“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI). For our fourth guest, we invited Minae Matsukawa, the producer of Capcom’s online action RPG Dragon’s Dogma Online (DDON). In this fourth and final part, she shared her values as a producer as well as her thoughts on several other topics. * The following interview took place remotely.
Producer affiliated with Capcom.
Producer of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, an expansion to the open-world game featuring the vast expanse of Gransys Island which adds large-scale content for high-level players, and the online action RPG Dragon's Dogma Online.
Hiding nothing from the development team
Ms. Matsukawa, what are your values as a producer?
We’d like to hear your thoughts on looking outward towards players, as well as looking inwards towards the development team.
Starting with looking inwards, I allow everyone in the team to see what kind of person I am and what kind of work I do. We talk about everything, whether it be about my hobbies as a gamer, or about how the higher-ups reprimanded me in a meeting. I believe that after the team gets an idea of who I am, all I can do from there is tell them, “Please work with me, I need your help!”
If I only spoke with them as necessary, it wouldn’t reach everyone in the team, and I’d be seen as someone who only shows up to make outrageous demands. In terms of looking inward, I think it’s important for a producer to communicate daily to facilitate an environment for discussion and stay open about their job with everyone in the team.
In today’s game industry, creating a single game takes roughly three to four years. As someone pointed out to me in the past, that’s several tenths of a person’s entire life. You’ll spend most of that time with the development team, perhaps even more time than you’d spend with your family, so communicating with those members is crucial. In the DDON team, I believe the communication within each unit and section was very good, including their communication with me.
In terms of maintaining close communication, the smaller scale of the current FFXI team could also be considered ideal.
That’s right, you’ve been working with Mr. Fujito for over 20 years now, haven’t you?
It’s been 30 years since we joined Square (as they were known at the time), but 20 of those years were for FFXI.
That’s amazing! That’s a monumental achievement, monumental I say. I think you should build a bronze statue commemorating that!
On the other hand, what are your values when it comes to looking outwards towards players?
When it comes to facing outwards, the producer’s job can be boiled down to taking the game the development team created based on what they think is fun, then using media to promote and convey that the best you can.
When I write the drafts for press releases, I also add a storyboard for the footage and bring everything for the director to review. I tell the heads of the team, “The development team made this really fun game, and this is how I want to convey it. What do you think?”
Of course, I also take everyone else’s opinions into consideration, and from there we all create the promotional materials together. I believe the producer’s role is to be the middleman between the players and the developers, and it’s crucial for me to balance myself to not lean too far into one side.
You joined the team as a producer from the start, rather than making your way through the development team before assuming that position. How do you go about relaying game content suggestions to the developers?
I look through the game proposal, read through the specification documents, then I play it non-stop. I grab the ROM from the development workplace and play by myself while diligently taking notes.
From there I ask questions and make suggestions based on what caught my attention, but I try to only bring those up with the director, if I can help it. Rather than talking about personal taste, most of the things I bring up are like, “The game would be easier to play if you do this.” The director might have their own opinions about what I say, and from there we just have to find a compromise.
I see, so you try to view things from a player’s perspective.
My mentality is, “I want to talk because we’re working together to create a game.”
I try to be courteous when I bring things up, sort of like, “What do you think? This part caught my attention, would it help if we changed it like this?” If there’s ever a time when I’m not like that, it’s when I’m under a lot of pressure. Those are the times where staff members scold me or show sympathy and lend me a hand.
You mentioned that a producer is the middleman between the players and developers.
How do you go about relaying player feedback to the development team?
In the DDON team, I was mostly open about the feedback that we received through the customer support center. However, that wasn’t because I wanted the developers to do what the players want, but rather because I wanted to take the feedback and think it over as a team. As for what to do with that feedback, I left it up to the leaders of each unit.
So rather than acting as a representative of the players and saying, “This is how we should do things,” you say, “Hey, this is the kind of feedback we received.”
Based on that, the team will create a list of things to be addressed in the next version update.
I look over the list and say, “Wow, you’re going to address this? Thank you!” or “I think we should adjust that part,” while shifting from foot to foot. (laughs)
I somehow feel like I know what you’re talking about. (laughs)
My friend who works at Square Enix tells me you’re quite good at that sort of thing. They’ve told me, “There’s no one as considerate and multi-talented as Mr. Matsui.”
That’s too much praise. (laughs)
If anything, I still feel like I’m just another member of the development team, so sometimes I think I’m still leaning towards the developers’ side of things. Because of that, I feel like there are some aspects where I still need to broaden my perspective.
At the end of the day, what the developers want to do with their game is what sets their work apart from the rest. As such, when it comes to best-sellers or new releases, sometimes it might be important for the developers to stand by their opinion.
However, considering FFXI’s age, we’re in a situation where we can’t get by without our players.
We can’t do anything to betray our current players, and there wouldn’t be any point in doing so. Things like that have changed my mentality a lot compared to before.
I would’ve been a different person without my friends in FFXI
Ms. Matsukawa, with FFXI’s 20th anniversary approaching in 2022, what do you believe has contributed to the game’s longevity?
Looking back, my experiences in FFXI were all priceless.
No other game required working with five other players to overcome challenges to that degree, at least in Japan, and I believe the difficulty of those challenges is what imprinted them into my memory. All of us had unforgettable experiences with our friends in the world of Vana’diel, and all those memories combined are what formed FFXI’s 20 years of history. I believe that’s why there are many players who always return after trying other games.
One of my friends was like that. Whenever a major title was released, they would disappear for three days or so to play it, but they were always back by the fourth day. I believe FFXI is a very special game that has been able to provide that feeling of “home.”
I’m very thankful for those words.
Likewise, thank you for creating FFXI.
That’s only possible thanks to all of you. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the game in a way that works best for you.
When I finish playing through Rhapsodies of Vana’diel, please allow me to send you an email with my impressions! I’m confident that I’ll finish it! The only hurdle is finding the time to play, but I’ll keep at it at my own pace!!
The game is currently tuned for players with that kind of playstyle, so I’d be happy if you could enjoy it when you have the time.
Ms. Matsukawa, we’d like to hear what FFXI means to you.
The person before you today wouldn’t be here without my friends in FFXI. I believe the friends who spent so much time with me in Vana’diel are the reason for the version of me that’s here today.
It was always the six of us: the Tarutaru paladin, the Elvaan black mage, the Tarutaru warrior, the Tarutaru white mage, the Tarutaru black mage, and me. I’m forever grateful that the six of us were able to meet, and it means the world to me.
If anyone reads this conversation and thinks, “She’s talking about me!” then please send me an email. Let’s play together again in Vana’diel!!
Finally, we’d like to ask for a word from Ms. Matsukawa to our readers considering FFXI’s upcoming 20th anniversary.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for inviting me to take part in this wonderful series. I considered it a great honor to have been invited here, and when I was approached for this talk session, I approached my supervisor for approval, asking, “Is it okay to accept this invitation? Actually, please let me accept this invitation!” From that day forward, I spent my days listening to the soundtrack and walking throughout Vana’diel holding my controller as I thought about this conversation, until it was finally today.
To those of you who, like me, were formerly adventurers: the world of Vana’diel continues to live on today. Mr. Matsui and the development team have made all sorts of adjustments, making it easier for former adventurers like us to return. I personally plan on awaiting the 20th anniversary while challenging all sorts of content that I was unable to do back in the day.
I look forward to the FFXI 20th anniversary being something that no one’s ever seen before. I’m sure Producer Matsui and everyone in the development team are preparing all sorts of surprises, so until then, I’ll join my fellow adventurers on the sidelines to cheer them on with everything I’ve got. As an adventurer and a member of the game industry, I’m looking forward to this historical moment, so let’s all bear witness to this historical moment in the making!
It’s a little early, but happy 20th anniversary!
It’s always very invigorating to speak with avid players of FFXI, and this conversation has really given me a lot of energy. We’re in the same industry, so perhaps we’ll have another opportunity to work together again in the future. And if we have another session like this again, I hope you’ll join us once more.
I’ll do my best to ensure that I can talk about post-Rhapsodies of Vana’diel next time. Once things have calmed down, it’d be nice to have another conversation with you over drinks!
Though if I get drunk, I might just burst into tears and repeatedly exclaim, “It’s an honor!” (laughs)