A while back, I arranged a Q&A about gathering in Final Fantasy XIV. Square Enix told me I should send over a list of questions and they’d get them translated, have the dev team answer them, and then send them back. My initial plan was to use this Q&A to write a piece about gathering, its place in Final Fantasy XIV and the gameplay loop, and the how and why of the changes made over the last few years. Then I got the questions back and it turned out that Naoki Yoshida, director, had answered them, making him the subject of our Final Fantasy XIV interview on gathering.
And, hey, when Yoshi-P himself deigns to answer my questions, I’m probably just going to post those answers rather than use the occasional quote in service of another article. This is basically a roundabout way of explaining why some of these questions are a bit generic, and believe me, I’d have asked different things had I known who was answering — but either way, I’m perfectly happy with the answers I got. So, if you want to learn about the reasoning behind certain changes and decisions to gathering, or just hear about how Yoshi-P used to play Ultima Online? Read on.
Changes from A Realm Reborn
Note: all answers are translated from Japanese, and some minor edits have been made for clarity and style.
PC Invasion: First — your name, job title, and what that means in terms of what you do on Final Fantasy XIV!
Naoki Yoshida: I am Naoki Yoshida, Producer & Director of Final Fantasy XIV. Specifically, I make all decisions related to the project, undertake the base planning of the game design as well as participating in promotions and so on. So, everything really. While serving as the head of project, I handle the odd stuff too *laughs*.
PCI: This is a very broad question, but: gathering has changed a lot since Final Fantasy XIV first launched, with 1.0 even having full mini-games for gathering. Even now we’re getting major changes to things, like a lot of the rarity actions being removed or heavily reworked, and the collectable HUD change in patch 5.4. Can you outline some of the bigger changes and why they were made? For instance, were the mini-games too time-consuming for too little gain, or did they just not fit the A Realm Reborn revamp?
Yoshida-san: In order to give a detailed account of the changes [from 1.0 to A Realm Reborn], it would require a lot of space as I’d need to explain about the original and new specifications, alongside the intentions for those changes. Please allow me to focus on the intentions.
Yoshida-san: Firstly, partially because I wasn’t involved in the development of the original FFXIV, the game design differed greatly to what we have today. What the team were aiming for at that time was a “lifestyle reality” akin to Ultima Online. Crafting recipes were made up from an immense number of materials and to produce one sword it was actually first necessary to start from crafting the hilt. Even for the hilt itself, we’d need a dozen or so materials and the part would be produced after going through several processes.
So, that means the game was aiming for an experience wherein the adventurer is self-sufficient. As such, I can infer that the developers in charge were thinking something along the lines of “an element of fun is needed for the process of collecting materials itself.” Generally, not all players partake in gathering and crafting. But if these activities are rooted in the game’s foundations, they need to be fun… Putting aside whether the end product was actually fun or not, [the minigames were there] as a step for the gathering process itself.
However, when I took charge of A Realm Reborn, I made a major change to the game design wherein players could choose whether or not to participate in gathering and crafting. This meant that [the mini-games] didn’t fit well with the new direction. Immediately after the launch of A Realm Reborn we prepared more complex actions for crafting and gathering to provide a more engrossing experience for hardcore players but recently we reviewed the state of play and made minor changes so that players can more easily dive in to enjoy on a casual basis, enabling a more thorough gameplay experience. These are the intentions behind the changes. What’s more, I don’t view this as the end point and believe we should continue incorporating changes when necessary in line with the play styles of our community.
PCI: Gathering is a much more relaxed activity than much of the rest of the game. Was it a deliberate decision to provide a more casual activity for winding down?
Yoshida-san: Yes, my reply to the previous question is exactly relevant here. I had thought that many players would be more open to giving gathering a go if they could collect the materials without spending too much time and use those for crafting.
FFXIV – Gathering more information
PCI: Did you always plan to have gathering and crafting jobs get their own set gameplay experiences like Ishgard Restoration or Ocean Fishing, or is that something that came about as the expansions progressed?
Yoshida-san: Games in the MMORPG genre ‘evolve’ and ‘grow.’ From the time of A Realm Reborn I told the development team that my ultimate goal was to have our players able to live in the world of Final Fantasy XIV, but this is impossible to achieve from the start. Most players desire exciting battle content and we need to prepare duties for small parties as well as large groups with varying degrees of difficulty. At the same time, there is the dynamic for gatherers and crafters to continue investing their effort and time in their respective activities. Despite that, we’d naturally need to place heavier importance on the battle content at the early stages of the game and prioritize the expansion of the game’s world.
Broadly speaking, we achieved this goal around the launch of 4.0 and our next step was to undertake development of non-battle content in parallel as a means of ensuring our hugely diverse players can enjoy various forms of play in the expanded world. It goes without saying that if we could prepare this content at the game’s launch, we wouldn’t need to go through such stages, but practically that is impossible. In this respect, I’d be happy that you think of it not that the game changed with time but rather that the current state of the game is the result of step-by-step development that our team, together with the players, have accomplished heading toward this ultimate goal.
PCI: Crafting still has a good amount of random chance and risk of failure and item loss, while gathering tends to be much simpler (even when taking collectables into account). How do the two compare and build upon each other, in terms of the experience they offer players?
Yoshida-san: I’d like the gathering and primary production in the game to remain as simple as possible. The reason why is that it is primary production which serves as the base of supply and demand. If these activities are a pain and take too much time for players, those who partake would drop and the amount of materials produced would not increase. In that case, there is no doubt the economy would head towards its downfall. As such, we strive for simplifications to encourage participation from more players but there’s no fun in merely pressing a button… With gathering, we’re always thinking about striking that perfect balance.
Crafters simply obtain completed items by successfully undertaking their production. There’s a feeling of accomplishment in this act of assembling something with one’s own hands and seeing it through to the end. And a sense of tension is indispensable for elevating that feeling of accomplishment, to the extent that the player may lose items if mistakes are made. That’s the difference to gathering.
Progressing to the next level
PCI: Are you surprised that some players “main” gathering and crafting jobs, and how do you feel about this? I know a few people who pretty much advanced through the main story just to get access to new areas for gathering…
Yoshida-san: No, it wasn’t surprising. I’ve been an online gamer since back in the day and also participated as a beta tester for Ultima Online. I did everything from hunting demons in Hythloth dungeon to mining for ores in the mountains and molding those to produce ingots, which I then used for making armor. Through that I learned about people who found value in employing crafting and gathering as a main means of fueling the economy. With FFXIV falling under the banner of the Final Fantasy series, there is no way we could possibly remove battles from the game’s foundation, but it feels so great to hear that even then there are so many players whose “main” jobs are crafting and gathering. I’m also very proud that we’ve been able to provide such systems.
PCI: To my eyes, one of the bigger problems with gathering is that (with a few exceptions) most of what you can get isn’t particularly valuable or useful until you reach higher levels. Do you disagree? If not, are there any plans to address this?
Yoshida-san: No, I agree. Since we’re always increasing the game’s level cap, this is something we can’t avoid and I believe has come about due to these circumstances. To this end, I make adjustments [on rewarded EXP and items] so that players can use gathered items themselves to level up their crafter jobs simultaneously and, more than anything, level up faster. Accordingly, I plan on adjusting more moving forward in order to ensure players can race through to the higher levels as much as possible. There is also the market principle behind these adjustments. If there is excessive supply of items that any low level players can easily gather, it would eventually surpass demand and their prices in the market would fall.
The final (Fantasy) questions
PCI: Where do you see the place of gathering in Final Fantasy XIV‘s gameplay loop, as well as its place in the game as a whole?
Yoshida-san: When thinking about Final Fantasy XIV‘s economic cycle, I don’t consider gathering alone. We create a demand for items related to battle, housing and the in-game lifestyle, with crafting and gathering existing as the supply for those items. We intentionally didn’t design FFXIV so that players would need crafted items to play the battle content, because if we did it would naturally lead on to a situation where crafting and gathering also become required for players. Rather, the game has been designed so that players who’d like to clear content faster and gain better gear will use crafted goods. On the other hand, in the lifestyle aspects we placed greater weight on items only obtainable through crafting so that crafters can profit from their efforts. This design means that effectively the gatherers who collect the raw materials also have an important role to play.
PCI: How do you see gathering evolving as things go on? (And no, I’m not asking for secret details on the Island Sanctuary and how it might tie into that…)
Yoshida-san: Island Sanctuary is actually being developed for players who don’t gather and craft for fun. I think by having a go at Island Sanctuary they may see the flip side and develop an interest in producing items alongside gathering. Gathering will continue to evolve but at any rate I do not want to complicate it. In this regard, I’d like to present players with a choice of activities for them to become more engaged in their pursuit of gear, etc., by easily and efficiently gathering various materials. Please keep an eye out for future developments!
Huge thanks to Naoki Yoshida for answering these questions.
We’ll likely hear some more about those future developments soon, especially the Island Sanctuary. The Final Fantasy XIV Digital Fan Festival 2021 takes place this weekend, with a keynote speech, a Live Letter from the Producer, and a Q&A. And knowing Yoshida-san, he’ll probably let a few things slip aside from the expected reveals like the second Endwalker job and full trailer.