Ahh Fan Fest… this year thousands and thousands of FFXIV fans descended on Paris Las Vegas to meet fellow players and fans, to have a chance at meeting the developers of the game, to play and have fun at the events, and to learn a few new tidbits about the future of the game – both near term and far. FFXIV Fan Fest 2016 did not disappoint (with one notable exception that we’ll discuss shortly.)
The Adventurers signed in at the meet-up wall to the point where finding additional room was, well, hard to find. While perhaps not the most efficient of ways to meet people on your server, the wall is a sort of visual reminder of just how popular the game is.
At one point, an attendee left a small picture as a memorial for one character that has been lost… throughout the next two days the memorial grew, with attendees leaving everything from casino vouchers to partially filled Fat Tuesday cups.
While you might think that the thousands of people in the Paris ballroom would be sufficient to bring this point home, something about seeing everyone’s signatures and well wishes on the wall leads to a more emotional connection. And the camaraderie represented by the overlapping signatures extended well beyond the written word – and into every facet of the event. Unlike ComicCon, PAX, E3, or even BlizzCon, having a convention devoted to a single game means that everyone is there for the same reason. Everyone not only plays FFXIV, but plays it to the point of being willing to journey to Las Vegas for the game. The ability to ask anyone of the thousands of people in ballroom what server they are on, what class they play, what they want to see in the next expansion, etc., is a feeling not soon forgotten and not obtained elsewhere.
Once acclimated to the ballroom, the first thing to jump out at anyone was the Fat Chocobo. Once atop the massive Chocobo, a picture (or short video) would follow. You can see some of the results on Twitter with #2FAT2CHOCOBO. Having made the trip from E3, the Fat Chocobo remained a hit, and had a solid, but quick, line throughout the festival.
Next to the Fat Chocobo and meet-up wall was also the start of the Live Quest. Like in 2014, fans got a chance to help our beloved Hildebrand in an investigation. Completing the quest involved solving a few puzzles, along with participating in the various Fan Festival events. The reward for finishing were additional triple triad cards to accompany the ones that attendees received in their bags.
The mini-games available were varied and fun: GATE: Any Way the Wind Blows, Mandragora Toss, Piercing Talon, and Stop the Illuminati. They allowed for a small “real-life” diversion from the in-game activities. Here too was another place where Square Enix learned from 2014. Gone were the long lines due to the necessity of legal releases to use bow and arrows to defeat the Ixal. Lines moved and players were able to complete these mini-games without too much trouble – as it should be.
Part of me felt just a little bad about throwing these Mandragoras into the basket…
The in-game activities were also well run. The new event was the 24-person raid against Proto Ultima. The clear rate on this seemed decently high, but not 100%, so players were able to experience some of the drama of a hard fight while still generally being able to “complete” Fan Fest. Also present was a PvP fight in The Pit and Trial Roulette – where the party was advantaged or disadvantaged when going in against a Primal based on the whim of a roulette wheel. All told these events were well received.
Of course, the Main Event at Fan Fest was the announcement of Stormblood – the second expansion due in Early Summer 2017. The teaser was just that, a teaser. It was short, but exciting nonetheless. We all knew the announcement was coming, but being present for such a reveal is always a thrill. Combined with the nod to Red Mage (and/or perhaps Dancer), the main reveal was well received. The next 7-8 months will certainly contain a lot of information about the new expansion – with the next source of information likely coming from the Fan Fests taking place in Japan (December 24, 2016) and Germany (February 2017). Additional information revealed during the Keynote is laid out in our keynote summary.
In the middle of the second day, there was also a long PVP Exhibition where teams faced off against each other, with the final match being between the group Hello First Time and the Development team! The players came out on top!
At night, concerts by singer Susan Calloway and pianist Dejan Daskalov on Friday, and by The Primals on Saturday, topped off days full of fun and information.
Overall, all of the above went off without too much of a hitch. Of course, there was one notable – and large – hitch. Merchandise.
At the first FFXIV Fan Fest in 2014, there was a lot that could have been improved upon. Printers at the registration desk broke down, increasing the time that attendees had to wait to pick up their badges. Even worse, a credit card machine at one of two registers at the merchandise booth went down, creating a line that wrapped around the entire ballroom.
While unfortunate and frustrating for both attendees and Square Enix, they were lessons that could be learned from… or so we thought.
The Registration line went off without a hitch on Thursday, allowing attendees to easily get their badges and bags.Talking to some of the Square Enix staff on Thursday, they assured me that everything was in place to prevent a repeat of the horrendously long merch line from the 2014 event. This time, there were ten registers set up and they all took a variety of payments. Presumably, Square Enix expected that this would enable them to keep the inevitable steady stream of to-be-merch-purchasers moving.
It was not.
With certain merchandise available exclusively at Fan Fest, and other merchandise available for the first time in North America at Fan Fest, there can be little doubt that the first stop for many, many, attendees will be the merchandise booth. So when the doors opened at 10:00 AM on Friday, it wasn’t long before the line for the Merchandise booth already wrapped around the ballroom to the far corner. The sheer volume of people in the line – and/or amount of time it took to fulfill orders – meant that waiting in the merch line took hours. That meant missing the events described above, and straining to hear (or see) the panels as they took place while slowly inching along the walls of the ballroom.
The problem with a “line” this long is that it is not a real line. The real line was a short ropped off area next to the booth. But after that, the line extended wherever it wanted – which led to multiple lines feeding into the “main” line. At one point, certain Gamer Escape staff were ahead of others, only to end up behind after lines merged and combined. Moreover, there was no significant official management of the line. Occasionally people would hear that the line ahead had been “capped”, but that was whisper-down-the-lane and if there was an official announcement over the PA, it was incredibly hard to make out from the back wall of the ballroom. At one point, one of the temp staffers would mention that the line was capped- but they didn’t make it clear where that cap had taken place – and whether it was in front or behind you. Once you have stood in line for hours, it is unreasonable to expect people to abandon their place in response to an official statement – let alone a rumor or a passing comment. There was no “active” management of this monstrosity of a line to enable people to make informed choices. The best management of the line, sadly, was from an attendee – a non-staff person – who was making sure the line wasn’t blocking the door to the ballroom. Whoever you are nameless hero, you have our gratitude. This uncertainty caused from poor management lead to hundreds of people waiting in the line for up to seven hours, without even knowing whether they were in line, behind or behind the cap, or whether they would make it to the front before the event was over for the day.
The upshot for most of the people who waiting in this line was that they received their merchandise. Towards the end of day 1, Square Enix provided red tickets to a few hundred who were still in line as the day wound down that could be used to get into the line early on day 2- a system which an SE staffer told me wasn’t possible earlier in the day. Square Enix also announced that additional time slot tickets for the merchandise booth would be handed out the following morning at 10:00 AM – these tickets ended up being given out at 8:00 AM because the line was already at capacity, with people lining up for it as early as 10:00 PM the night before.
— Gamer Escape (@gamerescape) October 15, 2016
The merch line on the second day was a debacle – again. To require attendees – who paid money to travel to Las Vegas and to pay to get into this event – to stand in line for up to 7 hours (thereby missing 50% of the festival) simply to purchase merchandise is unacceptable. When there are so many new items, either first available at this event, exclusive to this event, or “first time available in North America” items (which could be helped by making more of the Japanese Squre Enix store items available to other regions) The demand is going to be incredibly high. That demand, should not be a surprise to Square Enix at this point, which means that an alternate form of ordering and distribution needs to be looked into for future events. In 2016, let alone 2014 or 2018, merchandise ordering should not be by paper and pencil, and need not be done at the event itself. Attendees are all known and they are provided registration numbers. Could not a system be put in place where, using their unique registration number, each attendee can order the same merchandise online to be shipped to the address in their registration? Or at least pre-order the merchandise for pick-up at Fan Fest? Sure there may be some people who don’t take advantage of systems like this – and for those attending there could be limited supply of on-site merchandise – but any and every opportunity to eliminate the experience of waiting 7 hours in a line must be looked into before Square Enix undertakes this endeavor again.
Hopefully those attending the Fan Fests coming up in Japan and Germany get to experience the fun of the Las Vegas event without having to battle Merch Line EX.