Even if you didn’t know Final Fantasy XIV before the pandemic, it’s now certainly the talk of the games industry. It’s gained momentum as one of the top MMORPGs of the era, and that roll doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Through patch 5.3, Reflections in Crystal, the game wrapped up its renowned Shadowbringers expansion with a story conclusion that players argued matched the original storyline in quality and emotion. The patch also brought a number of quality-of-life changes, as well as an expanded trial that has every veteran begging their friends to take advantage of. It’s since been nominated for a 2020 Golden Joystick for Best Expansion.
Since then, the team got back to work on upcoming content, with the next major update already coming in December. Despite the busy schedule, director Naoki Yoshida took some time to chat with us about a breadth of topics, from coronavirus considerations to crafting — and even Doman Mahjong.
MMORPG.COM: First of all, congratulations on patch 5.3, Reflections in Crystal! It seems many players are excited about how this patch finished the Shadowbringers storyline. Dedicated followers of the lore are especially impressed with the consistency of certain facts, such as memory or soul transference, that appears in lore as far back as A Realm Reborn's launch. What does the decision-making process for a long-term story like this look like?
YOSHIDA: Thank you very much for the encouragement and kind words. I would like to express our gratitude on behalf of the development team to every player in the community.
Regarding lore consistency and foreshadowing, to be honest there are no real tips or tricks to our workflow and methodology. However, we have some great minds on FFXIV like Banri Oda and Koji Fox, who are not only able to create lore, but can also flexibly adapt to any changes utilizing their skills as writers. Additionally, we have Natsuko Ishikawa and a team of scenario writers who take great care in being mindful of lore and subplots from previous content. I am a fan of traditional mystery novels, and my motto for resolving any plot threads is to remain as “fair” as possible. In the end, I think all of these pieces came together to make FFXIV and its story what it is today.
At the onset of A Realm Reborn, we worked hard just to sprinkle mysteries throughout the story. Of course, we had to avoid including any threads that might severely restrict future story developments and interspersed these mysteries while keeping it somewhat open-ended so that we could be agile and connect them however and whenever we saw fit. I think our players contributed to the success of this format because the community has always voiced their thoughts and observations of the story and read deeply into the scenario, which kept us trying our hardest to weave all of the strands together. I believe that in some ways, it is almost a living, joint effort between us and players to continue the story together. We’re always passing this onto our younger team members; stay tuned to see what they can bring!
MMORPG.COM: Like other game companies, it appears the Final Fantasy XIV team was affected by the pandemic. Especially given this is an MMORPG with continuous content, what were some of the more interesting challenges and accomplishments the development team saw?
YOSHIDA: At this point, the impact of COVID-19 on our development, including Patch 5.4 has been almost completely mitigated. This is due to the fact during the 5.3 development cycle, both the FFXIV team and Square Enix as a company worked closely and quickly to shift not the development itself, but the development environment to accommodate working from home. During this transition, we put a momentary pause on development, placing the utmost priority on each individuals’ and their families’ health. The first step was making the decision to create this new development environment in which we can continue our work and continue to deliver the best story and experience to the players. In the end, the staff was able to keep their mentality strong and motivation high, even in an uncertain time, and worked hard to bring development back up to speed.
FFXIV is an MMORPG, and simply adjusting the game client is not enough to bring development back to normal. Rather, each team found what they could do given the situation and put immense energy into that work. Coming up with a way to grant access to our local servers while keeping them secure, continuing work on planning and production of battle stages remotely, or even working individually on creating 5.3 cutscenes are just a few examples off the top of my head. Currently, 90% of the development team is still working on patch development in a work from home environment, yet productivity levels are nearly equal (above 95%) to that of what we saw before these changes were implemented.
MMORPG.COM: From the outside, at least in the West, it seems like more players are joining than ever — in some part due to the pandemic, and also thanks to the popularity of Shadowbringers. Are there any changes that you've noticed from the player base during this time?
YOSHIDA: With the threat of COVID-19 still causing some very serious issues across the globe, I decided to reduce the amount of promotional activities we are engaging in for the time being. I felt it would be inappropriate to use the situation we are in to encourage people to stay home as some sort of stepping-stone to getting them into the game. If a game that I loved did something like this, I would feel a bit disappointed.
However, as we were working to get development back up to speed, players and influencers around the world and even members of the media raised their voices to encourage people to play FFXIV. Thanks to that outreach from the community and our supporters, it brought more friends and family members to Eorzea, and I feel that the world of FFXIV expanded further and grew stronger because of it. Once again, I’m reminded that we are where we are now because we are supported by the world’s best community. My biggest thanks to you all for being a part of it!
MMORPG.COM: It looks like players around the world are holding more in-game events than ever. Has the team seen any interesting or memorable events?
YOSHIDA: I typically play on the Japanese data center, so it can be somewhat difficult to see people role-playing outside of Japan firsthand, but there was something I found interesting. I believe this was picked up by media as well, but I’m referring to the story about the guy who kept eating boiled eggs (laughs). That particular anecdote reminded me that you never know what will happen in an MMORPG, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
In Japan there are many festivals (“Matsuri” in Japanese) that happen during the summertime, but because of the pandemic, almost all of the festivals in Japan were cancelled. However, our players thought, “If we can’t have a summer festival in real life, then we should just do it in Eorzea!” They used large swathes of housing wards to build a large-scale summer festival. I snuck in to take a look, and I was blown away by just how amazing it was and the attention to detail. Perhaps if you search for FF14 Housing Matsuri or something along those lines, you might be able to see some screenshots of the various events on the Japan servers—I encourage you to search for it! [NOTE: A rep for FFXIV specifically directed us to this hashtag for an event that took place on the Alexander server.]
MMORPG.COM: For those looking to learn crafting jobs, it often becomes a massive investment of gil with little ability to recoup costs. Is there an intended or preferred pace or strategy, such as leveling alongside gathering, that the non-combat team believes is efficient for such players?
YOSHIDA: First and foremost, the key to efficiently leveling a Disciple of the Hand or Land class is to not rush it. If you want to level a class quickly, it will consequently require a lot of gil so you can cut down on time spent and increase efficiency. I’m sure spending money to save time is a concept we are familiar with in the real world as well.
The next important thing is to level DoH and DoL classes simultaneously. Equipment for crafting and gathering classes can be used across the full spectrum of these class groups, and if you level multiple classes alongside each other, it makes it easier to utilize the proper equipment, making it both easier to craft items and increase efficiency. Furthermore, if you level DoH and DoL classes simultaneously, you can use the materials you gathered to do your crafting, so you can save the gil you would’ve spent on buying the material on the market boards. It’s also important to frequently put the extra materials you gather and craft up for sale in the market.
Supply and Provisioning Missions issued by Grand Companies are set up as a daily system, but because of that you can gain a huge amount of experience points from there each day. If you continue to turn in the items for Supply and Provisioning Missions for each of the DoH/DoL classes every day, it will help with efficiently leveling without having to spend much gil. Don’t forget to use your levequest allowances as well before they cap out at 100. Even just doing these two things should make things go much smoother, so I would encourage people to try these methods.
The most important thing is to get rid of the notion of bragging and showing off—don’t go around with the mindset of “I’m going to reach the level cap in 10 days!” or “Look at how quickly I can reach level cap!”
I think if you go this route you can definitely reduce the amount of gil you are going to spend (laughs).
MMORPG.COM: Finally, the Live Letter team mentioned that changes are coming for Doman Mahjong, especially UI changes and the addition of "quick match." What trends or feedback have you noticed that drove this update? And, out of curiosity, are any developers regular Doman Mahjong players?
YOSHIDA: FFXIV has many different types of gameplay content, including content that encourages you to play them on a daily or weekly basis. This can also translate to a lot of content which players may feel they are obligated to do. Everyone is busy with their lives outside of the game, and so they tend to subconsciously think about how much time each piece of content will take. Content which takes up a lot of time to complete, regardless of how fun it can be, tends to attract fewer participants.
Mahjong is a tabletop game in which you compete with strategy and skill, so each match invariably tends to run long. However, with a “quick match” mode, players are able to finish a match in a fraction of the time, and many Doman mahjong enthusiasts voiced their desire to have this implemented. At first, I didn’t know how many people would play mahjong content, so I was a bit worried that having two separate modes to queue for would increase the wait times, but we ended up seeing a lot more players engaging with the content than expected, so we decided to move forward with the addition.
Interestingly, there is a mahjong pro league in Japan with professional mahjong players, but it seems they are playing mahjong in FFXIV too, so I’m very glad about that (laughs).
Just as an aside, I’ve been playing mahjong myself since the age of seven, and of course I play Doman mahjong frequently as well. We also have a good number of members on the development team who enjoy playing mahjong. I’ve even heard that Masaki Nakagawa, our Lead Battle Content Designer, wanted to be a professional mahjong player when he was younger...
Anyway, we will continue to update Doman Mahjong in future patches, and we are actually making plans for another large-scale gameplay content for the Gold Saucer. Now, I wonder what will we bring to you next...? :p