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E3:  Final Fantasy XIV Online  Press Conference Report, Analysis

E3: Final Fantasy XIV Online Press Conference Report, Analysis

June 3, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

June 3, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
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More: Console/PC, E3



The Final Fantasy series has maintained consistent popularity for years -- but many are probably not aware that Final Fantasy XI, the MMO edition of the game, has been extremely profitable for Square Enix for years, and continues to boast a global subscription base in the hundreds of thousands -- and players play together on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 2, making it the only successful cross-platform MMO ever.

It's unsurprising, then, that the company would announce that Final Fantasy XIV, set to debut simultaneously for PC and PlayStation 3 in 2010 globally -- and in four languages (Japanese, English, German, and French, with other languages to come later if demand is ascertained by Square Enix marketing research).

Square Enix held a press conference at E3 to discuss the title with fans -- as with every event at E3, it was populated primarily by the enthusiast and fan press. However, some details about the game's design philosophy and market strategy did flow out around the edges.

Director Nobuaki Komoto, senior vice president Shinji Hashimoto, and producer and original Square Soft founder Hiromichi Tanaka were on hand to go into detail on Square Enix's strategy.

Hashimoto began the press conference by discussing the apparent confusion around the game's exclusivity to the PlayStation 3 platform -- it was announced by Jack Tretton at Sony's press conference. Even so, it appears now to be in even more doubt than it was yesterday. Said Hashimoto, "Some folks interpreted the announcement as being an exclusive, but we wanted to make sure that the announcement was that the game is coming to the PS3 and PC, and in terms of Microsoft products and all other hardware we are considering all options at this time."

This was the only statement -- question and answers started immediately.

Building, Expanding, Maintaining -- A Tough Task

The company clearly hopes to run both of its MMOs concurrently. Still supported, expanded, patched and played, FFXI is an important revenue source for Square Enix. Said Tanaka, "The development ideas for FFXIV started appearing four or five years ago, and we just started getting into full gear in the past few years... this has been going on at the same time of FFXI. We have no plans to stop the development of FFXI."

Of course, two games will be running at the same time -- and industry observers have seen from EverQuest II that MMO sequels are a difficult proposition. Tanaka was adamant that the new game is in a new world and will feature new characters -- but the new game also retains the same races and similar art direction to the original to ease fans of XI into the new world of XIV. But will players play both? "It's up to the community themselves," said Tanaka. "We hope the community will get on and play XI one day, and then the next, play XIV."

So why even make a new game when FFXI is still popular, asked one journalist? Again, Tanaka: "We've been asked that question by a lot of people. It comes down to -- FFXI was originally designed for the PlayStation 2... a lot of people have asked for a port of it to current generation machines. Porting that would take too much time to convert it to the new technology. Rather than doing that... we decided to use that time to make something new."

So -- can players port their XI characters? Tanaka said, "The game system and world are completely different, and the progression system is completely different, so you can't port your character. But the character designs are similar so you create a similar character you've been playing. However, the friend lists you have, we hopefully will be moving over."

Walking the fine line between getting the old community to support the new game, and building a game that innovates while attracting longtime fans will be a big challenge. While characteristically tight-lipped about the "how", Square Enix seems to be pondering the challenge with some seriousness.

But What of WoW?

Of course, the 800 pound gorilla reared its head quickly, in the form of a question from IGN's Jeremy Dunham. What lessons has the team learned from the genre's clear leader? The director, Komoto, responded, "As with World of Warcraft, and how they've aimed with casual users, we do want to put some of that in FFXIV as well -- however, we don't want to make a copy of World of Warcraft and we want to have things that are unique in our game."

In a follow-up, the evolving design of FFXI game over the past seven years since its 2002 Japanese release was discussed. The game was originally party-focused, but solo play features were later added. This accumulated design evolution will flow into FFXIV.

Though details were scarce, the Square Enix team alluded to improvements to the genre that will help the game stand out. But what are they? Said Komoto -- at the top level -- "Our vision with Final Fantasy XIV was to make the best possible Final Fantasy game available. We thought about how we could do that, and we decided to do that through the MMO genre."

Tanaka added, "We're trying to implement a lot of [gameplay] systems that MMOs haven't seen in the past that we hope are revolutionary." Of course, tight-lipped initial announcements don't allow room to begin to suggest what these might be.

A questioner asked why a beginning MMO player would choose FFXIV over the competition. Komoto answered, "We believe that players will fall in love with the world that we have created, and the story that we have to offer, and that's probably our biggest thing." Unlike many MMOs, and like most of Square Enix's games, Final Fantasy XI offers a very strong story; it seems assured that FFXIV will continue in this vein.

And What of The Game Itself?

A question came from Famitsu Xbox 360 -- whether or not the trailer released online represents realtime game graphics. Said Komoto, "There were parts that were prerendered and those that ran on the realtime engine." The part of the trailer that is running in realtime is the battle scene with the large bestial Galka character battling, according to Tanaka. The team plans to maintain that quality, in large and small battles, in the final product.

Another Japanese journalist asked for Komoto and Tanaka's opinion on what's important about the game -- and what they'd like to highlight. "For Final Fantasy XIV, the keyword we've been using is 'growth' of the character. We'd like to expand on the in-game systems, and through these new types of systems, the player will grow and develop in a natural way." Tanaka added, again, that flexibility for solo and party and big and small time commitment gameplay styles will be supported -- showing recognition of the changing MMO marketplace since FFXI's 2002 Japanese launch.


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