Final Fantasy XI Online Premier Site Summit
March 2, 2007
by Crystal Watanabe (Pikko)
I hate to disappoint the people who enjoyed "A Summons from Jeuno", but it was taking me forever to write and my eyes are shutting down soon whether I want them to or not. I'd done that mainly to adhere to the request that we be vague about the details of the summit. I hope you guys enjoyed that little roleplaying bit. This writeup is pretty long, so bear with me.
As you all know by now, the Premier Site Summit we announced earlier this week actually took place on March 1-3. We first received word about this summit in mid-February, but unfortunately, very few details were initially disclosed to us and we were asked to keep the date to ourselves.
I left Honolulu at 8:15am on Thursday and arrived in Los Angeles International Airport (for the first time in around 15 years!) in the early afternoon. We weren't going to be meeting up with our Square contacts, Matt Hilton and Robert Peeler, until Friday morning at 10:30, so after arriving at the hotel and settling in, I made plans to have dinner with my cousin. While waiting, I got a text message from Exo saying that he'd arrived. I sent him one back warning him to beware of the automatic revolving doors because there were some at LAX and at the hotel. There was a message on my phone from Matt saying that limo pickup would be at 10 am the next morning. Woo, a limo! I met up with Exodus in the lobby after he'd checked in and we chatted a bit, speculating about what would be going on the next day.
My cousin arrived and we had a pleasant dinner at a restaurant near the hotel called The Lobster. After dinner we headed to the Third Street Promenade to see if any shops were still open so I could buy something for my little Tarus back home. I returned to the hotel and gave Exo a call to confirm our breakfast plans.
I'd set my alarms for 7:30 and 7:45 (yes, I need two) but being restless and excited, and probably still on toddler time, I was up by 6:45. 8:25 rolled around and I gave Exo a call to see if he was ready. We decided to eat at the hotel restaurant, Ocean & Vine, which has amazingly delicious yet excruciatingly expensive scrambled eggs and probably some of the best juice I've had in years. Very yummy! My sincere thanks to Exodus for treating me!
It was about 9:30 when we walked out of the restaurant to find Matt and Robert waiting with two gentlemen who we would later learn were from Stratics. We did a few brief introductions then Exo and I headed outside to take a couple of pictures since this would be my last daylight photo opportunity at the hotel. Here you can get a glimpse of my "this freezing wind is owning me" face. And stop laughing, I only feel that cold when I clean out my freezer.
We headed back in to meet with the others. The two people from IGN had a delayed flight and wouldn't be landing until 11. Once everyone was there, we headed outside to the incredible reversing (explanation below) Hummer limo! It was very impressive and we were all grins as we climbed in and officially began the first ever Premier Site Tour of Square Enix. So, back to that reversing Hummer thing. The driver drove right past the Square Enix office building and so he stopped and reversed that big hunk of an automobile a few hundred feet back down the street. Matt began to /panic as he was sitting in the back, but we managed to arrive safely and proceeded inside.
We were taken to the Alexandria Conference Room, which had 6 XBox 360s (they were liek, huge and stuff) set up on the table, a large wall hanging of Aht Urhgan, and a huge TV. It was around 11 and although the two people from Vault were landing soon, Yasu, Sage Sundi, and Mocchi had arrived and the tour had to start lest we fall behind schedule. We left our things there and began our tour.
The first thing you notice about their office is that they have merchandise everywhere. There were dozens of copies of FFXII on display out front, posters of various Square titles, standalones from popular Final Fantasy games, dolls, stuffed figures, and more. It was really cool!
First we headed to the sales department to meet the staff there. From there we proceeded to Marketing where Yasu handed out some Square Enix pens. We passed a funny sign with the macro set:
/ma Firaga "Marketing
We continued on the tour through Accounting where we saw *gasp* World of Warcraft posters hanging in someone's cubicle.
In his emails, Matt had mentioned a "special guest" that would be joining us for lunch. We waited outside the office of the "special guest" but were immediately distracted by the Final Fantasy chair sitting right there. Whispers of "I want that!" came from several of us, including Matt.
Amazingly, our special guest turned out to be Daishiro Okada, President and Chief Operating Officer of Square Enix! We entered his office where he spoke with us briefly about the plans they had for expanding their business, the relationship they hoped to build with us, and thanking us for all the support we give to what they all simply call "11". We would see him again later that day as he joined us for lunch. It truly was an honor to meet him. My thanks to him for taking the time to socialize with us.
We did a quick drive-by past Human Resources then headed downstairs and passed through the QA area, which included a dark room that they referred to as "The Dungeon", where they test the games for bugs. Apparently the darkness is to avoid glare on the monitors. Next, we met the "11 team", which was unfortunately only partially present due to some being out sick. Employees work on what they call "tours", in which they change to a different game from time to time to keep things fresh.
Next, we headed to the Community Relations area where we met Franko (Who I'd met before at the iGames expo at PCGamerz) and the back end support team. We noticed on a shelf there was a box of a blue bottle labelled "Final Fantasy Potion". When asked about it, Matt began to adamantly declare over and over what a horrible tasting drink it is and how they put a couple on his desk and just being near them makes him unhappy. When we got to his desk we all laughed when we saw two potions next to his monitor.
They took us into the Customer Service room, where Exodus and I simply could not contain our giggling. One of the representatives was on the phone calmly explaining that once an account is banned it cannot be restored.
The next room we went to was particularly interesting because this was the room that the Game Masters work in and we were able to learn a few interesting pieces of information about the Game Masters. One being that the GMs are not server specific. Each call is answered in the order received and each GM can go to whatever server the call is from. They do have certain servers that produce more calls than the others and this may be why people think that they have a set GM for their server. We were there at a non-peak part of their day; most of the GMs report in for work at 1 pm. The Special Task Force (Matt says the "Unit" was added on by the community) is located in Japan.
In the back area of the room there was the NOC section (I'm sorry, I do not remember what that means) which is the point of contact between the NA/EU/FR GMs and the Japan GMs. When a complaint is issued about a Japanese player by an NA/EU player or vice versa, there must be investigations on both sides and the NOC coordinates the communication needed for this. There was a live camera feed of the GM room in Japan and one of them noticed us and suddenly an entire room of GMs were standing there staring at us and waving. One even put on a fuzzy green hat and did a little dance.
We also found out why wedding appointments are so hard to get when we met the GM that handles weddings. Yes, I said "the GM", not "the GMs". >.< Our last stop was in a technical department that works on things like Vista compatability. After that, our tour was over and we headed back to the conference room to wait for the Vault representatives to arrive and once they did, we watched a brief presentation introducing us to various members of the Community Relations team. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We got back into the Hummer limo and headed to Marie Callender's Grill, where the limo reversed again! D: On the way there I talked a bit with Razor from Warcry, who has excellent taste in TV shows and books. (Heroes, Rome, BSG, GRR Martin!)
Exo and I were fortunate enough to sit across from Yasu and next to Sundi and the guys from Wiki (who were very personable and easy to get along with by the way!). Probably the hardest thing for me was choosing which conversation to listen and contribute to. On one hand I could hear a few people talking about one interesting topic and then someone else in another conversation says something interesting and it seemed like I always had to choose between two equally interesting subjects.
Exodus had a lot of great suggestions that he brought up, including concern for the underutilization of the puppetmaster job. Yasu informed him that when they release new jobs they look at what direction the player base takes the job and from there evaluate where to make improvements and adjustments to it. They have done the adjustments on Corsair and Blue Mage, Puppetmaster is simply the last job they are evaluating. Yasu also stated that they do not intend to discontinue support for the PS2 players.
It was really interesting to hear that all of these people that work on the game all day, every day actually go home and... play the game. It's company policy that they not reveal what server they play on or that they work for Square. In fact, at one point during the tour, Robert told us that once someone actually petitioned a GM to complain about Matt's character and that Matt ended up simply walking over to the GM room to tell them what was going on. Too funny!
After lunch we returned to the office and began the in-game events, which turned out to be two battles from the Tokyo Game Show. The first was an Assault mission in which we were put into groups of three, the jobs being set at Paladin, Black Mage, and Blue Mage. We had 5 minutes to kill as many things as possible. Exodus, myself, and Ganiman were placed on one team. I was the black mage, Exo was the Paladin, and Ganiman was the Blue Mage. We all had insane gear, fully upgraded relic weapons, and also HP, MP, and TP regen. Our first round I believe we got around 17 or so. A second set of teams played and we played the winner, emerging victorious over them. It helped that I realized I should start by casting Reraise on myself since the black mages kept dying. This ended up helping quite a bit because it was pretty easy to die in there, even with all of those tools.
Finally, our team went up against a Community Relations team which included Yasu and Matt. We beat them 33 to 20. Many excuses were made, but it was clear that this was just a simple case of superior skillz. Having won that, we were placed on the BCNM team for the Heroines battle. We would be facing 3 out of 4 possible in-game heroines. The level cap was 60 with no subjobs and we could only pick from the basic jobs. Yasu warned us that Shantotto was the worst of them all and that if we got her, we should kill her first. We logged in and were teleported to Stellar Fulcrum. Upon zoning in we saw Dr. Shantotto standing next to Prishe. Greaaat.
Long story short: We came, we buffed, we kicked their ass! (old Ghostbusters joke for those who don't get that, lol)
Towards the end when Ayame was busting out her six-pack o' weaponskill whoopass, I ran in and jammed Benediction, saving us from death, which got cheers and applause from the room. I had only 70 mana left, so I whipped out my Apollo's Staff and helped whack away. I received more praise and applause after the battle, which felt really great because this meant that no one noticed that early in the battle I had accidentally mistargetted and cast Cure IV on myself. +_+ They told us that this was the first time players in NA had tried this battle. And we'd won to boot! It was a great feeling and such a fun fight. The XBoxes were put away and the presentation we had begun watching earlier continued.
It started by making clear to us what certains teams and the sites are and their purposes. The purpose of the Community Relations team is to focus on the needs of the community. They plan the in-game events, provide information to the Premier sites, discuss game and player needs with the dev team, and communicate with the player community.
The purpose of the GMs is to ensure that all types of in-game situations are handled in as fair a way as possible while maintaining a happy customer base, which is obviously quite a task. They provide assistance in a friendly and timely manner and resolve conflicts.
The purpose of the Information Center is to create a comfortable experience for customers and ensuring that customers receive complete answers. They have a department called BSG, but since my notes do not indicate what this means and I am a Battlestar Galactica nerd, I really have no clue what BSG is supposed to stand for other than seriously good space drama. I will ask Matt and clear this up later.
Premier sites such as Allakhazam are defined as sites that Square Enix works with on a closer basis. They focus their efforts on these sites and distribute news, announcements, Q&A, contests, and interviews. The benefits that Allakhazam provides for SE obviously includes a means of discussion for the community. With no official forums, we provide the means for Square to convey their message as requested. Premier sites should be viewed almost like an official extension of Square Enix.
There was mention of the "March 7" patch several times. I'm not entirely sure if they meant that the version update would be implemented on the same day as the Linkshell Community Update (which I know they said is set for March 7), but since many of you have been waiting for news on that, my best guess is that the patch goes in March 7.
Topics that were discussed:
Transferring characters to another world - This will become more easily available at a later date. They did not specify how soon, but confirmed that something is in the works.
Crafting underutilized - Someone suggested that they use the Linkshell Community data to allow people to search for crafters by skill level. We were told that this would be evaluated and that it was a good suggestion.
LFP on multiple jobs - This was suggested to help ease the pain of having no one to group with at the lower levels. People who have 75 jobs may want to level a lower job but don't want to sit around AS that particular job would show up in a search for the level range. This was also something that we were told would be evaluated.
NQ drops for HNM such as wyrms - Expect improvement to come soon.
Macintosh support - They do not intend to support Macintosh.
PS3 - They could not officially comment on or support the PS3 because it has not yet been fully tested.
Vista solutions will be announced when available.
This summit was called to establish a more connected and personal relationship between the company and the community. With all that we saw, did, and talked about, what it came down to is that they would like for the community outlook of them to change for the better. It was a huge step in the right direction and already there are vast improvements in communication and understanding. I see incredible opportunities for improvement in the game, in the community relationship between the Premier Sites and Square and between Square and the playerbase. Another particularly interesting topic that came up was that when they do receive approval to release information about their new MMO, they will be taking a very different approach and working with the Premier sites from the start to build a better community for the game. Eleven was Square's first MMO and they have learned a lot from this game. It was great to hear that communication lines established here would be carried over to their next generation MMO.
They would like you to know that they do care and that they do read our boards every day. Matt dedicates a significant portion of his day compiling what he calls "Hot Topics" to forward on to the dev team. He wishes that he could post and comment and mingle, but tensions usually mount to disastrous levels when he does so. It was very easy to identify with their frustration since while administering this site, we encounter all of the same problems. Not everyone is happy when you do something. People complain for no good reason. They make up things to get even. Flood you with ridiculous requests of obvious low priority. One wrong step and suddenly you've kicked over and ant's nest with no way to contain things than to stop interaction and focus on your work. I hope that this summit, our write-ups, and future discussion will help to alleviate some of the aggression many players feel towards Square Enix.
When the discussion was closed, we took a nice group photo and then headed off to dinner at a place I believe was called Ocean Seafood. Mocchi, Sundi, and Yasu all ordered the king crab and we were all amused by the sight of the three of them wearing paper crab bibs. Before dinner began, Matt made the announcement that FFXIclopedia had officially been approved as a Premier site. Congratulations to them!!!! You guys deserve it!!
After dinner I offered to show Rickshaw my gardening data, which I had brought with me. It made it's way to Matt, then to Sundi, Mocchi, and Yasu who all seemed very impressed. It felt great just having them looking at what has been Pikko's life's work for so long. Sundi even made a comment to Mocchi that he should give me something for all my work. Come on Pikko Flowerpot! Hey, I can hope right? *grin*
The Community Relations team took pictures of their own, so I'm sure those will be available for viewing sometime soon. Hi-Res images of the Heroines battle will also be available at a later date.