4Gamer Interview With Naoki Yoshida (Part 2)

Here’s the next part of the interview conducted with FFXIV Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida.  Before you read this, you might want to go back to review the email interview 4Gamer did prior to the FFXIV team shake up.  In that interview, they talked about a lot of the problems FFXIV had prior to the November and December updates.  The interview at 4Gamer decided to take this opportunity to look back on that interview and see if any answers would change.  Indeed, there are a couple policy changes that will shake things up for players.  Yoshida touches on the use of add-ons to customize the user interface and a possible public test server in the future.

Once again, the standard disclaimer applies.  This is not an official translation from Square Enix and thus, you can’t use it as proof of what somebody did or did not promise.  However, it does give us some clue as to what changes we might see for FFXIV in the long haul.

4Gamer: Next I’d like to ask you about some aspects of the game itself.  In an earlier email interview we did, we brought up three problem areas for FFXIV: User Interface, Lag, and Developmental Policies.  Now we’d like to ask you about these same three things.  First, the UI.  After some trial-and-error on the part of players, it seems things have improved quite a bit for people after the November and December updates.  However, it seems there are many things that still need to be worked on.

Yoshida: Most likely, I think the players are wondering how we are going to fix all of the problems.  First, we need to narrow down our list of things to focus on.  There are players at all different levels.  We need to pinpoint what their needs are, listen to them, root out the source of the problem, and then start to make our promises to them one by one.  That’s what our focus is on, especially for the rest of 2010.

We’ve also continued to work on the update promised to players before the year is over.  During that time, the new team members are busy surveying the situation.  Come the new year, I think you’ll see us taking the steps to communicate more than ever with players.  We’ll make things clear one by one with concrete explanations. Of course, if we make a promise, we’ll keep that promise.  Until we are in a position to keep promises, we’ll continue to honestly say, “We don’t know yet.”  While it’s important to inspire anticipation and expectations in people, I don’t think that is what we should be doing at this time.

4Gamer: People wonder when things that have been announced will actually be released.  The greater the anticipation, the greater the disappointment if it doesn’t happen.  I imagine you’ve heard harsh feedback from players who say if you can’t do it, don’t bother announcing things!

Yoshida: Our first move is to regain the trust of our player base.  Like any friendship, no matter how close you are, just breaking one promise can cause a lot of damage. If you want to repair the friendship, you have to take it seriously.  Once we’ve regained some of that trust, I’d like to talk about our hopes for the future.  However, the discussion then becomes one of if we can do it and when it’ll happen.

4Gamer: In the meantime, you have to work hard to gain the trust of the player base by showing how you follow through with things over time.  “The proof is in the pudding” so to speak.

Yoshida: Yes, I believe that is our first priority.

4Gamer: Let’s talk about the UI.  We often hear from players who wonder why, in a world where the UI in World of Warcraft is so polished, we ended up with what we currently have in FFXIV.

Yoshida: Personally, I feel like we should have taken some pointers from them because I feel FFXIV could benefit from having a UI as easy to understand as the default WoW UI.  What’s also helpful for us is the fact that when it all comes down, it’s the players who are going to be striving for a quality UI.  Our Development and Operations teams play the game, but they are focused on building things.  They can’t compete with the amount of hours a veteran player puts in.

For example, look at WoW.  It has an add-on culture.  After learning the basics of user interface design from them, I think it’s only inevitable that you start looking at add-ons.  However, this isn’t something that started with WoW.  If you look at Ultima Online, you’d see that it was players who spread the idea of a special weapon swap user interface for PvP rather than the developers.

4Gamer: You really know your stuff.  Without getting into whether it’s good or bad, that add-on culture has been around for a long time.  I’m sure there have been examples where the developers took it as feedback and then incorporated it into their own design.

Yoshida: The system in WoW makes it easier for players to pull stats.  The official user interface hasn’t really changed all that much since the game was initially released.  What’s changed is all under the hood.  They’ve taken steps to make it easier to pull certain parameters which makes it easier to create add-ons.  That allows the creation of customized user interfaces that are easy for players to use.  I think it’s pretty amazing.

I feel if a user interface has been judged as a good one, we should learn from it.  Think of it this way.  Look at any FPS, whether it’s Call of Duty or one from a completely different company.  The controller layout is nearly identical.  You don’t need to mess with what works best.  I feel that applies to MMORPG UIs too.

4Gamer: Of course you have to think about the actual game content, but it’s also important to make sure that the UI, which connects players to the game, is the best it can be.  Even if there are some improvements made on controllers or gamepads, the base is still the same.

Yoshida: I don’t think you should mess with things players are already familiar with.  Staying with the familiar makes the game easier to understand and doesn’t force players to spend time reading their manuals.

4Gamer: It’s the same with the way keys are bound on keyboards.  There is already a basic layout that anybody who has touched an MMORPG before would be familiar with, something that’s been passed down from EverQuest.

Yoshida: I agree.  There is a default layout for RPGs and a default layout for FPSs.  From there, you choose the way you want to bind the keys and the players are free to customize the keys the way they want.

4Gamer: It really feels that level of keyboard customization is lacking in FFXIV.  The controller didn’t seem that way though.

Yoshida: If you compare your typical PC-based MMORPG with how FFXIV is set up now, I think you’d find it lacking.  Square Enix had success with FFXI but that was built for the PS2.  That’s why you see this culture of controller-based play being used in FFXIV.  They probably felt that it would be fine.

4Gamer: But this time, the PC version came first.

Yoshida: Correct.  Of course, we’re working on the PS3 version, but it ended up feeling like development was based the other way around.

4Gamer: It really seems like people who play with a controller and people who play mainly with a keyboard have totally different opinions of the game.  For the controller group, even if they have a lot to say about other things, they still seem to enjoy themselves.  However, the keyboard/mouse users complain of having a lot of difficulties playing.  This is why I began to feel that it is really necessary for a complete UI overall.

Yoshida: That’s exactly why we’ve brought Minagawa on board.  Knowing my personality, if I started to work on it, I probably wouldn’t spend time looking at anything else.  (laugh) Minagawa feels that he can make a UI second to none so I think he’ll be hard at work hammering out improvements.

4Gamer: I’m looking forward to further improvements to the UI.  Now on to the topic of lag.  Compared with before, there is remarkable improvement.  However, at around the same time the cities were divided over two servers, another problem popped up.

Yoshida: That’s a technical problem.  When the new team was announced, you might have seen that Yoshihisa Hashimoto was added as our Technical Advisor. He’s working on debugging all those problems.

For developers, their work environment is much like a weapon.  For example, no matter how skilled the warrior, you can’t expect great results if you only give him a bamboo spear.  You want to give your great warriors things like rocket launchers, powerful weapons.  We had Hashimoto join our team with the hope that he’ll be building up our work environment and the technology that supports it.  I think that will help us take care of some of these issues, like the one you mentioned, quickly.  It’s a pretty big problem so we’ll use the resources available company-wide to solve it.
(*Technical Advisor Yoshihisa Hashimoto is in charge of the next generation of game engines)

4Gamer: I imagine it’s tough going through all the code that’s been written so far but I have high hopes.  Now, let’s move on to the last of the three topics I want to ask you about, Development and Operation Policies.  I’m really curious what kind of policies changes have been made now that we have a new team in place.

Yoshida: I’m not really big on policies.  Like, oh, it was done this way before, so let’s change it like this, and because I’m thinking X, go do it, etc.  I’m more for watching how things go.  If plan A is good for how things are now, you do that.  Once you’ve met your goals, you switch to plan B.  You have to be flexible enough to change your tactics in accordance with the situation.  That’s why rather than comparing what we are doing differently, I think we should just look at what we should be working on right now at this point in time.

4Gamer: So basically, you don’t want to say “FFXIV = THIS!”.  Instead, you change how you will respond based on how things are at that time.

Yoshida: That’s how it will be.  That’s why, like I mentioned before, our big “policy” right now is just regaining the trust of our players and customers.

4Gamer: I think a lot of players are wondering how FFXIV will change now that a new team is in place.

Yoshida: The first thing is to make the content easier to understand for the players.  There is a lot of content in FFXIV.  I think the development team worked desperately to put as much content into the game as they did, and I think it was enough for a releasable product.  However, because of putting too much energy into different parts, it came hard to understand overall.  

4Gamer: Which then leads to this feeling like all the storylines aren’t connected?

Yoshida: I think so.  Every word, every quest line, needs to be woven in and out properly for the players’ sake.  However, for the players that continue to play right now, there is a good chance that they’ve already leveled up a bit, understand the game better, learned from helping other adventurers, and have already gotten past the hardest part of the learning curve.  Those players are likely going to start asking for end-game content.  The feedback we’ve gotten from players is already quite different depending on their character’s level and the amount of time they’ve played.  You can’t lump all players together.

4Gamer: What players ask for is naturally going to vary depending on how far along they are in the game.

Yoshida: That’s why I think there are two ways we can go about deciding what should be in the updates first.  The first way is to make the initial parts easier for the player to understand so they can get a better understanding of what FFXIV is all about.  The other is to give the players something to look forward to by adding additional content. However, I think there is a lot of risk in trying to do both things at the same time.  That’s why we can’t focus on how we’ll change things.  First, I want to see the faces of the players, hear their voices, and brainstorm together about if we should head straight down one path, take alternate paths, or maybe even find a better option.

4Gamer: Understood.  Moving on, with all of the updates and server maintenance we’ve had, it kind of makes you wonder about the bugs you come across.  It makes me worry about the QA Team and if they are doing ok.

Yoshida: Square Enix has put a lot of energy into their QA Team.  However, we promised people a schedule that turned out to be very tough.  Development  and adjustments were made right up to the last minute.  That meant that the QA Team didn’t get enough time to do their job properly.

So when we promise an update, we have to first check how realistic that schedule is.  We have to give players the chance to just enjoy the game and not cause additional problems for them.  I think if we can do that, we can solve the problems facing us one by one and really turn things around.

When you play an MMORPG, there needs to be more punch to it, especially at the beginning of service.  So first, we have to create that for FFXIV, which means first solving all the problems.

4Gamer: So the strict schedule is to blame for the bugs that fell through the cracks.  I’ll have to agree that there have been quite a lot of updates in a short amount of time.  However, looking not just at FFXIV, but many other games, I think there are bugs that players are able to weed out because they are playing it for real versus in a test situation.

In our previous email interview, we asked if you would consider setting up public test servers.  The answer we got pretty much shot down that idea.  Now with a new team in place, I’d like to ask the question again.  Are you considering a public test server?  Perhaps even one that is only available for a limited time frame and tests for specific things like game balance?

Yoshida: Yes, we are considering it.  Given my history playing various western style MMORPGs, I understand the desire for a test server.

4Gamer: Public test servers are standard practice for western MMORPGs after all.

Yoshida: Yes.  I’ve heard stories where they prepare a test server that can handle 3000 people only to have 100 log in each day.  The conclusion people have come to is that there won’t be many people who will actually test things.  However, I think that’s fine.  I look at test servers like this.  The top hierarchy of players are already thinking about the game’s future, they give us feedback, and then they share that with other players like a speaker would.  That’s really important not just for development or operations but for players as well.  I’d really like to implement a test server but I can’t make any promises as to when that would happen.

4Gamer: So what I’m hearing from you is that a test server is possible.  Within this interview, you’ve often said you want to hear the voice of the players.  I think this counts as part of that.

Yoshida: I’d hope that people would consider it part of us trying to have close communication with players.  Another part is what we see overseas, where players and developers communicate directly on forums.  In the past, it was places like the Vault Network Board.  Recently, it’s officially run forums from the game company itself.

However, even though it would be great if we could create a forum or BBS, this is a global production and we can’t prepare something like that right away.  I would like to work quickly towards that though.  Like with the test servers, you can’t just have them there.  There has to be a way to get their feedback back to the developers.  That’s why we have to start smaller.  I think you’ll see our desire to promote communication within our first message of the year.
*The Vault Network Board is a forum run by IGN

(*Translation Note: I have never played WoW so I have no experience with the history of the game or how development changed over time.  If something sounds funny, let me know.)