This week, Famitsu had an interesting article on what it takes to make a good game. Specifically, they polled a number of game developers and asked them what elements are necessary in the development process to produce a real quality product. We know who is working on Final Fantasy XIV, and we know a lot about how they operate from the seven years Final Fantasy XI has been occupying our free time.
Do you think Final Fantasy XIV will have the "right stuff" to succeed?
↑ Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (DS) came in 20th place, selling 232,801 units.
↑ Dissidia Final Fantasy came in 22nd place, selling 229,258 units.
↑ Under multi-platform titles, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time ranked 3rd, selling 286,407 units. (232,801 on the DS and 53,606 on the Wii.)
↑ Square Enix as a company was in the Top 5 for combined sales at 1,560,000 units. The other ranked companies were 1-Nintendo, 2-Bandai-Namco, 3-Capcom and 4-KONAMI.
What does this mean? At the very least, we can see people are not tired of the Final Fantasy brand. Even spin-offs like Crystal Chronicles and Dissidia are able to obtain good rankings on the charts. Not only that, but there were pages of the magazine itself dedicated to Crystal Chronicles as well as the newly announced "4 Light Warriors" game for the Nintendo DS. So far, we know Final Fantasy XIV at least has its brand power going for it.
However, a name is not always enough. So, what elements are necessary to make Final Fantasy XIV a good game? Here is what Japanese game developers had to say.
#1 人材：Talented Individuals - Over 25% of developers polled said that people behind the game are the most important. "Exceptionally talented individuals are like precious treasure," wrote one scenario writer. Most agreed that original ideas, committed effort and strong leadership are the most essential aspects of a solid development team - all qualities that are present in talented people, not computers or machines. Does Final Fantasy XIV have this kind of leadership? Hiromichi Tanaka, who produced Final Fantasy XI, will be back at the helm for this latest installment. From having translated many interviews with development team members, I can say that Tanaka really seems to have a strong vision and direction, which his team members are anxious to follow. He also has amicable ties with the community. Many players affectionately refer to him as "Tanaka P" (P = Prodcuer) , and when opening VanaFest in Japan, he playfully joined the audience to parody a popular Japanese comedy show. Whever questioned about fan festivals for the players, Tanaka always seems excited about getting the next event off the ground. If there were room for improvement, perhaps connecting better with foreign audiences would really help players to identify with him better and improve their morale in regards to the game.
Also, we must not forget Nobuaki Komoto, as he will be the Lead Director for Final Fantasy XIV. Most players remember him for his role directing the Chains of Promathia expansion. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the story line and thought the challenges helped to make your victories all the more memorable. Still, I know Chains of Promathia was a little hit-and-miss with players overall. Perhaps the most important aspect of that expansion to transfer over would be the sense of accomplishment one got from advancing through the missions. Opening Tavnasia, taking down the Mammets, defeating the big bomb, conquering the airship, opening Sea... there were just so many points that made you and your teammates feel like you really triumphed over a worthy challenge.
#2 情熱：Passion - Another popular choice, passion for game development was an aspect that those in the industry felt was important for creating a quality game. Perhaps this is why so many movie-based games are such stinkers. The unique enthusiasm one feels in trying to make their own personal brainchild a smashing success is an intense driving force behind good games. As one game planner puts it, "In the end, it's the passion of the developers that determines if a game will turn out good." Final Fantasy XIV certainly has a lot of passion coming for the players' side of things, with every iteration of "FFXIV" and "Eorzea" snapped up for fan-sites within weeks of the announcement. But what about the developers? Looking back of Final Fantasy XI, one can see there has been a lot of passion there. Updates still occur on a regular basis, three new mini-expansions will be released this year, more conventions are planned for the players and content continues to shift towards a more friendly play-style. Overall, the developers truly seem committed to seeing this game through until the end. Even Tanaka has expressed his hope to make it "at least to 11 years" as per the name.
Some say that the love for Final Fantasy XI is starting to die down, as evidenced by Version Updates spreading further apart, and add-ons replacing full expansions. However, looking at it another way, it could be that the developers just refuse to quit, and are willing to try new ways to keep the game active and fresh. The latest expansion, Wings of the Goddess, is not even complete yet, so it might be early for a whole new expansion. Despite this, we have three new add-ons coming over the course of just one year. Also, speaking of Wings of the Goddess, the expansion seems to defy the age of the game with how much detail is put into new graphics and motions for the cut scenes. There seems to be no lack of ethusiasm amongst the FFXI Team towards improving and reinventing the 7-year-old game.
#3 時間：Time - Time is about being patient and taking all the necessary steps to make a solid, finished product. As Famitsu writes, developers have to avoid succumbing to the "demon of complacency" and do a thorough job. A game director also states, "Using your time efficiently will also ensure a higher quality product." Square Enix seems to be quite concerned with product quality as of late. Dragon Quest IX, the release of which is practically a national holiday in Japan, was delayed for months to iron out certain bugs and issues. Will this kind of concern for the customer extend to Final Fantasy XIV? Unfortunately, many players have been experiencing problems with the customer service of Final Fantasy XI for some time now. Even as I write this, there are numerous complaints of the infamous "RMT Pwner" auto-ban system running amok and banning accounts of legitimate players, confusing their gardening activities with malicious RMT-related actions. To be fair, we still are not sure of what exactly the issue is at this point. Unfortunately, this could be an example of where Square Enix tends to take too much time. Fan sites and gaming news sites often have to speculate for days and weeks before an official steps in to alleviate the situation.
On the programming side of things, I have faith in Square Enix and their ability to create a solid, working game. However, since we are dealing with an international MMO here, the quality of customer interaction and the ability to solve non-gameplay related issues may be even more important than simply squashing random bugs and errors in code. Will Square Enix take the time and resources necessary to more actively engage their players? This one may be up in the air for now.
What do you think? From your experiences in Final Fantasy XI, and what we know of Final Fantasy XIV so far, do you believe the elements are there to make a successful game? What other elements could contribute to help make this upcoming MMO an enjoyable one?
Discuss your thoughts on the ZAM forums!