In September Square Enix launched Final Fantasy XIV, its long-awaited MMO.
It should have been a time of celebration for the Japanese company. Instead, it was slammed in the face by negative reviews and an outpouring of complaints from players.
As a result, Square Enix has promised to drastically change the game with a raft of monthly version updates. Here, speaking to Eurogamer, senior vice president of software development Hiromichi Tanaka explains how Square Enix plans to fix its MMO.
Eurogamer: You've announced update details for the game. Is fan feedback the driving force behind the changes you plan?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Precisely. That's very important to us, and that's why we're having these version updates.
When we released the first version of Final Fantasy XIV, we noticed some players were unsatisfied. That's why we decided to listen to all the feedback and implement as much as possible, so we can have a more satisfying game experience, as they would like us to do.
There are a few main issues we decided to focus on. One is the user interface, we're upgrading that, and also the market system. We're planning to make it more convenient for the players to use.
Also, we're going to adjust the battle system so players will know what to do next and get into the game easier.
Eurogamer: Can you tell me more about how the user interface will be improved after all the updates have been released?
Hiromichi Tanaka: First of all, because Final Fantasy XIV is a cross-platform game – you can play it on PC and the PS3 in the future – we made a user interface which can be used on both with gamepads, or the mouse and keyboard on PC.
Since FFXI was like that – it was a cross-platform game – the design was more like the PC players can get the same experience with the gamepad as they would with the mouse and keyboard. That's how it was designed.
But we do understand the gamepad and mouse and keyboard have totally different grammar – how you make commands. That's something we're really working hard on. We didn't implement it at the start, but we're working on it.
We believe the pad side is good enough for the players, but we're working on the mouse and keyboard experience, and we're going to redo the user interface for those players.
Another issue we noticed was the speed is a bit slow. When players make commands they notice some lag. We're going to improve that with the November and December patches. We have another patch out early next year. After that people should have a new experience with the user interface, and hopefully that will solve the issues they're experiencing now.
Eurogamer: How exactly will the user interface change?
Hiromichi Tanaka: The version updates we're planning for this November and December are based on the current user interface, and focus on how to improve the current interface and the speed issue.
But when we come to next year's version updates, we're going to focus on the mouse side. For example, you can drag and drop your equipment and then have it on your character. Also, by right-clicking you can make a command to your character and react quickly. It'll be easier for the mouse users.
In the future, we're planning to open this up to the users so they can have add-ons, so they can improve it by themselves. That's the plan for the long term.
Eurogamer: Some players have complained about the map, which doesn't show you where to go for quests. Are you planning any changes there?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Actually, if you open the map when you go to the journal section of the menu, then it does show up. But we do understand that wasn't how users would usually open a map, so it was quite difficult to find that function.
We're improving that as well so people will be able to find it easier on the map – not only the NPCs and the quests, but the party members don't appear on the map. That's something we're planning to improve as well. It should be implemented in the next version update.
Eurogamer: Will the Final Fantasy XIV experience change drastically in the next six months?
Hiromichi Tanaka: For the user interface, market and battle system, those three aspects we noticed players are not satisfied with. You will probably see a drastic change in six months' time.
But the world, graphics and storyline are things we're really proud of. They will remain the same and we hope you can enjoy them.
For the beginners, we will make it easier to join the game. We'll have tutorials and more quests. For the high-end gamers, we'll implement new monsters and different content. We already have a plan for a year's worth of time, so please look forward to all the updates.
Eurogamer: What was the biggest challenge you faced when developing the game?
Hiromichi Tanaka: One of the most difficult things about this type of MMO was the balance. Traditionally, MMOs are for hardcore gamers, especially PC gamers. But we wanted to appeal to light gamers and console users. That's something we wanted to make a good balance for – so the hardcore players could enjoy it, but the casual players could also enjoy it. That was quite challenging.
Eurogamer: Did the reaction from reviewers and players take you by surprise?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We believe players had a very high expectation of this title from the alpha and beta tests. We received a lot of feedback from the beta tests. The development team should have focused on shaping up the game during the beta process, but because we were really concentrating on de-bugging the game – fixing all the bugs – that's one of the reasons why we were not able to have all the requests implemented during the beta process.
That's why we do understand the reaction from the players, now the game's out. Therefore, the development team is working really hard to bring it back to the level we planned to have ready for the players.
Eurogamer: How important are first impressions when it comes to MMOs?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We do agree first impressions are very important, but when the game is released that's not the end for MMOs. It's a really long process and that's just one of the points you pass when you're developing MMOs.
We believe we should concentrate on making the game how we want to make it, to satisfy all the players and meet their expectations. That's something we're trying to do as soon as possible.
Eurogamer: Is the PS3 version still on course for release in March 2011?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Our priority is to bring satisfaction to Windows players, so we're working hard on that. But as soon as we feel that's done, we will focus on the PS3 version.
That being said, the Windows version is working on PS3 at the moment. We're focusing on optimisation and adjusting the balance as well as fixing all the bugs. We would like to bring it to PS3 players as soon as possible.
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Eurogamer: You've said talks were ongoing with Microsoft regarding an Xbox 360 version. Is that version dead?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We're always looking into the possibilities, but the situation hasn't changed. Nothing's happening at the moment.
That being said, we do still have the version we created for the 360. If we start working on it again, we should be able to bring it out in a short time.
Eurogamer: Final Fantasy XIV has sold over 600,000 units. Are you happy with that?
Hiromichi Tanaka: Compared to FFXI, it is much bigger than we were expecting. Because we have the PS3 version coming out, we do hope both players will enjoy the game and so the subscribers will grow.
All MMOs usually have a big initial shipment. What happened with FFXI was we introduced the game on different platforms in different regions, so the subscribers grew gradually. That's something we hope will happen with Final Fantasy XIV – it will continually grow.
Eurogamer: Finally, if I'm a player who bought Final Fantasy XIV, played it, but have decided to stop playing, what message do you have to convince me to start playing again?
Hiromichi Tanaka: The game will be different from when you stopped playing. There must be a reason why you stopped playing, but please look for the announcements on the different updates. We hope the version updates will bring satisfaction to you, so hopefully you'll enjoy a new experience with Final Fantasy XIV.
From the community point of view, since we don't have an official forum (because there are different languages our policy is to not have an official forum) that's why, maybe, some players worry their voice isn't reaching the development team. But please be assured we're taking your voice seriously and we're gathering all the feedback from you.
Even if it's a negative voice, please feel free to let us know. We're taking it very seriously.
Final Fantasy XIV is out now for the PC. A PS3 version is planned for March.