Square Enix brought Final Fantasy XIV to Gamescom in a big way. Two stands were dedicated to the game, with one offering a ‘Bahamut Challenge’ while the other focused on PvP play. For an MMO that many had given up on just a few years ago, it certainly seems to be enjoying a strong resurgence.
Part of that is down to Game Director Naoki Yoshida and his team, who took leadership of the then-troubled MMO and turned it around, rebuilding much from the ground up. Since then, FFXIV has launched on PS4, with a China launch arriving imminently and a Mac version in the pipeline. Further out, a version 3.0 expansion and DirectX 11 update are in the works, along with a Gold Saucer Event. For details on all of these, I sat down at a Roundtable interview with Yoshida and a number of other eager journalists. Speaking through a translator, he described how development was faring, and threw in a few teasers about upcoming content.
Question: With FFXIV ARR being successful, is the pressure off now?
Naoki Yoshida: To be honest, I never really felt it as a pressure to myself, so it’s not like there’s no more pressure, because I didn’t have it in the first place. But I’m really, purely happy that there are so many people enjoying this game now, and I’m really happy to see such positive feedback from everyone all over the world. After Gamescom, I’ll be going to China, because we’re going to release FFXIV in the Chinese market, which is the world’s largest online market. I still want to continue to reach out to as many people as possible, so I’m just going to keep on challenging myself, so there’s no time for me to rest.
Q: Are you satisfied with the console release?
Yoshida: Myself, as being a huge online and MMO fan for nearly 20 years, so I’m really happy to see the console gamers out there who may not have played MMO before, to find out how MMOs are fun. Getting more players to join my MMO world is a cool thing, so I’m really happy to see more console gamers enjoying an MMO.
Q: Since relaunching and arriving on PS4, there seems to be a momentum behind FFXIV. How do you plan to maintain it in the months and years ahead?
Yoshida: First of all the most important thing for any MMO out in the market is to bring out exciting content in a speedy manner. It may sound obvious, but it’s also a very difficult thing to do, so that’s something I’m really making sure that we bring them in a speedy manner to the players. It’s the most obvious thing to do, but it’s also very challenging to do, and I’m going to make sure that will happen.
Again, this may sound an obvious answer, but it is true that many MMOs are struggling to do this – continuously bringing exciting content in a speedy manner – so that’s our priority. But also, another thing we want to make sure to do is make our players proud of enjoying this game. We want to keep on expanding the market, for example bringing out the Mac version, we’re planning to bring out a DirectX 11 version, and also we’re going to release in China. We’re constantly meeting these challenges and bringing positive news to the market, so the players enjoying the game now feel proud about being part of it. We are working on an expansion pack – we call it 3.0 version – so we are definitely trying to bring out more content, and more exciting news to players.
Q: With the game on two different platforms, do you treat them separately, or are they seen as one?
Yoshida: Not only the hardware itself, but all these different countries – UK, France, Germany, Japan – wherever the players are from, they’re all enjoying the same FFXIV. And that’s our aim – to provide FFXIV to everyone. Whichever platform they’re using, that’s only the matter of tool; the hardware may be different, but they’re all joining the same FFXIV. Again, with the Mac version, that’s something we want to bring out to the market, just to make sure people can join one world, one FFXIV. I don’t consider a different platform to be a different game.
Q: Do you still get a lot of community feedback?
Yoshida: Because we have so many players out there, we are receiving a lot of feedback from our community, which is great. Also, from a dev team side, we make sure we have an open communication with our players, especially on the user interface. We want players to know what changes we are planning to make and then we want to keep the feedback. We listen to what communities suggest – if they have a great idea, we want to make sure it is implemented in the game. So we’re constantly having this open communication for all different areas of the game. It’s very difficult to think about one particular thing we can improve, as there are so many different areas we are having communications about.
In fact, during these media interviews we receive lots of feedback from the media who are playing. And actually, at E3, one of the media game me a great suggestion, and we decided to implement his feedback into the next patch. The same media came to interview yesterday, and we told him that we’re actually going to use his idea, and he was extremely happy about it.
Q: Will it be possible to build our own aircraft and, if so, how will it work?
Yoshida: To answer your first question, yes, one day you will be able to build your own aircraft. I didn’t expect such a direct, pinpoint question. That’s a top-secret part you directly pinpointed.
It’s a Final Fantasy game, so airships are an important factor. And also, I’m a great fan of the classic Final Fantasy titles, so it means a lot to me having the airships. And, as an MMO, having them, building together with your friends and going on adventures together means a lot to a player, so that is something we are planning to implement as a wide-scale content in the game, so please look forward to future announcements.
Q: There is a lot of competition in the MMO market, with fans passionate about their particular game. Does this frighten you, or do you thrive on it?
Yoshida: In short, I think it’s natural to have that passionate feeling towards the MMO you belong to, and I really think it’s a good thing to have.
Yes, people these days have really busy lives, and so they may not spend as many hours as they used to back in the days on the games they play. But still, if they play for 4 hours, that’s a sixth of a day they’re spending, so it’s part of their real life. So it’s natural to be a passionate part of it, and consider it very seriously. Just like you cheer for your own country at the World Cup, I think it’s only natural to feel that for a game you’re spending so much time in.
But at the same time, that makes the MMO business really difficult and challenging, because if you’ve been living in this game for such a long time, and it’s been constantly updated and perfected, when a new game comes out, a new country is built, they will always compare the two. The other game had such a history to perfect itself, which makes the new game held to a really high standard from the beginning And that’s what we had to face as well, and I do realize that the new MMOs have a very tough time.
So when you do bring a new MMO to the market, there are two elements you need to keep in mind. One is are you going to bring out a great service to the players, or are you going to bring out great content to the players. Service is very important – we need to make sure all the bugs are fixed and UI improved, but if you keep on focusing on those areas, the players want to play on content, so that’s something we also want to bring in. And if you lack on content but fix bug, there’s no content to play and they’ll get bored and go back to their old world.
Q: How do you feel the European market differs from the American or Asian market?
Yoshida: That’s actually the 7th media that’s asked that in interviews. [grins]
I often receive questions from the media on what’s unique about the German market, or the US market, or ‘isn’t the Chinese market very challenging to reach out to?’ But I do fly all over the world, and the feedback I receive from the players is actually the same. All they want is an exciting game experience, so I don’t see any difference in the feedback I receive, because of their country or anything like that.
The one thing I do receive in common is the in-game item drop-rate for one particular item is very tough, so I always hear the same feedback ‘can you make it higher?’
But talking about the difference, there is a difference for how people actually catch the game, and we do see a difference depending on which country they are from. One particular clear example is the the French and German audience – we do see a clear preference before they actually touch the game. For FFXIV so far, we have always presented it as the latest Final Fantasy game. The French audience, because we realize they’re so used to Japanese culture, subculture and Japanimation, they really like something like an FFXIII-style game which is very character-driven.
On the other hand, the German audience prefers a more dark, high-fantasy type game, and as soon as we bring Japanimation artwork out in front of them, they think ‘Well, this is not my cup of tea,’ and they think it’s not their game to play. So we do think it’s important to make sure we’re presenting the best approach, and what they see of the game is what they really want. Because, once they start playing the same, everyone will enjoy it, but we need to make sure they actually become interested in the first place. So how we present it is actually very important, and that’s what we’ve been learning for the last year since we launched the games.
We don’t consider Europe as one region – each country has a unique preference and culture and audience, so we want to make sure we have the best targeted approach to each. The content is going to be the same, but the presentation will be customized according to the country.