Spot all the references!  The one on the left may evade you.
There are big changes on the horizon for Final Fantasy XIV, as revealed last Friday. After a year of free play, the game is bringing its extended free trial to a close and setting the stage for further large-scale improvements, culminating in the preview of "version 2.0" that will change the face of the world and the game forever. It promises to be a year filled with new content, time-limited events, and plenty for players to enjoy as the new version approaches.

We were fortunate to have a chance to talk with the man at the head of all the changes, Naoki Yoshida, about the changes already put into place and the ones on the horizon. Past the break are Yoshida's opening remarks regarding the state of the game and the community as well as our questions, which covered everything from class balance to the end of the very extended free trial period.

Parading a gobbue down a city street is as bad an idea a year ago as it is today.To begin the interview, Yoshida had a brief set of opening remarks.

Naoki Yoshida: Since the launch back in September of 2010, it's been a little bit over a year filled with lots of different events. The first thing I want to do is start by really giving our thanks to the community that has rallied around the game. The launch back in September of 2010 was a rocky one, and since that launch, Final Fantasy XIV has seen many changes. Over this past year, the community has always been there, and our fans have continued to support us, and it is this support that has helped us keep our motivation at a really high level over the past year to make the game better.

This recent announcement (the roadmap leading up to version 2.0 and all of the changes that we're planning for version 2.0) -- while it's for our whole userbase, in large part this is to show our current userbase, the people who have supported us for the past year, that we have come this far, we have this plan for you, and there's a really bright future awaiting at 2.0. So we'd like to continue to receive your support and thank you for what you've given us so far.

Massively: The obvious question that surprised or at least was not expected by many people was the announcement that the subscription fee would be reinstated starting in late November or early December. Can you give us any insight into that decision, considering your earlier statements that the team's focus was improving the game rather than getting it ready for a subscription?

Naoki Yoshida: Out of this release, the big impact was meant to be everything that will be released in 2.0, and then on top of that that we would start charging the monthly fees. But we'd like to bring up again that the billing system won't begin until after about two months. We want players to play the content of 1.19, and then play the content of the upcoming 1.20 patch, and then (after they've seen the progress we've made in those patches) decide on whether or not they want to accept the billing system. This is including people who have played the game and then quit -- we want them to come back in these two months, play the content that we've been providing, and then make that decision.

The other reason that we won't be starting billing for another two months is to make sure that people won't be afraid that the automatic billing is going to start right away without their being able to make the decision. Also, those people who got away from the game deserve time to get back, install all of the patches up until now, and have a period of time when they can still play for free and see the changes that we've made before making that decision on whether to pay or not.

You mentioned in your question the previous interview in which we stated that the team wasn't working toward building a specific version for billing but rather was working toward making the game better, and this hasn't changed. The development team is still working toward making the game experience a better one, and we think that the players who have stuck with us for the past year really know that.

Miqo'te have never been lacking in FFXIV.  Ever.As you know, at the launch of the game, there were certain major features of the game that were not up to snuff, such as the UI and the battle system. We've spent the last 10 months going through all of the jumbled code, making things a lot nicer and neater. With the changes we've made, we feel like we had all of these problems in front of us, and we crossed the first peak and have gotten to a point where we can say that a lot has changed and a lot has improved. We've also added a lot of different things, such as taking the crafting system -- something that was so complex that only a few players could master it -- and redoing it to make it more accessible to everyone. We've added the materia system, we've added chocobos not just as background features but as actual mounts, we've added the Ifrit battle -- these sorts of things make the game have more of a Final Fantasy feel, something that was missing from the original FFXIV launch. By doing all this, we've set this foundation that allows us to build on it rather than going through and having to fix everything, so we can move to the next step where we can build on what we've provided so far.

While we've finally gotten FFXIV to a level where it has that Final Fantasy feel and we can call it Final Fantasy XIV, during the Producer's Letter live, we mentioned that the game was still at about 50% of where we want it to be at the time of 1.19. We still feel that's accurate, but the reason we used that 50% number was because we were still missing some of those basic things that we consider to be crucial to MMORPGs, things like a strong search function for players and markets, something similar to the Auction House in Final Fantasy XI.

However, these two things will be going into 1.20, so we would like players to experience 1.19 and the things that we've changed up until then. These things that are still lacking are going to be covered in 1.20, and our hope is to have the players play and see the direction the game is moving in, the improvements that we have made. There's also the fact that over the next year we will be releasing the Seventh Umbral Era content, which can only be played during this year. This type of content (which can only be experienced before the release of 2.0 as a year-long event) -- this is pretty much the first time that it's been done in this industry. With all of this coming ahead, players can make the decision at 1.20 to decide whether to pay or not.

If at that time you're still having some doubts, players can wait until 1.21, when we add the job system, or wait until 1.22 and make the decision after hearing what the player reactions are for those. What we really want is for each player to have the decision be in his or her own hands.

And as you also know, being a title that is so large, we have costs. It's been a year for free-play for a lot of players, and during that time we've continued development with a very large team -- 250 people -- and we've continued running the servers. We put a lot of resources into this. So it was my decision that after releasing 1.20 we'd have the players decide whether or not they also want to make the commitment of paying.

This article was originally published on Massively.