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4Gamer Interview with Tanaka and Sundi (Part 1)

22 Aug 2009

Tanaka (left) and Sundi smile for the camera

Tanaka (left) and Sundi smile for the camera

One thing you can count on is that the Japanese press are given access and interviews even at foreign events. It could be a big event like E3 or a small event like Fan Festival for FFXI. The next website to publish their interview with Final Fantasy XIV Producer Hiromichi Tanaka and Global Online Producer Sage Sundi is Japanese gaming website 4Gamer. 4Gamer focuses on online gaming and has kept us up to date on FFXI for years. Let’s see what little tidbits of information they bring us this time.

This is a rather long interview, so we’ll be bringing it to you in two parts.

How MMO servers are like TV stations
They start off by talking specs. Official details on the PC specs needed to smoothly run FFXIV have not been released. In this interview, Tanaka says that they are creating FFXIV with multicore processing and multithreading in mind while understanding that things could advance quite a bit even within the next 5 years. Then they bring up the issue of how PC specs continue to change over time while a console stays the same. This was one of the issues often complained about with FFXI. As the specs for PCs changed over time, the PS2 version of the game was seen as holding FFXI back. In a previous interview, Tanaka even says they considered remaking FFXI for the PS3 but when they looked at everything involved, they decided to create a new game which turned out to be FFXIV.

Tanaka answers the question about varying platforms by focusing on the server versus client dynamic. He says that a standalone game, in his words a packaged game, is all about the client platform. However, the real meat and potatoes of an MMO is the server. One of the hardest things for them to do is create a game server that isn’t affected much by whatever platform the client is using. This might be a little difficult to understand but Tanaka tries to describe this as being the same as a TV station. A TV station sends out the same signal to everyone and isn’t affected by whether people are using a black-and-white TV or a color TV. Thus an MMO server shouldn’t be affected by whether the client’s platform is a PC or a console because either one is just like a TV, simply a device that is receiving a signal. The interviewer doesn’t give much of a response so Tanaka continues. He says that if this wasn’t the case, they would have to create a server for every machine and it would be like building multiple MMOs at once.

The rationale behind a pay-to-play game

One of Nexon's many free MMOs

One of Nexon's many free MMOs

Right now, free MMORPGs are very popular around the world. Unlike FFXI or WoW, these games do not have a monthly fee. However, they are supported by micropayment systems where players pay small amounts of money for items or abilities they want.

The interviewer double checked with Tanaka and Sundi that FFXIV will be a pay-to-play game. Sundi acknowledges that micropayment style MMORPGs are very popular at the moment. However, he says they don’t tend to last long because of how much people end up spending. Tanaka says sometimes the average is between 4000 and 5000 yen per month (roughly $40 to $50 USD) and Sundi says that also means there are people who pay even more than that. They don’t want to see FFXIV have its lifespan shortened by something like that. Sundi also states that the majority of MMOs where people have to pay for the software require a monthly fee.

Tidal Talisman for FFXI

Tidal Talisman for FFXI

Next, 4Gamer gets into the issue of Real Money Trade, often shortened down to RMT. The interviewer says that depending on your way of looking at it, you could argue that there were some pay-for-item parts to FFXI. He doesn’t specifically say what he is referring to but chances are he means things like the Moogle Cap, which came with keychain purchases in Japan, or the Tidal Talisman, which came with an in-game item by the same name. Keeping this in mind, he wonders if there will be items or services sold for FFXIV.

Sundi replies that he doesn’t think those types of things are necessarily bad and can be viewed as one variation of the basic pay-for-play model. He brings up server transfers in which FFXI players can move a character to another server if they pay for it. It is services like this, optional ones, that he thinks are ok to have. Tanaka follows up by saying they don’t have optional services or items in mind for now. The reason is that if people feel the game is boring when you don’t put a lot of money into it, the chances of them quitting is much higher. This shrinks the player base and thus shrinks the lifespan of the game. By using a monthly pay-for-play system, the financial burden on players is smaller and operations can continue for a longer period of time.

Development versus Players
The interviewer brings up the fact that developers are always facing off with players. They can only develop new content so quickly but there are players who burn right through it. So he asks, do you put your energy into increasing the content like they do in EverQuest, or do you make content that is hard to completely finish like they do in online First Person Shooters.

Example of a guildleve from Japanese client

Example of a guildleve from Japanese client

Tanaka responds by saying that Guildleves are at the center of FFXIV. You can do the same one multiple times so it’s never really “completed” in the same way as a quest or mission, which you generally tend to do only once. For players of FFXI, this sounds similar to the Assault content added with Treasures of Aht Urhgan. You can clear an assault but you can also go back and do it again multiple times. He wants players in FFXIV to use the game system to come up with their own way of playing and then the developers can build on that.

Not together
Tanaka and Sundi have the same roles for FFXIV as they do for FFXI. The interviewer asks if the number of staff Tanaka is looking after has increased.  He doesn’t give any specifics about the number of staff they but he does say that the staff for FFXI and FFXIV are housed on different floors and are each working on their own things. Tanaka is also going hands-off this time. For FFXI, Tanaka took on the UI himself but this time other people will be making it. He jokes by saying sometimes you have to trust young people with tasks too. It isn’t always easy for him but he feels that if he doesn’t do that to an extent, the next generation of developers won’t emerge either.

Next up, part 2 on how to play FFXIV!