Final Fantasy XIV launched in September with both technical and design problems - our review gave the game 30%. So last week we sat down with producer Hiromichi Tanaka and global online producer Sage Sundi to ask them what happened, whether it could have been avoided, and what they're doing to address it now.
PC Gamer: FFXIV hasn't scored very highly across the majority of gamer websites and magazines. What's your response to complaints like poor menu implementations, cryptic instructions, lag, lack of monsters?
Hiromichi Tanaka: All the points you mention are things we are planning to fix straight away. This morning, we announced our plan of version updates. So you can see we are reacting very quickly to all the feedback we are getting from our players. We believe that, because the expectation was so high, it made it even more disappointing for the players.
There was a lot of feedback we received during the beta phase which we should've managed to implement before the launch, but because we found a lot of bugs during the beta phase, we were focusing on fixing them. That's one of the reasons we were not able to implement all the things we were planning to do in the first place. That's why we do feel very sorry for the people who are unsatisfied with the game status.
PC Gamer: I understand you're fixing many of these issues, but looking at the official website, where you've announced what you'll be changing in Nov/Dec - a lot of these things are basic gameplay elements. Do you think FFXIV could've benefited from more development time?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Because it's an MMO, time is always not enough. We always need more time, especially because we expect players to enjoy the game for five years to ten years. Release timing is only one of the points that we go past – it's not a final goal we achieve. So we will continue working on it with the players, and listening to them. This will continue, and the development team is really working hard to improve the game.
PC Gamer: Would you have liked it if the release date was maybe a couple of months later, to smooth out the last kinks?
Hiromichi Tanaka: It is very difficult to make the decision. If we had more time, we probably would have had to fix more bugs, and so it was very difficult to judge which time to release the game, because we want people to enjoy it as soon as possible. That's why we made the decision to release it now.
Sage Sundi: If we had three more years (laughs), we would've had three more years worth of implemented content. But we had six months [from the first stage of alpha testing], so that's where we are with the game.
PC Gamer: When I met you before, I asked if any other MMOs inspired you during the development process, and you only mentioned FFXI. You also mentioned you hadn't played World of Warcraft. Do you think any design issues could've been avoided if you'd played other MMOs?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We have a big development team. Some people do play WoW, some play Everquest 2, some people play Star Wars Galaxy. So all their different experiences were combined in the game. One person's idea is not going to make the full game, in one specific shape.
Also, if everyone was playing the same thing, then we might have ended up with a copy of one particular game, so that's something we also wanted to avoid. Further to game experience, when we listen to all the player feedback, those players have experience in different MMOs. So when we listen to them, that means we are listening to the player's experience of different MMOs. So that's how we get the feedback.
One of the main focuses we had for FFXIV was introducing the excitement of MMOs to Final Fantasy fans, so that's why we didn't want to have a copy of other existing MMOs. We don't think the amount of experience of the development team has of MMOs was actually affecting in any way.
Sage Sundi: When we listened to all the feedback from the players, some really expect the same game style as WoW, some expect something very similar to Everquest 2. But then again, some feedback is the standard to all the MMO audience. So, really deciding which feedback is important as an MMO - not just because one title is doing that - what should be implemented in FFXIV is very challenging to decide, but that's why we have several different teams worldwide listening to different feedback, and we do analyse what should be implemented in our game.
PC Gamer: Recently, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada said that "Currently, the service isn't satisfactory". Can you comment on that?
Hiromichi Tanaka: From the game design point of view, we do agree, and all of the development team do understand that it's not up to the expectation, and that a lot of players are unsatisfied with the quality of the game itself.
One of the reasons for this, as we discussed earlier, is that a lot of issues should've been fixed during the beta phase. But because we were focusing on the debugging side of issues, we were not able to implement everything before launch, and that's one of the reasons we believe it's in its current state. So all the team is working hard to update it and fix those issues as soon as possible.
PC Gamer: Wada went on to say “We're in the middle of quickly improving it. We want to do everything we can to win back players' trust." What do you believe will win back players' trust and get people to return to the game?
Sage Sundi: That is the actual game improvements we are trying to do. If the players see what we are working on, and if we can bring all the satisfaction to the players, we believe that that will bring back the trust.
Also, after we got all the feedback during the beta stage, the players might've thought that we were not listening to them, because we were focusing on fixing the bugs - we need to make sure that they know that we are listening to them. We think more transparency is something very important between the development team and the players. But we believe when they see all the updates we are planning to do, they can be assured that we are listening to them and taking all their feedback seriously.
PC Gamer: At the moment there's very little reason for people to quest with each other. Are there any features we can expect in future that will encourage players to get together? Are there any plans to put in dungeons/raids/PvP?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Exactly - that is the plan. We are planning to put more content in so people can enjoy party plays, or playing with other players. Because the armoury system was so designed to be convenient to solo players, it seems like it's really focusing too much on solo gameplay at the moment and there's not much point at joining the party at this stage. But what we're trying to do now is give more unique identities to each character class, so it will have more meaning to be a different class in one party - that's something we're starting to implement in this upcoming version update and the next version update. That's something you will notice that'll be different, so people will be experiencing more exciting party plays.
PC Gamer: Why did you decide to implement quite strict limitations on the amount of Guildleves you could do in a day?
Hiromichi Tanaka: That was our intention, because the reward of completing a Guildleve is so big, we didn't want to have it unlimited. If it was unlimited, the players who have a lot of time can keep on doing them and get a high level really quickly. But the initial plan for the Guildleve was to allow players who haven't got much time to still get a good game experience. That's why we didn't want the Guildleve to be unlimited.
PC Gamer: Will there be any plans to ease the limitations? They're quite strict at the moment.
Hiromichi Tanaka: Yes, we are trying to adapt the Guildleve system itself, so we are looking into adapting those restrictions. Also, there will be more variations to the quests you can experience, so please look forward to those as well.
Hiromichi Tanaka: Since FFI, we have always used the same design to show the scenery. We have one map divided into different parts, and then we use those parts. Otherwise, the data size is going to be terabytes. So, from the memory size point of view, it's important to compile the data size. That being said, because we wanted the game to be seamless, we do understand there's a lack of variation. So that's why we do want to have more unique aspects in the area, depending on what area of the game it is. However, even for the 3D version for other MMOs, using the same data is quite common in designing the game.
PC Gamer: I understand when it's elements of a landscape, like a tree or rock. But these seem to be whole areas, to an extent that you don't see in something like WoW.
Hiromichi Tanaka: One of the explanations for that is the size of the parts of the data that we use. Back in the days of FFXI and even WoW, the memory of each part was much less than what we have to use now. These days, because of the graphics, the same size of the parts costs more memory size. If the PC itself has that same size of the- has got larger in the same manner, then we can increase the map in the same way. But the same size of the data is now like ten times more memory size, so that's really costing the game data size.
PC Gamer: If WoW could do it then, why isn't it doable now?
Hiromichi Tanaka: One of the reasons why is because of the quality of the graphics - it's different from WoW. What we're trying to do in each part is costing more memory. Basically that's the difference. WoW was designed a few years ago, before FFXI. FFXIV is designed with the latest graphical technology; that's why it costs that much of memory data.
PC Gamer: On the website, you mention seasonal events. Can we get any hint of what's to come?
Sage Sundi: Because the world in FFXIV has a different culture compared to our actual world, we can't really expect the same thing as Christmas and New Year. But there'll be something very similar that you might recognise. How you actually experience the new event will be quite interesting, so we hope you look forward to that. It's coming very soon.
PC Gamer: Finally, is there anything you'd like to say to people who've bought FFXIV and are maybe feeling a bit put out?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We have announced our plans for the new version update, and we do understand you were expecting them to be implemented in the first place. But we hope to make the game better and better with your co-operation, and we hope we can progress together with the players. So hopefully you will take a look and see how the world and the game experience will change and how it's evolving. And if you like it, we do hope you give it a try again and enjoy it.
PC Gamer: Thank you both for your time.