The Square Enix Panel was a late announcement at PAX 2010 and held at the Benaroya Hall in order to accommodate the number of anticipated fans. Mr. Sage Sundi, Global Online Producer, Community and Service Division of Square Enix welcomed the crowd and thanked them for coming before turning it over to a North American Community Manager, who talked us through a long Final Fantasy XIV trailer showing cut scenes and game play in a quest.
Final Fantasy XIV’s quest lines have really nice cut scenes which place your character right in the action. However instead of simply interacting with the game to move the quest text along, Final Fantasy XIV’s cut scenes are voiced and combat and other actions are inter-twined to create a deeper immersion. No longer do you just kick back and watch a short movie in which your character plays a part, there’s more interaction and you may just have to kill some mobs with the other NPCs or protect them. Once that is over, the cutscene continues.
We watched as our hero met NPCs, battled creatures, interacted with the NPCs, continued quest texts and ran from a boss mob (we were supposed to run). The whimsy of Final Fantasy continues in XIV with a Moogle parade that just manages to happen in the middle of the forest, interrupting the quest of our hero for a short time while we all stood around and watched in wonder at the little creatures and they played music and tossed pretty lights around in their wake, but soon they were back running for their lives.
Deus Ex:Human Revolution was shown in the second part of the panel , but I did manage to speak with Sage Sundi and also Yasu Kurosawa, the North American Online Producer and Senior Director of Community and Service. Both gentlemen were here to talk about community building in Final Fantasy XIV.
Square Enix’s method of dealing with and building their player community is to have a dedicated community team whose main function is to interact with the major fan community sites. They do not host player forums and when I asked them about speaking to players directly, their first question was “In English or in Japanese?” It seems that they are most wary that their devs might mis-speak in an unfamiliar language or that the Japanese may be translated incorrectly, hence, the team of community representatives who interface with the site owners to gather feedback and to release information to the fan base.
Sage indicated that the community representative team is their “key strategy” in interacting with fan sites and communicating with their fans to obtain feedback as well as to build their community. Much of that feedback is what drove the game design in FFXIV’s more solo friendly play.
“We have what we call Leve Quests in FFXIV,” said Yasu, “which are a very efficient way to get XP, but of course there’s only so many you can obtain a day.”
These are the GuildLeves featured in their latest trailer and look like rectangular frames of stained glass, each depicting a virtuous deed of one of Eorzea’s patron saints. These are issued by guilds as quest tokens, giving the bearer “leave” to take whatever steps necessary to complete the job, including entry into normally restricted areas, hunting or harvesting on private lands (instanced quest areas), the confiscation of goods, even negotiations with those considered enemies of the city-states. Guildleves also grant use of aetheryte portals, ensuring quick travel about the region.
“The difficulty can be selected by the player for solo and group play,” added Sage.
I can see that the community will also like making beautiful artwork out of these pretty jewel-toned creations.
In reference yet again to their community building, Square Enix will continue to host Fan Festivals and Sage again indicated their commitment to building community in Final Fantasy XIV. In a nod to more interaction and a sort of central place for players to get together however, Square Enix provides their members with their own player site where they can upload screenshots of their avatars and blog about their adventures.
“Although Final Fantasy XIV will not have official forums or linkshell forums,” said Sage, “they will have player sites where players can blog about their adventures.”
This is a new community service from Square Enix. At launch, FFXIV players will have access to players.finalfantasyxiv.com where they will have a page with character details, stats and a blog which will let you follow other players and get their updates automatically.
Both gentlemen acknowledged that North American players would like to have direct access to Square Enix developers through official forums, but the issues with the language is a real one as I found myself having to double check a couple of facts to make sure I did not take what they said to mean something else. We were speaking of quests and the easier more solo-friendly game-play of FFXIV and somehow, Leve Quests which gave players the “leave” to take what necessary steps to complete them got mixed up with the XP bonuses after players came back from a leave in the game.
This misinterpretation could also be seen in the recent hullabaloo about XP penalties. In a move similar to many other online games (World of Warcraft to name one), players of FFXIV who have been away from the game for a while will get an XP bonus when they next log in to play. Somehow, that got spun negatively into the idea that players would be getting XP penalties the longer they are in game.
“Our key strategy is (our) community representatives talking to the fan sites,” said Sage of their community building initiative. With official translations of their messages to the various language sites, they hope to avoid any future misunderstandings.
In a world that’s different from other FF worlds and yet familiar enough that players of other FF games will definitely experience a send of Déjà vu, FFXIV will launch at the end of September. Currently in Open Beta, the so-inclined can try out Catgirls, Moogles and Chocobos… oh my!