In a fascinating interview regarding the history of Final Fantasy 11, Final Fantasy 14 director Naoki Yoshida (aka “Yoshi-P”) talks about his personal and professional history with the first Final Fantasy MMO and reveals a few of the clever ways he’s helped keep the game alive.
For those who don’t know, Final Fantasy 11 was first released in 2002. The game was very well-received at that time, but it never quite reached the mainstream popularity heights of MMOs like World of Warcraft and Everquest. While Final Fantasy 11 was eventually “replaced” with a new Final Fantasy MMO (Final Fantasy 14), FF 11 enjoys a loyal following of fans who still play the MMO to this day. In fact, in 2012, Square Enix announced that Final Fantasy 11 had become the most profitable Final Fantasy game ever.
Still, it can be expensive to maintain and update an MMO game, even when it’s an MMO as respected and successful as Final Fantasy 11. Fortunately, Naoki Yoshida has found a few ways to help keep the game alive and fiscally viable.
See, in his capacity as head of Creative Business Unit III at Square Enix, Yoshida oversees the division responsible for Final Fantasy 11‘s development and upkeep. While Yoshida says he keeps his input on the creative direction of Final Fantasy 11 to a minimum, he is partially responsible for the game’s finances. So far as that goes, Yoshida admits that it can be challenging to keep the game running for its loyal fanbase.
“When it comes to MMORPGs, spending money on advertising and PR has the effect of retaining more players, but this is a difficult concept for someone who hasn’t been exposed to the online game business,” Yoshida says. “It’s often said that money shouldn’t be spent without an explicit plan for profit, but the opposite is true when managing a monthly subscription MMORPG, where player retention is the ‘profit.’ On the other hand, the hard part about the MMORPG business is that doing nothing leads to a decline in player retention, which means decreased revenue.”
Actually, one of Yoshida’s biggest suggestions for improving the Final Fantasy 11 experience involved the importance of making returning fans feel like they never left.
“Another discussion we had was what we could do for returning players looking to rejoin the community after a long absence,” Yoshida says. “FFXI was released during the golden age of MMORPGs, and there are many who consider FFXI as a place where they can ‘come home to.’ However, I guessed that players would come back to FFXI all alone and end up logging off without reuniting with anyone, so I requested a system to help players reconnect with others.”
Still, even efforts like that can only achieve so much. It may be beloved by many, but Final Fantasy 11 is still a line item on the Square Enix budget report. It often takes creative solutions to keep the game’s cost/profit ratio where it needs to be. Thankfully, Yoshida has found some truly clever ways to disguise and minimize the game’s costs.
“In regard to profitable operations, hiring server engineers and other staff to work exclusively on FFXI around-the-clock the whole year round would increase its expenses,” Yoshida says. “So in Creative Business Unit III, engineering fees are expensed under FFXIV, while the FFXI team can submit proposals for tasks that require engineers. Once a proposal has been reviewed and approved, we have the programmers estimate the costs and then have a discussion with them. If we asked them to focus on FFXI for three months, for example, then FFXI would only incur costs for those three months. This allows us to keep costs down and is one of the perks of overseeing two MMORPGs in our division.”
It’s rare to hear about the director of one incredibly successful MMO using that game’s profits to help keep another MMO going, but that’s honestly just the kind of person Yoshida seems to be. He’s a huge MMO fan who respects the history of the genre, the Final Fantasy franchise, and gaming in general. While he may confess to keeping his creative input on Final Fantasy 11 to a minimum, it’s not surprising that he’s still trying to find ways to ensure the game lives on for as long as possible.