Last week, I spent over six hours picking apart Final Fantasy XIV’s new expansion “Shadowbringers” in a lavishly adorned theater space. I played a new dungeon, sampled the new job classes, and examined all the little changes coming to the game. I also had the chance to sit down with producer Naoki Yoshida for a one-on-one interview.
Tired after a media tour stop in London, nursing a cold, and worn out by another day of questions, Yoshida had snuck off for an extended cigarette break. He returned, smelling slightly of smoke, and sunk into the couch in front of me. We had a frank discussion about game design, player expectations, and gender expression in multiplayer games.
Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: Before I start, I want to let you know that I met my girlfriend playing this game, so I wanted to say thank you.
Naoki Yoshida: Congrats! That’s awesome! It’s always nice to hear stories like that. There are people who come up to me and mention how they met in Final Fantasy XIV and they’ve all gotten married and had children. There’s one family that comes to a lot of our events. They have three children, so they’re a bit more than a “light party” at this point. It’s really nice.
Breaking down the new classes:
Alexandra: When I talk to developers who have distinct characters or classes in their games, I like to ask them to describe them in one word. “Shadowbringers” has two new classes, the Dancer and Gunbreaker. What is the one word you’d use to describe each?
Yoshida: For Gunbreaker: trigger-action. The gunblade in the Final Fantasy series is interesting. When you strike with a gunblade, you pull the trigger to enhance your attack. It’s this really unique idea for a weapon. We wanted to recreate that feeling of pulling the trigger and that feeling of impact in Final Fantasy XIV. That was the concept we had for the design from the start.
For Dancer: steps. When you hear the word dancer or dance, I’m sure people have different interpretations of what it entails. They might imagine different dances from around the world. With our dancer, it’s about having dance steps. The player isn’t literally dancing to a beat, but we wanted to recreate the feeling of sensing a tempo and having a certain pace.
On simplifying classes in “Shadowbringers”:
Alexandra: A lot of classes have had the number of steps required to perform key actions reduced. For instance, the standard Summoner attack rotation—which formerly took minutes to perform—has been simplified. How do you find the balance between making something approachable but deep. Do you worry about hardcore players who might feel classes are being simplified?
Yoshida: In terms of simplifying things, that’s very subjective. The majority of team members working on Final Fantasy XIV are also players, so sometimes it boils down to if we think something feels fun to play. The dichotomy of simplicity and complexity...Those things aren’t always what makes a job fun or not. In order for someone to enjoy a system and find it interesting, they need to have an understanding of how those actions work.
With Final Fantasy XIV, which has a pretty long history now, job mechanics have been complex and tangled into each other. We wanted to make sure that we were untangling that. We were looking at it, and it was hard to identify if particular jobs were even fun or interesting to pay, because it had become so complex...If we were to keep everything tangled while also adding more to the jobs, it would accelerate the issue and make it really hard to see what makes each job unique and interesting.
We took a bold step this time. We mustered up a lot of courage and decided to revisit and really clean things up...It’s a matter of asking, “Is this comfortable? Is this still fun for us to play?”
On deciding what new skills to give classes:
Alexandra: As the level cap increases in “Shadowbringers,” there’s potential to add variety to job abilities. Obviously, you want jobs to have distinct identities, but sometimes there are cases where certain jobs are more desired. When you were adjusting jobs like Samurai, were you ever tempted to round out job utility or expand them beyond the roles the community already know?
Yoshida: To be honest, no. We always want to make sure the gameplay for each job is different. With that Samurai example, they have their iaijutsu skills, and those require casting some skills before executing them. That’s unique to them. For Ninja, they have their ninjutsu. It’s important to have different actions for each job. They should feel distinct.
And, really, we find that what players want is for their class to be the best class. They want to contribute to the party, they want to do the most DPS. They want everything! But if we take that feedback and literally apply it, we’d end up with jobs that look really similar. We don’t want that. We want a variety of experiences while still having a balance.
It wouldn’t be good for the game to give too many things to all classes. It drives home the point about wanting gameplay experiences to be unique.
The one thing Yoshida wants players to know:
Alexandra: It’s been a long day. You’re traveled far, you’re under the weather, and you’re answering tons of questions. Probably answered the same questions over and over.
Alexandra: What’s something you haven’t been asked about but want to tell players?
Yoshida: We’ve covered so much through all these interviews. One thing I hear as a worry in the community is the question: “Is Yoshida going to be moving away Final Fantasy XIV?” but that’s not going to happen. I want to reassure people of that.
I do want to have some personal time to go snowboarding more...
I want players to play “Shadowbringers” as soon as possible. I wonder, sometimes, if providing information can take away from some of the fun that’s to be had. I really can’t wait for players to get their hands on “Shadowbringers” and enjoy it for themselves.
Addressing demand for player houses heading into “Shadowbringers”:
Alexandra: Players gave me a lot of questions to ask you, but the thing I heard the most was that they want to know if there will be a new housing area and if the team was looking into new ways to purchase homes.
On my own server, I know groups that organize to help players get houses, but they often lose out to players who might be using bots or other tactics. How is the team approaching this situation heading into the expansion?
Yoshida: World Visits should provide more access to different areas, and we still see that there’s many plots of land available if you look at the data centers as a whole.
We do start to see a bias of less land available if we look at certain servers. For instance, if players are demanding more housing on Balmung, it’s going to be more challenging to fulfill the demand for that server. But if we were to simply increase the number of plots available in the game, servers without as many players will have areas that are very sparse.
For bots, we’ve been making changes to prevent plots of land being purchased by bots, so in many cases it’s probably players stalking and being very meticulous. That being said, the situation isn’t permanent. We want to respond to the concerns and we understand the demand for housing is there. Once we’re able to expand, we’ll make sure to let players know.
On glamours, gender restrictions, and social issues:
Alexandra: The other issue players pushed me to ask about is glamours and expression. Two questions, since we’re almost out of time.
First: Would you ever considered removing job restrictions from glamours like the lock-style system in Final Fantasy XI? Beyond that, are there plans to lessen or remove the amount of gender restrictions on clothing? Things that are not exclusively male or female? I know there’s gameplay reasons for restrictions, but are there chances for expression with less restriction?
Yoshida: It might be a quick question but the answers are definitely not short!
First, to answer about removing the job restrictions, unfortunately, we don’t intend to remove them. The reason is simple. For players who have played other Final Fantasy titles, they’ll easily recognize these gear designs as a way to identify a particular job...You wouldn’t want to see someone carrying an axe casting black magic. You’d wonder: What the hell kind of game is this?
To touch on the second part of your question about gender restrictions, first and foremost, I think there should be freedom in your values when it comes to the different genders. We don’t want to restrict attire and clothing that you wear based on characters’ gender or sex.
There’s two issues for accommodating that freedom. The first is a cost issue. Say you had a dress and it’s originally restricted to female-only and we were considering making it so male characters could wear it. We need to go in and make sure we’re adjusting the design on a male character model and make sure it makes sense on that form. The opposite applies for male only outfits, for instance Hien’s attire. we’d need to make adjustments for the female silhouette...We’d need to adjust for lalafells...If we’re making adjustments to one or two items, that’s easy. But we need to consider just how many items there are, and addressing all of them is not a quick task.
In terms of values and our players, it’s a time when there’s a lot of changes in perspectives, but we can’t ignore the people who refuse to make changes in their values. There may be players who do not want to see male players wear attire that’s traditionally worn on females...We do want to respect freedom of self expression and that people want to dress the same way, but we do need to consider and be mindful of those who look at people dressed in a certain way and manage how they perceive things.
Let me give an example: I was heading to the office on a Saturday and I saw a situation that made me very sad. I was trying to go into the office and I was waiting at a red light. I saw a high schooler coming from the other side of the road in their school uniform. It seemed that they were biologically male at birth but they were wearing a sailor fuku, which is traditionally female attire. In Japanese high schools, there’s more and more schools that are accommodating for freedom of not being restricted to a specific gender for your uniform...That person probably wanted to present the gender they identified with in their heart...On the other side of the road was a mother and a daughter. The daughter was perhaps 5 years old. As soon as the mother saw the high schooler, she shielded her daughter as if she didn’t want her daughter to see. The high schooler must have been very hurt. Situations like these still happen and there’s areas where there’s not as much understanding.
We need to see more change in the values people have, and we need to consider for Final Fantasy XIV how we push forward in-game and how we represent it.
That being said, we want to address this, and I think it will be gradual...For instance, for the Ceremony of Eternal Bonding, we’ve already started to make adjustments. Once we officially release this, you won’t have gender restrictions. If you both wanted to wear a dress, that’s perfectly fine. If you want to both wear the tuxedo, that would also be fine...That’s not available in game yet, but we have done the preparations for it.
You may be familiar with the [Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade] where we had a Final Fantasy XIV float participate. After that event, players in the Korean regions were very uncomfortable with it and people made complaints about now wanting to see that. “This is disgusting!” Things like that. It’s been very tough.
Change is happening. People are becoming more aware and understanding. Values do shift, but I think the pace...is very different depending on individuals. It’s a difficult and delicate situation. It requires us to understand and know how things are around the world.
Alexandra: One thing before I go: What brand of cigarettes?
Yoshida: [Laughs.] Lucky Strike.