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PAX 2010: Wrassling the FFXIV community with Square-Enix


It was hard to miss Final Fantasy XIV at PAX Prime this year -- its booth loomed large, white and sprawling right inside of the main exhibition hall doors. As players poured in to get their hands on this imminent title, Massively pulled aside Square-Enix's Yasu Kurosawa and Sage Sundi for a chat about managing the global community.

Sage deals with more of the global aspect across multiple regions, while Yasu is Square Enix's North America representative and is tasked with bringing the community's voice back to Japan. Unfortunately, we were limited from discussing gameplay aspects of FFXIV, but the pair were open about the challenges and difficulties of handling a community worldwide, especially in regions where the game's developers are not linguistically fluent. Read on for their thoughts on the subject.

The Tower of Babel effect

Despite common beliefs, Babelfish and other translation programs aren't the cure-all solution for the problems that language barriers present. Square-Enix is painfully careful not to put its developers in front of the microphone (or non-Japanese forums) out of fear of their statements' being mistranslated or misconstrued. Despite this being a complaint by both Final Fantasy XI and XIV players, it doesn't look to change any time soon.

Instead, Square-Enix has organized a system of regional-specific community service teams -- one each for Japan, North America, Germany, London and France. These teams are tasked with gathering relevant feedback from various community sources and sending the results back to Square-Enix HQ, as well as with being the voice-piece of the company for announcements and explanations.

Although the company won't be changing this general method of gathering and delivering information between players and devs, Sage and Yasu told us that they definitely want to place a higher priority on this process as FFXIV progresses.

Let your voice be heard

Since Final Fantasy XIV lacks an official forum -- and won't be seeing one any time soon, for the same fears that keep the devs mum elsewhere -- the CM teams rely heavily on fan sites and unofficial forums to get the pulse of the community. The CMs want to prevent misunderstandings by opening up to site owners and being accessible when news hits.

In return, fan sites and unofficial forums provide a very valuable service for Square-Enix in the form of constructive criticism and player feedback. When asked about the best way for a player to make her voice heard to the FFXIV developers, Sage said that being part of a community site -- particularly a big one -- would help with this. The company plans to list "premier sites" on the FFXIV website that its devs pay the most attention to, although the scope of their attention goes even further.

The CMs and in-game GMs are tasked with compiling daily reports to send back up the chain of command, particularly when a big issue arises. At this point, community managers will ascertain what types of players are voicing the issue, where the issue is popping up, and how accurate it is or isn't. Regional CMs will communicate with their contemporaries and see whether this is a localized issue or widespread, and then wing the report to the Japanese community manager, who compiles all of the reports and takes the summaries to the dev team. Every 24 hours, this compiled report is carefully read and possible courses of action are then discussed.

Managing your own community

While the duo were reluctant to share any additional information about companies and their role in managing micro-communities, they said that there was a concerted effort to provide more in-game tools for members of linkshells (guilds) to communicate between each other, and tools for leaders to organize the group. These include in-game forums, blogs that tie into the game, and unspecified mobile phone utilities.

For linkshells making the move from Final Fantasy XI to XIV, it won't be possible to transfer linkshell membership or even friends lists. However, a Final Fantasy XI account ensures that the same name will be reserved for XIV, which should make hooking up with friends and linkshells an easier proposition.

If you're big into player-run events, Square-Enix promises to help promote these as part of its CM efforts through email newsletters and official site announcements. Don't expect a lot of in-game officially-run events, such as weddings, as the company has determined that the demand for such features is too small to warrant implementation.

Sage and Yasu were quite upbeat about the upcoming launch and said that if you've never set foot in an MMO to date, Final Fantasy XIV would be the perfect beginning to a long gaming relationship.

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