“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI). Our eleventh guest is Yoshitada Iwata, who has been closely involved in Ragnarok Online (RO), an MMORPG which, like FFXI, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022. In this fourth and final part of the conversation, Producer Matsui and Mr. Iwata shared their visions for RO and FFXI beyond the games' 20th anniversaries.
General Manager of Operations, Development Division, GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc. He joined the company as a GM in 2002, when RO was launched in Japan. In addition to leading the GM team, he was also involved in the development and operations of other MMORPGs, such as Emil Chronicle Online and Grandia Online. Since 2010, he has been overseeing numerous titles within the company as Executive General Manager.
Ragnarok Online is an online game for PC developed by Korean game development company Gravity, available all over the world since August 2002 (since December 2002 in Japan). Cutely deformed 2-dimensional characters and the 3-dimensional world are the game features.
Pros and cons of "classic servers"
While it's important for MMORPGs to adapt their services to current trends, another approach might be to not change anything. For instance, what are your thoughts on the "classic servers*" that certain MMORPGs have implemented?* "Classic servers" refer to a style of service adopted by some long-running MMORPGs, in which the game environment of an older version of the MMORPG is reproduced on a special server.
I personally have a negative view of classic servers. First of all, assuming we could even recreate the game environment as it was at a certain point in time, there'd still be complaints and issues unique to that version of the game. We’d also have to hold events of some kind and maintenance would be required down the road. MMORPGs aren't so simple that you can just neglect those aspects and stay in business. Furthermore, considering these tasks come with their own costs, it's hard to imagine that classic servers will provide enough benefit to be considered worthwhile.
There are some examples of MMORPGs with classic servers that have proven to be popular, such as World of Warcraft* (WoW). What would you say is the difference between those titles and FFXI?* World of Warcraft is an MMORPG developed and operated by Blizzard Entertainment since 2004. Their World of Warcraft Classic servers allow players to enjoy the game as it was in 2006.
In the case of WoW, the game system often undergoes fundamental changes when they release a new expansion. With MMORPGs like that, I can see why some people would long for the old specifications and how that might be a business opportunity. However, there are almost no major changes to that extent in FFXI.
When considering possible classic servers for FFXI, the Level 75 “era” comes to mind...
The Level 75 “era” certainly lasted a long time, but I'd have my doubts about how many people would actually want to go back to those days. The level cap was increased to 99 because there was a demand for more character progression to begin with. It's understandable that some people feel nostalgic for the past, but from my point of view as a producer, I'd like to devote FFXI's limited resources to enhancing the satisfaction level of the content we have today.
What do you think, Mr. Iwata?
Looking back at an older version of the game and nostalgically remembering, "Oh yeah, that's how things were back then," is relatable. If classic servers could be executed as a limited-time event, I think it'd be a lot of fun. But if you were to ask if I’d want to keep playing in the old environment, I wouldn’t be so sure. The operations team updates the game with the best of intentions, so I think the version with those updates applied would be more refined and easier to play.
The ongoing version of a game would certainly outshine an older version in terms of playability.
Playability is something we’ve always focused on since RO launched 20 years ago. Those who have been with RO for a long time will surely feel the nostalgia and fun they had back in the day by playing the current game, even if we don’t offer classic servers. That’s the kind of in-game world that we take pride in maintaining.
Producer Matsui succeeds his great predecessor
Changing the subject, Mr. Hiromichi Tanaka, who was the first producer of FFXI, is now an Executive Officer at GungHo.
That’s right. When I first heard about it, I thought, "Wow, that's a big deal!" (laughs) Mr. Tanaka is my esteemed senior in the industry, but thanks to my current role in GungHo’s Development Division, I have the opportunity to talk to him freely whenever I have something on my mind.
Back when Square (now Square Enix) was making games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Mr. Tanaka was like a teacher or father figure in our company. He also has a mischievous sense of humor, despite how he appears. (laughs)
How did you see Mr. Tanaka when he was your boss?
He was the kind of boss who kept a careful eye on his subordinates' work. I feared him in the sense that if I ever cut corners in my work, he of all people would probably notice. In that sort of way, I was always had a certain level of nervousness when working with him. The other impression I have of him is that he is a truly reliable person. You’d be hard-pressed to find a boss who has your back the way he does.
Mr. Matsui, you succeeded your current position as FFXI Producer from Mr. Tanaka. Now that you're in his shoes, have you noticed any burdens that you weren't aware Mr. Tanaka had when he was producer?
Oh, there’s just so much I notice all the time! It’s especially noticeable when I have to negotiate with our company’s upper management. I always think, "This would be much easier if only Mr. Tanaka were here!” I couldn’t do half of what Mr. Tanaka handled back then, but I hope one day I’ll be able to handle at least 10%.
RO and FFXI from here on out
Seeing as RO and FFXI will be continuing their services even after their 20th anniversaries, what do you have in mind for them from here on out?
My wish is for RO to remain beloved by customers for a long time. In order to achieve that, we'll need to pinpoint what current RO players are looking for, rather than pay attention to competing MMORPG titles. Although I’m no longer part of the RO operations team, I’d like to keep contributing in any way I can.
How about you, Mr. Matsui?
For me, the first priority that comes to mind is maintaining FFXI for our customers who currently play or will be coming back in the future. To that end, I'd like for us to make various improvements to the extent that we can. Additionally, I hope the creative minds who discovered the fun of MMORPGs through FFXI will continue to do their best. In this way, I hope that the passion we've put into FFXI will be carried on into the future.
That sounds marvelous. I hope by the time I become an old man, RO will have grown into a nationally beloved series like FF, because if I could tell my grandchildren, “Did you know I was one of the first to work on that?” that’d be great. (laughs)
Are you planning any major campaigns for the 20th anniversary of RO?
I'd love to do something. Being allowed to partake in this splendid interview for FFXI’s 20th anniversary has been inspirational. (laughs)
To wrap things up, do you have any words for our players?
Earlier, Mr. Matsui mentioned he’d like to see a surge of creative minds who learned about MMORPGs through FFXI, but we already have many members like that over at GungHo, and I believe FFXI is a healthy rival in the sense that we’re both working to liven up the MMORPG industry. Living up to the "Online" part of our name, our company too, has an exceptional passion for online games, so I'd be glad if you could also keep an eye out for RO as well as FFXI.