Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival in review

Why must you disappoint hopes?
Being at the Final Fantasy XIV fan festival was interesting for me on several levels because I wasn’t just there to have fun, I was there to work… but I was also there to have fun. I was there to cover the event as media, but I’m also a big fan of the game as it is, so I was splitting my time between being Serious Professional Writer, Sir and just generally having a fandom collapse. This helped me in certain areas and hurt me in others.

The result was that I have several different views of the event, and all of them run an interesting gamut, with some mostly relevant to being media at the event and others equally relevant as a fan and a journalist. And several of them either wouldn’t be visible if you were just watching the live stream or would at least be harder to see and experience. So for those of you who weren’t there – or those who were and just want another take on the event – I’d like to talk about what worked and what didn’t and what could stand to be improved the next time around.

The merch line debacle

Never gonna get it etc.There’s very little about this gathering that I can point to and call unambiguously bad, but this was there. The line for merchandise was already forming and was already insane as the keynote was going on, and it just got worse throughout the entire first day. You had to basically choose between getting merchandise or doing anything else, a state of affairs that I think we can all agree is pretty terrible.

From a media standpoint, this rankled; I obviously wanted a lore book, but I had to choose between getting one and doing my job. That’s never an actual choice for me. But even if I had just been there for fun, it would have sucked because it would have meant that 90% of the convention was inaccessible unless I devoted all of my energy from minute one to getting into that line. The second day had a much more egalitarian and balanced system for queueing up, with people having a ticket for a designated wait time.

I think a lot of this comes down to bad design, though. The merch stand basically had four different categories of items:

  • Stuff that was meant to be exclusive for fanfest
  • Stuff that was for sale first on the fanfest floor
  • Stuff that had been released in Japan already but wasn’t yet available in the US
  • Stuff that you could buy on the US store

Putting all four of these categories in the same place meant that people who desperately wanted a lore book were waiting in the same line as people who wanted a con-exclusive shirt and the same line as people who just wanted a goobue plush. This was compounded by the fact that the staff had no idea how to manage the line, up to the point that there was no real “official” intervention in the line until midway through the first day, leading to people being stuck in lines that weren’t even actually heading to the right destination.

Throwing stones about this isn’t very useful; what’s useful is learning from this, and I think the first step in doing so is making sure that merch lines are more carefully set up in the future. Ideally, we should probably have con-exclusive stuff sold at a different stand from everything else at the very least; I’d say con-exclusive/Japan-exclusive at once stand, fanfest-first and normal stuff at another. Have a hard cap on the line from the start, and have staff standing by to give people vouchers for when to come back as soon as the line fills up. If the line is full, you get a voucher; once the line is empty, the first group of vouchers comes to queue up.

It’s not an ideal system, of course, but it’s something that would alleviate an issue that cast a pall over the proceedings for the first day.

Information underload

I don't need to hear more about 3.4, I already know.Some things just bother me without necessarily bothering anyone else; this might be one of them. But for me, the most interesting part of going to these events is getting new information. As it was, because of the timing of the fanfest, we weren’t yet getting information about 3.5 and we got all of the Stormblood information we were going to get right on the first day.

I’m particularly annoyed at the way the new job reveal was handled. I realize that Naoki Yoshida loves to work a crowd – and let’s be real here, the guy is good at it. But bringing up new jobs and then pulling away before we actually even get the name of one new job is really unnecessarily yanking the football away before we kick it. Was it that impossible to say “Red Mage is a new job, it’s going to be such-and-such, we have three total new jobs, please look forward to it”?

I get that they want excitement for later events, but really, telling us a name, a role, and a total number of new jobs isn’t going to diminish excitement; it’s just going to give us the shape of things to expect. Right now, we know Red Mage is coming, but we don’t officially know it. It was a big reveal without the actual reveal part.

This may just be me. As a fan or as a journalist, I prefer hard information. I like knowing what’s actually coming rather than hints, and I don’t care for mysteries that don’t add anything by being mysterious. I don’t feel like this was unforgivable, obviously, but I do feel like it was mysterious for more or less no actual gain.

Still, though, new expansion! That’s exciting. Go ahead and check my predictions against the reality; I’m doing fairly well so far. (Passive skills is too early to call on a whole, but it’s definitely not a focal point; we’re also not heading into the Ala Mhigo region via Coerthas, it seems. Probably.)

Try your luck.

The live quest system

This year’s big event format was the whole live quest idea. Instead of just participating in the minigames and the battle challenges for individual rewards, players were meant to grab a live quest booklet, make progress in that, and turn it in for rewards. The rewards included more of the Triple Triad cards and other gewgaws.

If not for the merch line, I feel like this would have gone over like gangbusters. The minigames themselves were fun in the “carnival sideshow” sense; it doesn’t take much encouragement for me to use a Nerf gun to shoot out targets, after all, but there wasn’t much reason to go back after one try. I’m told the proto-Ultima fight was pretty fun, too. And there were the other various elements that gave players reason to bond and team up, which is cool.

Of course, it also meant that you had fewer reasons to go back to these things once you’d done them once. I’m not sure if I count that as a negative or not; after all, it’s not like this event ran for long enough that you had huge chunks of empty time. It was certainly an interesting experiment in giving players more stuff to do and more unifying systems under which to do everything. Since I was there for work, though, my chances of picking up a lot of the live quest entries were always about nil.

All of the good stuff

Get the cool.Oh, yeah, there was a lot of this. I don’t mean to imply that the event was bad just because I have criticisms. There was stuff to do and enough events to keep people entertained for just about two days, which is exactly how long everything ran. Being there was really a trip and a half, and it was a great chance to see people in real life whom I hadn’t gotten a chance to connect with for far too long.

The attendee swag bag was awesome, including a Poetics USB drive that I adore and a set of very cute pixel-based job stickers. I think the actual Triple Triad cards were a clever form of memorabilia, and I’m honestly sad I didn’t get to pick up a full set. (I never got the Mandervilles.) And then there’s the lore book… I’ll go into more detail about that in a separate post, but suffice it to say that it’s pretty spectacular.

Outside of merchandise, lines were efficiently and politely handled all through the convention; people clearly had an interest in being positive with one another. That vibe extended to the staff on hand, too: There was a very strong sense of people doing something they loved up on stage, and you could just feel that radiate outward.

And the mere existence of this always fills me with warm fuzzies because this is six years after the release of a game with legendarily bad reception on initial release. This has morphed into a game with a packed convention hall announcing its second expansion. And let me tell you, that’s a good feeling.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time we get together, I want to talk a little bit about some of the information revealed at the festival, but not the obvious stuff like Stormblood. Perhaps I should do Stormblood reactions separately.

Attendance of the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival in Las Vegas was made possible by Square-Enix covering travel and lodging expenses. This is a good thing because it turns out Las Vegas is very expensive. Seriously, it’s insane out here. It’s as fake as Los Angeles, but it’s up-front about how fake it is. I do not know if that’s actually better or worse in the long run.
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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