Letter from the Director 2021 (part 1)

Greetins from the Head Shark, FKHR

At the beginning of every year since 2018, Granblue Fantasy creative director Fukuhara Tetsuya has written a letter addressed to GBF players to discuss the game’s past, present, and future. The 2021 edition of the letter covers the challenges of 2020 as well as the plan for the coming year – here’s our translation of the whole thing, in much more depth than our Twitter thread that skimmed over each segment.

For length reasons, we’ve split this into two parts. Part 1 covers the Granblue Fantasy browser game, and Part 2 covers Granblue Fantasy Versus and Granblue Fantasy Relink.

(Standard disclaimer: this translation is not official – any mistakes are vibratingsheep’s unless noted otherwise)

Letter from the Director, Volume 4

Happy new year. This is the director, Fukuhara [Tetsuya].

It feels like it’s become customary for this letter from the director to release on January 7th every year now. In this text, I’m going to look back at 2020, then look ahead to what’s coming in 2021. Compared to the other letters, this will be more detailed than ever before, so please take your time as you read through it.

On Granblue Fantasy

Our greatest undertaking of the last year was the shift to being able to work remotely. This isn’t limited just to the GBF team — you could say that about the entire game industry as a whole.

When we started the shift, we ran into a large number of problems and issues on the operations side. We lost a lot of time in the day to the work environment transition, lost communications, and other issues, so on the development side we made the decision to place the highest priority on starting regular events on time.

The state of emergency announced last year left everyone anxious and worried, and if our events like Showdowns, Rise of the Beasts, or Story Events had been interrupted and left the game without events for 7-10 days, that would add to the disruption in our players’ daily lives and leave them even more anxious.

We thought that being able to look in the game and see that the usual events were still going on as planned would add a little comfort and a feeling of normalcy. On top of that, we made the decision as a business that we had to avoid the situation where there were big gaps with no activity, since no matter the reason behind them, it would lead to a reduction in the number of people playing the game.

(By the way, the often-suggested solution about filling in the empty time with other events or previously unplanned content is not realistic – it would require far too much work to clean up and fix later)

That’s why, in 2020, we did not have any delays to events, campaigns, or character additions.

I’d like to use this space to thank all of the staff who worked so hard to keep GBF fun for the players while they were grappling with the same anxieties about their homes and lives as everyone else. My deepest thanks to the staff who took care of the game, and to all the players who continue to enjoy this game.

The culture of remote work itself has its benefits along with all of its challenges, and we will continue improving and refining it as we go forward. And as we face another state of emergency here in Tokyo, we will be much more prepared for it than we were in April and May last year, so I don’t think that we will have to hit the brakes on anything through the 7th anniversary!

With all that gloom out of the way, I’d like to look back at the previous year’s updates.

On 6 player raids

The “6 player raid” is much harder content than the 18-player or 30-player raid. The 30-player raids allow you to be much more casual about them and have more fun, but we design and tune the 6-player raids to provide players with the sense of fun and satisfaction that they get from mastering more difficult challenges with fewer players, fewer options, and a greater need for teamwork.

(We hope if you are among those who were able to clear Proto Bahamut Impossible, Ultimate Bahamut Impossible, and Dark Rapture Impossible on release, that you felt that sense of fun and satisfaction…)

Ever since we implemented Nezha Impossible in October 2015, 6-player raids have been considered endgame content when they are released, and then been made easier as other content is added. I remember saying this at previous Granblue Fantasy Fes events, but our nerfs and adjustments aim to dispel the notion that “I’m scared of 6-player raids, I feel too nervous about wiping and making the raid fail”. It’s not just a preconceived notion, it’s a reality, but we’ve tried multiple ways to get the players to say “Okay, I’ll try it at least once anyway!”

However, as more updates come in and more raids are added to the game, the 6 player limit still scares many players. Even the introductory level Rose Queen raid has many players who are afraid of it, and that’s not good in our books. We feel that in recent years, games have been moving more toward supporting more casual play styles.

So, in December 2020’s update, we changed our raids to 18 or 30 players, leaving just the Ultimate Bahamut Impossible, Dark Rapture Impossible (Blue Lucillius), and Hail to the King (Beelzebub) raids with a 6 player limit.

The Granblue Fantasy Fes 2020 slide of changes from 6 players to 18 players

I think that the Four Primarchs and Six Dragons raids have become much easier to defeat, so I hope that if you see any of them in your raid list requesting backup, you will hop in and try them out. And if you think to yourself “You know, this isn’t that intimidating after all”, try hosting them yourself!

As for the future of the 6-player raid itself, we plan to add more of those in the future but they will be reserved for endgame content that is on the same level as, or harder than, the Dark Rapture Impossible and Hail to the King raids.

In the 7th anniversary update, we also plan to add a feature that allows you to continue to deal damage while your party is wiped. Your honors total will not go up as long as you are still wiped and have not used an elixir, but we plan on making it so that you can contribute to the overall completion of the raid based on your party’s Power ranking.

We will have more details on this feature in the future.

Expanding the GBF Handbook

In last year’s Letter from the Director, I wrote what we would focus on adding to the handbook. I still consider us in the process of fulfilling all of that, and we will continue to work on the handbook.

The functionality has a few problems with proper guidance, but we think that the biggest challenge is instilling the mindset to set your own goals and follow them through. In order to get to that point, we’re thinking of ways of integrating it more naturally into normal play, perhaps by providing some rewards for reaching your goals.

We think that setting a short-term goal would be good for players who are returning after a break, and people who play daily would be able to get a little extra reward out of their daily regimens. We think that a good way to implement it would be close to the Winter Campaign missions that we recently concluded, and this is also planned for release around the 7th anniversary.

Improving Party management

In last year’s Letter from the Director I said that we would improve the Auto function in party and weapon management, but we have not implemented it yet. Because we prioritized events and regular content, the addition of all of the new weapons that came along with that changed the environment of the game enough that developing this in parallel to it was difficult and moved to later in the roadmap.

We’re still looking into figuring out the right logic for taking a player’s available characters, summons, enemy types, and then using what weapons they have available to make a coherent grid automatically. If we don’t think it through very thoroughly, then it will remain unused, so we’re making sure to release it in the best form possible.

So, with all apologies, we ask you to wait and give us more time to do this.

Expanding Inventory management options

This was another topic I covered in last year’s Letter from the Director.

We’ve implemented some small pieces of it, but we have a lot more updates coming. We think that filtering your inventory is pretty tedious, especially when picking certain series, so we hope that improving the favorites and being able to save certain filters will make it easier to manage your inventory.

On top of that, we think that there are a lot of cases where SR weapons and other miscellany will make their way into your inventory, so we’re looking into letting you make a list of “weapons I will never use so automatically Reserve these”. These will be something that you set for yourself as a list of weapons that you will never ever use, and once they’re on the list, they will automatically be reserved.

For example, at the moment the weapons from red chests (MVP and host chests) are put straight into the inventory, and this new feature would help in that case.

As for the inventory overall, we’ll keep adding small quality of life features to it, but as we add more features we realize that the features add to the number of actions you need to take and things you need to remember, so we think we need to work on that part of it as well.

On new content

With Battle System V2, the Tower of Babyl, Dread Barrage, Replicard Sandbox, etc. we released more new content in 2020 than we have in any previous year. Several of them ended up being delayed, but this was also the year with the highest development load in our history. I’m very grateful to the staff for the amount of work and effort they put in during the Coronavirus pandemic.

All of this new content will continue to be supported from here on out, so each time these events come back we will continue to tweak and improve each one. We’ll mix them into our lineup of existing events, and work to keep the mix of content fresh for our players.

Battle System V2 will continue to exist along the base battle system, and there is no plan for new content to switch to it. We mentioned this in last year’s Granblue Fantasy Fes Q&A segment, but we will make little expansions to this over time as well. (???)

The difference between V2 and the base battle system is that it expands the number of actions that both your party and the enemy can take, so we think that it will mostly show up for difficult content from here on. When we implemented the Lindwurm and Shenxian raids, we made them relatively low difficulty because we wanted players to enjoy their new animations, and we think that they succeeded in that purpose, so we will not be adding raids with the same intentions from here on.

Replicard Sandbox has some satisfying goals like filling out the Sephira Guidebooks, but we also consider it to be content that you don’t have to rush, so please remember to take your time.

With the implementation of Sandbox, we feel like we need to add more ways to shorten the amount of time required for other content. This will end up looking like Extreme+ or Hard Skip, but because of the large impact these features have on the game we need to be very thorough in our analysis of potential outcomes. We will not take any half-hearted measures, so please be patient and expect good things.

Speaking of Arcarum itself, the story in Replicard Sandbox takes place before each Evoker’s fate episode. After you clear all 4 areas of Replicard Sandbox, the story connects directly to the Evoker stories. Sorry that it’s so confusing! The continuation of the Evoker stories will come later…

On Story Events

We think of GBF‘s story events as the shining jewel of the game. We think that all online games think this way with their story updates, but GBF has new stories and new characters every month. We’re incredibly thankful that every month when we post a story preview, the game trends on Twitter with all of the buzz in the player base, and that’s what makes them the banner moments for GBF.

In 2020 in particular, I feel like both our character releases and our story events often focused on many long-serving members of our cast. This year, we’ve planned a lot of fun surprises for the events, so we hope you’re looking forward to the previews every month. We will have plenty of sequels mixed in with new events.

And, I think we’ll have some of the event previews on our somehow long-running Granblue TV Channel now, so keep an eye out there as well.

The end of January event will feature a fresh new character, so we hope you’re looking forward to it.

Our translation of the 7th anniversary trailer!

Next month, on February 26th, our 7th anniversary event will be the latest story featuring the Society cast. This will be the first time that the anniversary event will feature an existing storyline like this, but this will be the climax of the storyline that started with Right Behind You, so hopefully you’re excited.

On the 2021 roadmap

Our guiding principle for the year is the same as last year, we will continue to make the game easier to play.

Our Daily Average Users (DAU) numbers are the highest they’ve been in the 7 year history of GBF, and as you can see from the player ID numbers, we are well over 30 million accounts created. When a game like ours has been around so long, you get more and more players who quit (or take a break) and come back to the game later. We want to make it so that when players want to try the game out again, they don’t think “It’s so different that I don’t recognize it” or “there’s so much new stuff that I don’t know what to do next.”

It’s a tough task to play the same game 365 days a year, so we want our game to be the kind of game that you feel like you can take a break from.

Of course, we do have a large number of players who do play every day and have for years, and for those people we want to express our continuing gratitude by being able to offer an unending flow of events, updates, stories, and more as only a social game can.

For endgame content, we will continue to add more layers to the Tower of Babyl and more enemies to the Pride of the Ascendant series, and we are preparing a new raid that we have not yet announced.

We hope that you stick with us for another year.

(Continued in part 2)