Naoki Yoshida has become an icon to Final Fantasy 14 fans. When he logs into the game, his character gets mobbed. One of the reasons for his popularity is his willingness to get candid about all of the issues his game faces.
Last week at E3 in Los Angeles, I spoke to Yoshida about some of those issues, including the recent housing shortage that led to a handful of players buying up all the land, the difficulty of balancing content for hardcore and casual players, and whether Final Fantasy 14 will ever go free-to-play. (Probably not.)
This interview, conducted with a Square Enix translator, has been edited for clarity.
On fixing the housing shortage
"I think we have come really close to resolving the issue where we don't have enough plots of land, and people are in desperate need for housing. But if we're looking at it from a perspective of, do we think we have a complete form of this housing system, we don't believe we've gotten there yet," Yoshida said.
Their solution to the shortage, implemented earlier this year, was to limit players to one personal plot each. "Our next goal is to make it more user-friendly so that we're able to automatically switch between characters that are under your own account," Yoshida said.
Yoshida also pointed to an article he had found about a similar housing drought in Australia, noting that the Australian reporter had given Final Fantasy 14 credit for solving the problems in a more effective way than anyone had in real life.
"The company responsible for an online adventure game with trolls is giving more assiduous attention to housing accessibility than the government of our most populous state," the article said.
"Just by looking at that, I get the impression that players have become alleviated," said Yoshida.
On when Yoshida is going to run for public office
"I don't want to!"
On deciding whether to lock FF14 content behind weekly gates
"If we have everything available freely accessible, then people will play through everything as quickly as they can and they will run out of things to do," Yoshida said. "But at the same time if we have content that is available to attempt for the first time only on a weekly basis, then you have that desire, 'But I want to do more,' and that's stressful as well. Trying to satisfy both of those desires at the same time is impossible."
If the developers were to allow people to grind raids with no weekly limitations, Yoshida said, then the skill level disparity between hardcore and casual players would become "ridiculously wide".
"Those casual players, which we have a lot of, they'd start looking at the top players and think to themselves, 'There's no way I can get up there, no way I can catch up' and they might give up on the game," he said.
"That's something we want to avoid. We don't want to have people dropping out or thinking there's no way they can catch up, or else as an MMO, that would make our community fall apart. The limitations we do set on certain content, it's not necessarily to just extend the life of the content itself...
"We understand the frustrations and stress for different communities, and the frequency of which players play these different content. We're trying to share the load of that stress, make sure we're not skewing towards one party."
On whether new Final Fantasy 14 players might feel overwhelmed by the amount of story
"Actually we feel that the expansion packs serve the purpose of bringing in new players," Yoshida said.
"Every time we release an expansion, we go into it with the mindset that we want to create content that is worth one whole new RPG title. Of course there may be recurring characters that you may not be familiar with if you're just jumping in at one of the expansions, but it is a new experience in and of itself. So even if you skip over the previous expansion and jump into the new one, it's still enjoyable."
"The development team is working really hard with each expansion to make sure we are delivering a full experience to our players, and I think that contributes to our success of continuously bringing in new players," he said. "It would have been nice if we were like 24 the TV series and had a clean split between the seasons. If each season was 24 hours."
On whether Jack Bauer will ever be added to Final Fantasy 14
"We don't want to mix too much reality into the fantasy world."
On whether FF10's blitzball is ever coming to FF14
"I'm afraid we're still torn on this. Personally, I feel that having more of a team creation or simulation-type gameplay is very fitting with the MMO style, and something that players can come back many times as well as play for a long time. At the same time I'm very worried that players will look at it and be like 'Well that's not blitzball.' I almost feel like, 'Do I even want to make this? I don't want to make this any more.'"
Last year, Yoshida had told me that they were still debating whether to add blitzball to Final Fantasy 14 as a proper sport or as a team management simulator, in which you'd go around the world collecting players and making your own team.
"My teammates would let me know, 'Yoshida if this is something you feel like you want us to create, of course we'll build it for you, but please make sure it's something you'll find fun,'" he said. "That's why I'm very torn."
On whether FF14 is ever coming to Switch or Xbox
"Unfortunately there has not been any sort of change in our situation, because our stance has not changed," Yoshida said. "We have had conversations with [Xbox boss] Phil Spencer three times over the last year. It's just a matter of a few more clauses being waived. But at this point we don't have much of an update.
"Considering how far into the discussion we've gotten with Microsoft, we might have made a little more progress in the Xbox discussion versus the Switch. We've also run into an issue with Sony - being able to play cross-platform. That's another issue that we'd have to take care of as well. In terms of our conversations regarding the Switch, we're still in continuous discussion with Nintendo on that one as well."
On whether Sony will allow Final Fantasy 14 to have cross-play with platforms beside PC
"We had discussions with Andrew House before, but with the transition to a new president I'm afraid we have not properly met them yet, had proper introductions, or sat down for a discussion," Yoshida said. (Sony's new president, Kenichiro Yoshida, started in April.)
"So unfortunately we don't have any visibility on the current stance Sony is taking. We're hoping that with the transition there may be some kind of shift but we have not had the opportunity to sit down and discuss."
On whether Yoshida is concerned that the rise of games as a service such as Anthem, The Division 2 and Fallout 76 may be strong competition to Final Fantasy 14 because they don't have subscriptions
"I'm not concerned at all," he said. "I feel that it's impossible to not have any sort of microtransactions but still have free updates in a very large scale... With free-to-play games, a lot of the times the developers are scrambling to try to make as many items and content as possible to monetise. If you look at how much effort is going into making those individual monetisation items, I feel the resources are better utilised creating a brand new game."
So no, he said, he's not concerned about online games with no subscriptions.
"With A Realm Reborn, now in operation for about five years, we have built upon us a great track record," Yoshida said. "And so we feel the outside interference should not affect us. As creators that are on FF14, all we can continue to do is work really hard to continue providing great content to the game... That being said, Fallout 76 looks awesome."
On whether MMO-style combat has grown stale, and if Yoshida would ever consider overhauling FF14's combat
"We feel there is no reason to do a swapping out or change it completely," he said. "If players don't like the way the combat system is set up now, there are many other games they can enjoy in the play-style they prefer.
"Say for example, some players prefer more of a non-target sort of gameplay, and they feel that FF14's combat system feels antiquated or difficult to play with, those are new players and it's probably not the majority of players' feedback, and it does not affect the current players who are already enjoying the content.
"It'd be better to address that by having that kind of play-style in a new and separate game that we create that is targeted to a new generation of players - maybe in a Final Fantasy 19 or 20 or something like that."