• How Flowerpots killed XIV

    Recently at GDC (Game Developers Conference) this week, Naoki Yoshida gave a presentation explaining why Final Fantasy XIV failed and what Square Enix learned from it. So what happened?

    When Final Fantasy XIV was released back in 2010, it was slammed by critics and fans alike. Metacritic only gave it a score of 48. The servers it ran on were unstable and untrustworthy. About 400 crashes PER DAY. It was a mess. The content was limited and the story line that the series is normal praised upon, was short and had little depth. A change was needed for it to succeed and that's where Naoki Yoshida came in.

    What made it all go wrong though? Naoki Yoshida said it were a few reasons. First off he noted that the team had an "unhealthy obsession with graphical quality." He went on to mention the "loveliest flower pot in an MMO". This lovely flower pot was beautiful! So beautiful it took 1000 polygons and 140 lines of shader code, for a flower pot. That was more than what it took to render a Player Character!

    The original team wasn't too well versed in MMOs it seemed. He explained that in Japan, the amount of people needed for the production of an MMO isn't feasible with the how time consuming and resource heavy they are. Therefore there are not many Japanese developers well versed in making an MMO and even less so in those who play an MMO. Taking the whole Massively Multiplayer aspect out, to accommodate the high flowerpot content, the old team had to reduce the amount of Player Characters on the screen to a mere 20. The best aspect of a MMO is the amount of players taking part in the adventure. There is a swell of excitement when you see 50+ people in one area.

    The lack of knowledge showed heavily in the development process. Square Enix was, as Yoshida said, stubbornly adhering to policies that had proven successful in the Playstation 2 era. During that era, Square Enix was able to produce graphics that their competitors couldn't. This was done in the style of Japanese swordsmithing, as it was put, where everyone on their team mastered their own craft. This approached worked when applying it to graphics when there were a small set of swords to be made. They tried to apply this same tactic to XIV but, as we know now, it didn't work.

    Square Enix felt they had to continue to push graphics as it was what had worked for them before. It was their thing, and it's hard to change something that has worked so well. Change was what was needed though. They had been ignoring the MMO culture since Final Fantasy XI had arrived on the scene up to when XIV was to be released. That was an eight year gap they simply ignored. One of the biggest changes to the genre came about from the popular Blizzard game World of Warcraft. The game was all about the volume of content and had forever changed the MMO genre. Sticking with what they knew, which was graphics, and ignoring the amount of content that players desired let the game fall face first into the mud.

    Another very important reason XIV failed was a mindset of the developers, that every problem could be patched. The game itself had major flaws even before its release. They thought though that if they just got the game out and running they would be able to figure out a solution to the framework one way or another. It was a lack of planning, according to Yoshida.


    Naoki Yoshida was brought in Dec 2010, shortly after the game had been released and was given the daunting task to fix it all. He felt that there were such bad problems with the game as a whole that it needed to be reworked from the ground up. Thus a Realm Reborn was given life. Even though he had to rebuild the whole thing he continued to update and correct the existing game so it was playable and somewhat enjoyable for fans, as much as he could.

    He brought in a new workforce and work flow. Those who he gave management positions were experienced in the MMO genre and they implemented core features that every MMO should have at its launched. He showed an extremely long list of theses features including login server stability, highly customizable characters, an endless variety of gear, fully developed quest lines, public quests and much more. Laughing about it, he went on to say how the players expect every feature to be polished and perfected before launch.

    While in development he refused to let anyone start coding until they worked out the design and then let the programmers start building the systems. Employees weren't allowed to work on it until the systems were ready and working. He also forced less-experienced staff to play XIV over and over again so they could understand the decisions and could focus on the gameplay experience. Many questioned why they were working on the old version while a new version was to come about. Yoshida stated he wanted to win the trust back of the exisiting players and to test some of the features A Realm Reborn would implement.

    Yoshida explained that one of the most important part of the process was the community. He said, despite what fans may think, his team actually read over the Final Fantasy XIV forums obsessively and they actively implemented fan feedback. Yoshida also started his livestreams of the development. Square Enix Management questioned being so open about this development but the fans loved it, so much so that Yoshida and his team still regularly make livestream updates.

    The Future

    Yoshida gave advice to other MMO developers and said that no matter what, they would be compared to the likes of World of Warcraft. "Comparing A Realm Reborn at launch to World of Warcraft right now is like comparing a child entering elementary school to a college student," he joked.

    He compared developing an MMO is like running a country which he shows with slides stating:

    1. If a Dev team is the government, then the players are citizens.
    (if citizens disapprove of your policies, they'll move to Canada.)
    2. Clarity, vision and willingness to listen are keys to success.
    (Clarity, vision and willingness to listen are keys to success.)
    3. Learn to listen and adapt. A complain is worth twice a compliment.
    (The silent always leave first. If citizens are complaining, it means they still care.)
    4. Creators must be players in their own realms.
    (If the leadership don't live there, why would their subjects?)

    Wrapping up the presentation he went on to say they had learned a lot from the release and rebirth of XIV. The initial game was a massive failure but it was an important opportunity for the developer to learn and grow. Hopefully these lessons can be continued to influence future Square Enix games.

    "A Realm Reborn is still a baby chocobo in the MMO field," Yoshida said. "I look forward to continuing to nurture it."

    What are your thoughts about this presentations? Do you agree with the MMO as a country? Do you like their lessons?

    Share your thoughts.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: How Flowerpots killed XIV started by Freya View original post
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Refreshing to say the least. I'm impressed with SE of late. They seem to be finding the beat again. Between Bravely Default and this communique, I am very optimistic about what the future holds for...ah, I still call them Squaresoft. :3

      Exciting, isn't it?
    1. Rostum's Avatar
      Rostum -
      It pleases me greatly that they're being so open about this. Now if only it can continue on throughout the rest of the company, along with more focus on making everything they produce available world wide.
    1. Aulayna's Avatar
      Aulayna -
      Yoshi-P is on the special council they set up to re-focus on the integrity of the Final Fantasy brand, so hopefully his influence will rub off on some of them.
    1. Loony BoB's Avatar
      Loony BoB -
      Really interesting to find out how overkill they went on graphics at the start of 1.x considering that it in many ways it looks better now than it did then. There are definitely parts - including flowerpots, I expect - that looked better in the old game. Sadly, I'd say the playable characters are amongst those things. However, despite this, the new game looks much more vibrant and alive because of clever work on the environments. Sometimes you don't need the best graphics in order to achieve the best aesthetics.

      Very interesting to see how open they've been on things, though. I may have grown a bit tired of some parts of FFXIV, and the parts I do enjoy may not be the best, but I can certainly respect how much they have achieved with the majority. If they can tweak that economy to the point that I find it more reasonable then I think I'll enjoy the game to the same high level as those who enjoy the fight more than the craft.
    1. Mirage's Avatar
      Mirage -
      Why didn't they turn it down a few notches for just the flowerpots then, and kept the character models at the same level?
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mirage View Post
      Why didn't they turn it down a few notches for just the flowerpots then, and kept the character models at the same level?
      I believe the example of the flower pots is just that; an example. They were trying to dial up the graphics for EVERYTHING, hence the slow response from the servers.
    1. Mirage's Avatar
      Mirage -
      Graphics are clientside and do not affect server response in any way at all.

      In either case, my point was to dial down the graphics for every less important object, not just flowerpots, but leave the character models, as they are kind of a lot more important than a lot of other stuff.
    1. Spooniest's Avatar
      Spooniest -
      Well this is all news to me because I've never played an MMO in my life.

      But the point is, they're trying to be as candid and forthright as I've ever seen them be, and that means something in my book...perhaps you have a different perspective you'd be so good as to share? I've often thought that game developers focus too much on the graphics side of things, to the point where they obsess over making everything pretty as a picture, but neglect the gameplay.

      This is tantamount to affirming that attitude (which many people who've been playing games for a long time have expressed, i.e. Egoraptor, AVGN, et al), and it's something I think a forward-thinking developer ought to be saying.

      As long as the graphics are pretty and eye-catching, who cares if they're "the most realistic?" I'd gladly trade that processing power for something like fps any day.
    1. Skyblade's Avatar
      Skyblade -
      Quote Originally Posted by Loony BoB View Post
      Sometimes you don't need the best graphics in order to achieve the best aesthetics.
      If only we could get more game developers to understand this.
    1. Mirage's Avatar
      Mirage -
      I don't think they ever tried to make FF14 look realistic either
    1. o_O's Avatar
      o_O -
      I think Yoshi P is one of the best things to happen to the Final Fantasy brand since its creation, in the company of people like Nobue Uematsu and Yoshinori Kitase. I've never played a MMO before this but I'm amazed at how much they're listening to their fans and implementing fixes for all kinds of complaints, and I think a large part of that is down to Yoshi P.
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