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From the ashes: FF14’s director on failure & redemption

Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:48 GMT By Alex Donaldson

Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn will launch on PC and PS3 later this year. Director Naoki Yoshida sat down with Alex Donaldson to discuss the highs and lows of revamping the troubled MMO.

I’ve interviewed a lot of Japanese developers over the years – but few are as full of energy and enthusiasm as Square Enix’s Naoki Yoshida, the man given the undesirable task of trying to turn around one of the company’s biggest-budget, highest-profile failures, one only really eclipsed by the disaster that was 2001’s ill-fated Final Fantasy movie.

He’s a delight. Final Fantasy developers in particular, I’ve found, have a tendency to be slightly disconnected and flippant about the interview process while promoting their games. Not Yoshida. Questions that would get a raised brow and a half-answer from other developers I’ve spoken to are answered candidly and honestly, even when they cut close to the line of what I know he may be comfortable talking about, especially regarding his game’s chequered history. He makes my job easy.

“I took over the project on the December 20,2010 – but before then when the game was launched, even within Square Enix itself there was a concern.”

We meet again on the British leg of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn’s latest press tour, and he looks energetic despite what he later tells me has been a gruelling thirty hours of interviews all over the world in the space of a week. He’s tapping his feet, his hands drumming along to his game’s big-band take on the famous Chocobo theme, which is piped through the speaker system in Square Enix’s London headquarters.

Yoshida has reason to happily drum away into his lap – the worst of his task is pretty much over. He took over from FF11 and FF14 producer Hiromichi Tanaka in December 2010, just months after the game’s original, disastrous launch. The game was poorly and sometimes simply lazily designed. An unknown compared to many of Square Enix’s more famous creators, Yoshida was thrust into the spotlight.

It’s clear that Square Enix believe he’s done a good job. I’ve interviewed him before, and when I’m ushered into the meeting room where Yoshida has spent most of his day, he excitedly stands to pass me a business card. We’ve traded before, but he’s keen to point something out. “New job title!” he excitedly enthuses in English – upgraded from a Producer to a Corporate Executive.

With the game now playable in its all-new state and with a beta primed to launch, I ask Yoshida to take us back – and through some of the process of the last two years.

“I took over the project on the December 20,2010 – but before then when the game was launched, even within Square Enix itself there was a concern,” he admits. “Some people from the dev team and the tech team were talking, and I myself was in that group – we were really aware of the situation. We were talking about it, trying to sort of consider and have consultation on it.”

Issues with FF14’s original bug-ridden release were spreading like wildfire through the web. Screengrabs exposed how much of the game’s geometry had been copy-and-pasted repeatedly, servers barely worked and quest content was suspiciously threadbare. Fans were angry, and the game’s metacritic score sat just below 50 – a rather generous score, in truth.

It wasn’t just the development team – Square Enix was shaken to its very core.

“The company as it is was aware of the situation, and so they thought that everyone really needed to be behind this project so it would all come together,” Yoshida says, recalling when he was asked to take on the job. “So when I received the offer – when I took the call – I was kind of prepared. I was ready to accept it – I had my mind made up already.”

But did the project scare him? This is the kind of thing, I argue, that could make or break him – if his remake is successful, he’ll be a hero to the company. If it isn’t, it could kill the momentum of his career in an instant.

“At that point I had already made up my mind,” he replies. No fear. “That being said, when I actually played it – that was shocking. That’s something that I share with the players.”

I’m surprised, really, to hear Yoshida openly admit that the original release was shocking. It was far from the mark of quality Square Enix hopes the Final Fantasy series represents – so how did it pass through the many layers of the company the title needed to, plus a very rough public beta, to see a release in that state?

“We lost the players’ trust, and also, there were still people who had hope in it, and were supporting it. If we’d made the decision to shut down, that would really mean the end of the Final Fantasy series. We just couldn’t do that.”

“This is my personal point of view after taking over the project and looking into everything – these are the two elements I came to,” Yoshida says, pausing for several moments, clearly considering how he phrases an appraisal of his colleague’s work carefully.

“The first thing is that in those days I feel that we were too comfortable with the Final Fantasy name and taking for granted our fans and our players. We thought, ‘as long as it has Final Fantasy in the title, even in that state, if we update the game, players will continue to play.’

The second point is perhaps because Final Fantasy 11 was so successful, maybe that affected it in a bad way,” he muses. “In the time FF14 was released, we were not aware of how the MMO market had evolved. What’s the standard? What kinds of MMOs are out there? We had forgotten the spirit of the challenge to study and learn from our competitors. That kind of knowledge, and having a real measurement and understanding, was lacking. That’s what I feel.”

The process of patching is natural, especially in the modern age and within the MMO genre, but the problem with FF14 was scale. The game was either broken, bad or both in almost every area – the rot went deep. What I play at the press event is unrecognizable as that game, a new, clearly lovingly-crafted experience whose only flaw is being perhaps a little bit too ‘MMO by numbers’ for its own good. The process of rebooting and reaching the decision to take that massive step was a complicated one, Yoshida explains.

“First of all, there were a few bits it was obvious we needed to fix straight away. One of them was the server, back-end systems – it had to be stable. Secondly, the user interface – that was just not acceptable, so that’s just something we really had to improve to another degree.

“So, those two were already decided – that was something that was obvious to me and I’d already made up my mind on those two points. I told the team to fix those two straight away. In the meantime, I started to sort of think about the game design, because the game design of the 1.0 version was just not making sense – it was not acceptable, again.

“Final Fantasy has a 25 year history, and the reason we’ve managed to come so far is because we always excited the players. However, what happened with 14 – that was a huge damage to the Final Fantasy franchise.”

“I was starting to define what kind of game this is going to be – this new version I’m going to do. While I was also doing the game design, I also asked the team to look into the game engine, the server system… we had to do more research to understand how the structure was built at that point.”

It speaks to how aware Square Enix are of how problematic FF14’s original release is and how important A Realm Reborn is that Yoshida is given license to talk so freely about the original, failed release. PR doesn’t even flinch. There’s a pause from Yoshida, who is a fast-answering interviewee but seems unafraid to stop and consider his phrasing.

“The most dangerous thing that could happen in that kind of situation is a panic, without anyone knowing what we’re going to do,” he says.

Yoshida isn’t just a smart-minded designer, but also a good manager of a team, it seems.

“We needed to have a clear goal, a clear aim of what we were going to go towards. Setting a goal was very, very important – what to do, and also how to do. That was something I worked hard on.”

“After around a month, I came up with my goal for the game design. The tech team also finished their research of the server-side and the game engine. We combined the two, asking if with this kind of technology, we could get to the game design that we’ve created. There was just no way we could meet the target without redoing the game. We came to that conclusion.”

The criterion was set, and thus began the development of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. Square Enix are keen to point out that they see this as a first in the genre, the first time an MMO has been completely rebuilt from the ground up – a new world, new gameplay systems, even completely rethought visuals.

Playing the game, it is rather impressive just how much has changed. Locations, items and other such concepts share the same names as before, and there is a plot link to the previous iteration, but this is quite literally a whole new game. In my time with it, it feels a competent MMO draped in as much FF fan service as could be crammed in, from musical nods through to little hints in dialogue and major elements of the game world and story.

Those facts beg another question, though – why do this? Many companies would be happy to simply sweep such a release under the rug and move on. Why not just keep moving, and plough resources into another new title in the series? A rebuild is an expensive proposition, especially for a game many may ignore on word of mouth alone.

“Final Fantasy has a 25 year history, and the reason we’ve managed to come so far is because we always excited the players,” Yoshida says. “They always got excited with each numbered title, and therefore they looked forward to the next title and wanted it to come out as soon as possible. However, what happened with 14 – the big failure and the mistake we made – that was a huge damage to the Final Fantasy franchise.”

“We lost the players’ trust, and also, there were still people who had hope in it, and were supporting it. If we made the decision that we were going to shut down, considering some people purchased a large PC, high spec PCs and were still looking forward to the future, that would really mean the end of the Final Fantasy series. We just couldn’t do that.”

“We wouldn’t be able to bring the next number out until we regain the trust of our players. That’s something I really felt, and the company also agreed. We decided to retry with this numbered title and make sure we really regain our users’ trust. I know this sounds crazy, but that is the reason.”

While we have been updating the 1.0 version, we really started to get more and more positive feedback from the players. We’ve even had people even saying the 1.0 version is great fun these days. I really feel there is a very high expectation.”

For better or for worse, Yoshida and his team are about to face the judgment of the general public. I ask him how he’s feeling to see two years of work and the potential future of the Final Fantasy franchise finally be placed into the public’s hands, first with a closed beta this month and then with a full release later this year.

“Well, actually, I’ve been too busy to think about it,” he admits, vocalizing a loud ‘hmm’ as he thinks.

“That being said, while we have been updating the 1.0 version, we really started to get more and more positive feedback from the players. We’ve even had people even saying the 1.0 version is great fun these days. Especially towards the end, a lot of people said it was very exciting, and also people like you, the media, have been giving great support. I really feel there is a very high expectation, so… that’s something that I definitely feel.”

Would he do it all again? He hopes that A Realm Reborn is of a high enough quality that he won’t have to. “I’ve had enough!” he laughs. “I really don’t want to have to do it again!”

Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is currently in closed beta on PC. Phase 3 of the beta will see the beta go public and PS3 users will be able to join on the action.

Both versions will be released later this year.

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2 Comments

  1. Gnosis

    I have mixed feelings about this. As a legacy member I am currently testing the closed beta and it’s good. My problem with it is… it’s good, because they fixed the existing problems. They implemented features and designs that should have been there right from the beginning. Sure, the game is way better now. Even more, it’s fun and I’m excited about the next test on Saturday. But it’s good on a standard lvl. That’s how it should be. And the question is, is it enough to save it? Because, aside from the bad reputation, there is still the dilemma of the subscription model. The game will lose many many players because of that. Making the game FTP would solve the problem, but can SE afford it financially? They’ve lost way too much money because of it and they have to get it back somehow. It’s a vicious circle.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Puggy

    Considering the first Version was basically Buy to Play for a long time, I too assume FFXIV will have a hard time. Sure it won’t be a total failure, though I don’t see it attracting that many people anymore. That really bad launch cost them a lot of potential costumers.

    Sure the game is… well mediocre by now, but it is not “outstanding” in a way that would make someone chose it over some other game. Well, we will see how it goes. Maybe we will be talking about their decision to go f2p in some months.

    #2 2 years ago

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    Xbox 360 players in all Xbox Live regions can play multiplayer online for free this weekend. If you are a Silver member, this means you are Golden from May 1-3 and can play multiple games online with your buddies. All you have to do is log-in to Xbox Live.

  • Assassin’s Creed actor Michael Fassbender confirms film production starts September

    The Assassin’s Creed movie will start production this fall, actor Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, 300, X-Men:First Class) as confirmed. Speaking with ComingSoon.net, Fassbender said filming will start in September, which is inline with Ubisoft’s announcement in February. The actor will star in the film alongside Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard, both reuniting with their MacBeth director Justin […]

  • Eve Online boss states VR won’t be as big as we think next year

    I don’t think I’m the only one who wants VR to hurry up and manifest into a Sword Art Online-esque reality. Unfortunately, the chief executive officer at the studio behind Eve Online doesn’t think that will be happening any time soon. Talking to Venture Beat, Hilmar Veigar Pétursson touched on his excitement at the prospects […]

  • The Last of Us: Left Behind goes standalone in May on PS3, PS4

    Naughty Dog has announced that The Last of US DLC Left Behind will be released as a standalone experience next month. It can be purchased for both PlayStation 3 and PS4 through the PS Store and a two-hour demo of the Factions multiplayer will also be made available. “The Left Behind standalone game will have […]

  • EA’s annual E3 press conference takes place on June 15

    Electronic Arts has announced its annual E3 2015 press conference will take place the day before the show kicks off on June 15. EA, Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft always hold press events the day before E3 officially starts, so this isn’t any surprise, really. The presser, dubbed “Live to Play”, will last one hour and […]

  • Steam exchange rate mix-up closes down community market

    The Steam community market was buggered up big time today after a mix-up with currency conversion had items selling from practically nothing, to millions of dollars. PC Gamer picked up on the news after a thread on Reddit appeared with screenshots depicting just how silly things were getting over there. The currency exchange rate data […]

  • Britney Spears signs five-year deal with Glu for new mobile game

    Pop star Britney Spears has signed a five-year deal with Glu mobile for a new, untitled game. The mobile game will feature her “voice, likeness, and creative influence,” and is due for release sometime next year. Glu also signed a deal with Katy Perry in February, so expect a game revolving around her to hit […]

  • Large Activision publisher sale on Steam discounts Call of Duty, Prototype, more

    Activision has put the majority of its library on sale through Steam this weekend, and if other titles weren’t included, it could be referred to as a Call of Duty sale. Below are a few standouts. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Gold Edition 25% off Call of Duty: Ghosts 67% off Call of Duty: […]

  • The Dota 2 International Compendium is out, second Stretch Goal almost complete

    The International Compendium has been released for Dota 2 with the prize pool sitting at a lovely $1,917,155 as of press time. Valve said over the weekend to expect the International Compendium to drop sometime this week. As with previous years, those who purchase the Compendium can earn rewards by completing challenges, making predictions and by […]

  • If permadeath RTS games are up your alley, check out indie project XO

    The Square Enix Collective showcases projects for a limited time to help drum up community support and potential backers, and RTS title XO from Jumpdrive Studios is worth taking a look at. The teaser trailer is fairly brief, but if you visit the page for XO over at the Square Enix Collective, it’s understandable – […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch disables mods. Here’s how to get them working again

    A new patch for the PC version of GTA 5 was released yesterday and, as it turns out, has wiped the ability to use mods with the game. The wasn’t great news for some players, but YouTuber taltigolt has already figured out how to play the PC version with mods after installing the patch. Matt […]

  • Xbox One ad stealth launches a mysterious Halo 5 competition

    A new Xbox One advert released today isn’t as straightforward as it appears. The trailer has a couple of pretty conspicuous ‘glitches’ throughout, and members of NeoGAF wasted no time in breaking it down. The first item of interest is the screen from the hunt the signal site, which displays an error message when accessed […]

  • Battlefield 4 Jungle map improved with latest update

    DICE LA has updated the Battlefield 4 Jungle map, adding more foliage and a new route. As demonstrated by Westie in the video above, the map now has the kind of foliage you’d expect in the jungle, helping to conceal infantry players. The update also tweaks positions of objective points and has added a concealed […]

  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate free DLC pack for May includes Metroid and Mega Man armour

    The May DLC pack for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate boasts some big ticket items, including Metroid, Street Fighter, and Mega Man gear. This big fat chunk of free DLC, detailed on the capcom unity blog, includes Hunter equipment: Metroid’s Varia Suit Metroid’s Zero Suit Metroid’s Arm Cannon Taiko Drum Master Hunting Horn USJ’s Star Rook […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for May 1, 2 – Hard Light edition

    Here he comes with his weird face, dealing goods and gear for Guardians. It’s Friday. Xur: Agent of the Nine is back in the Tower. Of Course he is. Got your Strange Coins? Here’s what’s in his bag this week: Ruin Wings [Exotic Titan gauntlets] – 13SC Don’t Touch Me [Exotic Hunter gauntlets] – 13SC […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition Jaws of Hakkon DLC drops for PS4 on May 26

    Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC has now been announced for May 26 for PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360. The announcement was made on Twitter via the official Dragon Age account. Mark your calendars! #DAIJawsOfHakkon pic.twitter.com/mU1WfkSrQV — Dragon Age (@dragonage) May 1, 2015 The DLC was released for PC and Xbox One back in March thanks to […]

  • New Witcher 3 screenshots highlight Geralt’s questionable fashion choices

    Even though The Witcher 3 release date is drawing closer, it still feels like a million year away. So here are some more screenshots to tide you over until then. We got to look at in-game shots yesterday, but these new screens show Geralt riding through some gorgeously vibrant mountains, in the midst of combat […]

  • Sims Gurus patch out pregnant men

    Say goodbye to The Sims 4 unique take on fatherhood, as The Sims Gurus confirm that male pregnancies are no more. The Sims 4 players have been reporting high numbers of alien abductions, leaving their male characters with sore bottoms and a bellyful of alien baby. Kotaku reports that not everyone was getting their knickers […]

  • Black Mesa countdown probably points to Half-life remake release date

    Half-life remake Black Mesa may have a release date at last. Black Mesa is a Source Engine remake of the original Half-life, which like everything related to Half-life feels like it’s taking forever to come out. The first part launched in September 2012, and it looks like we might have a release date for the […]

  • Spector puts down rumours of troubled Epic Mickey development

    Epic Mickey seemed like a surprising follow-up project from the man who made Deus Ex, but Warren Spector has put down rumours of a difficult relationship with Disney. Epic Mickey displays several qualities found in Spector’s other games and which he has always espoused in interviews – heck, this is the man whose dream it […]

  • Ubisoft makes good on Child of Light promise with free eBook

    Child of Light fans can check out a gorgeous new illustrated book set in the world of Lumeria. Earlier this month, creator Patrick Plourde confirmed that there were more Child of Light projects on the way. As we expected from the cagey wording, at least the first of these projects isn’t a game: it’s an […]

  • Half-life episode from Junction Point would have featured a magnet gun

    Half-life seems to be on near permanent hold, but at least we can glean some insight into what might once have been. Junction Point’s cancelled Half-life game came up in Warren Spector’s Reddit AMA overnight. Commenting that he isn’t sure whether he’ll get into legal trouble for discussing the project, Spector gave a few comments […]

  • Destiny: exclusive shader, emblem on offer with Nepal benefit shirt

    Destiny developer Bungie has asked Guardians to offer their aid, and they’ve already responded in troves. A new Destiny shirt added to the Bungie Store is the object of a fundraising drive to provide aid in Nepal following a devastating earthquake this week. Bungie popped the pretty stylish shirt on sale earlier today, offering an […]

  • What does the creator of Deus Ex think of Human Revolution and Mankind Divided?

    Deus Ex creator Warren Spector seems pretty positive about the direction the sci-fi series has followed under Square Enix’s hand. Deus Ex was created by Spector and his team at Ion Storm, and remained with Eidos after the developer shuttered. When Square Enix purchased the British publisher, it put new studio Eidos Montreal to work […]

  • Protest Goat secures future for Elite Dangerous destruction derbies

    One of the stranger and more beautiful stories to manifest in the gaming world this week, I think. Elite: Dangerous has given birth to an unintended, emergent style of gameplay; a destruction derby like affair where players gather in no combat areas to both race and gleefully smash into each other until a victor limps […]

  • Destiny’s stunning landscapes captured in panoramas

    Destiny has some beautiful environments, which screenshots don’t necessarily do justice to. Walking around Destiny exclaiming over the lighting effects and the tiny animated details is the best way to experience Bungie’s tremendous achievements, but these panorama images stitched together from in-game screenshots are a good second. Click to see them fullsize. Redditor CenturyEagle made […]

  • Star Wars Disney Infinity re-release on the cards – rumour

    Star Wars is a no-brainer for Disney Infinity, and at long last it looks like it’s happening. A Star Wars re-release called Disney Infinity 3.0 has reportedly leaked from German retailers. We have to lable this one a rumour as we haven’t seen the original source, but the story was originally reported by DisKingdom, which […]

  • Award-winning mobile indie Monument Valley out now on Windows Phone

    Windows Phone’s game selection can be a bit restrictive, but has expanded delightfully today: Monument Valley is now available. Monument Valley is one of those gorgeous, mind-bending puzzlers the indie scene produces on the regular, winning awards and consuming everyone’s lives for weeks on end. Developed by Ustwo Games, with beautiful, understated art from Ken […]

  • Old-school EverQuest servers safe from legal troubles thanks to Daybreak agreement

    EverQuest rights holder Daybreak Game Company given its blessing to the wonderful Project 1999. EverQuest: Project 1999 is one of those lovely ideas that it are all too often crushed by the realities of the games industry. An entirely fan-managed affair, it provides an emulated version of the classic EverQuest experience, which is no longer […]

  • Free Dragon Age short stories fill us in on Corypheus’s followers

    Dragon Age: Inquisition developer BioWare invites you to learn more about the lore and characters that make up its beautiful role-playing setting. Dragon Age is set in Thedas, a world still only partially revealed by the three core games to date. BioWare puts a heck of a lot of work into its worldbuilding, employing a […]

  • Remember that gorgeous Luminous Engine tech demo? It now utilizes DirectX 12

    Remember the gorgeous Luminous Engine tech demo Square Enix showed off three years ago? The firm showed it again at Microsoft’s Build Conference, this time utilizing DirectX 12. The Witch Chapter 0 [cry] real-time tech demo was created from research Square conducted using real-time CG technology and DX12 in collaboration with Microsoft and Nvidia. The […]

  • Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones sneaks onto GOG and Steam services

    Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones can now be purchased through GOG and Steam. On both services it will run you £12.99/€14.99/$14.99. Links here and here. The game features: Fully explorable ‘Metroidvania’ style overworld, laying siege to a diabolical cloning facility with varied and detailed environments. A variety of special equipment to unlock new […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare DLC Ascendance has arrived on PC, PlayStation consoles

    Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare players on PC and PlayStation consoles can now download the Ascendance DLC. The second content pack contains the OHM weapon, the OHM Werewolf custom variant, and the second entry in the Exo Zombies saga, Infection. Four new maps are also included: Perplex, Site 244, Climate, and Chop Shop. Ascendance was […]

  • Latest Xbox 360 system update is live, now supports 2TB hard drives

    Xbox 360 now supports 2TB hard drives via the latest system update for the console. Support for the drives was announced earlier this month and has been available for preview members. “In addition we will also no longer reserve space in advance on your hard drive,” said the firm. “If you are using 16GB of […]

  • Kickstarter for Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee launches tomorrow

    Playtonic Games has announced the Kickstarter campaign for its spiritual successor to the Banjo Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee, will launch tomorrow. The title of the game was announced today along with the Kickstarter date. Formerly known as Project Ukulele, the 3D platformer is said to be “between the size of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie,” and stars Yooka […]

  • Console version of Mistwalker’s Terra Battle is in development

    Now that Mistwalker’s Terra Battle has surpassed 2 million downloads on mobile, the developer is now working on a console version of the tactical RPG. As part of the original Download Starter campaign, the 2 million milestone means the company will begin development on Terra Battle’s console version with details to be announced at a […]

  • Prison break game The Escapists is heading to PlayStation 4 from May 29

    The Escapists, Mouldy Toof’s prison break game originally released as a timed console exclusive Xbox One, has a release date for PlayStation 4. For those unfamiliar with the title, which is also a PC release, it tasks players’ time management skills as they do a bit of digging and crafting, and other prison-type stuff as […]

  • Dead Island 2 delayed into 2016 to ensure series is “taken to the next level”

    Dead Island 2 has been delayed into 2016 by Yager in order to ensure the sequel “takes Dead Island to the next level.” According to a tweet from the developer, it set “big goal” for the game, and in order to deliver what fans expect, the team needs more time to reach development goals. “We […]

  • Project Cars: here’s a list of all available cars at launch

    Project Cars will contain many, many cars and if we are counting correctly, there will be 74 total at launch. The standard edition contains 65 total, and when factoring the free car as well as the Modified and Limited Edition cars packs, you can add an additional nine cars to the mix. Comb through the […]