Q&A with Naoki Yoshida on Final Fantasy, MMO Markets and Economies
You may remember that last year I was able to meet and interview Naoki Yoshida, speaking about Final Fantasy XIV, what was the driving factor in the success of the game, how to develop a successful live-service title and the future of Final Fantasy XIV. I was recently offered the chance to send off a few questions regarding the formation and function of markets and economies in an MMO, particularly that of Final Fantasy XIV.
Having played a large number of MMO's, it's always interesting to see how an MMO can balance an economy as rampant inflation can occur, essentially cutting out the chance of any new players being able to afford things until much later on than would be normal. It's also interesting to see what an MMO economy is based on, the rules it follows and what is taken into consideration when sweeping changes are made. These are things I tried to touch upon in the seven questions I was able to send off to Naoki Yoshida.
With Final Fantasy XIV now in its tenth year and eight years since A Realm Reborn, I'm very interested in looking at a fundamental part of every MMO: The economy. The first question I have is, while making the game, what thoughts go into the making of an MMO economy?
Naoki Yoshida: For recent MMORPGs there is not only the subscription-based model that we had from back in the day but rather, microtransactions are becoming more of a mainstream model. Firstly, the design of the in-game economy will change depending on the difference in business model. Further than that, there is no unconditionally ‘correct’ economy system as the game design itself would differ whether the game is based around content consumption like WoW or FFXIV, or whether it is based around a ‘time to win’ approach.
In the case of a subscription-based game, there are not really many restrictions placed on the amount of items that can be obtained. On the other hand, in the case of a microtransaction model, games tend to place restrictions with real money on the capacity of players’ bags and items obtained. Of course, due to this the value attributed to the in-game items will greatly differ, and that will result in the difference of whether the main economy revolves around personal selling and trading or whether a focus is placed on an in-game market.
For FFXIV, we set the average amount of gil that can be obtained per day and, while maintaining inflation as much as we can, intentionally create the areas where gil is to be recouped with the system. Since we’ve designed it so that rewards from high-difficulty contents are more valuable in the game, we’ve limited the possibility for gil prices to soar for gear synthesised by Disciples of the Hand. But, we’ve incorporated intentional design decisions so that at the early stages of clearing raids, it is such gear synthesised by Disciples of the Hand that must be relied upon to deal out the most damage or provide the best protection. Consumables like medicines and meals equally serve an important role during those periods. If I elaborate any further, I’ll probably end up writing 10,000 words so I’ll leave it at this...
During the creation of the financial system of the game, do you look at other video games or any real-world examples, using them as references? Were any particular examples used in the creation of FFXIV's economy?
Naoki Yoshida: No, we don’t particularly refer to real-world examples. However, using our knowledge about what sort of currency systems are used in other games, we do make an effort to gauge how currency is transferred between players. Apart from that, most of it comes down to our experience as players and conducting numerical simulations. It goes without saying that we also need staff who are well-versed in such thought processes, design and simulations. One point though is that when we are preparing something like an auction system for the game, we do endeavour to study real-world auction sites and auction systems. That is because a well-trusted and long-lasting system offers high stability and functionality.
As with any currency, Gil has to have an intrinsic value. This can be judged by the set prices of items like potions, food, etc. How do you decide the prices of these items? As more money goes into the system through increased players and the natural trickle of gameplay, do you ever look at changing the value of these items?
Naoki Yoshida: We are constantly monitoring the data for the Eorzean economy. We have the total amount of gil provided to players from the system for a given day and the total amount of gil recouped by the system on the other hand. We also have thorough support mechanics in place such as visibility into the average amount of gil held by each player in a given level bracket and alerts for players who drastically increase the amount of gil in their possession over a short time span. In addition to containing inflation, these are useful for us in detecting so-called RMT vendors, dupe glitches on our servers and gil farming. In monitoring these factors, we try to contain disparities in pricing by adjusting the market trading value in gil for newly added items and the amount of gil recouped by the system, while leaving the prices of most items sold by NPCs unchanged (because they are set based on indicators that serve at the foundation).
To summarise, we will not adjust fixed prices unless there is a very major event that would warrant it. We did end up adjusting the pricing of several thousand items with the latest update in Patch 5.35 as the purchase price was deemed too low or the selling price too high for those, but this has been the first time since the launch of A Realm Reborn.
Along these lines, it's natural for even more money to enter the system. To prevent excessive inflation of prices, do you plan on creating further money-out systems like player housing? The added value is that these also act as goals for players to work towards.
Naoki Yoshida: It is true indeed that player housing is one area toward which greatly accumulated funds of gil can be spent. It doesn’t just stop at housing though. Items such as stylish gear with unique designs are also part of our mechanics. The main goal players would have in mind for raising funds are things such as collecting garden or house furnishings, or perhaps acquiring their favourite gear to dress up their character with. I also work towards generating gil myself for all the gear, materia, food and potions I need for tackling raids... (laughs)
For player to player trading, Final Fantasy XIV made a particularly large change from market wards to the market board. What was the drive behind this change?
Naoki Yoshida: The answer is simple. Market Wards were too much bother for players as they couldn’t immediately find the items they wanted. What players want to do is partake in adventures, not scouring the contents of a retainer’s bag to prepare for the adventure. A market system was not implemented with our server system on the original FFXIV but we ensured to prepare the specifications for this in good time as we set about production for A Realm Reborn, and we designed the servers so that they could withstand it. Time is very valuable for all our players. We acted because I’d rather players spend their time on adventuring than shopping. (smiles)
A convenient market system will increase sellers and, because of that, purchasers who make up the demand will also rise in turn. Convenience is of utmost importance. Amazon ftw!
In keeping with player-to-player trading, prices naturally fluctuate, but are prices ever managed by increasing or reducing the drop rates of items or materials?
Naoki Yoshida: Yes, as we monitor the gil like I previously mentioned, a remarkably high sales value for certain items would indicate to us that those items are not being made available enough. In times like this, we employ various forms of control such as increasing the item drop rate with hotfixes or reducing the number of materials required in recipes for crafting.
As a final question, have you seen any similarities or trends in-game that reflect something from the real world? If so, what was it and, if not, could you see this happening in the future?
Naoki Yoshida: Hmm, it is rather difficult to provide a concrete example... What I can say is that even when a person is playing in the game, their way of thinking is the same as in real life. Those who want their items as fast as possible will not mind paying a higher price to a certain degree, whereas others who aren’t satisfied unless they can find the best deal will only purchase after travelling across other Worlds to check the prices. These types of behaviour do not differ so greatly from the purchase mindset that consumers have in reality and I do not think we’ll see a trend toward any particular purchasing style moving forward either. In recent years we’ve even seen virtual ‘try it on’ functions appearing on real life e-commerce platforms, which had been available earlier in video games. Well, I can’t really think of much...