We're in Hamburg, Germany, and producer Naoki Yoshida is presenting us with the studio's plans for the PS4 version of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and what they want to achieve with the game in the future. The good news is there's lots of positives for those of you who are planning on picking up the PS4 version of the game when it's released in April.
Let's start with first impressions. The graphics on the PS4 version are roughly equal to those you would see on PC pushed to max settings, and it runs at a smooth and stable 60 frames per second. One of the issues that really pulled the PS3 version down, was the limited amount of players that could be on the screen at once. In the PS4 version, however, we are promised that it will be able to show us hundreds of players simultaneously without problems.
Other pleasing news for PS4 owners is that the game will have full support for mouse and keyboard, so you're free to connect your favourite gaming keyboard (and mouse) and play like you would on a PC. This can have its advantages when you want to write and chat with other players. Otherwise, I can confirm that playing with the controller offers the smoothest and most comfortable experience, and they've added a few extras to the mix via the DualShock 4. The touch pad on the controller can be used for simple point-and-click actions, and it's helpful when you need to use multiple skills, navigating through menus or browsing text.
You also have the option to edit and customise your UI, just as you can on the PC version. Yoshida was very clear that there would be no restrictions on the different platforms. Everyone should have equal opportunities, whether they are playing on console or PC, and based on what I saw and tried, he's right. The experience is as complete as it can get on both PS4 and PC.
The best news news for PS4 players, perhaps, is that they don't need to have a PS Plus membership in order to play online. All you need to do is pay the monthly subscription fee for the game, which costs the same across all platforms. If you happen to have bought the game on PS3, you'll get an offer to upgrade to PS4 version for free; an attractive offer for those who bought the game and don't want to buy it again. If you've purchased the Collector's Edition of the game for the PS3 or PC, you will also get the new in-game items included with the Collector's Edition for PS4. Money saved is money earned.
PS Vita is also getting some love along via the PS4 version, because now you can play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn with Remote Play. I didn't take long with the PS Vita before it became clear that this was going to be a seamless, silky smooth experience. The controls on the handheld are not yet fully optimised, but if they manage to polish it by the time the game is launched, then do not dismiss the idea of lying on the couch and playing on the Vita.
Yoshida also revealed some rather interesting news about the future of the rebuilt MMORPG. For a start, he states that the game would always be the latest Final Fantasy game. Even after several years. This is something they plan on achieving through regular updates that add, what Yoshida called, "an abundance of content" to keep the story up-to-date and interesting. And when the time comes, they'll be giving the graphics an update as well. One of their goals is to have the "best graphics of any MMORPG". A very ambitious goal whichever way you look at it.
After the presentation was done we were invited to a half-hour interview with Yoshida, here we got the opportunity to ask him more detailed questions about the launch. Yoshida was also very relaxed and it seemed like he really enjoyed himself, giving long and detailed answers to the questions we asked him.
One of the first questions we asked was whether or not there were any plans for a launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on Xbox One, considering how similar the consoles are when it comes to development... Yoshida just smiled and replied, somewhat sarcastically, "If you ask me about what is most likely; a launch for Xbox One or Mac. I would say Mac." Then we got a more serious answer. He said that Microsoft's policy with Xbox LIVE was the main reason behind their decision to not release the game for Xbox One. However, should Microsoft decide to change the offending policy, he would be happy to release the game. He is, after all, an avid Xbox gamer, he said before leaning back.
Yoshida also had high expectations that more players would switch over to the PS4 version, especially gamers who play on the PS3. Largely due to the huge visual difference between the two versions, but also because Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is released in the middle of the transition period between PS3 and PS4. In the future he envisions that most players will play on either the PS4 or PC.
We also had to ask how long they're planning on supporting the PS3. It was clearly stated in the presentation that Square Enix would update the game frequently, and this also would include visual updates. PS3 is already struggling with the game, so how long can the old console hold on before they pull the plug?
Yoshida admitted that the PS3 was not the optimal version of the game, and that the visual difference creates a large separation between the two versions. Nevertheless, the PS3 version will be supported as long as it is possible, but at some point they will have to pull the plug. Yoshida assured me, however, that the PS3 version would be supported until at least the first expansion pack is released. What happens after that is all up to the players.
The servers were also a topic that came up. We here in Europe have not been so lucky with the server location. Players from both the U.S. and Europe both share servers, and these are located in Montreal, Canada. This has created some problems for us players in Europe, having frequent experiences of lag and high latency, something I personally can confirm after having struggled with it. The funny thing is that I actually get a better connection if I log in on the Japanese servers. So then the question is; will they move the servers to Europe when the PS4 version is launched in order to solve this problem and give EU gamers a better experience?
Yoshida answered that he was aware of the problems, and that it's a rather complicated situation. It turns out that many European players do not experience any problems with their respective connections, while others struggle a lot. Therefore, they're unsure whether this may have something to do with the server location, or if there is a problem with the ISPs. Should the situation worsen with the PS4 version, then they will look at the possibility of moving the servers over to Europe. That said, for whatever reason, I think it's strange not having the European servers in Europe. I cross my fingers for a positive solution.
One of the most interesting facts abouth Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn - from a marketing perspective - is that the game requires a monthly subscription in order for you to play. In recent years we have seen a number of new MMORPGs released, and those that have tried to charge players with a subscription fee have seen their user-base virtually disappear after the first free month has passed. Other, successful MMORPGs focus on free-to-play and micro-transactions as a means of monetisation.
Nevertheless, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn managed to keep its players, and experience the very opposite. More and more are buying the game and pay to play it every day, and it continues to grow even four months after launch. What could the reason be? Why are players willing to pay upfront for this game and not for others?
Yoshida was very considerate about this question, answering that much of the reason that players are willing to pay is because they have managed to create security. Peace of mind for the future. He believes that players do not pay for what they get now, but for what they'll get in the future. He pointed out that they are always updating and posting information about future changes in the game, all in order to give players a glimpse of what they will get, and pointed out that this makes players able to see a future in the game. I myself am an avid Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn player, and I can really agree with this. I would not have played, or paid, for this game unless I saw a future in it.
This reassurance for the future, Yoshida said, is something that they have managed to create by showing players how dedicated they are to the game. They've already showed us that they were willing to remake the game from scratch. They have a strong vision for the future of the MMO, with their assertion that it will always being the latest FF game. They have shown us that this is a service that is going to endure, instead of just disappearing after a short while. The genre is constantly changing, and therefore it is important to offer the players something stable and secure. Uncertainty over the future is what destroys most other MMOs, he said.
Yoshida also offered a very interesting statement about the payment model. Square Enix are working on plans to release the game in both China and Russia, and he said that in Russia the subscription fee model never works. Square Enix will therefore try to find an alternative solution for the Russian market. What kind of solution this would be, he could not say anything about, but it does raise a few questions.
Is it fair that, in certain parts of the world, some must pay for a service while others may get exactly the same service for free? We're potentially talking about the exact same product. How can they introduce a free-to-play or microtransaction model without making others feel left out?
Nothing is for certain, of course. We can only speculate on what Square Enix has in mind for the Russian and Chinese markets, but it is still a topic that's worth discussion.
After all the questions and answers, I'm left with a positive feeling for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, both for the launch of the PS4 version and for the game's future. It's good to see that Square Enix feels so confident about the game, and that Yoshida is so happy with it. The game has sold exceptionally well, and Yoshida proudly told us that at the time of writing, they have 1.8 million active players, and that this number is only increasing. These are well deserved numbers in my opinion.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is an MMO I'm going to stick with for a long time. If you own a PS4, then the launch in April is a golden opportunity for you to start playing, and if you already own the game on PS3, then make sure to upgrade when you get the chance. For those of us who play on PC? Well, we may not get a free update to the PS4 version, but then again, we are already playing the best version of the game *cough*.