Final Fantasy XI has become somewhat legendary in that it was Square Enix’s first, and remains its only, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Following its initial inception on PC in 2002/2003, it has since moved onto the PlayStation 2 and, most recently, Xbox 360, accruing an impressive half a million subscribers from all around the world. In light of the fourth expansion pack, Wings of the Goddess, the company spoke out on the game and on future plans.
To celebrate the game’s eagerly awaited expansion pack, Square Enix held a special event called the ‘Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2007′ over at the Anaheim Hilton in Southern California. Present was Industry website Gamasutra, who caught up with Square Enix’s Vice President, Hiromichi Tanaka (who also acted as the Producer on the Final Fantasy XI project), Sage Sundi (Global Online Producer), plus other members from the game’s development team, to talk about the game and plans for the future. The full list of those also present includes Kouichi Ogawa (Director of Wings of the Goddess and Treasures of Aht Urhgan), Akihiko Matsui (Battle Director of FFXI), Mitsutoshi Gondai (Planner of FFXI) and Kenichi Iwao (Planner of FFXI).
Since the game’s fifth anniversary is on the horizon, clearly the team is in high spirits, but Hiromichi Tanaka states that actual development of the game began about eight years ago, so obviously it is quite an achievement, especially given the team only considered it might last five years on from that point in time! In terms of Final Fantasy XI’s popularity around the world, the strongest territory by far is Japan, with half of the 500,000 subscribers being from that region, whilst the remainder are a combination of the American and European territories. Sadly, for Square Enix, the Xbox 360 has still failed to make much progress in Japan, meaning that even though last year’s arrival of the game on Microsoft’s format was significant, “not many people have the actual hardware to play it” in Japan. However, the company IS pleased with how a lot of the users in Europe and America are using the 360 edition. With the PlayStation 2 gradually slowing down in Japan as Wii and Nintendo DS take over, Sage Sundi notes that whilst “At the release, there were a lot more using the PS2 in Japan…recently the trend has been that most players are moving to the PC versions.” Tanaka-san interjects to add that in North America there is also a worrying trend of most Xbox 360 owners having a PC, meaning “most of them are going to be playing on the PC rather than the 360.”
On the subject of games such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy followers being drawn into the world of MMO titles, the Square Enix team stated:
Gamasutra: 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.
Gamasutra: Do you think it’s maybe almost that you’ve introduced Final Fantasy players to MMOs?
Square Enix Team Members: Yeah, one of the main concepts when we were designing it was to introduce players to the MMORPG type of world. One of the side effects of doing that was that also a lot of people who had never played an FF game decided to play this as their first MMO as well, especially probably more so in Japan where MMOs weren’t very big. And this was also the first MMO on a console, so a lot of players that had played FF and had not played FF started with FFXI because it was the first MMO available.
Sundi-san confirms that interest has definitely risen in the game again since the release of Wings of the Goddess, with the expansion pack providing a spike in subscriptions due to people getting ready for the new experience. In fact, movements in the region of several tens of thousands have been recorded lately thanks to users coming back to the Final Fantasy online world.
Tanaka-san was then asked about the announcement of how the game will now be able to be played in a window, giving users greater freedom when playing on their PC systems, to which he responded:
“The original FFXI for the PC was based on DirectX 8 technology and to have a windowed mode in this and also be able to run FFXI, there wasn’t enough memory-wise. It just didn’t work out there program-wise. So when we went to DX9 we had to basically remake the system for that and then there’s also the risk of making all these remakes, and that’s one of things that took a lot of time, development. Also once we had it done, because the windowed mode — basically it affects everything in the game — we had to go back and do all of our technical type of checks to make sure that it wasn’t causing problems anywhere. So the debugging process also took a lot of time. We started about a year ago we started talking about developing the windowed mode. We started the actual process of building it about a half a year ago. This had a lot to do with Windows Vista and Games for Windows. They require a windowed mode for the games, so that was one of the big reasons that we had to make the push.”
Finally, as for the possibility of a future Final Fantasy MMO, Tanaka-san simply said “…members from the current FFXI team are working on a next generation MMO, but it still hasn’t been decided whether that’s going to be a game in the FF series, a continuation, or a totally new game,” assuring us that they are working on it.
Be sure to check out the full feature, which includes an in-depth write-up on the actual event itself as well.
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