Wisdom of Nym: The Final Fantasy XIV philosophy and why it matters

    
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A shameful spread of riches.

It’s been a couple weeks since this one happened, and for that I somewhat apologize because there were more pressing issues to cover in the world of Final Fantasy XIV. But now we have something of a lull, and that means it’s a chance to look at a quote from a recent interview with Naoki Yoshida in Famitsu, and the odds are good that you already know the quote I’m talking about. It’s a great quote, and not just because it shows once again that Yoshida is a great producer and director.

See, there’s an idea that I’ve been toying around with a lot without quite getting it into a working state that’s ready for a column of its own. Put simply, the philosophy behind development matters even when the execution doesn’t live up to that philosophy because it says something about who is supposed to be playing the game and what you want to happen within it. And in many ways, I feel that this quote – even though it’s an unofficial translation and might miss some nuance – shines a spotlight on exactly that for FFXIV.

The quote in question, when talking about Savage balance, was as follows:

“We no longer create savage content for the top of the top players. Compared to other MMOs, a lot of people in FFXIV play the savage raids and if we don’t get those players to clear, there will be even less players who challenge the next raid tier. We don’t even set a proper estimate of ‘This raid will be cleared by so and so in so and so hours’ anymore and instead, we prioritize “this difficult is what most players will be able to enjoy together.”

(That was a direct transcription of a fan translation, for the record; any weirdness in grammar is preserved from the source.)

If you needed a Rosetta Stone to understand what the game is aiming for, you could do a lot worse than this quote right here because this alone makes it clear that the team feels the reward for the best players beating this content quickly is… beating this content quickly. Full stop. People who struggle longer but still want to beat it should be there, and taking time to clear it is just as valid.

This guy.

For one thing, this makes it clear what the team values in terms of player activity. The only thing being discussed is the fact that the bosses in Eden (Savage) have lower health, but that doesn’t remove the need to follow mechanics, just the amount of damage you need to output. What matters far more than your rotation and output is positioning, reactions, and recovery. DPS races are less relevant.

But even more than that, it highlights the idea that the core of making this game fun is letting people play. Letting more people enjoy the content means that everyone enjoys the game more.

One of the things that I’ve long crowed about for FFXIV is how open the game’s progress is. If you want to primarily play the high-end content in the game and focus on that for progression? That’s fine; the game lets you. If you want to also challenge Savage progression at a lower intensity? Also fine. If you like Extreme fights, that’s in there. PvP? Also a perfectly valid approach to progression by its lonesome. If you just want to do older content and craft, you can do that.

It’s an embrace of flexibility. Rather than try to funnel everyone into doing just one activity to the exclusion of all others, the game makes an effort to offer you a variety of different options and let you choose which ones are the most fun to you. But this adds in a layer that even I hadn’t really given proper credit, that even the more difficult content is designed with want as the primary gate for participating.

The difficulty curve is still there, but it’s not meant to be particularly higher than prior curves. There’s no need to make the new dungeon much harder than prior dungeons or the new Extreme fight significantly harder than the old ones. Some will wind up being easier or harder, but the goal is not an ever-climbing peak but a series of peaks.

Right now, the hardest thing in the game is the Titan fight in Eden (Savage). When patch 5.2 arrives, the last Savage fight for that tier will be harder… insofar as it’ll have higher gear ceilings. But it won’t be targeted at weeding out the weaker players, making sure that those who just aren’t good enough are stuck behind at the prior tier of progression. It’ll be targeted at giving a satisfying challenge that’s different from the last fight.

This might seem so obvious that it’s not worth remarking on, and you’d be right except for the fact that this isn’t actually standard across the MMORPG genre. In most MMOs that have endgame progression, the expectation is that a three-raid expansion has Raid 1 as the easy one, Raid 2 as the harder one, and Raid 3 as the hardest. You have to fight to get through the next set even if you could clear the prior one just fine.

It’s such a simple change to say that there’s no churn expected from progression. And yet it speaks to that core philosophical difference. The game is more fun when people get to play together.

Your participation is not exceptional.

Last week, my colleagues and I were discussing exploits for boss fights in work chat. It struck me that I didn’t know quite how the FFXIV team would handle some of those exploits… but then it also struck me that the game is built to make sure those aren’t a thing in the first place. Lockouts aren’t based upon the fights but upon the loot you receive. Boss drops are salable items used for crafting vanity items or are contained in a treasure chest; even if you could force a boss to respawn, you couldn’t really get more out of it that you couldn’t get from re-entering the fight properly.

Where do rare crafting recipes come from? Crafting. You might need materials that require tomestones to make high-end equipment, but tomestones are universal currency. It’s all set up so that a lot of obvious exploits are solved before they ever become issues, requiring no effort to fix them because they couldn’t be problems.

There is, of course, an “optimal” meta for Savage. But even that is pretty conditional because the balance philosophy is set up so that every combination is viable, not just the “best” one. The “best” options are specifically the ones that get the boss down as quickly as possible with the least risk, but it’s not about being viable – because the more players can enjoy the game by playing their favorite jobs, the more fun everything is.

It’s such a small thing. But it shows in every step of the game that the point is to provide a fun challenge rather than an ever-rising one. Even the hardest content in the game in the Ultimate fights are meant to feel doable. Elitism is discouraged; you’re not elite, you’re just invested in a certain method of play. You can take down Savage, but the developers’ goal is that more players can take that on.

That’s not to say that you can eliminate this stuff with design philosophy, of course; it’s just helpful. And it serves as a great reminder of the philosophy behind the game and why it keeps doing so well, even amidst some mistakes.

Feedback, as always, can be mailed to eliot@massivelyop.com or left below in the comments. Next week, let’s talk about relic weapons and what we might be getting for that content in the wake of absolutely no announcements yet.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.

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Sean Walsh

Great read Eliot! I’ve long felt that the near insta-queues regardless of role for the Normal Raid Roulette or specific max level 8 man raids, is a clear sign that the FFXIV is doing something right. To me, this first shows that this content is super fun and tons of people want to engage with it. But it’s a great indication of the overall balance between jobs+roles. There is no shortage of tanks/healers for this content, even if you see that elsewhere, and I always get a mix of jobs in my PUGs. With limited play time, I don’t aspire to Savage, but I still get to enjoy content that is challenging for me, while also being insanely fun.

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Sorenthaz

There are pros/cons and strengths/weaknesses to every design philosophy in MMOs, and I guess with FFXIV I’ve seen both ends of it. Yes it’s great that the content is open and you have variety of choice/etc., but at the same time it does suck in a way because unless you aspire to do Savage there’s not much reason to keep grinding after you get what you want.

Now if you want more than one job geared out with the most up-to-date stuff or whatever, sure yeah that’ll eat up plenty of time. For me though I was content with just filling out the Eden gear on my RDM and then getting the Phantasmagoria weapon that requires doing Eden Titan for 7 weeks. I can worry about Phantasm farming when 5.2 comes out and the Yorha raid gives upgrade tokens for that gear.

But it’s like beyond setting personal goals and seeing the raid stories by doing them once, there’s not really much reason to do anything at endgame. Yet I guess that’s also part of the philosophy behind FFXIV, because I’m 95% sure I read somewhere in an interview at some point with Yoshi-P that he pretty much said something along the lines of, “it’s okay if you take a break for a few months, we didn’t design the system to punish players who step away for awhile”. That was nice to read honestly because I have found myself burning out regularly and basically putting XIV on the backburner until new stuff comes out.

In Retail WoW you see the very opposite where they’ve designed the loot systems/etc. to where even they hope to even enslave top end Mythic raiders to endlessly grind out the current tier so they can try and get the best gear they can with no guarantee that they’ll be able to fully get it before the next patch. They try to make everyone play to the patch and then make that patch “unbeatable” with their Titanforge gear/etc. They’ll also add in time-limited exclusive stuff, i.e. the Heroic raid mounts for the final raid tier (prompting movements like #FriendshipMoose in WoD), to entice people into playing content they normally wouldn’t, or to come back for the end of the expansion and stick around long enough to get that stuff.

XIV only really does that with events, and those are all optional side activities that reward out-of-game cosmetics that not everyone will be keen on in the first place (i.e. the GARO gear or the Yokai Watch stuff).

I guess that’s part of why I liked Eureka last expansion was because it had that sort of progression style that the rest of endgame lacked. Sadly I didn’t finish it in time because now Eureka seems to pretty much be dead and the XIV team needs to figure out how to let folks still get those relic weapons.

Anyway, this long-winded spiel is mostly meant to say that there are definitely downsides to XIV’s philosophy, but at the same time it’s all just a matter of personal taste and what folks want to see for endgame progression.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

For me, I will never be able to get into the WoW formula of endgame. I can’t bother spending time on gear that is valid for a few months at a time, and content that is made specifically with planned obsolescence. No matter how polished or good the story is I just can’t see myself wasting time on short-lived goals.

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kalech

I think I’ll take FFXIV’s system over WoW’s anyday too. WoWs current system of forced grinds and RNG made my whole guild switch to Classic over retail, because the system was just so unrewarding and unfun. Not just that gear and content didnt last, but atm you can grind endlessly for a reward that, thanks to rng, isnt even an upgrade and you basically wasted all your work.

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Nathan Aldana

Yep. herll, its why im finally getting azround to doing alliance bfa with a guild I just joined to talk to and just clearing it at my own pace with absolutyelt zero intents on doing endgame because BFA is a lot more fun if I skip the grind altogether.

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Schmidt.Capela

The likely intent of Blizzard when designing that end-game loot with RNG stats was to make the grind effectively infinite; no matter how well geared you are there’s always a potential upgrade you could chase after, even if the chance to get a new upgrade becomes vanishingly smaller with each upgrade you get.

They forget that for a game with infinite grind to work it needs to be something that is enjoyable regardless of the reward, something where even if a player walks away from it empty-handed he or she won’t think of the time spent as wasted. Otherwise, as upgrades become rarer, players get the feeling they are wasting an increasingly larger percentage of their gaming time, which generates an increasing amount of frustration.