#68: “Two Sides of a Paper-Thin Coin – Part 2”
Published in 2016/09/29 issue
As of August 27, 2016, it’s been a whole three years since the re-release of FFXIV. It’s all thanks to the players, fans, media, and the development and management teams working day and night that we were able to achieve this much success over the past three years of competing at the forefront of the MMORPG industry. Thank you all!
Now then, since it’s our third anniversary, I decided to use last time’s column and this one to discuss MMORPG management principles rather than FFXIV itself.
Last time, I touched on the “tedium” that results from stability and regulation. Is it really a bad thing for an online game to enter a fixed patch cycle with standardized content updates? Personally, my answer to that is no. However, that doesn’t mean it’s right to maintain that fixed path.
When it comes to online games—MMORPGs in particular—the underlying game design becomes a part of many players’ livelihoods, so there is a lot of stress created if it is changed. When a game launch fails, it’s because most people couldn’t get into the fundamental game design. So, the game is often revamped by changing both the business model and the game design. This is what happened with ARR too (although we didn’t change the business model).
Players that stick with a game for a long time will grow bored because it becomes a routine to them. However, if you get rid of the boredom by making big changes, they’ll suddenly feel uneasy instead. Let me use FFXIV 1.0 as an example, albeit an extreme one.
On July 22, 2011, FFXIV entered Patch 1.18. This patch made overarching changes to the battle system, including changing the maximum party size from 15 down to 8. Up until then, players would mindlessly wail on monsters in groups of up to 15 and the conjurers doing the healing would simply spam their strongest healing spell at the time, Cure III.
Prior to this patch, Cure III only cost 36 MP. Even though it was their strongest healing spell, they could spam it as much as they wanted and their MP would never run dry. In Dragon Quest terms, it’d be like being able to spam Omniheal forever without running out of MP. As part of the battle system changes made in Patch 1.18, we decided to give Cure, Cure II, and Cure III different MP costs so that you would have to choose which one to use depending on the situation. After all, it was far too abnormal to be able to spam Cure III without thinking. Thus, Cure III was changed to cost 135 MP.
Since it’s a game, battles should have a strategic element to them. Battles aren’t fun if you can win by spamming one button, so people will get bored faster—that’s what I thought when I implemented this change. However, I made one miscalculation: since we waited to make this change until the battle system had been fully revamped, players had already spent a very long time spamming Cure III. It’d already been 10 months since launch.
Immediately, there was a thread on the official forums asking us to change the MP costs back. People even called it a bug or a balancing mistake. This wasn’t just a vocal minority—the posts were receiving close to 100 likes. I was shocked. We’d finally gotten the game to a normal state of balance, so why was this happening…?
It wasn’t the players’ fault. Out of all living things on Earth, human beings are the most capable of adapting to their environment. They can get used to any situation, no matter how warped or bad. The problem was that we, the development team, maintained this poor situation for too long. This is an extreme case, but at any rate, the players at the time had spent 10 months spamming Cure III, and that was their “norm.” That was how I learned that no matter how ideal the change is, even if the players understand the reasoning behind it, they’ll still reflexively reject it.
This 1.0 example came about when we tried to change something abnormal into something normal. It’s a bit different from—and actually the reverse of—ARR’s current “stability” issue. Back then, even though we fixed something that wasn’t right, the residents of Eorzea rejected the change. What this means is that right now, even though there are people who’ve gotten tired of the game, making sweeping changes to ARR’s incredibly stable game design is guaranteed to result in even greater backlash than what we saw in 1.0—no matter how revolutionary and appealing they are. (SWG Shock is an example of this happening in the MMO industry.)
“No one wanted change! It was better before! What happened to your original vision!?”
I’m a game designer, and I absolutely love creating games (this is my only redeeming trait). I want to deliver content that’s even more fun than what we have now, and I want to challenge new game design ideas. After all, developers also experience tedium. (← candid statement)
However, Eorzea has now been visited by over 6 million interested players from our world. No matter how much I might possibly think “I want to abolish the token system and revamp everything”, I can’t ruin the stable lifestyles of so many people. My thoughts of creating something completely new are only my personal desires. I know that there are also people who are looking forward to something like that, but most important is that I’m responsible for the management of this MMORPG, and I have the duty to protect this world’s stability.
So, with ARR reaching its third anniversary, I’ve been mulling over how to preserve “stability” while creating content that’ll impress those who want change. The original concept for the game—a FF theme park that anyone can enjoy—will not change. However, I want to have attractions that are more exciting and a bit bigger in scale. Perhaps even something so cutting-edge that not everyone can keep up with it.
FFXIV is already running toward its next objective, but maintaining stability is a must in order to reach it. After everyone has enjoyed that to its fullest, we can challenge innovation again. It’s a tough goal to achieve and there’s a high risk of failure along the way, but when I compare it to making ARR… you get what I mean.
 An example of the difficulty of MMORPG management being laid bare. There is only a paper-thin difference between stability and tedium, reform and collapse. Feel free to Google it if you’re interested! (Editor’s note: I recommend searching for “Star Wars Galaxies Combat Upgrade”)
 Currently at the end of 2017, we have surpassed 10 million accounts (including free trials). Thank you for all of your support!