An interview with Yuya Kimura, PSO2: NGS series producer: What made him decide to return to the public eye, and about NGS to this point and into the future
Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis (NGS), is an online RPG developed and operated by Sega. We conducted a remote interview with the series producer, Mr. Yuya Kimura, around the time of the NGS ver.2 Ultra-evolution update.
In this interview, we delve into the reasons behind Yuya Kimura’s decision to return to the public eye after a long period of absence from the media and events. We also discuss the past and future of NGS, which, two years after launch, has now completed the release of content that was originally planned for the game and
───Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Yuya Kimura (Mr. Kimura):
My name is Kimura, and I am the series producer of NGS. This will be my 21st year working for Sega, and I have been involved with the Phantasy Star series ever since I joined the company. I think it’s quite rare for someone to be involved with a single series for as long as I have. I started out managing, planning, and supporting Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1&2 for the GameCube and later worked on the Phantasy Star Universe and the Phantasy Star Portable series.
After that, I launched Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO2) as my own project and took on the role of director. After PSO2 launched, I was the series director for about 9 years and then became the series producer of NGS when it launched 2 years ago.
───Mr. Kimura was the face of the series for a long time, but at some point, he stopped making appearances. Can you tell me why you stepped out of the public eye, and why you are now making public appearances again?
First of all, I began to refrain from appearing in PSO2-related media and events because I began to feel that my appearances had a negative impact on the game. Since PSO2 launched, I’ve appeared on the official “PSO2 Station!” program as a series director to communicate in-game and other information, and I have also appeared in interviews as a representative of the development team to communicate with players on a case-by-case basis. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to communicate with players.
As PSO2 progressed over the years, there were several times when content releases were not going well, and when I made a public appearance and communicated with users in situations where the title’s operations were not going well, I was not able to give a good response, and sometimes I made unsuitable comments that upset players. I came to the conclusion that doing speaking appearances was more of a negative than a positive for PSO2, so I have stayed out of the public eye since around 2018.
───Does that have a negative impact on the title?
I thought that I had to accept the negative impression some people had of me because it was my own fault. But, as a result, that led to a distrust of the PSO2 title. Some players supported me, but we also saw cases where that caused friction among players.
Also, around that time, the development of NGS had actually already started behind the scenes. It had also been decided that I would be the producer for NGS, so I had to manage PSO2 as series director and also serve as the producer of NGS, which made it difficult for me to devote time to media appearances. Because the timing of these events overlapped, I thought it would be better for the games if I concentrated on development and production rather than media appearances.
───I see, so that’s why you’ve refrained from media appearances. Considering that you had been a source of information about the game until that point, did you ever feel conflicted about not being able to convey things in your own words?
I wasn’t born with a silver tongue, and I think I lack skill with language. I don’t believe I’ve improved much in those areas in the five years that I’ve stayed out of the media spotlight. Therefore, I think it’s better to have Hiro Arai, the official navigator of NGS, stand in the middle and take in the words of the development team from a flat standpoint, then transmit those words to players, so that we can at least avoid any misunderstandings.
───Have there been any changes in your feelings as a creator over the past five years?
I myself am not really the focus. It’s important that the game succeeds. We are game creators, so our only concern is how to make our games a source of long-lasting enjoyment for our players. The fact that I show up and speak at events and releases in itself means that I do it because I think it will benefit the game, not for my own self-gratification. Of course, I am human, so there is some sort of pleasure in being appreciated, but I really don’t think that is important.
Basically, as a producer and developer, I focus on what is going to be positive for the game. The Phantasy Star series is not my own personal work of art, so I am here to represent the development team and convey information to the players.
───So you’re just making rational decisions, both for game development and public appearances.
I have been with SEGA for almost as long as I have been in the industry, and I came to this industry with the desire to create games that lots of users play and enjoy. I did not come to this industry in search of fame, or to make myself famous, or to be praised. My motivation is just to create a game and have lots of people play it and have fun with it. So, it’s not about showing up in the media—or rather, if media exposure is positive for the title, I’ll put myself in the public eye, and if it’s negative, I won’t. That’s all.
At this point in time, we have finished releasing the content that we had originally envisioned when the game launched and are starting a new chapter with NGS ver.2, and I thought it would be more beneficial for the title if I could start making appearances again to let more users know about the new content in NGS ver.2 and the thoughts of the development team.
───We’ve had a lot of feedback from players about your appearance on NGS Headline this time.
To be honest, I was a bit anxious and worried about jumping back into the public eye, but I have the impression that the feedback from players has been warmer than I had expected—comments like, “I was hoping you’d come back,” and “I’m happy to see you, it’s been a while.”
───In the broadcast, a lot of people reacted to your change in appearance.
It’s been five years since I started to step back from media appearances, so part of it is that I’m human, naturally I’ve aged a bit. In the past, the main focus was on free talk in live broadcasts, but this time it was a video message to players, so I had to make a firm decision on what I was going to say and convey it in a way that would leave no room for misunderstandings. I also think I must have been a bit nervous and stiff since it was my first performance in a long time.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not good at improvising or explaining things. I had a habit of talking too fast, and this became more pronounced in live broadcasts, so players often felt that I was talking just to talk or desperate to make excuses. I was very careful this time because it had been a long time since my last appearance, and as a result, some players said they thought the video was made using AI (smiles wryly).
───I saw those comments. They said it looked like CG.
I thought so too, in hindsight. I thought it might be possible in this day and age to be called AI Kimura. I can’t deny the reactions and comments of those players. Looking at this video message objectively, I thought I would probably receive comments like that (laughs). But at any rate, I think I was able to convey what I wanted to convey.
───Do you intend to communicate more carefully and clearly, or will you change the way you appear on live broadcasts compared to the past?
This time, I’m making appearances in the form of video messages and interviews to promote NGS ver.2. I’m still in the process of considering what is best moving forward. However, as far as NGS Headline is concerned, I don’t think anything will change. Hiro will remain the MC. I’m sure that I’ll continue to make occasional appearances going forward, but I don’t envision doing anything on a regular basis.
Another reason is that since NGS, we have been simultaneously developing the Global version of the game, and I’m concerned that some expressions may not be conveyed well in a live broadcast due to translation and interpretation difficulties. We also want to avoid situations in which an explanation is given, but due to a slight misunderstanding, it is not conveyed properly to players. I think that videos and interviews are the best way to do this.
───So you’re making rational choices—including that one.
The title of “game creator” may sound like a very artistic existence, but I’m an office worker (laughs), so I think there is that aspect to it.
───You used to talk about your personal life on live broadcasts. Will you continue to do that in the future?
As much as possible, I avoid talking about my personal life now. When I was making frequent appearances in the media, I sometimes talked about my current situation or hobbies with the best of intentions, but sometimes this caused players to worry that it was affecting trends in the game, and sometimes it caused unnecessary speculation, so now I try to refrain from speaking about personal topics.
I also wonder if developers sharing personal stories is much of a positive for the game if it just builds up frustration among the players.
───I think it’s bad for both creators and players.
Yes, it is. NGS also has a lot of collaborations. So if I say something like, “I’ve been playing this game recently,” or “I like this anime,” players might speculate that a collab is on the way.
Of course, it is not always negative to talk about personal things, but I think that if you put your own tastes and preferences out there, including those regarding collabs, you may have trouble later on. I’ve felt that way since the PSO2 era. So I plan to choose my words and the information I put out more carefully moving forward.
───Thank you. Now, I would like to ask about NGS ver.2. In the last NGS Headline, it was announced that the release of the content planned since launch took about two years to complete.
As we mentioned during the broadcast, we believe that our original estimate for the pace of releases was not accurate. The same was true for the volume of content in the early days, and then with regard to the frequency of updates, the pace was not as fast as we had planned, and players’ expectations for the volume of content were also higher than we had originally anticipated. We were not able to operate as we had hoped for the past two years.
However, we cannot suddenly increase the volume of content, and no matter how much we increase the volume of content, there is always a limit. I have gradually come to think that it is more important to increase the accuracy of what we release, or the satisfaction level of each and every item. In this situation, I think that we have been able to produce content that satisfies players bit by bit, while observing their reactions to what we’ve released.
For example, the new Slayer class, which was released in April, has been particularly satisfying to play and popular as a class since the start of NGS, and I think we have been able to deliver something satisfactory in that sense.
We have added a new region about once every six months, and the level of satisfaction has been reasonably high each time, but I am not sure if we have exceeded the expectations of players who had to wait six months for the new regions to be added.
We also thought that the new regions should have been added at a faster pace, but it was beyond our ability to do so. For this reason, we are now thinking that it would be better to create content that provides a sense of anticipation and satisfaction commensurate with the pace of releases, such as instance-type quests that are somewhat smaller in scale but can be delivered at a faster frequency.
───I have heard some players express concern that from NGS ver.2 the main focus will be on the Creative Spaces and other crafting elements, rather than action and battle-related content. What is the actual situation?
I think the content released during the two years of NGS was mainly centered on battle elements and character creation-related content, but on the other hand, there were very few other elements. In the days of PSO2, there were many communication elements, such as Personal Quarters and Alliance Quarters. In the two years of NGS, we had not been able to expand on these areas, so we put together in this update all the things that had piled up.
Of course, we will continue to release and update battle-related content even after the ver.2 update. However, at the beginning of ver.2, we will be concentrating on Creative Spaces and communication-based things. We have plans for new types of high-difficulty quests and so on, so it is not the case that we will stop releasing battle content or that we will not update battle-related content.
───For players who are looking forward to battle-related content, can you tell us about the other elements of the update besides the Creative Space?
New Ranks will be added to the Combat Sectors in Aelio starting June 14 to coincide with the unlocking of the level-75 level cap. We will have quests and Sectors for level-75 players to play, such as the new enemy Starless and new gameplay elements.
We are also thinking of releasing a Limited-time Quest for the collab with Sonic that starts on June 21. It would play like a quest with some elements of Sonic’s speedy stages built in. We are also thinking of having a certain mascot character appear for the 11th Anniversary of PSO2 in July for the first time in a long time, and we have plans for a new type of high-difficulty quest in August or later.
───With the implementation of the Slayer and Gunblade, all 18 weapon categories that existed in PSO2 have been implemented. Are there any plans to implement new classes, Scion classes, or new weapons in NGS ver. 2 in the future?
In PSO2, the Scion classes were positioned as ones that could play the weapons used by the basic classes in a different way. In that sense, now that we have 10 classes that use weapons that were in PSO2, I believe that the possibility of implementing a successor class is not zero. But as for the design of new classes in the future, we are still considering whether we should implement a successor class or a completely new weapon, based on the response to Slayer and other factors.
───So you are saying that you are planning to implement new classes and weapon categories.
We have a schedule, but it is very difficult. If there will simply be a new weapon that was not in PSO2, players will be interested and happy. It is good for NGS because it will be new, but on the other hand, I think that players who like the current weapons may not be interested in the new weapons when they are released. So I am conflicted as to which is better for players as a whole.
Also, the addition of one more weapon type or class means that development efforts are spread out that much more. The pace at which we can adjust classes and create new weapons (items) will also be reduced overall as the number of weapon categories and classes that need to be addressed increases. In that sense, I do not think that simply adding new things will increase overall player satisfaction, so I think we need to carefully consider this point.
───I understand that you have been keeping an eye on long-time players.
PSO2 and NGS undergo maintenance on a weekly basis. When we do maintenance, we often release some kind of content, however small, and we are quite concerned about the reaction after that content is released. I search the name of the game on Twitter and YouTube every time, especially after maintenance finishes. Or I might watch a player’s live stream or commentary video posted online. Frankly, we’re quite concerned about the reaction of players, so the development and management teams, not just me, look for reactions like this quite often. Of course, there are negative reactions, but I am grateful for the reaction itself, because I believe that the very act of commenting, no matter the content, is something that requires effort.
Regarding the Creative Space, recently—well, actually, since the early days of NGS—many players have been asking for something like a Personal Quarters. In response to this request, we told players that we were thinking about it around the six-month mark after NGS launched, but after that, we did not provide any concrete follow-up information, and players often asked us what was going on. We’ve kept players waiting a long time, and we also wanted to wipe away some of the things that didn’t go well in the early days of NGS, so we thought we had to exceed players’ expectations in a positive way.
For these reasons, while managing NGS, we have actually spent nearly two years behind the scenes preparing the Creative Space. In the process, we’ve been releasing teaser videos in stages. We explained the overall outline last October, in February of this year, and in April of this year, while doling out info in bits and pieces, and each time players were surprised. Some of the information was met with reactions like “This is totally a crafting game, not Personal Quarters,” or “I didn’t know there was this kind of freedom.” You can utilize rotation and color changes to make whatever you want. You can place NPCs. You can create gameplay with the Connect System.
We presented the Creative Space in three phases this time, and we were very happy that we were able to put out something that greatly exceeded the expectations and predictions of players on all three occasions. It went better than planned.
───Do you have a message for players who are looking forward to NGS ver.2?
I would like to thank the existing players of NGS who have been playing the game for the past two years. As for the Personal Quarters-like element, we have been saying for a long time that we would release it, but we have not been able to do so, and now we are finally able to release it. I think we’ve made something good, and I hope everyone enjoys it.
Also, in our earlier discussion, you asked if this update was a little too crafting-centered. I think you are right that some people may feel that way given what has been announced so far. In June and July, the early stages of ver.2, it is difficult to release challenging content, considering the number of returning players and new players, but from August onward, we would like to add battle content that is quite difficult and challenging to play. We hope that existing players will look forward to that as well.
We also understand that some players have been away from NGS for a while. Especially for those who quit or took a break due to the lack of content in the early NGS or due to bugs or issues, we have increased the volume of content and increased the amount of things to do in the game over the past two years. With the new crafting elements, there are even more new opportunities for play, so we would like to take this opportunity to welcome you back to the game. We would love it if you came back to play again with our existing player base.
And I hope that there will be more new things in the game and more newcomers to NGS going forward. We try to spread the word through promotions as much as possible, but I don’t think we can compare to the power of a conversation between friends, social networking sites, videos, streaming, or other forms of communication to show that the players who are currently playing NGS are truly enjoying the game.
I believe that NGS can truly move toward a new future if it is enjoyed by many new and existing players. Naturally, we also want you to have fun and be entertained by the game, and we’d be thrilled to get those kinds of comments if you feel that way. I believe that word of mouth is the best form of advertising, so I hope you will consider it.
───Thank you. We look forward to seeing how NGS develops moving forward.
PSO2 NEW GENESIS is available free-to-play for PC /PlayStation 4/PC and Cloud (Nintendo Switch). On June 7, NGS ver.2 was released as the Ultra-evolution update.