Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV and the horror of the Live Letter

It’s easy to miss one of the worst bits of news about the next Final Fantasy XIV Live Letter because it’s tucked in the very bottom of the announcement. But there it is, plain as day. No more translations on the forums, just the important points on Twitter. That isn’t going to be annoying as hell from start to finish, I tell you what. It’s not like we don’t already have hasty and inaccurate translations floating around with at least something to point to, but now we can be sure that there’s even less to offer a common reference point!

The irony is that the next Live Letter is coming about a week after the PAX East panel in which one of the major points of discussion was in ensuring that the experience for all players across the world have the same reaction to the game. For the most part, that’s correct; it’s something that Square-Enix in general and Naoki Yoshida in particular has worked hard to ensure. But when it comes to the Live Letters, it’s a principle that doesn’t even pretend to get followed, and it leads to a simmering frustration that might be best served by leaving the whole thing out for good.

In a perfect world we'd all speak Lizard, but this is not a perfect world.First and foremost, I want to clarify something: The point here is not that there should be nothing surrounding the game that’s “for” Japanese fans. While we don’t interact much (due to my relentless inability to actually speak Japanese), I think it’s wonderful that the game has events that feature stuff for fans all over the globe. We’ve had Yoshida at PAX East multiple times, the news about the next expansion has always been announced in the US, and Yoshida has had many media tours in the state; at the same time there are live Japanese events as well, and usually Japan’s fan festival gets another big expansion announcement to chew on.

Nor do the Live Letters lack for production values. It’s clear that work is put into making these sessions well-lit, giving them interesting things to look at, and generally looking professional and capable. It doesn’t look sloppy or amateurish.

No, the problem entirely comes down to the fact that Live Letters are not for the Japanese fanbase… at least, not ostensibly. They’re advertised as major things for everyone. But in practice, they’re almost unapproachable for fans who don’t have fluency in the language.

One of my pet peeves in the past few years is using videos for information in general, which is a practice I dislike. I can unpack a lot of information quickly from a written page; an hour of video requires a lot more time to get the same information across, and doesn’t tend to include useful tidbits such as an index of what’s being discussed. When looking at time to information density, text wins.

But it gets notably worse when all of that information is conveyed in a language you don’t actually speak, simply because there’s no way to be sure you heard the same thing. I’m going to go ahead and wager that most of my readers don’t speak Japanese any better than I do, and yet we’re having a promotion for a fan-centered event in that language. I can look at the pretty pictures, but I can’t actually understand what’s being said to go along with those pictures.

That’s neglecting that the community has a lot of members who can at least attempt to translate these letters, and frequently are… well, not great at it.

I don’t mean to imply snobbery there; I freely admit that my own ability to translate these things is nonexistent, so I could not do a better job. But one of the points made repeatedly during the game’s PAX East panel was that translation is a collaborative effort, with lots of vagueness and ambiguity clarified by working closely with the writers. Literal translations can be difficult in the extreme, especially when you aren’t sure exactly what was said due to mumbling or whatever.

Speaking as someone who has interviewed Yoshida more than once, I’ve frequently had his translator listen to his answer and ask him for further clarification on something, and vice-versa. So this is not a purely theoretical concern.

In simplest terms, then, you have a fan community that’s hungry for more information about a game, and a format that all but ensures the information received will be of dubious accuracy from the start. Combine that with the fact that you’re already using an inefficient format to communicate these things, and you have something that’s a persistent problem for the game. There’s this sense from official channels that Live Letters are a great way to communicate with the fans, and maybe they are if you’re in Japan, but that’s only one part of the community.

WHAT SECRETS DO YOU HOLD?!Obviously, this isn’t made better if everything is just immediately translated into English; the game officially supports four languages, which means that in order to really make this work, it’d need to be translated into English, French, and German all at the same time. Which could probably be done if everything were read off of a very precise script… but then it’s not really “live” so much as it’s an extended news skit.

That seems like too much effort for what this is, but the whole thing currently seems like too much effort for too little return.

I’m left confused as to why we keep getting Live Letters, at the end of the day; the gap in understanding is so significant, and the effort so ornate, that it seems like this would be better-spent time doing almost anything else. Does Yoshida really like doing them? Is it an effort to appeal to “the kids?” Did someone really need a video camera and this is how the team justifies the expense to the corporate offices? The mind boggles.

But the why isn’t nearly as important in this, because it only matters a little why we get them. What matters is that they’re almost certainly not fulfilling their function of distributing information in an entertaining fashion, at least not to a sizable chunk of the playerbase. An effort to each players that fails at reaching players is, by definition, a failed effort.

What would be better? Off the top of my head, if we absolutely must have Live Letters, it would seem to me that we could have press releases and the information contained therein translated and ready to go for the rest of the world. No, you might not have direct translations, but preparing the digests ahead of time alone would significantly shorten the turnaround and ameliorate any feeling of waiting to find out what’s happening.

Of course, I think ultimately this is just a game with too many languages supported to make video formats something desirable. It doesn’t ultimately work out very well, and while we’re always going to have some degree of translation gap, creating and exploiting new gaps isn’t a good approach.

So yes, I am rather dreading the letter. It’s going to be unclear and important, like trying to read a document through a layer of slime. Sure, I’ll still do it, but if you asked me the slime wouldn’t be there in the first place.

Feedback, as always, can be left in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, yes, I’m going to need to actually talk about what was in the Live Letter. It’s how the cookie crumbles.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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7 Comments on "Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV and the horror of the Live Letter"

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Sorenthaz

I just personally pay attention to the forum threads that pop up and give bullet points. I don’t really care to sit through and listen to all of it, I just want to know what the big things are.

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Dread Quixadhal

I’m so used to suffering with machine-translated horror stories, that this isn’t that big a deal. The community has a great many bilingual people in it, and as long as the native Japanese transcripts are available, people will translate them pretty quickly.

To be honest, it’s probably better in some ways. If the native version is more accurate, a group of people working to translate it will often come up with better results, since they can each offer suggestions over parts where the translation has multiple possibilities. The only way you’ll get better than that is if the one doing the translating can go knock on the original speaker’s door and ask questions. :)

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Krm Vasquez

Join the FFXIV discord for translations and screencaps DURING the live letter.

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rocketskates69

Just watch the Mr.Happy video of the live letter translation, thats what I do, easy peasy.

bereman99
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bereman99

Doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

The slides will already have English on them to convey the overall main points they are telling us about, and we’ll have the official (and better translated than the quick version we get during, which at times is only a bit better than unofficial versions) Digest inside of two weeks following the broadcast (currently they take about two weeks, but at the end of this same announcement they say they will try and release them sooner).

I’ve also yet to see a LL where the Digest revealed totally new information or completely changed what I saw/read at the time it was broadcast. Occasionally there are things that get clarified, but the LL itself presents a good amount of entertaining info in the moment.

Honestly, I doubt a press release before hand would provide much more info than those slides already do – the LL is essentially live commentary (even with the language barrier, it’s often charming or humorous as well) on a press release anyway, with occasional extra elements like Q&A that aren’t things that get answered ahead of time anyway (questions chosen, yes, but an important element of these Q&A sessions are the in the moment and live nature of answering them).

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Armsman

Methinks this is a tempest in a teapot:

As of the Letter from the Producer LIVE Part XLIII, we will no longer be posting update threads on the official forum. Instead, the key points will be posted on the official FFXIV Twitter account (@FF_XIV_EN) during the broadcast. We’ll also be focusing on releasing the digest as soon as possible.

^^^
(See bolded part above)

So they’re just not doing an official thread on the forums. That doesn’t mean you can’t READ the Digest and then post a thread discussing it.

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Eamil

The digest itself IS typically posted in a forum thread. They just normally come a month or more after the live letter itself (as opposed to the Q&A-format summary that’s typically posted during or shortly after the stream).

So yeah, I think this is less concerning than Eliot’s making it out to be.