Copyright (C) 2010 – 2013 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved and Nico Nico Live Event
- Yoshida: The Hardcore Gamer vs. Producer and Director
As an avid gamer myself, I’d like to start with a comparison of two viewpoints with respect to the start of MMOs—Yoshida the hardcore gamer, and Yoshida the producer and director.
- Yoshida the Hardcore Gamer
I’ve played online games for nearly 20 years now, and whenever there’s a new release, you can be sure I’m going to try it. When I do, however, there’s always that longing for a magic button that will instantly take me to the level cap.
No matter the MMO, there’s a certain standard expected of every game. This includes the chat system, party system, and features such as guilds to foster the community. There are also standard UI elements making it easy to move from one game to another. Since there’s little you need to remember changing over from one game to the next, one may think these games are designed to quickly get to the level cap and start playing through endgame content.
It goes without saying that the leveling system, skill system, and many other aspects of the game are important, but all of these things can be figured out at the level cap. As a result, players can feel frustrated with only one or two skills at the beginning of the game, wanting to quickly rush through everything and get to the cap.
For example, let’s say until yesterday, there’s a particular game I’ve devoted all of my time to. I’m max level, I have all the best gear—I’m a top ranked player on my server. When I log into the game people take notice, and there are few who haven’t heard of me. If it’s time for a large-scale raid, I take the lead gathering my guild mates, and we press on to victory. Nothing beats the thrill of life and death battles with raid bosses, lasting well through the night until my eyes are bloodshot the next day. With every relevant gaming site bookmarked, I’m always up to speed on and any and everything so that no one could ever doubt my skill.
But today I started a new game, and I have no experience or assets to speak of. The epic encounters I’m accustomed to are gone, and my only choices in combat are A > B or B > A. I don’t see any demanding gameplay, and all there is to do is explore the large maps. Thankfully I have a lot of general gaming experience, so I can make use of my time fairly efficiently. As I begin pouring my time into the game, I can only help but think “Why couldn’t there be some faster way to reach level 50. If they won’t let me speed to level 50, the least they could do is make the beginning of the game a little harder. Maybe then I could have a little more fun until cap. This game needs to pick up soon, or I’m out of here.”
The important thing to remember here is that the people getting bored at the beginning are gamers who play and think like I do. These gamers have realized that combat is the the primary focus of the MMO experience.
Although this is a fairly extreme example, to all of you skilled players with long gaming histories, let me ask one question. When playing a new game for the first time, have you ever thought it was a bit dull or underwhelming in the beginning? With MMOs in particular, as players continue to move from game to game, they tend to get burned out easily. My hardcore MMO gamer friends are like this as well, saying they’ll never waste so much time trying to get into a game ever again. The beginning of the game seems dull and uninteresting, but there’s still that longing for something to ignite a passion for the game.
Another common phenomenon among MMO players is something I like to call “first love syndrome.” A new game comes out and you play from beta through to the free trial, and although there are a lot of things you like, you always go back to your first MMO. You feel the updates were always so much better in your first MMO, focusing on the things you can no longer do in the other games you try. This is just how people are after playing a particular game for a long time, getting stuck in their old ways.
I’m sure anyone who’s had to change schools because of their parents or change jobs because of company troubles can relate. Suddenly finding yourself in a new environment can be stressful, and there’s always that desire to go back to the way things used to be. Even small details reminiscent of “the good old days” can be reassuring.
- Yoshida the Producer and Director
Looking at the game objectively as a developer for an MMO, the game looks completely different compared to my hardcore gaming alter ego. The first thing I often think of is the stress felt by first time MMO players and the high barrier of entry.
Looking at an MMO from the viewpoint of those who tend to avoid them, the following qualities define your typical MMO:
- A game for hardcore players. (A game they can’t relate to)
- A game that requires a constant internet connection. (Stressful)
- A game where you have to chat with people. (Stressful)
- A game that requires partying to progress, forcing interaction with others. (Stressful)
- A game that lacks a good story. (Low expectations)
- A game with too many windows and interfaces. (Confusing)
- A game with too many things to remember, making it unplayable. (Intimidating)
- A game with too much terminology. (Difficult)
- A game where you may be abruptly killed by another player. (Misconception)
- A game that looks like too much trouble. (A vague sense of uneasiness)
The truth of the matter is, all of these points are often applicable to MMOs.
When speaking from a hardcore gamer’s point of view, I mentioned there are many things that are simply to be expected in an MMO. For a person who’s never played an MMO, however, these can sometimes be seen as insurmountable obstacles.
- An online playing environment (more affordable in recent years)
- Chat system
- Battle system
- Party gameplay
- Real-time battle system
- A basic interface allowing prolonged gameplay
- A guild system such as linkshells and free companies
- Crafting and gathering
- Character development that doesn’t require resetting
Although they may be seen as drawbacks, these are all necessary in an MMO. These are also what make MMOs so interesting.
Just as FFXI was there for gamers 11 years ago, we want FFXIV to introduce a new generation of gamers to MMOs. Considering the shortcomings of Version 1.0, we want the beginning of the game to be stress-free, giving players an incentive to give it a try. Although gaming veterans tend to focus on the battle system, one should also consider the following:
- Exploring the expansive areas in the game
- Potential new friends always running about as you explore
- An environment that’s constantly changing in real time
- Conversation with NPCs revealing the world’s lore
- The thrill of a good fight
- Trying on a newly obtained piece of gear
- Leveling up and learning a new skill
- Acquiring return and teleport to travel between areas
- Progressing to an area you’ve never seen before
I believe playing an MMO should be about enjoying the world as a whole. My first MMO was Ultima Online, and I have to admit I wasn’t the fastest learner starting out. The world was huge, everyone I met was from another country, and I didn’t understand English. After carefully checking all the menus, I managed to get out into the field to fight a chicken…but I was barehanded. To make matters worse, I was PK’ed shortly after (lol). Despite all these frustrations, however, it was an incredible gaming experience. I never realized games like that existed before. The beginning of FFXIV: ARR has been designed to offer newcomers that same sense of wonderment.
- Create a quality character to represent you, be it manly, cute, rugged, or sexy.
- Enjoy a beautiful, expansive world that’s constantly changing.
- Connect with other players from around the world.
- Speak with NPCs and reveal the game’s story.
- Take your time as you use the map and explore.
- Take on fearsome looking monsters and revel in your victories.
- Enjoy the freedom of progressing through the story alone or with friends.
- Discover something new each time you visit your favorite places.
- Follow the story of a crystal, befitting a FINAL FANTASY title.
- Start off as a fledgling adventurer and grow to be something greater.
- Board an airship and set out on a great adventure.
As a FINAL FANTASY game, I feel these elements make for a solid beginning in an MMO. What’s important is whether or not players feel comfortable in the world of Eorzea. Players should find the game easy to get into, but also fun and exciting.
If players don’t find the game intuitive, they’re not likely to make use of the UI, chat system, or the party system, let alone play through the main scenario quests. Even now we’re conflicted over the best way to explain the game’s systems and features. Videos may prove more helpful than text, but would prove to be costly when updating. Too much text and the game will push players around everywhere, so it has to be simple. The problems go on and on.
For a player new to MMOs, the individual systems that make up the game are small pieces of a beautiful all-encompassing world. Eventually, they may realize these small systems make up a much greater part of the game than they first thought. Nevertheless, players aren’t thinking that far ahead at the beginning of the game. Above all else, players should feel the game offers a world they can enjoy.
For the first 15 levels, when players are still adjusting to online gameplay, there are no elements in the game that force you into playing in a party. This way, as players are still learning the ropes, there’s no worry of strangers in a party yelling at them or trying to order them around while trying to play. However, this may not necessarily be the case for endgame.
- The Business Challenge of an MMO
With each passing year, it becomes increasingly difficult to release a large-scale MMO. The rush following Ultima Online and EverQuest reached its peak with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. That’s not to say WoW started off without criticism. When it first released, there were many complaints about the simplicity of quests, that there was a lack of adventure. There two factions were poorly balanced in PvP, and general impressions would lead one to believe the game was no fun. Looking at WoW now, it’s almost unimaginable.
However, instead of giving up, Blizzard switched their plans to be more user/community-centric from their second year of operation on, and became dominant by increasing the new MMORPG users through supplementation of thick scenarios, quest lines, and end-game content. WoW didn’t become what it is today by acquiring all of the existing MMORPG players at the time, they became what they are today as the result of breaking into new territory and as a result of that secured all of the existing MMORPG players.
Instead of choosing sides, they persisted and made it attractive to both groups, and began expanding with a focus on Blizzard fans. While the scale is slightly different, FFXI was more than likely in the same boat 11 years ago. Blizzard has been quoted saying that “MMORPGs are a service industry.” This was a tremendous shock to Blizzard fans at that time when Blizzard who possesses such great confidence in their game design said this.
Moving forward to 2013, their user numbers are continuing to fall; however, World of Warcraft reigning as the absolute king of the MMORPG industry has not changed. We arrived to where we are currently with the MMORPG rush during 2007 as well as the additional large scale rush of last year.
There are 3 main difficulties for launching an MMO.
- Content volume
- High-quality user interface
- New and unique elements
To overcome these three difficulties and launch a game is by no means an easy matter. Amongst the large number of MMORPGs that are trying to launch, there are many cases where their content volume is compared to other MMORPGs who have been running for a long time, and end up suffering immensely. Additionally, the impressions of the beginning of the game between the gamer and the new MMORPG player that I mentioned before are as different as night and day. With this, it’s uniqueness that largely increases the difficulty.
- I want to target MMORPG gamers as much as possible
- I want to acquire as many new players as possible
Recent MMORPGs are beginning to shift to a more action based game; however, I personally feel that this is one element that acts as a reverse effect for MMORPGs that are striving to operate for a long time with a subscription-based model (This is separate from cases where you are shortening the life cycle for a single MMORPG user. In that case it is correct.). As I mentioned previously, the road blocks on the way to getting used to an MMORPG are too high and adding action elements into the mix, while definitely exciting, makes it extremely difficult for the common player to repeat these battles everyday for hundreds of hours.
Furthermore, it becomes difficult to churn out battle content from a balance perspective, and as a result content volume is affected. Due to this, a more fitting business model would be the free-to-play model which allows for retention of the game through low estimations of total play time, a higher churn rate of new players, and the average spending per customer (also known as microtransactions).
As a numbered title in the FINAL FANTASY series, we are striving to make FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn a game that operates steadily for a long time, and one where we provide a steady flow of updates and content to you all. With that said, when we made the decision to build A Realm Reborn from the ground up while working on updates for 1.0, the first thing we decided was to eliminate action elements as best as possible.
With the advent of stronger internet connections, recent MMORPGs have come to be able to have defensive and evasive skills similar to offline stand alone games. Despite this, I feel that this does not fit with our customers who play FINAL FANTASY online, and I would like to have everyone play this game steadily for as long of a time as possible, which is why we’ve eliminated action elements to the best of our ability.
With these goals in mind we have built the content and the battle system.
- Visually noticeable AoE attacks that you can avoid by moving
- A system where you can boost damage by attacking from certain positions
- Freedom to put things together by executing skills that follow a specific route
- Being able to fixate on dealing the most damage while giving consideration to TP/MP costs in the end-game
- Jump not being essential for clearing content
While it might be thought of as simplistic, the end-game after reaching the level cap is where a good deal of player skill differences will start to appear, especially when adding equipment into the mix. We started designing this game by making the first goal of FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn having everyone enjoy this aspect.
This is the reason why there are no action elements in FFXIV content and battle. While I’m repeating myself, just like FFXI was trying to show FINAL FANTASY users the excitement of MMORPGs at that time, we would like to show players of the current time period the excitement of MMORPGs once again through FFXIV. Showing that it’s possible to play and enjoy it by spending time, without rushing, at their own pace.
- A fetch-quest game vs. a game with clear purpose
Now then, FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn has adopted the quest form game design that was established by World of Warcraft. However, even since the old days of RPGs there have been small stories from towns that when cleared lead into larger stories, and this isn’t just related to WoW.
On the other hand, the world of an MMORPG is vast and is not like a regular game where you simply pass through and move on. As there are multiple classes and jobs, having players adventure through the entire world would result in a gigantic number of quests. Of course there are people who don’t want to read quest text and want to be able to finish them with a single click, so after WoW there have been many discussions on this topic.
However, without a pile of quests, it’s not possible to have players learn about the world, and there are ton of benefits for having these so users can play the game with a sense of progression.
In order to make it so FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn does not just become a fetch quest game we decided to add some variety and flavor. Of course, we’ve created a really large story since this is a new FINAL FANTASY title after all. However, for the so-called side-quests that have been spread along the main questing line, we’ve done our best to reduce the text, making it so the text can be skipped by spamming through it. For quests where major characters appear, we’ve made this clear by adding a special icon, and also spruced them up to make them exciting by adding voices and cutscenes. While we did not add voices to class and job quests, we still made them with the same thought process.
When it comes to hardcore MMORPG players like myself, it’s all about skipping text by spamming the mouse left-click to get to upper ranks of leveling and content. However, this is something that is sure to be fresh and new for the MMORPG newcomer, and we’d like to see gaps form between peoples’ various images of MMORPGs in a positive way, such as “whoa, there are a huge amount of quests,” “Just when I thought I was done there is another one,” and “Isn’t an MMO something you take on with parties?”
The game design will largely change after the level 15 instanced battle quest. All of you adventurers will then begin taking on dungeons with parties throughout the main storyline so that you can meet new allies.
While I understand that there are some of you who feel that it would be better if you could clear everything by yourself, from an MMORPG business perspective, there is a necessity to make it so a large amount of players continue to play for a long time. Because of this, it’s critical that players interact with each other and build a strong community. This is why we have implemented party content in the main quest line and removed the stress of forming parties with the Duty Finder which automatically matches players.
Of course the real loss is if people get tired of the game on the way to level 15, but as I have written, I feel that it’s critical to make the beginning of an MMORPG one such that anyone can progress, and in the case that there are people that drop out or are not satisfied with the development of the game ahead, I feel this is fine as everyone has their own preferences. To some degree, the ideal for the beginning of the game is to get through it as fast as you can and moving on.
Other MMORPGs have a guild system you can set up after starting the game and playing for two hours. In FFXIV: ARR, we have Free Companies, but this can only be created after joining a Grand Company, which is different from other MMORPGs. Especially for those players who are new to MMORPGs, explaining guilds is difficult. The beginning of the game contains too many things to remember and if we had Free Company invitations added to the mix people would be completely lost. However, for those players who wish to form a Free Company right away, you can speed through the beginning and reach that point before you know it. We would like all kinds of players to succeed in this game, so while it might be somewhat of a nuisance for the advanced players, this was designed like this intentionally.
- FFXIV: ARR Party Content Design
We’ve put in a considerable amount of work to add as much of the playable scenario as possible for launch. We’d like both MMORPG players and those new to MMORPGs to play the game comfortably while enjoying the newest story in the FINAL FANTASY series.
As I have already mentioned, the party dungeons that will start from level 15 will not require you to worry about finding parties as we have prepared a feature known as the Duty Finder which will automatically form parties (During the third test of Beta Test phase 3 we will be performing Duty Finder stress tests.). With that said, the only things you really need to worry about are leveling up to level 50 and dungeon difficulty.
The difficulty for the 2 dungeons from level 15 has been set you can get excited about your victory and not worry about wiping with the first party of players you meet. With the third dungeon there will be some special mechanics, and for primal battles within the scenario that take place after that, you’ll come to learn that for large boss battles you’ll need a solid strategy to win.
For the Legacy members who have done the end-game content up until the end of 1.0, as well as for players who are familiar with other MMORPGs, the content that you encounter while leveling up to the cap will be a walk in the park. However, the most important point here is that you can have fun and clear content as players with different levels of knowledge will be matched and grouped by the Duty Finder.
The difficulty will increase as the story progresses. Likewise, you role as a particular class will become clearer as you learn weapon skills, magic, and abilities, and the number of times you wipe will gradually increase in the event that you do not properly formulate a battle plan that involves the skilled use of abilities and attack positioning.
We’ve paid extremely close attention to the design of this content so that the balance and difficulty increases, the clear need for strategies to clear content, and the need for equipment can be easily understood. Similarly, this is also the biggest reason why we’ve also made the battle system foundation as simple as possible. The MMORPG battle system and the battle content design are one and the same.
Additionally, once you start getting into crafting and gathering, the game will become even more in-depth and a ton of content you can do each day will be introduced. We’d like you to enjoy the world of Eorzea relaxed in your own style and at your own pace.
Once the main scenario reaches its first major milestone, I believe the meaning behind the opening will become clear.
Doing the quests and reading the story text without leveling another class, continuing to play straight through for 60-80 hours you can see the world’s longest list of credits, and even after that continue to adventure through Eorzea. There will begin to be a difference in player skills as large enemies appear and players gather equipment to combat these foes. There are a ton of plans in store: primals that are summoned in to Eorzea, the housing system, what happened to Bahamut, the Crystal Tower, large scale PvP, company crafting, and more. The feeling that you are living in Eorzea will really take place after the “ending.”
It’s at this point in time where you will start to need multiple level 50 classes and jobs, battle strategies, efficient usage of skills, and intense analysis from players passionate about research. This is why the early stages of the game and the core battle system have been simplified. The much discussed length of the global cooldown is because you have time to think at the moment, yet once you reach end-game, that free time will all but disappear as what you’ll need to do will increase, so with that said, we do not plan on eliminating this.
- In Closing
I still have so much I could write, but eventually it would just turn into a book…
I apologize for making this so long, but FFXIV: ARR is a game that we have designed with these core concepts in mind. While it may seem a huge list of reasoning, once you start playing, this reasoning could matter less, so though I am yet again repeating myself, we are placing the utmost importance on making sure everyone enjoys the game.
The development team has been checking Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other sites in addition to the forums to get a wide view of impressions of Beta Test phase 3. Also, please know that we are not making decisions solely based on the number of “Likes” a post has on the forum. There are a lot of differing opinions on the forums and it’s the important work of the operations team to read this data objectively and collect it so there is no bias, reporting it as a ratio of those who post from the total player population.
As long as there are likes and dislikes for games, there will always be conflicting opinions. There are a lot of cases where if we decide to adopt A, then adopting B becomes impossible, so in order to prevent missteps when making decisions, we think about your feedback extremely carefully.
In the Player Feedback Status List that we released the other day, there were items that we addressed as well as those that we did not along with a clear explanation. Since MMORPGs are a service industry, I feel that all of these discussions are extremely important for MMORPG operation, so instead of only “they did this,” “they are not doing that,” “I think this,” “I think it should be this way,” it;s my sincere wish that everyone takes a step back a bit and have fun talking about the game.
Before posting, I’d like to ask you to please check to make sure that your post won’t have a negative effect on those around you. Up until now Square Enix has been a pretty closed off company, so I’m sure there are some players who really want to state their demands. Of course we will listen to them sincerely, but please base them all on having fun first and foremost.
I’m repeating myself, but there is no need for players who are experiencing MMORPGs for the first time to overthink this. We’ve made it so you can have fun and reach your goal by preparing a ton of exciting and fun cutscenes and making balance adjustments as we go. We actually tried testing out early battles where the maximum TP was lowered so you would have to really pay more attention to it. However, it was tiring to repeat that kind of battle over and over on random fodder monsters. With 1 on 1 battles, your efficiency in avoiding enemy skills improves around level 5, and you learn that only attacking enemies from the front in instanced quest battles will result in death.
I definitely understand spicing things up, and that’s why it has to be just right. However, as I stated previously, the beginning of an MMORPG is not only focused on battle. There is a world, people, time passes in real-time, battles, crafting, gathering, chatting, and creating your ideal characters. In order to have you all enjoy the world, we’ve prepared the battles at the beginning of the game to be just the first step before shifting into the more difficult aspects (We plan on reducing the difficulty for the level 15 instanced battle quest a little bit more.). If you don’t think this shift was done very well, then that is my fault.
In Beta Test phase 3 the level cap has been set to level 35, and the difficulty for the Brayflox dungeon has been set slightly harder than the official release version. For those who are dying for a challenging dungeon, please give it a shot!
In order to satisfy all kinds of players, we have our goals set very high, but we will continue to work as hard as possible, and would love for you all to stay with us for many years to come!