Final Fantasy XIV. It's a game with a very different approach to many of the elements that are considered de rigueur for MMOs, which has produced a great deal of affection from some players, a great deal of enmity from others, and a flamewar that burgeons in nearly any thread about even the most innocuous news.
I had a chance to sit down at New York Comic Con with Sage Sundi, FFXIV's global online producer, and Yasu Kurosawa, FFXIV's North American online producer. It was certainly an interesting experience to chat with two of the people responsible in no small part for one of my personal favorite games, but both gentlemen were very polite to discuss the game, its worldwide community, and what lessons had been learned already from launch.
The first thing that both Sundi and Kurosawa made clear was that there were a number of things they could not discuss. When I asked about unlocking Ishgard or Chocobos, Sundi laughed and simply said that it was a secret. Still, it's hard to fault them for keeping some parts of the game under wraps, especially considering Square-Enix's longstanding habit of playing very close to its chest. Sundi would say, however, that improvements were coming and that there would be new features, even though most of them could not be discussed publicly.
The Lodestone site, however, has been a big change from the traditional silence that Square has put forth regarding its games, and both Sundi and Kurosawa reinforced the notion that the site would continue to be a source for data about the game. They do not, however, want to use it as a major community flashpoint, preferring instead to support the fansites and give them the tools for organizing and getting in touch with the community. Rather than trying to moderate an official forum, they prefer to let the community form its own activities, something that they have been very pleased with thus far.
That doesn't, however, mean that they don't hear what the community has been saying. Improvements for both the user interface and control schemes are incoming, as those are currently the most frequently discussed community topics. The development team apparently has a daily meeting with the community managers worldwide; managers from North America, Japan, and the European communities all discuss the most pressing issues facing the game community.
Sundi and Kurosawa both mentioned that while they want to improve the interface on the PC, they also need to make sure that the interface works for both PCs and the PS3, which means that there are limited options for how many changes they can make. Balancing the needs of both systems leads to certain compromises.
For all the complaints about the game's systems, there have been relatively few complaints about the actual mechanics of launch, and Sundi was especially pleased both with how smoothly it went and with the implications for the worldwide reception. Everyone was playing together from the start of the game, and that meant that the community was able to start forming much earlier. There was a comparison made to Final Fantasy XI, which launched years later in North America and as a result had a much larger rift between the player communities, so keeping FFXIV's launch moving smoothly as a worldwide experience was of high importance.
And the complaints about the game are not falling upon deaf ears. The number one complaint that the team has heard is about the user interface, and that is the current top priority for the team. Performance-smoothing is next on the list, followed by content and new features. Each team is working on the game to improve it, and every piece of feedback is being compiled worldwide and taken into account for development.
When asked if he could shed any further light upon the company system, Sundi immediately replied, "Nope," and then laughed. Other popular requests, such as longstanding player classes like summoners or blue mages, were also not up for discussion; all that could be said was that the teams were aware of the requests and wanted to ensure that the game is as true to the Final Fantasy franchise as possible, and that iconic classes have been among the feedback since the alpha.
I asked about the roleplaying community and informed both gentlemen of the current unofficial RP server. They were happy to hear that one had been picked out, and Sundi explained that while they want to support the RP community, they wish to do so in a larger way than simply labeling one server as set for roleplaying. (He drew the comparison to World of Warcraft, where the RP servers frequently do not feature any sort of community enforcement.) Kurosawa made it clear that if an RP linkshell wishes to run a major event, the best option is to get in touch with the GMs and community teams to try to arrange whatever support possible for the event. He also implored roleplaying communities to give their contact information and site details to the community team, so that the staff members could be aware of events and help support the players.
When asked about what they were happy about with the launch, Sundi immediately responded that he was happy at seeing the global community assemble. Kurosawa was thrilled that so many players were happy with the crafting and that players use crafting as an alternate leveling method (rather than leveling just by killing things with weapons). It helped show just how much the armoury system really contributed to the game's appeal.
As a last thought, Kurosawa stressed again that Square-Enix is really doing its best to listen to player voices and communicate everything to the development team. Sundi also stated that the game is still being worked on and improved, but with an eye toward preserving the unique elements that mark it as part of the Final Fantasy series. The game isn't designed to be like World of Warcraft, and the development team is working hard to make it an excellent game on its own merits while allowing it to stand distinct from the crowd.
On behalf of Massively and our Final Fantasy XIV community, I'd like to thank both Sage Sundi and Yasu Kurosawa for their time and responses.
NYCC 2010: Our interview with FFXIV's Sage Sundi and Yasu Kurosawa
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