#74: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”
Published in 2016/12/22 issue
The other day, we announced a major update to our “Party Finder” feature in Letter from the Producer LIVE #33. FFXIV’s Party Finder is a system where players can put up recruitment listings for specific content, and other players on the same world can see them and join parties.
FFXIV also has a Duty Finder (DF), so the Party Finder is usually used for content that isn’t in the DF or for free company recruitment.
In this update, players will be able to see listings from any world in their datacenter and form cross-world parties. Whenever you have an MMORPG split into several worlds, there’ll always end up being a population disparity. If you can only recruit from within your world, then the higher-population worlds naturally have the advantage. Now, by implementing cross-world recruitment, we can resolve this issue to a certain degree.
Also, when you’re trying to do old content that people don’t typically queue for, it’s difficult to tell with DF how many people are interested in doing the same content. You run into a problem where you don’t know how long you should wait for. Up until now, you could only recruit players from your own world, but after this update, you’ll be able to reach your entire datacenter. This will make it easier to get the people you need, even for content that few people want to do. It’s truly the first step towards worldless play.
When FFXIV was originally being remade, I asked the server engineers to design the server structure with “worldless” in mind. Now, the word itself is easy to say, but the actual structuring and specifications are a different story. We didn’t have enough time to create a system like Dragon Quest X where you could freely move between worlds—it was simply impossible at the time. So, we set up a managing server called an info server which would track all player movements, and, after estimating the load, used a shared database between all worlds in a given datacenter—because if we saved character data to a single world, then it wouldn’t be able to cross the fence later on. This was our worldless-conscious design.
As for why it took us three years to get around to this, the main reason is because we had to work on it alongside updates and maintaining stable operations. For online games, if your servers are unstable and crash all the time, requiring constant maintenance downtime, then your customers start losing interest. In addition to providing periodic content updates, you also have to prioritize improving user-friendliness. Now, after working on the cross-world Party Finder bit by bit between patches, it finally looks like we’ll be able to release it. We’ve made the Warriors of Light wait quite a long time…
The typical reason why MMORPGs use separate worlds is for ease and speed of development. It’s easier than worldless design by a wide margin. If some sort of data inconsistency crops up, the damage is contained to a single world; plus, it’s possible to conduct maintenance on individual worlds. Also, the monthly running costs for servers powerful enough to host a worldless MMORPG are nothing to scoff at.
Our new cross-world Party Finder will enable party chat upon joining the party, meaning that our chat server has also become worldless. It’s theoretically possible for free company and linkshell chat to become worldless as well, but worldless member management is not possible for either of those yet. Right now, we’re focusing on making friend lists and blacklists worldless, since those affect party matching, but we’d like to make cross-world free companies and linkshells possible one day, too. (I think the engineers are going to yell at me for saying that so casually…)
What remains are free movement between worlds and shared market boards, but the former requires worldless free company and linkshell member management, and the latter is managed by individual worlds, so it would require a major overhaul. Free companies are also tied to housing, so we have to be extra cautious about expanding data structures and it will increase server load. In the end, the players’ playstyles improve the most if we persevere through each task in the proper order.
The logical datacenter barriers are difficult to cross. FFXIV players can possess an extraordinarily high number of items compared to other MMORPGs, and it’s probably near-impossible to manage them with a single datacenter. FFXIV’s physical datacenter in Japan is currently split into three logical datacenters, and I think a realistic first goal would be to merge them into two. When that happens, I think we’ll have to examine the population distribution across all worlds and rearrange them accordingly.
When new players start the game, they often ask which world they should start on. Soon, the day will come when you’ll be able to say, “Everyone can play together regardless of world, so just pick one with a name that you like!”
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The efforts we put into this kind of back-end engineering will never stand out as much as new content, but I believe that our game and service are the product of days spent like this. Thank you so much to all of the involved staff.
 The FFXIV management team’s live stream held at regular intervals. Thanks to all of your support, we’ve reached #33. It’s often considered part of FFXIV’s content.
 FFXI and FFXIV have several servers that the games are played on, and we call them “worlds.” There are other games that simply call them “servers.” The pioneer of MMORPGs, Ultima Online, called them “shards.”
 A physical datacenter is a huge building that houses servers, while a logical datacenter is a specific group of those servers. FFXIV’s Japan datacenter is split into three logical datacenters.
 As of the end of 2017, with the release of Stormblood, the player count has increased significantly, and with it, the communication load. Forcing a merge will only cause things to break down from overload issues, so we’ve shelved the idea of merging logical datacenters.