#78: “That’s the Default!”
Published in 2017/02/23 issue
FFXIV has a major update patch once every 3.5 months. Aside from the new content, a ton of effort also goes into the user interface (UI) updates. We support so many different customizations that it makes me wonder if it might be the most in the history of video games.
However, the seeds of doubt have started to sprout. Don’t we have too many options? Isn’t there too big a difference in mastery between new and long-time players? For example, when ARR first launched in August 2013, you couldn’t freely arrange your party list. Now, not only can you change the role sort order, but you can even customize the order of the jobs within each role.
Even if the long-time players know about this option, new players probably won’t, and they likely wouldn’t know why it would be useful, either. The patch notes are as long as manuals, too, so they aren’t going to be reading through past ones.
Also, there was something that nagged at me at Fan Festival 2016 in Tokyo. Since I have to appear on stage a lot at Fan Fest, I don’t get to spend much time talking to players on the floor. Still, I did manage to get out there, and as I was talking to the players, I ran into someone who said, “I finally got a hold of you, Yoshi-P—there’s something I absolutely have to ask for!”
I asked what it was, and they said, “Can you make it so that I can only see the debuffs that I applied myself?” We’ve been working on the debuff display over the course of several updates dating back to 2014, so there’s quite a few settings available. The one unfortunate sticking point is that due to packet size limitations, we can only show up to 60 debuffs on a single monster before network delays will crop up. I asked them if they were referring to the 60-debuff limit, but that wasn’t the case. Even though they used their precious Fan Fest time to talk to me, the only answer I could give was, “It’s already in the settings.” Sorry…
I began to think that maybe this wasn’t something people should have to research on their own—maybe we needed to revisit our default settings. I learned the English word “default” back when I studied programming, and for some reason I thought it sounded cool, so I would say it all the time in daily life, outside of work. I’d use the word to mean “how something should be” or “how you would expect it to be.” Like, “Isn’t that the default?” or “That’s default!” Writing this is really embarrassing…
Anyway, no matter what convenient features we add, it’s a waste of development time if no one uses them. In order to get people to use them, we have to make them aware that they exist.
We just released Patch 3.5, and there, our UI team expanded the log data that is kept for each player to include things like what config settings they’re running, their display resolution, etc. The idea is to analyze the numbers to guide their future update plans.
We only have two weeks of data so far, but—and perhaps it was to be expected—the overwhelming majority of players are only using the default settings. The cross-hotbar customization rate stands out as exceptionally high, but for all of the other UI and layout settings, most people seem to have gotten used to the default settings. In other words, no matter what incredibly useful custom settings we add, players won’t realize how useful they are unless they’re enabled from the start.
However, if we turn all of the custom settings on by default, we run into other problems: “There’s too much on screen and I don’t know what’s happening”, “It was better when they were turned off, please change it back”, etc. It’s already risky to change default values in an ongoing service to begin with. If there’s a bug in the default values, many of the players who (think they) are playing comfortably might suddenly be completely inconvenienced.
Another startling thing that came up in the development team’s discussions was someone saying, “I just started doing Frontline because of the Garo collaboration… It’s fun, but it doesn’t seem like the Twin Adders win much.” I asked, “Why not queue as a freelancer?” and their reaction was, “What? You can do that?” This feature was heavily requested by all regions, but it was previously not implemented because of concerns about rigged matches. It was finally implemented in Patch 3.5, but as you can see, even development team members weren’t necessarily aware of it. (They’re only human, after all.)
This feature can be enabled in the queue settings. In other words, it’s set to off by default. However, if we set it to on, then people can fight on other teams even without that knowledge, and if they find it strange, then they can look up the patch notes. In the worst case, even if they don’t look it up, it doesn’t cause any problems. Basically, this a good example of a feature where we shouldn’t be keeping the previous default setting and asking people to enable it themselves.
While there were several suggestions to publish a print or web manual specifically about UI customization, there’s a strong passive attitude of “just look things up when you need them.” To me, it really feels as though it’s about time to revise the default settings.
“Defaults are crucial, and that should be the default way of thinking.” Putting it in words makes it sound oddly comical, but at any rate, FFXIV’s wheels will continue to turn…
 The role that a job plays in a party. In FFXIV, there are three: tank, healer, and DPS.
 Patch notes record the changes that were made in an update. FFXIV’s major patches typically have patch notes around 120,000 characters long. We also have Patch Note Reading live streams (a first for the MMORPG industry).
 PvP content between 3 teams of up to 24 players each. Up until now, you had to join the team of the Grand Company your character was part of: Twin Adders, Maelstrom, or Immortal Flames. In Patch 3.5, we added a feature to queue as a freelancer unaffiliated with any specific Grand Company.
 Patch 3.5 marked the start of a collaboration with Garo, a late-night tokusatsu drama series. The collaboration equipment can be purchased with Wolf Marks, which are obtained from PvP content.