It’s been more than six months since Final Fantasy XIV’s second expansion “Stormblood” released, and now the game is deep within its so-called “patch series”, where quarterly updates to the game introduce more content such as the continuation of the main scenario, new raids, new features, and so on.
Recently we had the chance to chat with producer/director Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida on the state of the game, the reception to Stormblood, and what it means for the future of the mainline MMORPG.
—Stormblood came out in June and now we’re on patch 4.1 and 4.18 – how do you feel about the response to the latest updates?
Naoki Yoshida: First and foremost, it’s not just the development team, but the internal operations team, PR and marketing team [that have contributed with this achievement]. We’ve updated the record subscriber numbers and it’s the biggest since the A Realm Reborn launch. This is something we didn’t really expect. It’s not just that we are so happy about these results, but it was also quite a big surprise.
And it’s not just a success in the business side of things, but we also received a metascore of more than 90%, and this is quite rare for an MMORPG to get such a high score. I’m so proud of the actual contents that the game has offered with Stormblood, the [latest] expansion.
We would like to keep this momentum going forward. This is why we are coming up with new ideas and also planning out the next expansion so that we can offer up the next big thing.
—With the introduction of the high-end raid Omega there’s a lot of design ideas that are shared with Final Fantasy V, the most obvious being Exdeath. Should we expect more Final Fantasy V themes to be explored in future updates and encounters?
Yoshida: There’s a lot of speculation but also expectations to the new bosses coming in future. But for now we won’t spoil anything – we want to keep it a surprise! When we add new bosses to the game we’d like you to focus not just on the elements of how it’s implemented into the game but also the story as well.
—You mentioned earlier this year that you don’t think you’d ever get to the point where you’ll run out of jobs; that you want to keep adding them. Obviously there’s a massive archive of jobs that have been included in Final Fantasy games so far. Do you envision creating a unique job – something that’s unique to Final Fantasy XIV?
Yoshida: The Final Fantasy series has such a long history already so we have a lot of archived jobs there. Rather than making an original new job for FFXIV, we would prefer to look at the former ones.
The basics of designing new jobs is that these jobs has to have a unique system and also the aspect that can bring unique game experiences as well. When we come up with new ideas [when designing a job], if it doesn’t compare that well to existing jobs that have appeared in former FF [titles], then we may implement them as new and original jobs for Final Fantasy XIV. However, if there’s an element that resembles [an existing job], then we will display them as that because the name of the job will be something familiar for FF fans to understand. I think that will be beneficial for thinking about Final Fantasy as a whole.
—Stormblood classes – I guess in terms of balance, would you expect that you’d be looking at entries to make a tank and healer classes to balance the game?
Yoshida: Of course, there will be possibilities to introduce new healer and tank jobs [in the future].
—With Final Fantasy XI, the universe is being expanded with FF Grandmasters, but there’s also the mobile version [of FFXI] that’s being developed by Nexon. Things have been quiet since its announcement. Can you provide an update on the development progress of Final Fantasy XI reboot? Also, does that mean there will be plans to expand the world of Eorzea in the same fashion; through mobile games or other app properties?
Yoshida: With the mobile version of FFXI, we are currently fine-tuning its battle system. When the time comes, we’ll be able to make another big announcement.
As for FFXIV, we don’t really have that type of content available in the mobile version because we would prefer to focus on the companion application [Libra Eorzea]. This is our current goal for FFXIV.
—How did your expectations match up with the ‘Unending Coil of Bahamut’ raid being cleared? Do you see yourself wanting to make more content like that again? And given the small amount of people who will participate in the Unending Coil, why did the team decide to make this kind of difficult content?
Yoshida: The Unending Coil raid is a very brutal version of the battle contents everyone has already seen. That was the concept in the first place. However, this direction is something that we will aim to offer in the future.
Of course, we have several modes of the raid, for example, Omega Savage mode and there are so many people challenging these contents because we lowered the difficult of that. Now we have so many people challenging this contest and have to clear it. There are a small number of people who have high player skills. There isn’t much in the way of content that can satisfy them.
Those people have high skills so they might want to boast about their skills. We also have to have the star players for the game, that’s why adding that Ultimate mode is important.
So, because it was at first a challenge for us to make such a really difficult content, it could be played by someone but maybe also it can be discouraging for them to continue. We aim to really pinpoint so that’s why we couldn’t really estimate how many days players will need to beat this content.
If you see the results now, this was cleared at the best timing. For example, it was longer, it would often take longer than people who actually are trying to beat this content must’ve been discouraged and they might just drop out not doing it. Actually, we saw someone became world second today. Again, it must have been quite difficult for them to keep the motivation and also the concentration as well. This, of course, is the same for the other people who are too streaming and in supporting them. That’s why I think this was the best timing. They actually beat it.
—On that exact same topic, I’ve always been curious about the balancing that goes into MMOs. How many people get involved with it, and how long does it take for the team to know that it’s at a point where it’s challenging but not too challenging?
Yoshida: Basically, all of FFXIV is balanced mathematically. The default formula for battles in the game is quite simple. We’re able to freely set the max DPS as well as set a percentage of leeway when testing our formula and theories. For example, if we set the highest threshold and if we go beyond that, then it’s going to be impossible to beat. Based on those simple formulas it makes it easier for us to make content.
Actually, the people who are on the monsters planning team and battle team – their player skill is really, really high. The debug is done by the other team but the balancing and adjusting the balance is done by those monsters teams and battle teams. They are playing those contents phase by phase. Then they test it. If it’s physically really possible to clear those contents. Beyond that, it’s really whether or not if you have enough player skills or not. That is what the team does in terms of adjusting the balance.
That’s why only those who have player skills can be on the development team. Especially, for instance, in the battle team group for Final Fantasy XIV.
Because this is a really good question, I want to add more information to that. Actually there’s another Ultimate Version we’ll try to implement. We are trying to implement another version of Ultimate contents. The goal is Patch 4.3 and the development has already been started.
—Regarding housing, there was a rush at the launch of Patch 4.1 to claim lots which led to a lot of frustration from players – how has the team taken this feedback for future housing content developments?
Yoshida: The demand from those who already owned a house, wanted another house. We weren’t able to fully simulate and assume the number of people who owned those houses. This is something that we learned from the 4.1 housing issues.
Keeping aside the players who are intentionally purchasing houses and reselling them, there are so many players trying to save up Gil, and since housing is the most expensive property that players can purchase, that will act as a source of motivation for them to save and spend their money on.
So right now we’re trying to gather statistical data and player data to determine the appropriate actions. On top of adding new houses, we are also working on a new system to ensure those who have yet to own a house can still receive benefits.
—Is the Final Fantasy XV collaboration still planned to happen? And would you ever consider a NieR: Automata collaboration with FFXIV?
Yoshida: There are currently no plans for a NieR: Automata collaboration. However, the FFXV collaboration is still happening.
—With everything you do with the game, do you feel as though things have gotten easier when you and the team introduce new updates and expansions or is it just because you’re always adding new things that it’s always presenting new challenges?
Yoshida: It’s definite that the development team has started to pick up the pace and detected a pattern to follow through.
That being said, if you just create the same thing over and over again, this will make both the players and those who who create new content for the game get bored of it. That’s why you have to give the team new challenges and objectives to venture for.
By their very nature, the development team has a tendency to come up with new ideas because they want to create something more exciting and surprising for the players. Sometimes they get into it too much which prompts me to step in and control the excitement.
Again, the team is really passionate about making new content, but they have to work within a limited time-frame. Sometimes even the most exciting ideas will have to be put aside just because of how tight the team’s schedule is.
—Final Fantasy XI was released a long time ago now and it doesn’t look like there are any plans to cease services on it any time soon. Considering that it’s been seven years since FFXIV came out, do you ever see a time where Final Fantasy XI would stop receiving future support and allow room for another Final Fantasy MMO?
Yoshida: It’s my personal point of view, but running multiple MMOs within one company is a bit unnatural.
Of course for FFXI, as long as players out there are loving the game, we’ll have to continue services for it. We think of every every game as an individual title. For example, if Final Fantasy XX was a MMORPG, it wouldn’t influence FFXI.