The history and development behind Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV, and subsequently Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, was detailed at length by Naoki Yoshida at Game Developer's Conference 2014. Final Fantasy XIV, when released in September 2010, was considered a critical and commercial flop. Square Enix did not abandon the project, and instead hired Yoshida to take the helm to retool and rework the game. This was rare for an MMO to completely retool and relaunch itself, and Yoshida discussed the reasons behind the failure of FFXIV and the alterations and approaches his team followed to mold A Realm Reborn out of its ashes.
Why Did Final Fantasy XIV Fail?
Final Fantasy XIV suffered from a wide variety of issues, including unstable servers (with upwards of 400 of crashes a day), an extreme lack of content, a broken battle system, instanced-based maze-like maps, and an unfriendly user interface. This led to poor reviews when it launches on September 30th, 2010.
In Yoshida's mind, the reason for FFXIV's failure could come from the saying 'great success can breed great failure'. Developers of FFXIV suffered from pressure to succeed a second time (referring to the success of Square Enix's first MMO, Final Fantasy XI). The team stubbornly focused to adhere to outdated policies when developing an MMO.
Eight years of XI left Square Enix unable to recognize changes to the MMO market. Final Fantasy XIV's development was hindered by an extreme focus on graphical quality. A single plant vase could run upwards to 1,000 polygons and 160 lines of shader code. Those numbers could be used to create a whole character model!
The three primary sources of Final Fantasy XIV's failure:
- An unhealthy obsession with graphics quality
- Lack of developers with MMO knowledge and experience
- Conceit of the Final Fantasy brand
Enter A Realm Reborn
Yoshida was hired as the new director for the rework, Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn. Yoshida has over 19 years of game development experience and a passion for MMOs. Yoshida handled all design decisions. The standards of the MMO genre were emphasized over a need for innovation. Quest tracks were planned in full, and the focus of real time updates were made.
Yoshida felt the importance of a Realm Reborn's success came from a constant conversation with the community. To him, those who complain about a particular game are the ones who are most invested to see it change. Those who leave without saying anything aren't the players you were going to keep around in the first place. Innovations within the genre began with proper planning and design outlines. Knowing the other games in the MMO market was also important in creating a game that could stand on its own.
The team developing A Realm Reborn started at a mere .5 percent of Square Enix's total workforce. The game was actually development in tandem with Final Fantasy XIV. By the time of A Realm Reborn's release, the team had jumped to nearly 30% of the company's development talent.
Yoshida's most important questions to answer are "What can other titles do that yours cannot" and the all important "Do you have enough content?"
The Future of MMOs
In order to create a successful MMO, the amount of expected features is immense. These include everything from ease of updating, stable login servers, 24/6 support across multiple languages, a varied quest log, various communication methods, highly customizable character creation, etc. It is no small feat to create even a mediocre MMO by today's standards, and understanding the keys of the genre and your limitations is the key to creating a successful game.
Running an MMO is like running a country. Clarity, vision, and willingness to listen to the community of players are the keys to success.
It's important to remember that the creators are also players in their own worlds. If it isn't fun for the creators, then it won't be fun to the user base.