#89: “Stormblood Development Tales – Part 2”
Published in 2017/08/03 issue
FFXIV’s second expansion pack, Stormblood, was released on June 20, 2017. This week’s column continues the secret development stories.
Planning for Stormblood began in Fall 2015. We started with the opening video production by the Visual Works department, because that would take the longest amount of time. But at the same time, we also needed to decide on the gist of our PR, which is what I’ll be talking about this time.
– Long-Term Development Planning –
Since FFXIV is a monthly subscription MMORPG, we have to implement continuous updates and do long-term PR and expansion planning on top of that. In particular, when we made Heavensward, it was our first expansion release, so the development team, management team, and I couldn’t really get a grasp on pacing. We ended up rushing too much the entire time (not in a bad way) and everyone was exhausted when it finally released.
If you compare MMORPG management to track-and-field, it’s a long-distance race, not a sprint. It’s almost a marathon. Naturally, we still need to do some short-term sprinting before patch and expansion releases, but that’s also only possible if we pace ourselves right.
For Heavensward, in order to restore our troubled pace back to a long-term one, we abandoned the 3.5-month major patch cycle that we’d maintained until then and had both the development and management teams take a vacation. I know we inconvenienced the players who were waiting for the patch, but in order for us to keep running, we really needed that break.
During this break, I rearranged the teams that’d become disarrayed, selected new leaders, revised the management, and checked over the Heavensward development issues with some of the managers. I prepared so that the development team could work as efficiently as possible when they came back. And because of what happened, for the next expansion, Stormblood, we started planning out the game design earlier than we did for Heavensward.
– Long-Term Marketing/PR Planning –
The other important aspect of developing and releasing an expansion pack is the long-term marketing and PR planning. This is because as a subscription game, FFXIV has a very different philosophy on “paying rate” than F2P games. A F2P game doesn’t have a fixed payment structure, so if 80% of its players don’t pay, their business is based on the remaining 20%. But for FFXIV, which has a fixed monthly cost, the paying rate is assumed to be 100%. Even if someone starts playing via the free trial, they’ll have to pay the monthly subscription at some point if they want to keep playing. So, for the player, “playing the game” itself is a high barrier to cross.
When we have that high barrier of entry, it means that in between expansion releases, we need to keep showing that the game is popular, modern, and that it’s always a good time to get into it. This requires long-term planning for both marketing and PR. If the development team is a pro long-distance runner, then marketing and PR are like the sponsors that support it. An MMORPG can only grow when both of these sides are matched up.
– Development and PR Plans Centered Around Fan Fest –
Judging from our monthly subscription model and the issues that happened with Heavensward, there were two clear propositions:
- Decide on the gist of Stormblood’s game design as early as possible and plan development long-term
- Use a long-term perspective for the marketing/PR leading up to Stormblood
Normally, the director would think about #1 and the producer would think about #2. Luckily(?), FFXIV’s producer and director are one and the same person, so I pondered over various things based on the following points:
- The next expansion will be announced at Fan Festival (Producer PoV)
- The players are expecting the next expansion to be Ala Mhigo (Director PoV)
- If we say, “The next expansion is Ala Mhigo!”, they’ll just think “We already knew that!” (Producer PoV)
- We’ll need to develop the new types of content efficiently (Director PoV)
- We’ll need to try changing things in order for FFXIV to keep expanding post-Stormblood release (Director PoV)
If we were going to keep making expansions, then we needed something that would surprise the players, and I thought we would be able to realize that through expanding the world. However, working on continued updates and an expansion pack in tandem comes with cost constraints. Since we weren’t creating a game from scratch, we needed an effective theme to work with…
Then, I remembered something that Banri Oda, one of our scenario leads, mentioned at our weekly scenario meeting:
“Yoshida-san, I think it’s almost time to start working on the next expansion. Please keep in mind that Ala Mhigo is a rather small region.”
Heavensward was essentially fixed around Ishgard, and the players only traveled to the regions around there. The players were also expecting the next expansion to take place in Ala Mhigo, so there wouldn’t be anything surprising about going there. And more importantly, the stage was too small to be sold as an expansion pack. In that case…
- We’ll announce the next expansion, Stormblood, at Fan Festival
- The trailer shown will be Ala Mhigo, as expected
- However, the player will actually be adventuring to two regions, including the Eastern land of Hingashi
- Stormblood’s content will gradually be revealed throughout the three Fan Fests
- At the final Fan Fest, the opening movie will suddenly reveal the Eastern region
That was the plan I came up with as Producer & Director. It was actually similar to what happened when we remade FFXIV into ARR. If you replaced the Patch 3.X series with 1.0 and 4.0 with ARR, you could feel the same sentiment behind it.
…Up until there, the planning went extremely well, and now that Stormblood has been released, that plan feels like it was a big contributor to our success. However, when we put it in motion, various “tragic” incidents came up at the same time. I’ll talk about those next time.