Austin GDC: Live at the Hiromichi Tanaka keynote

Elizabeth Harper
E. Harper|09.06.07

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Austin GDC: Live at the Hiromichi Tanaka keynote

Hiromichi Tanaka is the executive officer of Square Enix and the producer of company's entry into the MMO market, Final Fantasy XI. This morning at the Austin Game Developer's Conference he's going to be talking to us about the challenges of cross-platform design with a design post-mortum of Final Fantasy XI.

11:06 AM CST: We were supposed to get started at 11AM CST, but the event seems to be running fashionably late.

11:08 AM CST: Introducing Hiromichi Tanaka speaking on Launching Final Fantasy XI on Multiple Platforms.

11:09 AM CST: The history of Final Fantasy. This year marks the game's 20th anniversary!
  • Final Fantasy III was the first of the series to go over 1 million sales
  • Today, series sales have passed 75 million sales worldwide
  • Currently, Square Enix is busy developing the next version of Final Fantasy for the Playstation 3, as well as developing for the Wii, DS, and 360.
11:13 AM CST: Final Fantasy XI is celebrating its 5th anniversary! It was the world's first cross-platform MMO and had the same servers for everyone everywhere.

11:14 AM CST: In late 1999, the development team was formed (combining the teams from Chrono Cross, Legend of Mana, and Parasite Eve). Public beta begain in late 2001 and the game launched in Japan on the PS2 in May 2002.

11:15 AM CST: In November 2002, they launched on the PC in Japan.

11:16 AM CST: Xbox devlopment was abandoned, though they developed an Xbox version simultaneously with the Windows version. The Xbox only had a 2GB hard drive, which they felt would not be enough for the game and future updates/expansions. (FFXI reserves 8GB of drive space on the PS2 hard drive.)

11:17 AM CST: In March 2007, they launched French and German localizations of the game -- approximately two years of work was required to translate.

11:19 AM CST: Global service: cross-region interaction. The time difference between primary service territories is equal (7~9 hours). Eliminates cost for regional servers and better utilizes server resources by eliminating dead time.

11:22 AM CST: Server system. 32 public game worlds with 15k to 20k unique users each. Players are equally distributed amongst servers. Total of 200k - 300k logins a day.

11:23 AM CST: Answers to common questions...
  • Player killing, kill stealing, camping... the dark side of the fantasy
    • Removed PK system
    • Granted exclusive possession to the first party
    • Encouraged cooperation with other players
  • Sports-themed PvP with team vs. team. Quite popular! Hundreds participate in these friendly skirmishes.
11:26 AM CST: How to deal with a global audience communicating in game? Auto-translation function translates FFXI terms as well as words and simple sentences. One of the main reasons FFXI's mixed region servers have been so successful.

11:29 AM CST: "You-Know-Who" -- the new MMO threat of the past 5 years. (Read: RMT.) The service is rapidly expanding due to cheap labor and has huge organizations over the world.

11:30 AM CST: Introducing Sage Sundi, global online producer, Final Fantasy XI & PlayOnline

11:32 AM CST: Real money trading, the available options
  • allow it
  • do it yourself
  • ignore it
Sundi strongly feels that the gaming company has to improve the users' gaming experience by acting against it, and Square Enix has acted against RMT with a special task force which has managed to eliminate 90% of RMT activities in FFXI.

11:33 AM CST: Complications caused by RMT
  • inflation
  • farming and monopolizing monsters in game
  • cheat tools
  • disgruntled users may leave the game over the above issues
11:34 AM CST: RMT organizations:
  • Hunters: these are the farmers who go out and earn currency using whatever method is most efficient. Some of the biggest groups in FFXI have had as many as 300 hunters
  • Banks: people who collect the items and currency gained by the hunters.
  • Front-end: Interact with customers, separating the customers from the hunters, buffering them from the traceable hunters.
The front end operations can be performed out of game, which is more difficult for Square Enix to deal with.

11:37 AM CST: The role of the special task force...
  • Analysis of data and logs
  • Initially did this analysis once a month, but are currently on a weekly schedule
11:39 AM CST: Most RMT organizations are connected. A few huge "bank" networks cover most RMT-related virtual currency.

11:41 AM CST: Removing "front-end" and "bank" accounts is not enough. Though it is effective in removing large amounts of virtual currency (temporarily easing inflation), it only encouraged the remaining "Hunters" to work harder to compensate for losses. Eliminating hunter accounts has proven more successful in cutting inflation.

11:42 AM CST: However, no matter how many you ban... they will be back. Need to keep watching and removing "hunter" accounts. Good data logging helps track and locate these accounts and learn about the methods they're using (hacks of various sorts). In addition to logging, monitoring player reports is also key.

11:43 AM CST: Have to keep changing the game system to limit or prevent specific activities -- but the effect of these changes on normal players has to be minimal.

11:44 AM CST: There are still hurdles... need fair guidelines to determine what is and what is not tolerated. Can't simply ban accounts because another player felt they might be conducting RMT operations. However, these guidelines must be kept internally, because otherwise players will try to find grey areas.

11:45 AM CST: Forming a consensus with our legal department. ("Just like in the US, people in Japan don't like working with lawyers.") But working with their legal department allows them to seriously go after RMT operations.

11:46 AM CST: Since they've started fighting the RMT trade, they've had great success in curtailing the activities. Approximately 2/3rds of the RMT sites serving FFXI have disappeared.

11:48 AM CST: Hiromichi Tanaka takes the stage again

11:49 AM CST: Retaining users:
  • Expansion packs (3 so far)
  • Version updates (major updates every 3 months)
  • Monthly events (in-game or web-based events in conjunction with seasonal events or anniversaries)
  • Changes and live feedback (two major factors in maintaining developer motivation)
11:50 AM CST: 4th expansion, Wings of the Goddess. Simultaious release this winter for all languages and all platforms. (12 SKU's at once!)

11:51 AM CST: Showing WotG trailer

11:53 AM CST: What's next? Continued development -- still have 500,000 users around the globe, and if they keep playing, we'll keep developing.

11:54 AM CST: What about next gen? FFXI looks outdated compared to newer products, which is why Square Enix has been working on a completely new MMORPG for the Xbox 360.

11:55 AM CST: The "White Engine," a common engine, common middleware for all platforms. Almost ready for the next generation of software.

11:57 AM CST: Shouldn't be much longer before they can unviel more details, but for now, thank you.

That's it for this keynote, folks. Thanks for reading!
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