It’s a lazy Wednesday afternoon. You are sitting at your computer, getting excited for the start of open beta, and you get a message.
“We might need you to go to PAX. Can you go?”
One week ago, I never would have imagined that I’d be sitting here typing up an interview done with Sage Sundi and Yasu Kurosawa, unless that interview was done in Japanese with Famitsu or 4Gamer. And yet, here I am, getting ready to share with you the interview Urthdigger and I had with the two FFXIV producers. It is very surreal.
Before I begin the interview, I want to thank the people at Square Enix once again for setting us up with some interview time. Talking with people at Square Enix is like talking with old friends. You all share the same love for the game. You all want it to grow, thrive, and survive. I don’t envy their long days in the convention halls but hopefully more people were exposed to the game this weekend.
The theme of the PAX interviews with Sage Sundi and Yasu Kurosawa is community. As the Global Online Producer and North American Producer, respectively, they deal with the day to day operations involved with running an MMORPG. Part of that is listening to the community. There are things the community has been asking for in Final Fantasy XI and now some of those things are set in place for XIV. There are also a lot of things that are still under development. As the first part of our PAX coverage, we bring you our interview in print form. In the days to come, we’ll have audio from the interview on Aetheryte Radio as well as a recap of the Square Enix panel held Friday night in the Benaroya Hall.
–Our first question is for Sage Sundi. As a recap for the visitors to our site, what was your job in Final Fantasy XI and how has that changed going into XIV?
Sage Sundi: It’s pretty much the same actually. FFXI started 9 or 10 years ago and that was our first MMO title. All of the initial work for the project was done in Japan but we needed to expand operations to Europe and the United States. So we brought Yasu on board. My first mission was to sell our product overseas, so back then, Yasu and I were taking care of things overseas.
FFXI has been out now for over 8 years. Our dev team is really aware that they are making global titles and are willing to go overseas, answer questions, and do interviews. We are concentrating more and more on the community sites too. Our first mission is to help build a healthy community. That’s our job. We also have to build up our customer support, like the game masters. That’s also part of our job. We’re on the operations side.
Yasu here is our North American producer. There is also a team in London taking care of Europe operations and a team in Japan as well. Development for the game is only done in Japan but operations are handled worldwide.
–Will seasonal events make their way into FFXIV? And if so, how soon can we expect to see them? Also, will we see anything like the Mog Bonanza?
Sundi: We are still in the planning stages right now but I’m expecting we’ll see some. Right now we are concentrating on how we are going to launch the game. There is a lot of communication going on between the community managers and the dev team.
Yasu Kurosawa: The community events are a combined effort between the community service teams and the dev team. The dev team basically plants something in the game that we can utilize to do those events.
Sundi: That’s a good question actually.
–Our next question is on fan festivals. There hasn’t been one in North America for awhile now.
Kurosawa: Yeah, 2 years.
–So, first part of the question, will FFXI and FFXIV have a combined event? Or will they have separate fan festivals?
Sundi: They should be combined…
Kurosawa: We haven’t planned that far ahead yet. However, we recently announced a discount for players who play both FFXI and FFXIV. We want people to keep their characters in FFXI, meet their friends, and then be able to meet up with the same friends in FFXIV. It makes sense to have a combined event if the players are the same.
Sundi: The first time we held a fan festival was back in 2002 or 2003 and we were only focused on the US market because we hadn’t expanded operations into Europe yet. But this time, we have to take care of Europe as well. So we need to plan how we hold the events. Do you have them only in North America? In Europe? Also in Japan? We have to make it so that we aren’t having to organize them for all three regions every year. We need to create some kind of system.
–Are you planning on attending any smaller events? For example, there was the igames tour a long time ago.
Kurosawa: That was something we did for smaller communities, local communities. The venue could only hold like 500 people so only local people came. After that we spent a little more effort into getting the dev team to come over. We got a larger venue and were able to invite the press too. So now we tend to go for bigger events. That’s the direction we’ve been heading for FFXI and so that’s probably how it will continue with FFXIV.
–The Ebisu event is coming up. Any chance of streaming that for North American or European players?
Kurosawa: I don’t think there will be streaming. It’s going to be more of a closed type event.
Sundi: That’s where we’ve invited about 350 beta testers and some of the media so yeah, it’s going to be a small, closed event.
–Will the player sites be available publicly without logging in and are there any plans to expand on what it currently has to offer?
Sundi: The player sites are basically open to the public so you don’t need to log in to see them. However, some parts like diaries or linkshell forums will require you to be logged in to access them. If a linkshell leader wants to though, they could choose to make their forums public.
Kurosawa: The player sites were only closed for the beta. The live version will be public.
–FFXI had the premier site and community site system. Where is that going for FFXIV?
Sundi: Well, you have to understand we started FFXI 10 years ago. It wasn’t so common back then to see fansites. There were only around 100 sites. Now there are over 1000 sites globally. It’s not very smart to have all of those sites just listed on our website. Nobody would use the list. We are trying to expand on premier sites though. Right now there are 5 to 7 sites for FFXI. For FFXIV, we want to expand that in a more casual way. Our goal is to have 100 or even 200 good premier sites. We don’t only want ones that are run by big companies. We want the ones just run by individuals as well. We are also thinking about having another level of premier sites too where maybe they’d enter into an exclusive contract with Square Enix. However, that part is still in the planning stages.
Kurosawa: The important thing is to acknowledge sites that don’t promote the sale of gil.
–One last thing about the premier sites. That was really just a North American/European thing. Any chance of expanding that to Japanese fansites?
Sundi: Yeah, like I mentioned, most of the premier sites are run by companies or publishers, but we want to expand that to individuals as well so there is a chance.
–What is the Special Task Force’s involvement in FFXIV?
Sundi: Pretty much the same as FFXI. We actually have the same team working on FFXIV already. Basically what we do is check all of the game logs for suspicious activity. Not just by hand but using tools as well. They also assist when accounts are compromised. We added the ability to use security tokens but over half of our players still don’t use them. We hope we can increase those numbers for FFXIV. A lot of the team’s effort goes into investigating how an account was hacked. Once they figure it out, they communicate with the GM team to restore the character and their items.
The team also communicates with the dev team on an almost daily basis. For example, we ask the dev team to adjust the contents of the server logs to make it easier for us to check for suspicious activity. We also have to spend time in-game to see what people are doing, like the RMT spammers, figure out what methods they are using, and then report them to the dev team so they can block it.
–It’s funny because lately the spammers in FFXI try to encrypt their message or give you a puzzle to solve to go to their site.
Sundi: Yeah, I know. It’s just garbage really. We have to work hard to stay on top of things. Right now, it’s not just the Special Task Force but the GM team as well adding words into the filters as we learn about them.
–Will server transfers be available in FFXIV?
Sundi: We’re still planning out how to deal with those. We didn’t add them to FFXI until the game had been out for a few years. Usually players are on a server for a year or two before they want to switch so maybe we’ll talk about server transfers later at some point in the future.
–Sometimes you meet people on community sites but find out that they are on a different server. It’d be nice to transfer servers more easily.
Sundi: Maybe we’ll have to get started on those sooner. For now…. maybe make 2 characters? Or perhaps plan ahead for FFXIV…
–That actually leads into our next topic. The role-playing community recently voted to make Besaid the unofficial role-playing server. Would it be possible to make something like that official?
Sundi: Like creating a role-playing server?
Sundi: Hmmm…. well, I can pass on the message. The main concept is that all of the servers have to be the same.
–The servers would still be the same. They just want a way to say, if you want to role-play on this server, that’s okay too.
Sundi: Well, it depends on what kind of help they would need. Then maybe we could help.
–One way would be to designate the server as role-player friendly in the list when you choose a server. The goal is to make it easier for players who want to role-play to find each other.
Sundi: Okay, that sounds like a good idea. (Interview note: It’s not a guarantee but we can hope that the message gets to the dev team and they discuss it!)
–For FFXI at the beginning, we had the Tribune. It was fun to read and often had background stories. Any chance of something similar in FFXIV?
Sundi: That was one of the first things I planned after joining Square. That project got killed because we bothered the dev team too much. It’s a huge amount of work for them and it really depends on how much time they have. Sometimes I do hear from people that want to see the Tribune come back. I can’t promise anything but we should do those again. Lately, in place of the Tribune, we’ve been putting stories into the Topics section of the FFXI PlayOnline website instead.
–Our questions are going to get smaller or more specific as we wind down here. Recently in FFXI you introduced GM support for player-run events. Will that be a part of FFXIV as well?
Sundi: Oh definitely. If you want to run a player-event, just send us an email. Maybe in the future we can get a form set up. So yes, we can, but it also depends on the type of event. We can’t teach you how to kill different things or anything.
I’d also like to see more of veterans teaching the newbies.
–So like a mentoring system?
Sundi: Kind of… not just answering general questions but specific class questions as well. Players should share their knowledge.
(Corinth and Urthdigger talk about player-run LS events they have participated in in FFXI, like level 1 hide and seek.)
Sundi: If you have a player-run event, we can possibly give out prizes or something. Maybe add it to the message of the day.
–Can you tell us more about how companies are supposed to work?
Kurosawa: Yeah… no further information is available at this point, sorry.
Sundi: I wish we could.
–Will game mechanics be explained to the players better since FFXIV is billed as being a more casual game. In FFXI for instance, there are a lot of things still not fully understood. For FFXIV, there are things like the surplus system and things we think we’ve figured out but don’t know how much of that is actually true. So, to make a long story short, will things been explained more in the manual then they were in FFXI?
Kurosawa: Specific game mechanics aren’t really explained in the manual. But we can work with community sites to explain things better.
–We aren’t looking for details on how to kill things, like Absolute Virtue in FFXI, but for example, take crafting. You could talk about how crafting works and maybe give some pointers on how to keep from failing so often. Things that are very basic to the game.
Sundi: Yeah, that’d be a good idea.
–Will there be any systems in game that allow for competition among players?
Sundi: At Gamescom in Germany, we said that we will be making some kind of PvP system but haven’t planned out the specifics yet. However, it would definitely be as part of some system, not open PvP.
–On a similar note, is there going to be any friendly competition between servers? For example, comparing server stats or special events.
Sundi: We’ve done that before with seasonal events so it is possible. We can also use the player sites to check different stats on a kind of leaderboard. For example, who won something first, etc.
Kurosawa: We’re still making plans for the player sites so something like that will be available later.
Sundi: We are trying to launch the game right now but there are still a lot of plans we have for the community that aren’t implemented yet. That’s why we need a lot of help from the fansites to help us build the community. So if you have ideas, just pitch in. We can build the community together.
–Sounds great! Thank you for taking some time to talk with us today.
Interview Notes from Urthdigger
A few days back, I saw the notice from SE about them attending PAX. I gave a tweet about how I wished I could go, especially if I could get some info for Eorzeapedia, but figured there was no way an interview could be arranged with so little time. About a day after, I got a message from Ganiman about going there to do an interview, and after a visit to craigslist and a trip to a part of Washington I’ve never visited before, I was ready to go.
I was really nervous for this. It was a lot more responsibility than I’m used to, but it was a lot of fun and I would love to have another opportunity to meet with them some day. I’d like to thank Yasu and Sage Sundi for taking the time to meet with us, and Ganiman for organizing this, and I hope SE makes an appearance in the NW again sometime.
In The Booth from Corinth
Every time we went by the booth there were people waiting for their chance to play FFXIV. People spent a lot of time creating their characters. After all, anybody who wanted to could pick up a custom USB memory stick afterwords that had their character data stored on it. I think that was a very creative way of rewarding people who tried out the game at the booth and also encourages people to try the open beta at home.
Rob Peeler, the North American community planner for FFXIV, also gave presentations on the game at one end of the booth. He went over some of the basics of the game like the setting and game play mechanics. People who participated in the presentation had a chance to win a white version of the Final Fantasy XIV t-shirt Square Enix staffers were wearing at the event.
I had the opportunity to sneak in some game play time with the assistance of Matt Hilton, one of the community managers. I quickly put together a cute Lalafell Conjurer. While doing that, Matt pointed out one of the additions to the open beta version of the game: racial stats. Each race and clan has a different set of starting stats as well as elemental resistance. These are just your starting stats though. Since you can choose how your character grows freely, you don’t need to get too hung up over them. In the long run it’s best to choose a character that you like, not one you merely tolerate for the sake of good stats. I opted to place my character in Ul’dah and had fun getting beat up by an escaped goobbue. I probably have the least amount of experience actually playing the game amongst all of the Eorzeapedia staffers though and it showed! Thankfully Matt stepped in to tell me what I was doing wrong and I managed to get through my demo time without dying.
We also got to see the contents of the FFXIV Collector’s Edition up-close. I was very impressed with the certificates and the journal. As somebody who is waiting for the PS3 version to come out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spring for the PC CE version but I’m sold now.
Thanks again to Sage Sundi, Yasu Kurosawa, Matt, Devin, Rob, and Stan for your time at the event. I will be spending some time in the open beta today and learning more about the storyline I started at the booth!