4Gamer Interview With Naoki Yoshida (Part 3)

Finally, the conclusion to the lengthy interview 4Gamer conducted with FFXIV Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida.  My apologies to those who have been waiting to see what Mr. Yoshida had to say.  Real life got the best of me as it does from time to time.  My love and thanks for those who sent me encouragement and praise.

In this last portion of the interview, Mr. Yoshida talks about his extensive history playing MMORPGs and a bit on how that will affect FFXIV.  I found his comparison of MMORPGs to theme parks interesting but also very fitting.  It is the content that will bring people back and bring people in.  Que overly used movie line now.

Enjoy!  As always, the standard disclaimers apply.  This is not an official translation, nor is it word-for-word, but much care is taken to keep it as close to the original as possible.  If you’ve forgotten the rest of the interview already, check here for Part 1, Part 2, and the original Japanese article on 4Gamer.

4Gamer: By the way, after the November update, it seems that if you tinker with the settings right, you can get the game to play semi-decently on a PC with somewhat lower specs.  However, the lowest graphical settings are pretty ugly.  You can’t even read the names above players’ heads.  Rather than going that route, I think a lot more people would be able to play the game if you just had another set of lower-resolution graphics available.

Yoshida: I fully agree that we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to experience Eorzea.  We’ve delayed the PS3 version to make sure it’s of the highest quality and will satisfy the player base.  However, at the same time, we are also continuing discussion about players with lower spec PCs while making sure we maintain the standards worthy of a Final Fantasy game.

For example, I think if we redid the graphical engine and made it more like how WoW looks, people would question if it was really up to par with the quality you expect from a Final Fantasy title.  However, we also don’t want to be in a position where the graphics are the only thing that would draw a player from WoW.  I think people should want to switch because they can experience something new, have a different lifestyle in the game, and explore a brand new world full of adventure.  Without those things, we lose what makes Final Fantasy what it is.

4Gamer: I certainly agree that it’s important to maintain the FF feel.  However, since you’ve opened the door to let lower spec PC users now play, I think it’s a waste to only allow them to play with crummy looking graphics.

Yoshida: Well, I certainly thank you for your feedback.  When doing the optimizations for the game, we’re also looking at how it will all transfer over to the PS3 version as well.  Just like you said, we can’t just lower the graphical settings and call it good.  We have to really decide what needs to be done and that takes time and people, solving problems one by one.  You don’t fix a leaky roof by making quick patches again and again.  Same thing here.  We don’t want people in a position where they have to lower the settings so far that they can’t see their own name anymore!

4Gamer: Since you brought up the PS3 version, I’d like to ask a question about it.  When the new team was announced, you said, “it is not our wish to release a simple conversion of the Windows version in its current state, but rather an update that includes all the improvements we have planned”.   Can you explain more about what that means?

Yoshida: Like we talked about before, there are a number of issues, like the user interface, that we have to continue to work on.  If we released the PS3 version now, it’d be the same version of the game that is troubling the PC players right now.   We decided that it would be better to release it when improvements have been made and all players could play in relatively the same environment.  It has to be up to the level that would satisfy the players.  This also ties into regaining trust in our company’s products.  All of these things went into our decision to delay the release of the PS3 version.

If you are wondering why there is no date, it is because of my own personal feelings.  We aren’t in a position to make promises about the timing right now. The only thing we can promise is that we aren’t giving up and we will release a PS3 version of Final Fantasy XIV.

4Gamer: I’d like to ask some questions about you yourself Mr. Yoshida.  I’ve heard that you were in charge of the Dragon Quest Monster Battle Road series.  Have you ever had experience working with online games, including MMORPGs?

Yoshida: Yes, I have even worked on their development before.  However, my experience as a player is longer.  I have a 13 year history with them. (laughs)

4Gamer: I was just about to ask about your experience with playing MMORPGs.  Can you fill us in?

Yoshida: The first one I tried was Diablo and that lasted about a year.  After that I played Ultima Online for about 2 and a half years.  During that same period, I also played FPSs like Unreal Tournament.  I still do play FPSs actually.  After that came Diablo II and the expansion pack Lord of Destruction.  I played that for about a year and a half.  Then I played Dark Age of Camelot for 6 years.  Of course, I spent some time in EverQuest and World of Warcraft as well.

4Gamer: It’d probably be rude of me to say I didn’t expect that!  You’re a veteran online gamer, aren’t you?  I think you followed the same path as a lot of people who got into online games around that time.  (I can’t really say that I’m any different…)

Yoshida: Yep (laughs)  After that, I moved to Square Enix in 2004.  The offer was to work on development relating to game consoles which lead to work on the HD generation of consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360.  On top of that I worked on arcade games that run off of a PC base.  The Dragon Quest Monster Battle Road series is what I’m most known for right now here at Square Enix but there are some titles that will be announced in the future that I’ll also be credited for.

4Gamer: I see.  I’m curious about those titles so I’ll look forward to their announcements.

Yoshida: Getting back to what we were talking about…. That’s how I got into making consumer games*.  However, the technology used in consumer games and MMORPGs is completely different.  That’s where my stoic personality causes problems.  (laughs)  Once I get started playing an MMORPG, I can’t stop!  I’ll play for hours on end without care, I’ll get into crunching numbers and the formulas, I’ll gather up all the parameters and make my own website about them….   All the technology and knowledge I need to create a game ends up going towards that instead.  That’s why, particularly with the newest generation of console games, I cut myself off from playing MMOs.

(Translation note: Yoshida refers to “consumer games” which generally means console or PC games.  However, he also uses it frequently in this interview to mean stand-alone titles in comparison to MMORPGs.)

4Gamer: So you stopped playing MMOs because you didn’t want it to affect the console games you were making.  How do you keep up with the latest news and information about more recent MMORPGs?

Yoshida: I mentioned before that I have some experience with developing online games.  I’ve done online-related work as well and always made sure to look into MMORPGs when they got ready to launch.  For example, I look at trends, like when Tower of AION was released.  It’s more like a hobby for me though. (laughs)  But since you’re asking me about my knowledge of MMORPGs, I’m guessing what you really want is to ask how much I know about WoW.  Am I right? (laughs)

4Gamer: When I think about where FFXIV will go from here, it’s something that I want to ask about.  It is, after all, the most successful MMORPG in the world.

Yoshida: I was thoroughly entrenched in WoW after it launched for 3 months.  I imagine you won’t find 3 months very impressive but it can’t be helped.  However, it does mean that I know what WoW was like at the beginning.  For example, how people would often get dropped from the servers, etc.  I watched as both game servers and fan sites disappeared completely in South Korea.  (laughs)  However, the reason I only played 3 months was because of what we talked about before.  That was when I was asked to work on console games.

4Gamer: So that’s when you gave up MMOs.

Yoshida: If I knew I’d be working on them now, I probably would have found a way to continue playing.  (wry smile)*  However, even though I stopped playing MMORPGs, there are still a lot of people within the company that are heavy MMORPG players of WoW and other titles.  I was able to keep up on things by talking with them as fellow MMO fans.

(Translation note: This line could mean two things thanks to how vague you can be in Japanese.  Either the fact that he is working on FF14 now or the fact that WoW got over its initial trouble to become a very successful title.  I took it to mean the former versus the later.)

4Gamer: So you get some of your information on recent MMOs from them too?

Yoshida: Yeah.  Even though I wasn’t playing MMORPGs, I still heard them talk about what is great about WoW.  Right now, my biggest job is to play the client version of FFXIV to understand it completely.  However, at the same time, I need to know what’s going on with the MMORPG that has the most players worldwide.  What kind of content does WoW have?  What are the merits/demerits of it?  I’m already learning from the core players about the Dungeon Finder feature and what raids are like right now.

4Gamer: So I think it’s safe to say you know what is happening in the world of MMORPGs lately.  However, it seems with all your experience playing Western MMORPGs, you’ve given a lot of thought into how consumer games and MMORPGs are different.  What do you think is the main difference?

Yoshida: I feel MMORPGs are like a theme park.

4Gamer: A themepark?  Can you go more into detail for me?

Yoshida: For example, a consumer game is like the world’s longest roller coaster or the world’s scariest haunted house.  It’s an amusement ride with just one special feature and that can be enough to get customers interested.  MMORPGs are more like a theme park where you get your roller coaster and a ton of other rides as well.

4Gamer: So it’s different from making a game that fits into one genre.  What do you focus on when building a “theme park”?

Yoshida: Every theme park has a roller coaster, a merry-go-round, a tea cup ride, and a haunted house.  These are things that are just part of the general package.  So take a look at Disneyland.  You can make Cinderella’s Castle, you can make Toon Town, etc.  At Fuji-Q Highland, you’ve got the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear.  The special attractions for each theme park are different.  That’s what sets them apart.  MMORPGs are the same way.  The basics are all the same but you build a theme on top of that with the game content like the attractions at a theme park.  I think it’s important to keep that in mind as we move forward.

4Gamer: So, like we discussed before, you first have to make sure that the basic parts of the game are solid.

Yoshida: If you open a new theme park, you want to make sure the things people expect are there first.  When it comes to MMORPGs, I think it’s the economy that is most important.  In other words, first you have to be striving for balance in production, gathering, and consumption.  That’s one area I think needs to be paid careful attention when I develop an MMORPG.  

4Gamer: It’s important that there is a good flow for money, items, etc.

Yoshida: Yes.  For example, in a battle, if you are using up items, you want to make sure at the same time you are getting drops from the monster.  Then, you have gathering from the field.  Mix those items together and the crafters can create new items.  Then you go use those up on the battlefield again.  If the underlying economy for that isn’t working properly, players lose their motivation to play.  That will be a focus of ours for game content.

4Gamer: What kind of game is “Final Fantasy” to you?  I really wanted to make sure I asked you that.

Yoshida: That’s a tough question.  (laughs)  A lot of different people have worked on the Final Fantasy series and I think you’ll find as many “Final Fantasy”s as the people who made them.  I think it means something different to each player out there too.  For example, if you ask if somebody likes Final Fantasy, they often reply with the titles from the series they liked.  And each of those answers will be different too.  However, I think what everyone has in common is getting pulled into the world of Final Fantasy.  Every new FF title brings a new way of looking at the world.  I think that FFXIV will prove itself as part of the Final Fantasy series by the way we show people how they can enjoy their time in Eorzea.

4Gamer: By the way, what is your favorite game in the Final Fantasy series?

Yoshida: I love FFVII.  It’s got this powerful feeling much like an MMO.  You have your main story, mini games, character development, all in this amazingly powerful package.  When I talk with people in North America or Europe, many of them say they’ll never forget the impact of that game.  If we can create that type of powerful experience within Eorzea, I think FFXIV will have a firm place among MMORPGs.

4Gamer: Yet, it feels like FFXIV lacks some of the overall characteristics that make a game part of the Final Fantasy series.  The names of spells certainly show their FF roots but we have yet to get chocobos or airships.  I feel like it still needs things to make it feel like a Final Fantasy experience.

Yoshida: I think if you ask players about that, they’ll ask for Meteor, airships, things of the like.  As for the chocobos, they are there but people want to be able to ride them.  That gets us back to the discussion we had just a bit ago which asks, “What is the bare minimum that people expect when they begin to play this game?”  I think the things people expect from an FF game have to be reflected in the game content.  That’s why, in addition to the other tasks, we have to ask what’s most important to the players, which is precisely what our team is thinking about right now.

4Gamer: So the promises already made come first.

Yoshida: Yes, especially with the time we have left this year.

4Gamer: Right now Christmas, I mean, the Starlight Festival is going on.  Do you think we’ll continue to see events like this added to the game?

Yoshida: Yes, the events are really popular so we’ll keep on adding them.  MMORPGs are really part of the service industry.  You can’t run a business based on service if you aren’t listening to your customers.  We like the events, the players like them too.  If we enjoy them, we feel the players will also enjoy them.  That’s the relationship we have to build and why we’ll continue to work on these very important in-game events.

4Gamer: It seems these events are always seasonally based.  What kind of events do you plan on making from here on out?

Yoshida: I can’t really say anything about them yet but I hope people look forward to them.

4Gamer: Are you already working on them?

Yoshida: I can’t say.  First, we have to control costs and work on our budget.  Once that is settled, I think we’ll be able to talk more about the future.  We’ve only just put this new team into place but I think there are high expectations for us.  However, as we look at the community, it feels like there is a “wait and see” type attitude.  If I keep talking just about the future, players will feel even more despondent as the things they get promised don’t show up in the game for a long time.  They feel we are all talk and no action.  We can’t have that.  However, once we are in a position where we are ready to, we can think about making long term plans and announcing our goals for even 2 years down the road.

First, we have to get our ducks in a row.  Then, once we have confidence, we can work things out from there, creating a timeline for things that will happen in each quarter of the year, and then beyond.  However, we have to get ourselves into a position where we can make good on our promises first.

4Gamer: Understood.  Finally, can we get a parting comment for our readers?

Yoshida: We’ll continue to take in the feedback left by players in 4Gamer’s user reviews.  We’ll follow that up by making sure everyone knows what we’re thinking too.  That means we want you to look at the announcements we make and the actions we take.  As fitting for any MMORPG, we’ll take things one step at a time, fulfilling our promises to you, the players.  We’ll also work even harder to actively communicate with the player base so we hope you’ll continue to work with us on Final Fantasy XIV!