The COVID-19 pandemic has already led to delays for some of the biggest upcoming titles of 2020, but its impact on live-service games might be felt much more immediately. Today, Final Fantasy 14's creative director Naoki Yoshida posted an update regarding the effect that virus is likely to have on game updates in the near-term. In short, a delay for the 5.3 patch is a certainty, but Square Enix doesn't know how far out it will be pushed yet.
The FF14 team recently delivered the 5.25 patch on-schedule, but Yoshida notes it came in "by a narrow margin," as it was completed by staff that could work remotely or work from the office safely. In Tokyo, a state of emergency has been declared, meaning that the main team behind the MMO at Square Enix's headquarters is now working from home due to shelter-in-place orders.
"Though it is clear that patch 5.3, which was planned for mid-June, will be delayed because of the above, we are at this time undecided as to whether it will be feasible to limit the delay to two or three weeks, or if it will be closer to a month," Yoshida writes.
In the post, Yoshida lays out that the delay is not solely a result of the situation in Tokyo. Lockdowns in East Asia, North America, and Europe are leading to delayed delivery of graphics assets, voice recording is delayed due to European lockdowns, and teams for production and quality assurance are "operating well below normal capacity" because of the necessity of remote work.
"[I]t is also important to prioritize the physical and mental health of our development team, without whom we would never be able to release the quality updates and features you expect from FF14, so we ask for your understanding as we adjust our schedule in accordance with the situation," Yoshida adds.
With humility ("this may seem somewhat superfluous," he writes), Yoshida assures fans that himself and the development and production teams for FF14 are fine at the moment. Recently, Gamebiz reported that a staffer at the Tokyo Square Enix HQ did test positive for COVID-19, and is now under care at their home [translation via Siliconera].
We're likely only in the early days of major delays for full releases and major game updates. With The Last of Us Part 2 nearly finished but indefinitely delayed, and Cyberpunk 2077 eyeing a day-one patch to include finished voiceover work, 2020's release schedule could continue to change drastically in the coming weeks. Smaller games being moved and waves of delays for live-service titles are near-certainties as well.
"While many of us worldwide remain inside our homes, we should remember to let joy and laughter fill them—because in times like these, it's especially important to find happiness where you can," says Yoshida.
For more on Final Fantasy 14, read Review Editor Mike Williams' new interview with Yoshida and lead character designer Yusuke Mogi about the 5.25 update.