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How Final Fantasy 14 clawed its way back from disaster to become 2020’s best MMO

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It was in a Los Angeles hotel room that Final Fantasy 14 game director Naoki Yoshida got his first hint that he might pull off the impossible. For three years he had been striving to answer one question: Could you save a dying MMO? Conventional wisdom, backed up by decades of dead MMOs, said no. But Yoshida is an optimist. “At the time, the criticism for Final Fantasy 14 was so harsh that we were at rock bottom,” he laughs. “There really was nowhere else to go besides up.”

It was E3 2013, and Yoshida had traveled from Japan to L.A. with global community producer Toshio Murouchi to help Square Enix build excitement for the relaunch of FF14 happening in just two months. At 2 a.m. on the last night of the event (early evening in Japan), FF14: A Realm Reborn’s third beta test was scheduled to begin. Unlike the two tests before it, Phase 3 was almost a complete game—players could try out overhauled systems like combat, the new user interface, and even the first bit of the main story at the same time. In the column he used to write for Famitsu, Yoshida said that this moment was “truly do-or-die.”

It seemed hopeless, but Yoshida had a secret weapon: Microsoft Excel

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