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Interview: Three Questions for Naoki Yoshida at FFXIV Dawntrail's Media Tour

Dev wellness, the luck of the population spike, and Job Stones

Victoria Rose Posted:
Interviews 0

After the successful reboot of Final Fantasy 14 Online, director and producer Naoki Yoshida has become the face of the MMORPG’s legacy. Brought into the 1.X version to see its latter year(s) and reboot, not only has he remained at the helm for over ten years, but he intends on doing so for as long as he can foresee, as he’s boasted in the past. This includes for the upcoming Dawntrail expansion, which promises to start FFXIV’s adventures anew with no less excitement nor content. 

During the event, I was able to sit down and ask a few questions during the Dawntrail Media Tour, translated in person by Aimi Tokutake. Famously among FFXIV creators and media, he’s verbose, honest, and blunt—which, paired with a time constraint, means that curating questions for this shared interview with Yoshida was a bit of a cutthroat task this time around. Notably, Yoshida and Tokutake had to forego a question about the state of the video game development industry due to time constraints, so follow-up was required. As of the publication of this article, we've yet to hear back from Square Enix, but we will update this piece if and when they choose to answer. 

MMORPG.com: So you mention often that you plan on keeping Final Fantasy 14 going for over 10 years — and today, that you wish to challenge your team going into the future. So what initiatives are you taking as the director and producer to ensure not only that longevity and sustainability, but also engaged workforce with your team? 

Naoki Yoshida, Director and Producer: It is definitely a challenge—a difficult matter to tackle, for sure. 

So of course, in the development team, we have different types of creators. Sometimes, we have to look at different options in terms of motivation control. For example, say we have some team members who are very much involved in XIV, they love XIV, that’s all they want to focus on. So for those people, it depends on what kind of good content we’re delivering to our players—that will lead to their motivation, making sure we are showing them, we want to aim for this within Final Fantasy 14 next. 

On the flip side, of course, they love XIV, they love the players, delivering content to our players. But at the same time, they also have a life, maybe they have a family, maybe they have a schedule, and so they aren’t able to focus in on such a rigorous schedule as some other developers may have. So in their mind, maybe salary is what motivates them. 

With the case of Creative Business Unit 3 that Yoshida leads, we have a system set up where tenure’s not the only thing that qualifies you for a higher salary. We try to look at performance and make sure that we are looking at everyone from a very objective and fair standpoint, and that might lead to some people’s motivation as well. 

Lastly, there is a group of people who love to explore new technology, new systems, new things within FFXIV. For those people, to motivate them, we would have them try to push the envelope on certain elements or try to get them to come up with new ideas that would get into FFXIV, and give them new challenges so that that would motivate them. And even then, if there are people who are not quite satisfied with being on the XIV team, we have the freedom within Square Enix to transfer to different projects, so perhaps they might want to satisfy their curiosity outside of the team, and if they feel like they want to come back, we will have them back. 

So there are many different approaches that we take trying to make sure we’re looking at the person, and trying to raise their motivation. 

It’s been a full expansion now since the population of FFXIV exploded. What reflections do you and the studio have on this population increase? 

This is something that Yoshida talks with his staff members, to the company in general about—but when we did see that big sort of explosion from Shadowbringers to Endwalker and the number of players we got, it’s all thanks to everybody’s efforts. Not just the development team, but the development team, management team, marketing, PR teams, et-cetera. 

But that said, it’s not just our internal efforts. There were two major factors, I feel, that have impacted this growth spurt. First is the COVID pandemic—people were unable to go outside, to communicate with other people, and so FFXIV has become a place for them to belong and to spread the word and have friends join them. And that really accelerated our growth. 

The second point was world-famous influencers, without us doing any sort of reach-out, organically started playing FFXIV, and so that, I think, also helped us. 

That said, those two elements, I think, are just icing on the cake. It’s like a bonus we received out of the situation, that happened externally. It’s not just the hard work we’ve done—it’s more like something that was almost lucky, per se. 

And I think it’s going to be a challenge now to keep the people that joined us because of those factors. It can be said for any sort of audience growth—sometimes it’s a very temporary thing. 

They might get really excited about one thing, and then they might leave, so now we have to look at ourselves. We can't just rest on our laurels, we have to look at it from the ground up, making sure we are providing for our players, and making sure that we are building that so that we’re keeping our players as well. 

Instead of thinking that is our high point and that we can only go up or down from that point, I think we also want to instead make sure that we are building our foundation properly, bringing content that we can be confident about to our players. And then, maybe eventually, we might happen to receive another bonus situation, or a lucky situation. We feel that our philosophy is, if we work hard, we’ll get rewarded for it eventually. 

One criticism many have had about FFXIV, at least in the West, is that many will make it very far into the game and not be entirely knowledgeable about their jobs. Many even do dungeons at level 31 or 32 without their Job Stone. Do you have any advice for either side of the dilemma, and are there more plans to officially make this more intuitive? 

Actually, that’s a good point, and we actually looked at that for 7.0, and we tried to make it a little more clear that you do need to equip your Soul Stone in order to switch over to your Job. That said, yeah, the whole class system was sort of a remnant, or a legacy that stuck around since the original 1.0. 

And yeah, it does need work to make it a bit easier to understand, and with each expansion, the team discusses, well, okay, can we do away with the class system? But it ends up being too many resources—it’s cost-intensive for the team to move forward with it. So, it’s kind of stuck around with each expansion. We understand that it’s kind of hard to grasp.

Full Disclosure: Travel and accommodation to this preview event were provided by Square Enix.


Victoria Rose

Victoria's been writing about games for over eight years, including small former tenures with Polygon and Fanbyte. She mostly spends time in FFXIV, head-deep in roleplay campaigns or stubbornly playing Black Mage through high-end raids. Former obsessions include Dota 2 and The Secret World (also mostly roleplaying). Come visit their estate: Diabolos (Crystal DC), Goblet, Ward 4, Plot 28.