Here's the Gamescom interview that I mentioned last time. This information is already out there elsewhere, so this is just another take on the same info. I’m interested to see what kind of time manipulation stuff they have going on in Alexander, that does sound particularly cool among the rest of the stuff.
Yoshida discusses the future policy of skill rotations and much more
Since its start of service with the original FFXIV, Final Fantasy XIV has participated in every Gamescom, six years straight. Although this global MMORPG is entering a mature period, with the Fan Festivals coming up the end of this year in Japan, North America, and Europe, its popularity shows no signs of cooling off. We sat down with producer and director Naoki Yoshida to discuss information like the release schedule for information about the next large update patch 3.4, as well as to talk about concepts behind the next tier of the high difficulty raid that will make up the final chapter of savage Alexander.
The decoration of the interview room for FFXIV has quite a different atmosphere from last year.
Yoshida: The marketing team for Germany has been very active for FFXIV; we got an unusually high number of new players since we opened the European Datacenter last year. I heard that this year they were planning on modeling the venue off the interior of the third part of Alexander Midas, and when I got to see the finished venue I realized they did a great job (laughs).
So this was led by the German PR team.
Yoshida: Yeah. Since last year's Gamescom was right after the launch of Heavensward, we modeled the interior off of an Ishgardian office. It looks like the team got excited by that and even the interview rooms have elaborate interiors this year.
Usually our interviews are held in conference rooms, this might be the first time we've had an interview in such an elaborate space.
Yoshida: You should check out the other Square Enix titles as well. It seems like we're doing pretty well with the budget it took to put this together (laughs).
I bet it cost quite a bit.
Yoshida: Well, for FFXIV we can get movie props on loan from various companies so we can save some money - I actually spoke with the local team and they said it didn't cost too much. It's important that the players get the most benefit from the budget so we have to make sure to spend it properly.
How many times have you been exhibiting at Gamescom?
Yoshida: If you're talking about for FFXIV, the first time we showed A Realm Reborn was in 2012, and I've been to the exhibition the past six years in a row.
How has the reaction of the players been?
Yoshida: Today is still day for business, so we'll find out after tomorrow (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). However, it seems like the people who come out are getting more and more excited every year. Gamescom is an important global event for both PC and console game fans. It's especially meaningful for people who play both of those platforms in Europe.
So you'll be able to meet and interact with players from Friday through Sunday.
Yoshida: We've had a lot of player-driven fan meetings for Square Enix, and the one at Gamescom will be happening tomorrow (Friday). There were more than 500 people interested so it will be the largest we've had here. I'm planning on checking that out.
It'll be a surprise appearance.
Yoshida: With the fans that show up every year to the fan gathering at Gamescom they're probably thinking "I wonder who will show up this year" (laughs). This year, we have the Square Enix booth next to the Turtle booth with the Eorzea Cafe offering some atmosphere in the middle. We have a very large space for FFXIV, especially compared to when the game released three years ago, so it should appeal to fans and the general public alike and show that the game is still alive and well. I'm happy to see that we're making a lot of advances with console games.
I was surprised to see how popular FFXIV still was in Germany.
Yoshida: Thanks! So far only people who won a lottery are here, so when the general public shows up we'll see the real flood of fans.
The staff even cooperated to pull off a proposal at the venue!
What's your feeling about the European player community?
Yoshida: Even though we just call it Europe, there are a lot of different countries with very different national characteristics. In Germany, they're very excited and friendly. A lot of folks ask to take photos together or show off their tattoos of FFXIV. The same can be said for the global version in general, but we also have a lot of female players in comparison with other MMORPGs. So I also get to interact with a lot of women who are really into raiding. Actually at the battle challenge I just saw three women who were doing the extreme Thordan battle and were saying it was boring because it was so easy which made me chuckle (laughs).
(Laughs) Does it seem like the game is even more popular than in Japan?
Yoshida: Here I see a lot of players teaming up on the spot, cheering as they clear the battle challenges and quickly becoming friends and exchanging their contact info. That doesn't happen so much in Japan. There are more cheers and excitement than there used to be, but I don't think people are really exchanging contact info.
That seems a little dangerous...
Yoshida: Well, they're becoming friends at the event, I don't think it's really like that (laughs).
(Laughs) Have you met anyone in Europe who met in Eorzea and got married (folks who met in FFXIV and got married in real life)?
Yoshida: Actually today there was someone who proposed at the FFXIV booth. The guy gave us a statement in advance and the MC read it on stage as a surprise. Once the woman realized it was about her she was like "is that for me?" and we put up a video of Eternal Bond on the screen as the man proposed.
So the staff helped him propose.
Yoshida: Yeah, the German office is good like that. Luckily I was around when it happened, the audience went crazy with cheers and applause. The woman was thrilled and I'm sure the man felt great.
That's a wonderful story!
Yoshida: Even at PAX East this spring, we had a bunch of free company members including a couple meet up and try the Sephirot extreme battle challenge. The man told us he was going to propose when they won, so as they were celebrating afterwards he gave her the ring and I took a bunch of pictures with everyone.
That would have really been extreme if she rejected the ring (laughs).
Yoshida: Everyone from the free company was so fired up that I think the woman was actually really caught off guard by the proposal.
Proposals like that are often better in foreign countries. [[i.e. outside Japan]]
Yoshida: Yeah. On our side we want cooperation as much as possible, but things like this are happening more and more.
New style equipment, including new weapons
So, moving on to questions about the game. The 14 hour live broadcast will happen on August 27 - will you be announcing any new information?
Yoshida: For the most part it will be related to patch 3.4 content.
To what extent will you be discussing the content?
Yoshida: We'll be announcing the full content implementation plan for patch 3.4 at the broadcast. We'll only be partially introducing the individual content, though, some of that will take place at a different time.
So you'll be featuring patch 3.4 twice.
Yoshida: Yeah, that's the plan.
In patch 3.3, the main scenario essentially came to a conclusion. In what direction will the story go moving forward?
Yoshida: The Ishgard story that began around patch 2.4 was completed as planned in patch 3.3. Starting from patch 3.4 a new storyline will begin. There's already been some foreshadowing around the Warriors of Darkness, and that will be the starting point for the new direction of the main scenario.
You'll be adding new equipment for the next tier of raid, but what will happen with the difficulty of crafting?
Yoshida: Hmm... what about it? (laughs) How difficult it feels varies from person to person so it's hard to describe. Relatively speaking, it will be about as easy as it was with patch 3.2 as we're trying to get people to sell more and more goods. We know this becomes difficult as prices reach certain levels, so we also want to make it easier for people who mainly play battle content to buy goods. With that in mind, we want the amount of crafted supplies available to increase. Similar to patch 3.2, we'll also have new style crafted equipment that people can overmeld extra materia to which will assist with the early clears of the raid. By the way, that new style equipment will also include weapons this time around.
Yoshida: Until now we were worried that the weapons would be too high performance, so we didn't include crafting recipes for them. However, to test it out, we're also including new style crafted weapons this time to which you can overmeld extra materia.
The next "Sea of Clouds" exploration will be implemented in patch 3.5.
The deep dungeon Palace of the Dead has been a good way to level up, earn gil, and collect weapons all at the same time. It's a very useful piece of content, but please tell us again about your future plans for updating this.
Yoshida: With regards to Palace of the Dead, we'll be adding the additional floors as planned in patch 3.45. The floors through 100 will be about the same difficulty as now, but floors 101 through 200 will be challenging content that I think you'll only be able to clear if you're dedicated.
Will there be rewards like achievements involved?
Yoshida: Yeah, there will be elements available so you can boast. We'll also be adding score ranking by job, so you can aim to be the number one in the world (laughs).
That will really be something to brag about.
Yoshida: Yeah. There won't be any strong rewards from floor 200, so it's really just set to be a difficult challenge there for anyone willing to try it out.
And it will probably take a long time to clear.
Yoshida: The story will go through floor 100, and those who want to enjoy the rest of the story should be able to complete it at about the same pace as what's currently available.
In previous interviews, you mentioned that the Diadem content would be expanded in patch 3.4 or later - has this schedule changed?
Yoshida: The development team is hard at work on this - rather than updating the existing Diadem, it will be another piece of exploration content. After the release of Diadem, we considered a lot of the feedback of players and decided to go with something completely new. We had some huge differences planned from normal play, but we had to scale it down because it was too much to produce. With the things planned like the huge bosses, we wouldn't have been able to complete it in time for patch 3.4. We originally planned to cease updates on the existing Diadem when the new content was implemented. With the development of the new content taking longer, rather than leaving the Diadem as is, we'll be making some updates to the existing Diadem in patch 3.4.
What kinds of adjustments will be made?
Yoshida: As one example, we'll be dividing up entry for those who want to gather and those who want to battle, as well as adding new rewards for exchange. I think the adjustments we make will make the content particularly rewarding, so players will probably want to take another look at Diadem in patch 3.4. The new exploration content will be added in patch 3.5, but hopefully players will enjoy the updates to the existing Diadem in the meantime.
In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you had already decided the titles of patches through 3.5.
Have you decided the title of patch 3.6 yet?
Yoshida: That's a great question (laughs). In the case of FFXIV, we have development planned about two years out, including things like the next expansion, so quite a lot of decisions have already been made. I'd have to reveal a lot of schedule details to address your question, so please let it remain a secret for now (laughs).
The next expansion will simplify skill rotations
For the next savage Alexander, is there anything in particular you're aiming to address in comparison with Gordias and Midas?
Yoshida: The overall degree of difficulty will be lower than the previous savage tiers.
Does this mean it can be enjoyed by anyone?
Yoshida: I think it would be misleading to say anyone. If that was the case, the normal difficulty would be meaningless. We're not changing the fact that it's designed to be a high difficulty raid. For players who were able to clear all of the Coils of Bahamut, I think you'll be able to clear this in about the same amount of time as then. I think the mechanics have been difficult, but more importantly the skill rotation is harder at level 60 so it's difficult to maintain high DPS and correctly deal with mechanics, making player skill much more important. This is clearly visible from looking at the battle logs.
How do you mean?
Yoshida: Most people have been able to deal with the mechanics, but it seems like people are having issues with struggling to maintain DPS while continuing to perform the level 60 skill rotations which require a lot of quick thinking. This creates a really large difference across players' DPS. The players who are able to think quickly and deal with the mechanics and DPS rotations at the same time are the ones who have been able to clear Gordias and Midas savage; however, I think getting eight members together of that caliber is a bottleneck. Taking a look at the data, the rise in equipment item level only makes small improvements in DPS, and is not likely to help overcome this situation.
Yoshida: So, since it's not possible to change the level 60 skill rotation at this time, we'll be making the balance adjustments on the content side so that it's not as difficult to maintain the rotation. Part of the issue has been with avoiding mechanics with random elements while trying to, for example, maintain Blood of the Dragon or refresh Enochian which leads to a significant DPS difference.
In other words, it's become too dependent on player skill.
Yoshida: Yeah. Within the 2.X series, the skill rotation was fairly simple, so it was relatively easy to maintain DPS while dealing with mechanics. Additionally, aside from Monk, there weren't really a lot of things along the lines of "if this buff falls off, my DPS will really drop." Monk had Greased Lightning even back then, but now all of the DPS jobs have similar elements. We intended it to be there as a way for players to continue to improve on their jobs, but I think it's become too difficult.
Will you be continuing to introduce ways of reducing the difficulty in the future?
Yoshida: It's not set in stone yet, but we'll be making overall adjustments for all jobs in the next expansion, and with the current skill rotations being a bit too difficult, we're planning to reduce the difficulty of operating the jobs a bit. As I said, we can't make those changes within the 3.X series, so we've decided to reduce the difficulty on the content side for now. I think there will still be a challenge there, which is good considering it's the last high difficulty raid of the series, but I think that you'll be able to break through that as your item level increases.
Outside of the difficulty adjustments, is there anything else you want to highlight?
Yoshida: Please check out the story that plays out after you complete Alexander. Since this is a story that deals with time, it might be interesting to see how the time manipulation aspect plays out in MMORPG content. The designers responsible for the planning are doing some pretty bold stuff (laughs).
Are you incorporating elements like time into the content to make things more fun for players?
Yoshida: It's been mentioned in the scenario that Alexander is the manipulator of time, but that hasn't really been experienced yet so you haven't seen what it truly means. If you look at Alexander from the perspective of being a "manipulator," he might use space-time distortion as a way of eliminating the enemy adventurers. It sounds hard to incorporate that into battle content, but the developers really wanted to include that since that was part of the setting.
So they've struggled to incorporate it.
Yoshida: Everyone was really excited about it so they weren't really suffering. Well, they did work hard until the last minute so they might have been suffering to get it implemented, but it really showed how hard the designers were willing to work (laughs). In the end, it was really cool to see, especially with a server-client style game, so please check that out.
How are you feeling about utilization of Raid Finder?
Yoshida: In terms of utilization, it seems like the first two battles of savage Alexander are getting the most utilization, and that falls off dramatically with the third. However, there are also a lot fewer people in general trying the third battle with the difficulty of getting there, so to some extent that can't really be helped. I still think it's reasonably useful for players who are just clearing the first two battles. Also, if you can hang on until patch 3.5, we're planning on allowing party recruitment across worlds, so once that's implemented you should be able to utilize that.
Any other improvements for the future you want to discuss?
Yoshida: Since there are a lot of conditions to set with the matchmaking in Raid Finder, we're going to check out the data and we plan to eliminate the conditions that are used less frequently. Having those less utilized conditions as options affects the matchmaking frequency, so we want to reduce the number of conditions.
Collaboration events and future plans for FFXV
Does Germany have the largest population of players in Europe?
Yoshida: From the launch of A Realm Reborn through last year, although the United Kingdom, France, and Germany were the largest three player populations in Europe, the population of players in Germany was actually the least. With PC games and MMORPGs so popular in Germany, the staff did a lot of grassroots style promotion and fan gatherings, and once the European Datacenter was set up last year, things really boomed. As a whole, the European territory is strong, but the number of players in Germany is now the highest. The number of players continues to grow like crazy even now. It was a synergy of the effects of the German office, the community team, and the latency improvements that came with the new Datacenter.
So the staff put in a lot more effort.
Yoshida: The German marketing / PR team and community teams have been doing really well. They've really bolstered the community with the steady stream of activities they've kept going. The FFXIV booth at Gamescom grows every year.
Is there anything you're focused on to keep the popularity up in Europe?
Yoshida: I'm not really looking at anything that's exclusively focused on Europe. Since the PR has a different style with the target audiences in each country or region, those activities are divided up to the different locations.
So the whole world has learned about the game.
Yoshida: Yeah. However, since there are different dynamics in each region with Europe, North America, and Japan, we do consult for some ideas and ask whether they are good or not. Within the regions, smaller teams are also working hard, like the activities of the German team which really paid off. The teams from the UK and France were surprised to be overtaken by Germany (laughs). Originally within Europe, the FF series was the most popular in France, so they thought that would be enough to push the MMORPG. However, the community is a really important element and there's a lot tied to that.
What about the situation in the UK?
Yoshida: Square Enix has a headquarters in London, so that's the "home territory," so to speak, so they were really surprised. Of course, all of the countries are working hard at their PR, but we really want to look at what the regions are doing to continue to strengthen the community.
Speaking of "home territory," how about in Japan?
Yoshida: Japan has really increased recently. Actually, if you look at the rate of players with continuity from when they start, Japan has the highest average number of months played globally.
Yoshida: The highest. However, since MMORPGs are a much smaller market in Japan, we want to make sure we continue to bring in new players and not just maintain the status quo. We're trying to escape the fate of a three year old MMORPG feeling tired, and Japan has the most players who have played for more than three years. So we want to make sure that we continue to excite those people, but also to keep bringing in a new generation of MMORPG players. The expansion releases are also a good opportunity to bring people back who have taken a break.
What factors have led to the increase in new players?
Yoshida: We had a lot of PR that we launched this summer that was targeted at new players. Also, we did a lot of direct marketing that wasn't limited just to gamers in an attempt to broadcast the FFXIV message to more people. We also got a lot of media coverage in publications with the Yo-kai Watch event that we held in collaboration with Level Five.
It seems like collaboration events would have a lot of challenging aspects globally.
Yoshida: Akihiro Hino (Level Five president and CEO) and I are both gamers, so we'd been planning it for a while as something we really wanted to do. A typical collaboration needs to have users with crossed interests, but there's also a decent cost associated. This time, Hino and I who are both core FFXIV players collaborated to bring this event, so it wasn't just ordinary business. I think it gained a lot of excitement among players with the collecting the weapons, so it seems to have been good. By the way, with all my business trips I just completed my seventh weapon the other day (laughs).
Do you plan to continue with collaboration events like this in the future?
Yoshida: It needs to be an interesting idea, I don't think it should be superficial. If there's an opportunity with other parties interested, we'd look into planning it.
Do you have any plans for a collaboration with FFXV along the lines of what was done for FFXIII?
Yoshida: Director Tabata of FFXV and I have been talking about it and we want to try to do something. However, I think whatever we do will be after the release of FFXV.
Yoshida: Once FFXV is released, people will have a better understanding of the story and characters, so it will be more interesting at that time.
Yoshida: Since it hasn't been released yet, there aren't any players who have a good understanding of the backstory of FFXV. Once it's released and players become familiar with the world and characters, we'll look into the implementation of the collaboration project. It might be good to make decisions just based on launch sales, but considering it's a collaboration with another numbered title, it would be better not to. However, players need to know the characters and their views of the world to get a good fusion. When "Lightning Returns" was released, players already knew the world of Lightning from FFXIII and FFXIII-2. Because of that, from a story perspective, the idea was something like Lightning visited Eorzea between the events of XIII-2 and Lightning Returns as part of the saga. Tabata said that once FFXV is released, we'll try to figure out some reason why Noctis would want to come visit (laughs).
To close out, do you have any message to players around the world?
Yoshida: We'll be celebrating our third anniversary since the start of service with A Realm Reborn this year on August 27. Counting from the original FFXIV's start of service on September 30, 2010, it's been six years. It was pretty emotional reaching five years last year, but this year just feels like another year gone by. At least, that's until I got here, where seeing all the players who've stuck around since the original FFXIV reminded me of all those who supported us. Looking at the business side of FFXIV, it's a title that has really grown to be one of the pillars of Square Enix, so not only is it profitable, but we can put that back into development costs of the patches and expansions, as well as to our community with events like Fan Festivals and Gamescom. We have some pretty big announcements coming up in the near future, and we'll be updating you frequently to get you excited. For those who have been around for a while, I'm grateful for your ongoing support.
We're looking forward to the day those announcements get made!