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“The Death and Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV” – A Summary of Noclip’s Documentary: Part Three

August 4th, 2017 by Raptorchan

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The Death and Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV is a three-part video series created and released by Noclip, a Youtube channel that specializes in video game documentaries.

Noclip had set out on a mission: To hear Final Fantasy XIV’s tragic tale, but rather from outside sources, they wanted the story told by Square Enix themselves. The series of videos were emotional and at times, even shocking. It showcased just how much the company struggled with the failed launch, and how one man turned the entire company upside down to save them.

While this is a summary of the documentary, we highly recommend that readers watch the videos and provide them with views. Much love, work and dedication went into these videos and it’s important to support the creators.

Part Three: “The New World”


 

After Dalamud struck, and the servers were shut down, Yoshida was finally able to unite the once split development team, bringing the developers who worked on the 1.0 series into A Realm Reborn. They listened to player feedback, studied other MMOs and took the working elements from the 1.0 series to create 2.0. They had no plans to keep this quiet from the public either, so on the eve before the game’s launch Yoshida and a few of the development team went to a press event in Shibuya. One that NoClip’s host Danny O’Dwyer notes as being particularly special.

Yoshida recalls the moment. He had taken the train to Shibuya that morning to arrive early on site for rehearsals, and he was standing near the train doors lost in thought about how they were only hours away from release. To his left, he saw a college student, and the student had moved closer to him and in a small voice said: “Mr. Yoshida, I really want to congratulate you on the release. I am a player.”

At the event that evening, the few development team members who were able to attend were all standing on stage. Each member discussed their backgrounds, how they got there, and all the events that had led up to that night. When the microphone was handed to Yoshida, he began to tell his story, and midway, remembered what had happened on the train that morning. He explains that he had to pause when he had thought about all they had gone through, and that he was at a loss for words. He had to turn away. The crowd at the event began to cheer him on “hang in there!”

“As I mentioned in a previous interview,” he explains. “An MMO’s launch is not the end of the development. It’s more of a beginning of a long marathon. And there’s no time for being absorbed in an emotional recollection. But just being there, pausing, and then the audience cheering me on. It just got to me, and so I got a little teary-eyed.”

NoClip’s video goes on to say: Almost three years after its original launch, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was released on PC and Playstation 3 on August 27th 2013.

Behind the scenes, Square Enix had suffered a disastrous 2013 fiscal year resulting in a loss of around 10 billion yen. ($105 million)

They could not afford another failure.

As we all know today, failure was not the case.

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Reviews had come in from various websites, forums and videos, showcasing the new and improved Final Fantasy XIV. People were impressed, some even stunned, by the fact that Square Enix had managed to save the game from its disastrous beginnings and turn it into something exciting, fun and enjoyable. Koji Fox goes on to say that, while A Realm Reborn was fun and felt like a good game compared to the original version of FFXIV, there was still that lingering fear that players would not pick up the game a second time, regardless of how good it was. But the fact that the servers were so congested during the first few days of release that they had to stop sales, that the reviews coming in were praising the game, saying that the game and franchise had been saved. It was a great experience for the development team to finally see their hard work pay off.

Yoshida explains that he and the rest of his team were shocked that no one could log onto the servers during the first few days of launch that Yoshida hadn’t had time to even think about the game reviews. The development team hadn’t anticipated a massive player base at launch, and were quickly overwhelmed by the number of people trying to log onto the server. Yoshida states that they spent an entire month and a half addressing the issue, and it had gotten to the point where they had to stop all sales and shipments of the game.

The development team would then continue to follow their 1.0 scheduling method for the 2.0 series, and release major patches every two to three months. This would gradually add new  content such as raids, new dungeons and armor sets, 72-man PVP and more. And like the 1.0 series, the development team was not only working on releasing content updates for A Realm Reborn, but also building an updated version of the game at the same time. It was their first expansion pack: Heavensward.

In 2014, around October or September, Yoshida recalls that some of the dev teams had come up to him and said that he had mentioned things would get a little easier after ARR released.

“I said no, for an MMO that’s really as big a scale as what we’re trying to accomplish, the first initial sprint is going to be all the way up to the release of the first expansion. So sorry!”

They had been lucky to have a second chance, explains Koji Fox, and super lucky to have that second chance succeed. He says that, not having another let-down was on everyone’s minds and they didn’t want to take the success of A Realm Reborn, or their player base, for granted. The failed launch of 1.0 had instilled within all of the developers’ minds to always strive to be better, they can’t let their guard down and allow history to repeat itself. Though a few developers have moved onto different projects, Koji is certain that pieces from 1.0, A Realm Reborn and the expansions will stay with them and he hopes they will be able to use that experience in their future projects.

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Heavensward was another success for the team, praised by both reviewers and the community, it helped push their subscriber base to over five million. According to Yoshida, they definitely do see a fluctuation of active players, but believes they are slowly rising in numbers as well. When designing Final Fantasy XIV, he never wanted to make playing every single day a requirement. Yoshida believes it’s okay for players to come back for major updates and then slow down to spend time with family or to play other games. He then goes on to say that, moving forward, MMOs have to follow this kind of design or else they won’t survive.

Expansions are similar to patches, but on a greater scale, with lots of players returning to the game to enjoy the all new Final Fantasy content together. So for Yoshida, he believes this method of keeping a steady increase of new players, all the while allowing people to come and go, is ideal. He would also love to see more people join in and play, and says the development will continue to take on new challenges and push themselves further for their community.

Their next expansion, Stormblood, arrived two years after Heavensward and introduced a number of changes; including a new battle system, storylines, zones and a raised level cap. This new expansion would also mark the end of Final Fantasy XIV’s lifespan on the Playstation 3, but within the intervening years, the team has since launched the game on the Playstation 4.

Danny O’Dwyer explains that Final Fantasy XIV had been a financial disaster for Square Enix. Subscriptions had been turned off for most of the 1.0 series and the company had poured significant funds and trust into the team charged with the game’s rebirth. It’s clear that the importance of this franchise is mirrored by its importance to its player base and development team. This is a group of people who have dedicated their lives to ensure this game would come back from the dead.

Danny had asked Yoshida about his social life, and Yoshida said he doesn’t really remember anything outside of work and that he only needs about four hours of sleep. He speaks fondly of the players who stuck with them in the 1.0 series – those Warriors of Light who were saved at the end of 1.0. His respect for the fans of this game, and all Final Fantasy games, is very clear to see.

Final Fantasy XIV is completely different than when it first began; it’s a bustling, bright world filled with new stories and adventures. A world that has since grown with the addition of Stormblood. However the old world, the stories of 1.0, the fall of Dalamud and the people who survived it will forever live on, with the players and developers who had been there bound together by the experience.

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Koji Fox explains that most games have to develop their own myth and legend, but for Final Fantasy XIV, it actually happened and players actually lived it. And with each expansion released and new players ever joining, the 1.0 series becomes more and more a legend, with only a few select players having witnessed the event with their own eyes. He then recalls having seen the opening cutscene for A Realm Reborn for the first time, and describes it as almost being a visual representation of what he and the other developers had gone through. He also had checked the forums the day the ARR trailer was released to the public to find players had felt the same way as the development team. They had stuck and worked together to create the game that we know today.

“I mean it sounds so cliche – “Oh we couldn’t have done it without your support.” – Literally, we could not have done it.”

Toshio Murouchi’s parting words were that the development team had dreamed of one day hosting a big fan event, but never could have imagined being at a fan event, in Germany, with thousands of attendees. He is glad that they had manage to create the Fan Festivals, and that a dream of theirs had come true.

Hiroshi Minagawa explains his take-away from the experience was that he didn’t feel really tied down to the company or that he belonged to them. Granted, who you work with is what makes the job, and for this project, he got to work with a lot of people he wanted to work with. Overall, upon being brought onto the development team, he says he was looking forward to it, and while it was a challenge fixing 1.0, it was also a lot of fun.

Yoshida himself wanted to emphasize that the failure of Final Fantasy XIV’s original launch was not any one person’s fault, or any one developer, but rather it was a company wide mistake. He says that, all the bad elements of Square Enix had been revealed in full with the launch of the original FFXIV. But as of right now, they were able to fix and successfully relaunch Final Fantasy 14, and shortly after, they were able to release Final Fantasy 15. Through that, he feels the company is changing little by little, but has a lot more room to grow and change even more. Even if people were beginning to feel comfortable again, Yoshida does not think Square Enix should stop changing.

“Some people expect a lot from games that are being created by Square Enix.” Yoshida says. “People from all over the world. I was like that too. But some people believe Square Enix has not reached its full potential. I know there are people who believe Square Enix can do even better. And so in order to do that, we have to change and take on even greater challenges.”

Yoshida says that he is fine if players and the company want him to continue to work on Final Fantasy 14. He also says he’d be fine going to another project of that’s what people wanted, or even work on both a new project and 14. But at the very least, he belongs to Square Enix as part of the staff, and what the company and players expect from him is very important. That is not to say he does not have his own ideas for his own original games, and he feels it would be okay to leave the company to start his own company and pursue those ideas. But as long as people have need of him, he will do his best.

“That being said… I feel like now is a good time to start thinking about if somebody can take on even just the producer side or the director’s side of the job…?”

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“The tale of the death and rebirth of Final Fantasy 14 Online is a cautionary tale in corporate hubris.” Says Danny O’Dwyer. “It’s a story about the power of humility, respect and unity. A fun story for those of us who knew nothing about it, cherished times for those who were fortunate enough to be there when it all happened, and a wonderful reminder of something we come across so often in life: The idea that reality can often be even more amazing than the fantasy.”

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