Final Fantasy XIV's Last Days, Rebirth, And Move Toward Profitability

Square Enix producer Naoki Yoshida tells Gamasutra about the planned 2013 v2.0 launch of troubled MMO Final Fantasy XIV, and explains how "we lost our customers' trust in a big way."
In October, Square Enix announced that it plans to work toward a "version 2.0" of its troubled 2010 MMO Final Fantasy XIV -- a game that the president of Square Enix, Yoichi Wada, said "greatly damaged" the Final Fantasy brand after its disastrous launch. The launch was so problematic, in fact, that Square Enix has yet to begin charging for what was meant to be a premium game over a year since its launch, and will begin to do so "around December", when patch 1.20 launches, bringing key missing features to the title. Did FFXIV greatly damage the brand? "What we consider more critical is the feeling that we betrayed the trust of our players," says Naoki Yoshida, producer of the game. "Final Fantasy XIV, at the time of its launch, greatly disappointed our customers who had high hopes, and failed to live up to the standards of the Final Fantasy series. As a result, we lost our customers' trust in a big way." To win that trust back, Yoshida has been working closely with the international player community -- a process he outlined to Gamasutra in a feature interview published in April. "The first thing I did when I became the producer and director of Final Fantasy XIV last December was to ask myself, 'What kind of service system, game content, and community content would be necessary if we were to continue to offer this service 10 years into the future?'" says Yoshida, now. He looked at successful Western premium MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Rift for clues. Once he came on board a year ago, "I came to the quick conclusion that we would have to redesign the user interface, graphics engine, map system and the resource itself, and the servers," says Yoshida. The version 2.0 launch, which is set to take place in 2013 -- and results in the long-delayed PlayStation 3 launch for the game, which so far has only shipped on PC -- will be built on a new engine "which we are building from the ground up," Yoshida says. "We are taking steps to conduct detailed design and cost analysis in advance on areas that require fundamental revisions, and then jump right into coding in order to ensure a very efficient and productive development process." "As it turned out, our company had already gathered specialists from the game industry to help us build new engines, and we were able to borrow many of them to work specifically on this new graphics engine. Therefore, the development process is moving at a relatively fast pace," Yoshida says. What 2.0 Means It's not just new tech, says Yoshida, that 2.0 entails. The entire world of the game will "change greatly" in a cataclysmic event that marks the break between the two versions of the game. Players who want on board for that scenario will have to begin to play before the 2.0 launch. "All the events that take place from here on out will tie into the big bang that is FFXIV 2.0," says Yoshida. "Players, community websites, and the gaming media may see the roadmap we have provided and take it as, 'Oh, they’re creating a completely different game,' but this is not the case. FFXIV will always be FFXIV and nothing else. In fact, the updates from the past 10 months are all part of the upcoming version 2.0, and its quality will only increase as we incorporate the scores of valuable feedback we receive from the players," he says. Meanwhile, Yoshida feels that the time until the launch of 2.0 is not a problem, as he's strongly tied into the community and the developers are continually updating the current version of the game with patches and gameplay changes to address player concerns. Will Players Come... Or Come Back? "We have already lost the players’ trust once, so we believe that the basis of judgment for players lies solely in the gameplay. We would like the players to form their opinions by playing the game and listening to the opinions of other players playing the game," says Yoshida. "The reason we decided to announce the fact that we would begin billing two months before the actual start was to let our customers know early on that they would be able to cancel unwanted subscriptions," says Yoshida of the unusual roadmap that the company has laid: starting to charge more than a year past the game's initial launch, and a year prior to its announced relaunch. "I think that there is a risk involved in beginning billing, which is true for any MMORPG," he says. "We believe that it is necessary to begin charging in order to provide our best service in operating the game at a high level and offering 24 hour GM services." "I do believe that there will be players who will be reluctant to pay for the game," he does admit. But the goal is this: bringing the game to profitability. "That is our plan, including FFXIV 2.0," says Yoshida.

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