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What Indie Developers Can Learn from the Decade Long Development of Final Fantasy XV

The latest and Final Fantasy game is out after it’s many years of development, and many initial impressions and reviews are nothing short of amazing; however, can indie developers learn a few things from the decade-long development of Final Fantasy XV?

The latest and Final Fantasy game is out after it’s many years of development, and many initial impressions and reviews are nothing short of amazing; however, can indie developers learn a few things from the decade-long development of Final Fantasy XV?

Final Fantasy XV’s epic story takes place in the world of Eos, a world that bears a great resemblance to our very own Earth, but with a rather unique blend of modern technology (smartphones and tall city-structures) and medieval features such as the use of plated body armour and melee weapons. Players control the Crown Prince of Lucis, Noctis Lucis Caelum (Noct, for short), as he embarks on a remarkable road-trip with three of his “brothers” - The brawns, Gladiolus; the comic-relief, Prompto; and the strategist-cum-caretaker, Ignis.

The dramatic plotline that takes place in the rich and vast world of Final Fantasy XV is undoubtedly one of Square-Enix’s calibre: The over-the-top storyline, the fantastic musical score by Yoko Shimomura, the beautiful landscape, the unique names – all the standards of a Final Fantasy game. However, Final Fantasy XV never quite started like that: A decade ago, the game wasn’t even called Final Fantasy XV.


The Decade Long Fantasy

Final Fantasy XV’s development started out all the way back in 2006, and was announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII instead. The game was originally meant to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive spin-off game that’s part of Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, a subseries of Final Fantasy games that shared a common universe or theme.

It was only in 2012 that the game was rethought into a main Final Fantasy title for the PlayStation 4: Final Fantasy XV. Following many different changes to the team, including a change of director from Tetsuya Nomura to Hajime Tabata, the game continued in development until it’s worldwide release in November 2016, ten years later.

But what can indie developers learn from large studio’s decade-long development of a single video game? Quite a few things. It is important to note that even with such a long time in development, Final Fantasy XV isn’t without its faults – though it is still a very impressive game overall.


Act and Respond to Feedback

Final Fantasy XV might have spent an incredibly long time in development, but the video game is far from perfect. The gameplay is amazing (albeit with a slightly simplistic combat system), and the graphics really push the limits of the PlayStation 4, but some parts of the game is a little bit lacking in several different areas – namely the lack of story-telling throughout the latter half of the game and the notorious Chapter 13.

Fans, gamers, and critics alike have taken to making these issues widely known to Square-Enix and director Hajime Tabata. The company and Tabata have fortunately responded that they will be providing an update soon that will fix these issues by including more cut scenes to give the execution of the story more coherence and to slightly revamp Chapter 13’s strange gameplay.

Indie developers should take a leaf out of Square-Enix’s book on this matter: Actively responding to feedback on their games. The communication between developer and gamer is a very important factor that should always be persistent. It is through these feedbacks that developer can properly finetune their games and deliver their best content.


Demo Games are Awesome!

The world got the first taste of Final Fantasy XV through a demo titled Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae. It was only available for a limited time as a downloadable voucher with purchased first print copies of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD in March 2015. The second taste of Final Fantasy XV came in the form of the Platinum Demo where players controlled a younger version of the protagonist in his dream world.

Both demo games were received with mixed reviews: Many people complained that the demo’s combat system was buggy (low framerates, sluggish camera, unfriendly AI etc.). But that’s the point of the demo, wasn’t it?

The demo video games were put out to gauge interest and feedback on the main-game. The demos weren’t the final product, they were subject to change. After the demos were out in the wild and the complaints poured in, director Hajime Tabata himself addressed the top issues, such as stating that the development team will be fixing and optimizing the game’s graphics and framerates.

Indie developers can do the same as well for their very own video games, releasing a free-to-play demo version to gauge interest and feedback from the fans and community (not the paid Early-Access, please). A demo game would also have a chance to garner new interests.


Don’t Rush a Release Date

A nearing release date always adds pressure to everyone - it doesn’t matter if you’re a game developer or a writer. We all know pressure will also get things rushed, and rushed things aren’t quite what you’d want your video game to be. Final Fantasy XV was first slated to have a 30th September release, but was pushed back all the way to 29th November.

Hajime Tabata explained that the delay was due to the development team wanting to fix bugs and “perfect” the game, avoiding a Day-One patch to fix things. He further explained that a first day patch would require an internet connection, something that not all players might have.

To be fair, after a ten-year wait - what’s two more months? Especially when the director himself is being really honourable about the delay; promising to deliver an even better experience. Personally, I think this is the kind of mindset a lot of developers should take in – not only indie developers.

Yes, there will be people who take unkindly to delays of their anticipation – some drastic enough to even cancel pre-orders. But ask yourself, would you rather release a game with bugs early or would you hold out longer just to deliver a better end-product? If you ask me, every developer should stick with the latter. Final Fantasy XV took ten years, two more months didn’t hurt anyone.


What Does It All Mean?

Final Fantasy is undoubtedly a great game. It’s a type of Final Fantasy that the world has never experienced before: open-world gameplay, gorgeous graphics that bring the world to life – it’s almost the perfect blend. But even in such a game developed by a large studio over ten years can have technical issues and the like – what of indie developers?

Indie games are on a rise as of late, with many successful releases - save for the one or two sour apples that come out of the sky. But whether successful or not, all indie developers should keep in mind the three things that they can learn from the development of Final Fantasy XV: keeping communication with the gamers open; actively responding to feedback; and when in doubt, a demo game always helps to understand the market.


***

This post was written by Lord Tan from iPrice Group, a guy with probably too much interest. He's got an opinion on almost everything (a mouth that won't stop), but he's mostly vested in a lot of technology, gaming, and many other geeked-out hobbies.

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