For our third guest, we invited Yutaka Kawamata, the producer of NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION Online (NAO). In this third part, he shared his thoughts on the producer role and his memories over the eighteen years NAO has been in service so far.
Developer of NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION Online, an MMORPG based on the world of the NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION* series. In addition to his role as Director, he has assumed the position of Producer as of June 2019.* NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION is a series of historical simulation games set in the Sengoku period of Japan, the first of which was released in March 1983. The series has continued to evolve since then, and the upcoming 16th title in the series, NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION: Shinsei, is scheduled to release this winter.
NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION Online is an ongoing popular online RPG based around the premise of living in the world of the Sengoku period. Players may serve under prestigious clans such as Oda, Uesugi, Takeda, and Date, and fight their way through large-scale battles of up to a thousand players in the name of uniting the country under one rule.
The unique role of Producer
In 2019, Mr. Kawamata assumed the role of producer in addition to his role as director. Please tell us about how that came to be.
I’d say that when I was a director, I was more focused on matters relating to development and content, though some of it probably had to do with the difference in roles between director and producer. Looking back, I think the role of director allowed for more egocentric decisions.
On the other hand, being the producer means promoting the NAO project as a whole, and it’s a role where I not only relay various information to players but also work with them to create the world of NAO. I felt it’d be easier to make more decisions if I took over as both director and producer, so I proposed the idea to the company and received approval.
That’s how I came to assume both roles as of the expansion pack, NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION Online ~Tenrou no Shou~.
I see, so you chose to assume both roles to allow for more flexibility in development.
Because of that, when I heard that Mr. Matsui made various improvements after becoming producer, I understood where he was coming from. I figured the development team probably had a lot of aspects that they wanted to tweak but didn’t fall within the producer’s planned course of action.
On top of that, improving an existing framework doesn’t really contribute to sales or grab people’s attention. A rework of some small aspect of the game isn’t something we can showcase with pride, and even if it’s something players requested, getting around to it can often be difficult since the decision isn’t made by the development team alone.
For example, some changes worth considering are comparable to like, moving a garbage can to a slightly different location to make life easier. If it’s only slightly different, then can we leave it as it is? Or will the change make players happy, even if it’s a small fix?
In that sense, becoming the producer has made a significant difference since I can make those decisions on my own. With that said, however, there are still cases where we promise a fix, but the plan keeps getting pushed back as we run into problems during coordination…
I can also relate to what you said about getting a better look at the bigger picture. In the development workplace, we tend to talk about creating new content rather than making improvements.
Outside of the producer role, perhaps it’s hard to see things from an overall perspective, such as how adding new content doesn’t mean anything if the intended audience dwindles, or how even small quality-of-life changes can be worthwhile. Or rather, it’s not that such concepts are foreign, but even if there are minor improvements you’d like to make, the workplace ends up prioritizing new content development. So I’m glad that as a producer, I can help reinforce the idea that those kinds of improvements are important too.
As for the changes we made after I became producer, there were also other factors in play. I had stepped away from FFXI for a while, so there wasn’t a development environment prepared for me when I returned. Even if there was one ready for me, it still took a while to remember everything, so I used that opportunity to step back and suggest various improvements from an outside perspective.
Trusts and traveling between home points are among the aspects that were revised after Mr. Matsui became producer, which are major amenities in present-day FFXI.
For those in the development workplace, it can be awkward to make suggestions that completely overturn an old standard. Being in a higher position where I can vocalize those suggestions on their behalf or say, “Sure,” when a developer wants to do something, has made a significant difference.
The world of an MMORPG is created by the players
Mr. Kawamata, what are your values as a game producer? We’d like to hear your thoughts on looking outward towards players, as well as looking inwards towards the development team.
I give a lot of thought to what I’d personally want to play and the intended player experience, which comes from my encounters during the NAO beta test.
On the final day of the beta test, we wanted to end things with a bang and launched a large-scale event to slay a horde of monsters that had infested one of the cities. We figured we might as well join in, so our staff members made themselves visible and fought alongside the players. When we did, everyone welcomed us enthusiastically and we had an opportunity to hear their feedback directly, and I realized again just how wonderful MMORPGs are.
As I remember it, there weren’t very many opportunities to hear feedback directly from players back then.
Stubbornly insisting “It’s my game, I’ll make what I want!” would only spurn players, and I came to realize that thinking about what sort of experience I’d enjoy and how to recreate that for the audience is extremely vital.
One thing that I like about online games is how they can be fixed after their release. Mistakes are bound to occur, and I believe it’s important that we thoroughly review and fix them, make revisions based on player feedback, and work together with players to create the world.
Were your experiences as a director influential in reaching this conclusion?
Without my experiences as a director, I may have leaned further towards business-related matters.
A producer ponders questions such as, “How can we give back to the players?” and “How can we use our budget in a way that players will enjoy?” so I’m glad my experiences as a director can guide me in deciding how we allocate our resources into those areas.
In your experiences as a director and a producer, are there any player trends that you found notable?
NAO has a PvP mechanic where those guilty of misdeeds in enemy nations are marked as fugitives, and their names turn red, indicating that they can be attacked by other players. Now obviously, there’s no way for you to become a fugitive if you don’t misbehave.
One day, however, players logged on after maintenance to find that everyone had red names, regardless of whether they were an enemy or ally. It was pretty much like a free-for-all battle royale, and both our staff members and players were utterly bewildered.
For example, under normal circumstances, if you saw another player selling items, you can select and interact with them to start a transaction. However, during this particular incident, trying to initiate a transaction would be considered an attack instead, and both players would be forced into combat.
My goodness, that sounds like quite the troublesome incident...
While some players were enjoying the situation and duking it out with each other, newer players had no clue what was happening and were in a state of panic. But then some higher-level players called out, “Come to us if you’re new to the game!” and escorted them to a safe location, which I was deeply moved to see.
Though from the players’ point of view, I’m sure they would’ve said, “It’s no time to get emotional, hurry up and fix the situation!” (laughs wryly)
The NAO community certainly sounds very passionate.
Development teams have very little influence in MMORPGs; I believe it’s players who shape the world. As such, I personally think a lot of the things we implemented based on player requests often hit the mark, though we certainly had a few that ended up not feeling quite right.
NAO is a world that was devised, inhabited, and shaped by a great many players who outnumber our staff members many times over. We’ve only been able to keep the game going because our players were there for us, and I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart. On the flipside, it’s impossible to listen to every single request from our players, so the role of producer is one that gets a lot of hate. (laughs wryly)
But being the target of hate is also a role that I embrace as well.
Do you have anything you can tell us about what lies ahead in NAO’s future?
There’s a lot we want to do for NAO’s 20th anniversary, and we also have something huge in store. But for now, we’re keeping an eye on FFXI to see how they’ll be celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Hope you don’t mind us celebrating first!