RPGFan: First off, does Wings of the Goddess do anything with the level cap?
Square Enix (SE): We're not thinking of probably ever raising the level cap again. We do have the merit point system in place so that people who get to 75 can still get the limit points and use those to customize their characters further, but there won't be any raise of the level cap.
RPGFan: So if you're not raising the level cap, are you adding any new jobs?
SE: Yes, there will be new Jobs. [Laughing] Yes, that means there will be more than one.
Official Xbox Magazine (OXM): How is your experience with the 360 and dealing with downloadable content via [The Xbox Live Marketplace]?
SE: At first, when we first did the developing for FFXI, it was being developed for Windows, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox. However, due to some specification issues and through talks with Microsoft, it ended up being that we couldn't work it out with Microsoft and so we canceled the developed for the original Xbox version. However, with the release of the [Xbox] 360, we went back into talks with Microsoft and we found a good middle ground and we came to a compromise and decided to take the Windows version we had and import it to the 360. Because it was the same type of environment with the DirectX technology, it was very easy to import the Windows version [to the Xbox 360].
As for the downloadable content, as you know, to have all of the versions running on the servers, we have the PlayOnline servers. This was [set up] before Xbox Live started, and so it's not quite as compatible with Xbox Live [as we could have hoped]. It's a different system, and we require players to go through that. That's something we had to come to an agreement with with Microsoft about, because they wanted us to use Xbox Live and we had to use PlayOnline. As for the downloadable content, because of that situation, we can't have downloadable content ready. But it's something that we're in talks with Microsoft about. Hopefully in the future we'll be able to offer the downloadable content through the Xbox Live Marketplace.
RPGFan: Final Fantasy XI is unique in its approach to storytelling, at least in regards to western MMOs. Do you plan to continue with the same sort of cutscenes in Wings of the Goddess, or go to more quest-oriented storytelling as you see in games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest II?
SE: With the new expansion, we're going to try to make it a little more quest-oriented, the story will be told more through quests. But there will still be the event scenes that FFXI is known for. Not a big step away, but a little step.
Play Magazine: How much content is divided between casual and hardcore content?
SE: The new expansion is pretty much aimed for the higher level players, the players that have been playing for a long time. There's probably 70% for the hardcore players, and 30% for the casual players.
OXM: How do you approach expansion packs, are these ideas that you've had previously, or ideas that have come about because of player input?
SE: As for getting feedback from the players, we're always doing that. A lot of that is shown in our version updates that are usually bi-monthly. We try to use those bi-monthly updates to give the players feedback on that. The expansion packs, while that feedback is also important, we've had a lot of ideas over the years and big ideas, ones that we can't achieve in the version updates and put those in the expansion packs.
RPGFan: A lot of western MMOs have started to focus a lot more on PvP, are there any plans to expand FFXI's PvP [beyond the current Conflict system] in Wings of the Goddess?
SE: Currently there are no solid plans on something new yet, but, again, it's still early. However, in the upcoming patches, maybe not Wings of the Goddess, we do have what's called The Pit, where players will be able to have monsters to fight, as well as the chocobo races. So it's maybe not fighting against each other, it's battling against other players using other things, in that sense, there will be some new things.
Play: How does census data affect the expansion pack content? Meaning, the game is heavily mage-based right now. How much of the expansion content encourages distribution among the other jobs?
SE: While we take the census data into consideration, we don't look at the census data and say, "the census says this, so we're going to make this type of game." We think, "Oh, yeah, there's this type of thing happening, so maybe we'll use that and change these things." You also have to remember that the census data we give the players is only the tip of the iceberg. There's all this other data that we don't display, and that's the type of data we use, as well as posts on forums and feedback to GMs. That's what we use developing expansion pack content.
OXM: A lot of people dropped out of Star Wars Galaxies [when the game had its NGE changes]. How do you guys feel about feedback on the user interface, and things like that? How do you make tweaks without losing users, and things like that?
SE: This is a very difficult thing, but it's not a closed community, it's not just like we're doing everything we want to do and not listening to the voices, that can be a real problem. We always have people listening to what [users] are saying. We also have the census data and the background data that we don't give out. We're always listening to the [users], and reading forums, and we gather that data and then we make our changes based on what we hear. So it's not like we're going to be doing something that's so crazy that the people aren't going to be ready for it. So things the users have been talking about for the past half year, we take that and try to implement it.
RPGFan: A lot of content in Chains of Promathia was capped at level 30, so it was available to a larger amount of players. [Since] Wings of the Goddess is for more hardcore players, does that mean that dungeons will not have a level cap?
SE: Probably there won't be any level capped areas. There might be something like Assault Missions from Aht Urghan, where you choose if you want to put the cap on. There will be things like that, but for [mandatory level caps], there won't be any.
Play: With each expansion pack, you've had sort of a singular event that's changed a lot of core gameplay. Like with Aht Urghan, a lot of the hardcore players moved from Jeuno to the new areas as their home base. What do you see as the big change over the next expansion?
SE: Probably the biggest thing, is because the game takes place in the past, rather than the present, it's that players will be able to move to the past. However, as in moving to just one area, as in from Jueno to Aht Urghan, [we're] going to try to make it balanced, where there'll be a lot of different places that we hope players will move to and make that their home base.
RPGFan: Now for the one question that everyone gets when they develop MMOs now. How has the success of World of Warcraft affected Final Fantasy XI, and how will it change Wings of the Goddess?
SE: As for game design, pretty much nothing. We don't look at that and try to make our game like it. One of the biggest things we've been affected by via World of Warcraft is Real Money Trading (RMT). Before Warcraft came out, all of these RMT sites were underground, and then because of the popularity of WoW, and extended over. But, because we've been working hard to handle that problem, we've gotten rid of probably 90% of the sites that are doing RMT for FFXI. One of the biggest things that WoW did that affected us was increased RMT. [Laughs] Another thing that we saw with the popularity of WoW, a lot of MMORPGs started dying out, because their user base moved to WoW. That's one thing we really haven't experienced in FFXI, our user base has been pretty solid. People sometimes will go over, but then they'll come back. We haven't seen a really big swing in the numbers like other games have.
Play: With the game on 360, and a lot of the PC platforms that play the game having such incredibly technology behind them, are there any plans to increase avatar customization? Or, because of the userbase of the PS2, are you capping your customization.
SE: Because we want everyone playing the same version, we have the wall of the PS2 version. While there is the ability to create better stuff with the PC, it would leave the PS2 players stuck. But more than the memory issue, probably the biggest problem with adding new hairstyles or races or face types, we would have to go back and [re-model] those pieces for this type of hair, and do that for the thousands of models of armor. That's probably the biggest thing, there's just not the time and manpower to do that.
OXM: [A lot of players have used MMORPGs to do things outside the game, like marriage.] Is there anything you were surprised that players used your game for?
SE: There's one kind of armor for the black mages that have tattoos on the arms; there are people who have gone out and gotten those tattoos. We were pretty surprised about that. There have been a few marriages, as well. Last year, we had the fan festival here in America for the first time. It was the first time that the development team got to see the American side. [We'd] seen the reaction of the Japanese people, but this is the first time [we'd] seen the reaction of the American people and see how excited they were. They were just as excited as the Japanese fans, everyone is excited, and that's what surprised us.
RPGFan: So, returning to the RMT issue, early on, inflation was a big issue; has that at least been somewhat curbed with the elimination of the majority of the RMTs?
SE: We think that we're back down to deflation and trying to get back. We're pretty close to back to what we think the norm should be. Because the RMT sites, some prices are going down because they're easy to get, but other prices are going up because they're not [farmed nearly as much]. Overall, most of the prices are going down.
Play: Are there plans for another fan festival in America?
SE: Yes, we'll be announcing plans later this year.
We'd like to thank both Square Enix's American and Japanese offices for allowing us to interview the Final Fantasy XI team!