Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix's first (and, to date, last) serious assault on online gaming, is still going strong after five years. 500,000 players from around the world continue to stick with it, and some have played the titles - available on PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox 360 - since the very beginning in 2002 (2003, in the West).
This week the fourth expansion,
Wings of the Goddess, was released and to give hardcore fans a sneak
peek, Square Enix put on the recent Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2007 at the Anaheim Hilton in Southern California.
Firstly, Gamasutra presents a Q&A with Square Enix vice president and producer of Final Fantasy XI Hiromichi Tanaka, Sage Sundi, and other members of the Square Enix development team, conducted at the event.
Coming up on the fifth anniversary, how does everyone feel? It's got to be a great accomplishment -- five years running an MMO.
Hiromichi Tanaka: Actually, you might know that the development for Final Fantasy XI started about eight years ago. And at the time that development began we really only had a plan for about five years, and now it's been eight years. So it kept building, but it's been a very quick eight years. The time has gone by really quickly. But everyone still has a lot of fun making it and we're sure that probably even from now the time will still keep going quickly.
Which regions would you say are the strongest throughout the global market in terms of subscription base?
HT: Right now of our 500,000 users about half are Japan, the remaining half being a combination of American and the European territories.
Are you happy with how the console versions have been received? The Xbox 360 version last year was a pretty big deal.
HT: As you probably know, the 360 is not that popular in Japan, so even though it's on sale not many people have the actual hardware to play it. But yeah, we're pleased to see that a lot of the users in Europe and America (where the 360 is popular) are players using that, and we hope to continue making stuff for that market.
So in Japan they play more PS2 or PC?
Sage Sundi: At the release, there were a lot more using the PS2 in Japan, but recently the trend has been that most players are moving to the PC versions.
HT: And then a lot of the players in America -- probably most of the people who have an Xbox 360 also have a PC -- so most of them are going to be playing on the PC rather than the 360.
Do games like World of Warcraft impinge on your market, or do you feel like it's a completely different player base?
Square Enix Team Members: Actually we haven't been affected that much by WoW. When FFXI hit its peak users was about the time that WoW was released, and when it was released we didn't see a big reduction in the players. It's pretty much been about the same. We feel that with a lot of MMORPGs on the market, players have the choice of the one they want to go to and they'll try them out and then they'll stick with one -- and we see that people who chose FFXI have stuck with it.