and confidence to keep going as far as we’ve come. By seeing the community and their great reaction here, we’re given a much greater pressure from these people to keep up the same level of quality and dedication to our craft to not let them down.
And you’d think at a trade convention like E3, you wouldn’t expect to run into any diehard fans like this. But even there we had employees of other companies approaching us off the record to say they were ready to cancel their accounts and join our fantasy at launch. And that gives you a sense of pride and you recognize the responsibility that comes with living up to expectations on that level.
One of Final Fantasy XIV’s selling points is certainly the graphics and the mounts showcased so far are some of the best examples of the creativity being pumped into FFXIV. Do you have any plans you can reveal on what’s coming next on the mount front? Perhaps more class specific or a race specific mount?
*Yoshida proceeded to comment and laugh often with his silent up-till-now female associate producer before continuing to answer with a smile on his face.*
We love our mounts and have quite a lot in our development cycle. There’s probably five mounts that are high enough quality to launch today if we wanted to. But in terms of which one is coming next, it’s rather a spur of the moment decision my staff decides on just before we push new content live. As for next, well I’m sure you’re already aware of the Arden (unsure of spelling on this, audio is a bit shaky) 3 month mount that some people that prepayed are already running around on.
But now that we’re hearing from our western fans that you’re pining for new mounts, we’ll be sure to make a decision on the next to be introduced as soon as we get back and prep it to launch with the next update.