Square Enix found great success with Final Fantasy XI. The title has been operating on PC and since 2002 in Japan, since 2003 in the U.S., and 2004 in Europe. Meanwhile, it's also been released and continues to operate on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 as well -- and as a subscription title with a large base, it continues to earn revenues for the publisher, which still supports it all these years later.
Now, the company is on the verge of releasing its next premium MMO to a global audience. Currently in beta on the PC, Final Fantasy XIV will be released to the public this September on PC and early next year on the PlayStation 3.
Recently, Gamasutra had a chance to speak to Hiromichi Tanaka, who is senior vice president of software development at Square Enix, about its MMO business.
In addition to that role, Tanaka is also in directly charge of development on both of the FFXI and FFXIV projects, and has been with the company since the 1980s. He was joined for this discussion -- on the significance of the online franchise to the company and its plans -- by Square Enix's North American online producer Yasu Kurosawa.
What does Final Fantasy XIV represent for Square Enix?
Hiromichi Tanaka: As it's the latest Final Fantasy series title, we're trying to figure out what an MMORPG can bring as a game, so it's really a new challenge to us.
As it's an MMORPG, our previous title was Final Fantasy XI. That has been going on for eight years now. Of course we had as PC and PlayStation 2 as its platform [so] it's becoming quite aged now. So, we are trying to make a new MMORPG, the next generation MMORPG -- so we're really working hard for this new title.
When you started the Final Fantasy XI project, which was many years ago, did you expect to be operating it so many years later? Did you expect to be operating it while you're developing the next MMO for the Final Fantasy series?
HT: Usually the next generation of consoles will come in five years, so [at that time] we thought, "We will continue at least five years, up until towards the end of the PlayStation 2 generation." But to be honest, we're quite surprised that even the PS3 is out now and we're still continuing, and we really appreciate all the support from the users.
There's been a lot of talk in the past about the success Final Fantasy has been from a financial perspective. What does launching XIV represent from a business perspective for Square Enix?
HT: Because Final Fantasy XI has been out for eight years, it has passed its peak. So, XIV, we want it to be the next mainstream MMO for our company, and it's very important to us.
Yasu Kurosawa: Also, we will sort of try to find some kind of method of encouraging people to play both. So, we want a lot of people to continue playing FFXI as well as XIV.
You're saying you're going to continue operating Final Fantasy XI and XIV, and also try to have people interested in both, but that's proven to be a real challenge for some other companies operating MMO sequels. Do you have any thoughts on how you're going to keep that going at the same time?
HT: Since FFXI has been out of eight years, we think it's reached its time now, so obviously we would want FFXI players to shift to FFXIV. However, we do understand if FFXI players have special memories of FFXI, so there must be some people who will continue to play FFXI. So, we would like to keep of them happy, and we will try to introduce some bonus for our customers, probably from a monetary point of view.
However, of course, we will continue working on FFXI. Even after we launch FFXIV, we will still continue the development side. So, as long as the players enjoy the game, we will continue the service.
These days there's a ton of free-to-play browser games and similar products for the PC and online gaming audience. Do you feel like the landscape has changed significantly? I mean, obviously, it has changed significantly since you launched FFXI. So, how do you view that competitive marketplace?
HT: I think a lot of other titles have given up challenging the monthly subscription fee market because World of Warcraft is so big. However, those microtransaction-type games, or the free games, they're good sometimes, but they're going to have a really short life. So, we still think as a huge MMO, monthly subscription fees should be the mainstream -- and this is a mainstream MMO.
Some time ago, speaking about Final Fantasy XI, you said it was close to the image you had when the series first started, the idea of similar to the original Final Fantasy taken online and expanded greatly. Does this follow in the same evolution in your mind from the old days, from when the series began?
HT: Final Fantasy XI was more like related to the first early games in the series, and it's something that we always wanted to achieve online, but we think we've done what we can do for FFXI, so with FFXIV, we're looking for a next generation Final Fantasy game -- so it's going to be quite different.