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Can  Final Fantasy XIV  really be 'reborn'?
Can Final Fantasy XIV really be 'reborn'? Exclusive
August 17, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

August 17, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
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    43 comments
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, Gamescom



Final Fantasy XIV is a strange game -- so strange that it's hard to even call it "a game" anymore. As of now it provides a particular experience, yet it's about to become an entirely different one.

Earlier this year, Square Enix announced plans to develop a new version of the game, then dubbed 2.0 -- but it wasn't so easy to understand what was in store. At Gamescom, it's clear: its producer, Naoki Yoshida -- who was brought onto the project in 2011 to save it -- put it in simpler terms. The company is making an entirely new game.

The old Final Fantasy XIV will perish in a great cataclysm, and the new game, dubbed A Realm Reborn, will launch sometime after that. The server architecture, the engine, the UI, the game design, and even the game world itself will be completely different -- in fact, there will be an unavoidable lapse in service as Square Enix converts thousands of accounts from the old game to the new one.

As is clear to those who've been watching it stumble -- the deeply flawed Final Fantasy XIII, the mysterious six-year cycle for the as-yet never publicly shown Final Fantasy Versus XIII -- the developer completely underestimated the current generation's technology. While less prominent, Final Fantasy XIV is just as screwed up as those games were; in the end, it even contributed to the ultimate departure of original project lead and senior vice president Hiromichi Tanaka, who has been with the company since the NES days.

From technology to design, Final Fantasy XIV was stuck in the pre-World of Warcraft days of MMOs. It could barely display characters on screen without grinding to a halt.

"The current version of Final Fantasy XIV, we feel like the gameplay is like some of the last-generation MMOs," Yoshida told Gamasutra at Gamescom -- a spawn-camping based game straight out of the same EverQuest book Final Fantasy XI was drawn from. Not so for A Realm Reborn; it's post-WoW -- gear and quest-based, with convenient instances and grouping, and a flexible UI.

Its engine is even more scalable than Crystal Tools, which powered the original Final Fantasy XIV; the game will work on lower-end PCs than the original did, but will also scale up to better graphics on high-end boxes than the original could. The PlayStation 3, which will finally see the game next year, fits in the lower end of its performance range, Yoshida said. It's clear he's planning for the future, too: he teased other platforms to come, once those announcements could be made.

Developing a new version of the game while supporting an old one is no mean feat. "Final Fantasy XIV is a very special case because you have both the current version and A Realm Reborn development running at the same time," said Yoshida. The team has been continuously updating the old version of the game to try and keep its fan base satisfied and paying at the same time developers have been crafting the new game.

"Considering the current version, we get a lot of user feedback, and a lot of users say, we want you to do this, we want you to do this, we want you to do this. But because of the current type of architecture that we have, and the current coding, there's a lot of things that we can't do," said Yoshida.

One way in which Yoshida has revolutionized how Square Enix treats its fan base is in moving to a complete "service" model -- the team even runs its design ideas in front of the player base before implementing them.

"The dev team will always try to get their ideas in as early as possible, and then get those ideas out to the community, to let them give feedback before we even implement it in the game, so then we can have something that's close to what the dev team wants to put in, but also something that the player wants before we even release it. And we plan to continue this in A Realm Reborn development as well," Yoshida said.

"Like I said before, this is a service industry, and listening to our fans is very important. And we found that we're getting a lot of good feedback from our players saying, 'Yeah, this is what we wanted. Thanks for listening to us on this.'"

For developers working on MMOs in the West, this may sound like a no-brainer, but it's a cultural shift for the Tokyo-based developer. The original version of Final Fantasy XIV on PC had a controller-based interface, not one geared to a PC, because that's what Japanese players prefer. It's only with A Realm Reborn that a true, customizable mouse-based UI will be coming to the game.

It's funny, because that's one of the big complaints the developer got when the original MMO in the series, Final Fantasy XI launched in the West in 2003 -- but it wasn't until Yoshida came on board that things really began to change.

If Yoshida -- who took over the game when Tanaka was removed from the floundering project -- can successfully carry out his plans to save the game, he'll be a superstar at the struggling Square Enix. Final Fantasy XI was one of the most successful games in the franchise, thanks to its long lifespan and dedicated audience.

There are big questions, though: is getting a game that's up to 2012 scratch enough? This isn't a leap forward; the company is scrambling just to get a game that feels current shipped. And will players who fled -- or who ignored the title outright -- come to it now? Will the lapse in service take a toll on the player base?

Somehow, the company didn't think about the current generation, let alone the future, before. Yoshida clearly has turned this ship around -- after it hit an iceberg. Whether or not it's still seaworthy is a very open question.

Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe and Gamescom. For more coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)


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Comments


Ron Dippold
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This will be a game that NEEDS a free demo. I'm certainly not touching it without one after playing the Beta. That seems to be the feeling of my MMO playing western audience friends as well.

But Japanese audiences are much more forgiving of anything with the Final Fantasy name slapped on it, and there are a lot of FFXI players desperate for a graphical upgrade, so perhaps not murdering your family while you sleep (as the original did at launch) will be sufficient to fund it.

Eric McVinney
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That's what I'm afraid of, really. Square would justify itself for not having a demo of the game based solely on the fact that their audience/fans in Japan are just THAT forgiving T_T;

Christian Nutt
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Japanese audiences aren't THAT forgiving. The user reviews for FF13, famously, on Amazon, were terrible, and FF13-2 sold really badly. I think US audiences were (and this is just my gut) more forgiving about that game than the Japanese.

But I think that all audiences respect when a company tries to right wrongs. This feels more sincere and better planned to me than FF13-2.

Johnathon Swift
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As Nutt said, Japanese audiences aren't as forgiving as all that. And it's not like western audiences can't be just as forgiving. Nee Call of Duty.

Eric McVinney
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We'll just have to wait and see, then. I honestly hope XIV:RR turns out to be great and goes beyond what is currently happening in MMOs.

Sean Danielson
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They will have a free trial period after A Realm Reborn launches. Count on it!

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Well clearly japan disliked FF13-2 way more than the west... but i suppose it's all a balancing act..

I doubt its about forgiveness, its more about the fact that people want to play games that make them feel like they did wen they played final fantasy the first time... that runs for everyone, and even now.. its not out of the question that squareenix might pull it off, so its all about hope.

Brennan Paterson
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this version looks odds but interesting to play. Yet, I guess I will ask demo first before I'll play it.

Vytautas Katarzis
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I've recently watched one of "lets play" videos in youtube from late beta, and as pretty much everyone else, was surprised how incredibly unfinished, unpolished and broken the game was.

This is footage from late open beta, 2 weeks away from launch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF7vrQ04_q4&feature=BFa&list=PL767
12D17CA6B0359

Cary Chichester
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I very much disliked XIII and did not at all think I would enjoy XIII-2. Surprisingly, while it still is not up to the level of previous games, it did fix a lot of the issues I had with XIII and I ended up very much enjoying the experience. I'm hoping that XIV 2.0 will continue the trend of recognizing and addressing gameplay issues to create a better experience, and the footage coming out of Gamescom shows a lot of work being done on the new title. I played XIV longer than I played The Old Republic simply because of how different the experience was compared to other MMOs that I have played, so I'm looking forward to Realm Reborn retaining that unique feeling that the original game had while actually making it good this time.

Jonathan Murphy
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I beta tested the game. It was broken, lacking in so many ways. I was ridiculed by the fan boys for calling it the Superman 64 of MMOs at launch. Eventually people woke up. To repeat the same thing over and over expecting different/better results. This is what FF14 feels like.

ian stansbury
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Two main points I would like to make:

1.)Who are these 'fans' that they are developing around? I've been a FF fan since I was a wee' tot. Unfortunatly, even my love for the series couldn't make me continue with FFIV for more than a month. Not really sure designing for people who would continue to play, let's face it, one of the most terribly executed games in years will get them the results they are looking for.

2.) The only thing that was a redeeming quality for FFIV was that it was trying something different. I get the feeling from this article that before it was "We're innovating but we screwed up the basics" to "well we got the basics right but now its going to be like every other MMO you've played". At this point not sure which is worse just that I won't be playing either of those games.

Who am I kidding though? I will play pretty much any FF game that comes out. I may not buy it, but regardless of the crap that was turned out before it, I'm going to give it a shot.

Steven Christian
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I had these exact 2 thoughts. They need to make their own game, but with today's user-friendliness expectations in mind.

Sean Danielson
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These "fans" you refer to are the people still playing FFXIV. Most of the feedback they are getting are from the forums, as well as polls that they hold to judge which categories should be focused on the most.

For instance, in the last poll, they were mulling the implementation of a new race for XIV, and Yoshi-P had included a race based on the Viera as an option - because Fran was hot in FF12, it became one of the most popular choices in the poll.

Believe me when I say this: Content in FFXIV 2.0 will indeed run the gamut from awesome to niche.

Steven Yu
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Seems that most of the feedback here are talking about a game that was released nearly 2 years ago. Yet none of the feedback talks about the game as it is now, nevermind the fact that (unless you attended Gamescon) 2.0 isn't even available for testing, closed or not.

Simon Ludgate
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I think I'm most enthusiastic about this project because, if successful, it sets the precedent that bad games can be wholly redesigned, and how to do it correctly. I think this is important because FFXIV is striving to be a subscription-based MMO in a market where every under-performing MMO seems to be tilting at F2P as a way to "salvage" a badly designed game. A successful FFXIV would suggest that it's also possible to fix the flaws and meet subscription-level quality standards.

Stephen Horn
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This.

We're definitely entering the interesting bit of Final Fantasy XIV's troubled life. If S|E can salvage this thing and ultimately make an acceptable profit on it, I hope that will encourage other publishers to follow suit and fix mediocre MMOs rather than slap on F2P or just eat the losses in a quick sunset. But I hope the real lessons learned by the industry (and S|E) relate to building a successful MMO on the first go, by creating a digital canvas with some of the core features, and then iterating based on beta tester or player feedback until the game is truly ready for a full release.

On a related note, have many MMO makers tried variations of the "reduced cost of entry to offset our development costs" strategy? For instance, if the full release is expected to be $15/month, have many MMO makers offered beta invites at reduced cost, say $5/month, with the promise of maintaining those subscription rates for early testers after release as a thank you for their feedback and helping to make the game as successful as possible?

Kyle Redd
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I would say the chances of SE ever making a profit on XIV are virtually zero at this point. Considering how much cash it must've taken to develop the original MMO, combined with abysmal initial sales and retention (does anyone personally know even a single long-term or current subscriber?), and now add the cost of a whole "new" game on top of that... You're conservatively looking at a few years of healthy subscriber numbers before breaking even becomes a possibility.

If EA and Bioware couldn't make it six months before throwing in the towel with SWTOR, I don't see any hope at all for Square with FF XIV.

Johnathon Swift
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Perhaps the SWTOR team should be taking notes, one way or another.

Toby Grierson
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Will it profit in itself? I don't think that matters at this point. They're doing it for their honor and reputation. Or in strictly capitalist terms, "profit on later things".

Christian Nutt
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I know a current long-term subscriber. Just sayin'. Been there since launch and still plays.

Christian Nutt
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Okay, so

1. The budget on the original game and this game were MUCH lower than your typical MMO budget. This has had an, IIRC, 14 month development cycle so far. Not the 5 years that we get for some ridiculous MMO now. Add up the two games and it's still the dev cycle for one MMO, at the cheap salaries and understaffed teams of the Japanese. The economics are probably okay there.

2. There is no way this is JUST for honor. I remember reading that FF11 was the most lucrative FF game in the long run, for obvious reasons. If they can carve out a good fraction of that with this game, it's worth the gamble.

Kyle Redd
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@Christian

From where do you draw the 14-month development time for the "original" FF XIV? Joystiq had it being made at least since April 06 (http://www.joystiq.com/2006/04/19/square-enix-snubs-xbox-360-targ
ets-ps3-and-vista-for-new-mmorpg/). The closed Alpha began in March 2010, so you're saying the game was only in active development for 8 months before it was feature-complete?

If the 14 month dev time is accurate, by the time the new game is released the project will have seen just shy of 4 years of active, full-staff development. You mentioned that Japanese dev teams are understaffed compared to other regions. Considering they'll be paid in Japanese Yen while the collected fees will be mostly in Dollars and Euros, and that Square won't be able to charge more than the standard $15 a month to subscribers, being lean on staff isn't going to help much with the financials.

I have no doubt you're much more familiar with the budgetary nuts-and-bolts of game design than I, so out of curiosity, how many subscribes at what length of time do you think Square will need to reach a profit?

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Sean Danielson
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What's interesting is that the art direction was led by Akihiko Yoshida when Naoki Yoshida took over the helm. Akihiko is the guy behind FF12, FFT, and most Ivalice-related concept art. He is fantastic.

Christian Nutt
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Seconded. Akihiko Yoshida is the best art director and character designer Square Enix has, by a long long distance.

Allan Munyika
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I agree, the FF series actually needs new blood, not only in the development aspect of the game, but all the way to corporate level.

Allan Munyika
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I agree, the FF series actually needs new blood, not only in the development aspect of the game, but all the way to corporate level.

Bryce Walters
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I seem to be a rarity here, as I'm a subscriber to FFXIV, so I thought I'd fill you guys in a bit on whats been goin down with it over the past few months.

The battle system has been completely redone since launch. No more ATB bar, the classes make sense as to what they are (Mages don't have a ranged "auto" attack anymore and don't do TP moves, just spells, and other little changes like that), they removed the interparty combo system(has been redone and is coming back in 2.0), a lot of abilities have been reworked and/or removed(and I mean dozens per class), MP/HP regenerate passively, and a hell of a lot more on just the combat system. They have cleaned up the UI as much as they can, introduced the job system to the game, reworked the crafting system(it's basically still the same, but all the abilities have been reworked and it's been sped up), and there has been new dungeons/boss fights/missions every month since I believe March. There is basically an Auction House now, but it's kind of a hybrid Bazaar/AH. You still set it up as a bazaar and can browse it as such or you can just browse it as a regular AH.

They've done a massive amount of work on it since launch, and it's actually really a fun game as it is right now. The main problems they have been having is the engine is really wonky. It likes to crash randomly, and it's nowhere near efficient. They have redone it for 2.0. The servers are also really slow and cause lag for everyone outside of Japan. They have said they are getting completely new hardware for the 2.0 servers, and I'm crossing my fingers that there isn't a massive amount of lag anymore(pain in the a$$ when you have to move into a tiny area during a boss fight, but the server doesn't register you being in a safe spot for 2 seconds after you've been standing there, killing you in the process). The UI is still clunky, but works now. Inventory management is still a pain due to the servers being slow, but they are redoing the UI completely for 2.0.

I've been having quite a blast with it since January myself, and the servers are nowhere near dead at all. The main hub city has hundreds of people running around at all hours on my server, and I've never had a problem finding a group for anything. The community is actually really nice too. Most people are really helpful, and it's not uncommon to have a passing by lvl 50 player stop and buff you, or help you with mobs while leveling jobs. The back and forth between the dev's and the community has been really nice too. Yoshi-P actually goes through and posts on the forums himself and will join in on random discussions from time to time. He also does a periodic post to the community in the form of his Letters From the Producer, which is up to 34 atm.

I have no idea what 2.0 is going to be like, but if they keep putting in the love and hard work they have been, I wouldn't be surprised if it progresses just as well if not better than FFXI has done. After all, FFXI is about to celebrate its 10 year anniversary this November, and is still subscription based.

Sean Danielson
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Inefficient engine is nowhere close to explaining the problems I have.

When I run FFXIV on my machine, it puts out so much heat, it makes my bedroom 10 degrees hotter than the house's ambient temperature in about 2 hours.

That is NOT a joke.

Daniel Martinez
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For gamers like myself: No Sakaguchi = no Final Fantasy. Also: No Uematsu ~ no Final Fantasy.

Christian Nutt
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So buy The Last Story. Which you should anyway; it's great.

Cary Chichester
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That's a shame because FFXII was made without Uematsu or Sakaguchi and it's an amazing game.

Simon Ludgate
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Yeah, but, Uematsu scored FFXIV. So...

Allan Munyika
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So what would have happened had they stayed on at Squenix and then died or retired, would the FF series have to be have been discontinued, just to "please the fans"?

Damien Garcia
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That's unfortunate. FF12 was an amazing game, even if the storyline evoked Star Wars a bit. FF12 was the game that made me realize that the series would be in good hands after Sakaguchi left. Side Note: Uematsu's FF14 soundtrack is amazing. I'm pulling for this game to succeed just so people can hear it.

Muir Freeland
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Totally concur. XII is where the series needs to be at.

Robin Poziombke
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I know this is a minute point now. But I feel for Tanaka. It wasnt all his fault and being with the company over 25 years and being forced out like that is very unfortunate. I bought the game and was disappointed. I look forward to the new version and hope it brings back the magic I remember as a kid.

Damien Garcia
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This is an important post.

Darcy Nelson
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Really excited to see what they come up with! I was interested in XIV, but about the time I was ready to pull the trigger on it I started hearing the 'death knell' on the interwebs about what a horrible bomb the game was. I've been playing XIII and XIII-2 and so far loving every minute. Hopefully 2.0 will deliver, it would be great to see them turn the ship around, so to speak.

Allan Munyika
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The problem isn't FFXIV per say but with Square Enix and the Japanese game industry as a whole. Squenix doesn't just need to revamp the FF series but it needs to revamp itself. Sometimes I think the Japanese game industry is still stuck in the olden days of SNES and Genesis. I'm pretty excited about the direction Capcom is taking with the upcoming Resident Evil installment (RE:6) and the impact it will have on how Capcom and Japanese game developers make games after that, especially if RE:6 sells well.

Damien Garcia
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You're excited about Resident Evil completely jumping overboard into Action territory, abandoning Survival Horror? I don't think there's anything wrong with Japanese gaming development, it's as good as its ever been (see vanquish, binary domain, bayonetta, shadows of the damned)

The problem is american tastes tastes are changing. If you still have a taste for the kind of unique experiences that Japanese developers give us, they continue to satiate your tastes.

I fear for the industry where we have western developers catering to western tastes and Japanese developers bending backwards to serve western tastes as well, and we'll be stuck in a situation where we have no games with any eastern influences.

Damien Garcia
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Where have the whiners been? This game was fixed a long time ago.

Anyhow, damned if you do, damned if you don't. Square Enix gets trashed for putting out a game in beta form, and when they fix it, addressing every player's concerns, they get trashed as if they hadn't fixed the problems.

This is the Square Enix that we've been demanding for years. A S-E that listens to the needs of its customers. I am far more willing to forgive S-E for FF14 than FF13 which did a bigger job of tainting the franchise in my opinion.


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