4Gamer Interview With Naoki Yoshida (Part 1)

Japanese gaming news site 4Gamer brings us a lengthy interview conducted recently with the new Producer/Director of FFXIV, Naoki Yoshida.  This marks one of the first times we’ve really heard straight from Mr. Yoshida about where he sees FFXIV going, how they’ll continue to make improvements, and even about his history as a gamer.  You can check out the full post in Japanese on 4Gamer’s website here.

Given the length of the interview, it’ll take some time for me to translate the entire thing.  I do think it’s worth the effort though given how little we know about him. As such, I’d appreciate your patience.  As always, the standard disclaimers.  While we strive for accuracy, this is not a literal translation and cannot be used for direct quotes as what someone may or may not have said word for word.  It is also not an official translation.  However, it is a useful tool for getting a general idea of what has been shared with the Japanese press and community.

4Gamer: Thanks for taking time to meet with us today.  I was really surprised to hear about the new leadership team.  Barely 3 months have passed since the official start of service.  I think having such a big change in a development team could be unprecedented.

Yoshida: Thank you as well.  We’re sorry for any commotion this may have caused.  We decided that precisely because we’re at the three month mark, now is the time for the drastic changes needed to make this game an MMORPG worthy of its Final Fantasy name.  As we posted to the Lodestone previously, all of the staff at Square Enix will strive even harder than ever to make this game one that satisfies the demands of all of our players.

4Gamer: This might sound a little odd but, after seeing the announcement, we can see how serious Square Enix is taking FFXIV as it is a numbered title in the FF series.

Yoshida: We firmly believe that this is an important product of ours.  We’ll continue to push out updates, aiming for the type of content that players can enjoy 3 years, 6 years, and even 10 years from now.  Our goal is also to get to a place where the entire company is able to look back at FFXIV and say it’s a prime example of a numbered title for the Final Fantasy series.

4Gamer: And so the entire company was involved, which resulted in the huge shake up of staff.

Yoshida: That’s right.  For example, one member of our team, Minagawa, was just up until recently working as the director for another title, the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.   Now we’ve asked him to be our User Interface man.  I think the fact that we’re having the director of FFXII working mainly on our User Interface shows how serious Square Enix is about FFXIV.
(Hiroshi Minagawa is now the lead User Interface Artist as well as the lead Web Content Artist.)

4Gamer: I certainly agree that the announcement contains the names of many people who have been a part of the Final Fantasy series.

Yoshida: It almost makes you wonder how the rest of the titles here are going to fare now.  However, we have to put as much effort as we can into regaining the trust of our players.  MMORPGs require long term communication between the players and developers.  There is also the fact that development on this game is being done worldwide at the same time.  For a title as huge as FFXIV, you really need these types of people on your team.

4Gamer: I’d also like to ask, just how far reaching is the change?  I’m assuming that there have been shifts in roles not listed on the Lodestone as well.

Yoshida: Well, you can’t expect to get great results just by adding more people or changing some out.  However, the game contents are also not going to change much if you just replace the names at the top of your organization chart.  What you really need is for each person on the staff to know what they need to be doing, meet their goals, and take care of the technology problems they come across.  On top of that, you have to listen to the players and set priorities.  Until you do those things, you can’t think about the pace of development or program accuracy.  The other stuff comes first.

I also believe that we have to release packed updates without holding things back.  We’d like to make it so that players know what we are thinking on a continual basis after listening to their feedback.

4Gamer: I see.  That requires somebody to be there overseeing everything.

Yoshida: I agree.  That’s where I see my role as Producer and Director.  You need one person that has a grasp on the entire project.  Then we can work on improving development.

4Gamer: So in other words, somebody that makes sure everyone is on the same page, rather than having separate people taking care of things.  I have to admit, one thing I’ve noticed during my time in Eorzea is this odd mismatched sort of feeling, like everything isn’t interconnected properly.

Yoshida: Talk to anybody on our staff and you’ll find that they are dead serious about FFXIV.  They are really working hard.  There’s the impression that FFXI has made on them and of course the fact that there is a lot of pressure working on a game like FFXIV.  Everyone is really giving their all.  I think, however, that all that effort wasn’t entirely organized properly before.  That’s why I feel it was needed to organize the team first.

4Gamer: Is the newly organized team already at work?

Yoshida: Yes, they are already hard at work.

4Gamer: When do you think we’ll start to see the effects of the shake up?

Yoshida: I really can’t answer that right now.  This is just my personality but I try to avoid making hard and fast promises on things I can’t be 100% on.  For example, the timing of things or what content we will be offering.  So for this interview, there will probably be times where I won’t be able to answer your questions and I hope you understand that.  Once we have a work environment where we can release ample updates, I think we can begin to discuss a bigger timeline.

4Gamer: Understood.  I’m assuming that, like the December updates, we’ll continue to see content that has been taken over from the old team.  I asked my previous question because I’m wondering at what point we’ll start to see things that started with the new team.

Yoshida: Well, as for changes you can see in-game, there are things that were promised to players by the previous team and those have been given priority.  We want to stand by those promises.  After that, we’ll organize the information we have, look deep into the technological issues we have, and then move on to the next step.  I also want to have more conversations with the players.  To get that ball going, I’ll be posting another message on January 1st.  I hope people look forward to it.

4Gamer: A message on January 1st? Not just the typical New Year’s Greeting but something more?

Yoshida: Of course the annual greeting will be part of it, but it’s also going to be about the keywords that embody what we’ll be working on, the policies of the new team that play into that, and our aspirations for the next year.  I just don’t feel it’s right to make promises on top of the promises we’ve already made but haven’t fulfilled yet.  That’s why we’ll do what we can right up until the end of the year and then talk about where we’ll be going from there starting with the new year.

4Gamer: Understood.  People will want to take a look at your January 1st message.  Now I’d like to ask some questions about the game.  What is your take on the ratings players have given FFXIV since the official release?

Yoshida: Well, let me start by saying that I started playing the game only after the organizational shake up that occurred in late November, early December.

4Gamer: In other words, you started playing after the first major update which made huge improvements to the interface.

Yoshida: That’s correct.  As such, I’ll answer your question but with the understanding that my opinions are not based on the game as it was right after it launched.  When an MMORPG launches, there are a lot of things that just expected to be in place.  However, the bar of what is considered expected and necessary rises each year.

What I mean by that is this.  Games like WoW and FFXI are already established in the marketplace and all new MMORPGs are compared to them.  That means the amount of content that is considered to be meeting the bare minimums is actually quite extensive.  It’s a pretty extraordinary situation that any new MMORPG, not just those in Japan, faces just to launch.   People demand a lot of content right from the beginning, they expect add-ons, etc.

There is also end-game content to think about.  You have to decide what it’ll be and how long it’ll take for players to reach it.  In the case of FFXIV, there are parts of the game that just weren’t fully developed.  Things like the UI, the rules behind different content, the game-specific terminology, how to progress, etc.  It’s a game that is hard to understand and hard to play which interferes with any discussion on whether it’s fun or not.

4Gamer: I agree.  A lot of the reviews we saw were from people who barely started playing and never really got so far as to be able to discuss the game content.  Their reviews were more focused on the other problems like the user interface.

Yoshida: I had the chance to work with Horii Yuji on a game in the Dragon Quest series. One of the first things he said to me was “Before you consider if it’s fun or not, it’s got to be easy to understand!”  He taught me that games have to be easy to understand because if the players can’t figure out the rules of the game, it’s hard for them to really decide if it’s interesting or not.

In the case of MMORPGs, the learning curve is especially steep.  There is a lot of content that you interact with right from the start and on top of that, there are so many words that players aren’t used to.  FFXIV has its own terminology and unique economic system.  In addition to the user interface, I also believe it’s critical that we move to make the game itself easier to understand and lower that learning curve.

4Gamer: “If you don’t understand how to play, you can’t decide if it’s fun or not.”  I think that really shows what is lacking in FFXIV right now.  Which brings me to my next question.  When the announcement was made about the new team, you said the free period would be extended “until we can provide a plan that outlines a level of enjoyment that will satisfy both us and our customers.”  It sounds like that statement is aimed at the quality of FFXIV.  So, exactly what do you feel would get FFXIV to that point?

Yoshida: Of course we will improve the overall quality of the game.  However, FFXIV has already been released.  On the operations side, we have to be able to hear the voices of our customers, and once we’ve heard them, we have to be in a position where we can respond to them.

4Gamer: What’s that going to take?

Yoshida: For example, if we say something will happen in an update, carrying out that update is a promise to the player base.  Like it said in our first team policy message, I place a lot of value in keeping promises.  It’s part of who I am.

So back to your original question, I feel that we’ll have reached that point once we’ve developed an system where we listen to the voices of the players and then communicate back what we are going to do, how we are going to do it, and a deadline for when it will be done.  We’re not there yet.  Right now we are still looking into what we need to do as a team to get to that point.  What FFXIV needs right now is for us to keep each and every one of our promises to the player base. There’s no other way for us to regain trust.