Toshio Murouchi Part 4

WE GREW VANA'DIEL is a series of interviews with those who were involved in the development of FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI), as well as guests from other companies. In this installment, we sat down with Toshio Murouchi, a former Game Master (GM) for FFXI and now Global Community Producer since 2006. In this fourth and final part, we asked Mr. Murouchi to look back at the last two decades and share his thoughts on FFXI.

Toshio Murouchi

General Manager of Square Enix's Community & Service Division and Global Community Producer for FFXIV. He initially transferred to Square (now Square Enix) from the Japanese GM team for Ultima Online* along with former FFXI Global Online Producer Sage Sundi. Together, they established an online game management team for FFXI from the ground up. Following his roles in FFXI as European Online Producer and Global Community Producer, Mr. Murouchi now oversees Square Enix's customer service as General Manager of the Community & Service Division.

* Ultima Online is an MMORPG released in 1997 widely considered to be a pioneer of the genre.

Thanks to players and their 20 years of passion

  • When Mr. Tanaka* stepped down as Producer in 2012, it marked the end of an era in FFXI’s history. What were your most memorable moments during those first ten years following launch?

    * Hiromichi Tanaka, original Producer for FFXI.
  • Murouchi

    I’d divide them roughly into two main parts, with one of them being my two years abroad in Europe.

    Since I was originally from our headquarters in Tokyo, I was often asked to accompany our VIPs from Japan whenever they had business in Europe. Those turned out to be interesting opportunities to speak with people I may have never met if I’d stayed back home. Mr. Tanaka is one such person who I got to know by working together at overseas events. Then there’s Mr. Uematsu*, who once remarked to me, “You know, I only ever see you outside of Japan.” (laughs) I also might’ve never had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Horii* if he hadn’t visited our European branch for a DRAGON QUEST series promotion. Getting to meet people like them are part of what made my two years in Europe so delightful.

    * Nobuo Uematsu, composer of numerous tracks in the FF series.
    * Yuji Horii, founder of the DRAGON QUEST series.
  • So, ironically, you had these valuable encounters only because you were away from Japan.

  • Murouchi

    The other half of my most memorable experiences would be hosting Vana★Fest, which I did several times. Incidentally, some of our venues were famous for hosting classic Japanese TV shows, which we paid homage to in our stage events. We fiddled around with those kinds of ideas as we strove to curate unforgettable event experiences, like the massive tour-style venue layout we did at Pacifico Yokohama in 2012. The expertise we accumulated through those earnest efforts really paid off in the subsequent ten years.

  • Vana★Fest paved the way for online game events in Japan, and to me, they seemed like the largest events of their kind.

  • Murouchi

    A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into planning those events, but I don’t remember the pain anymore. When I look back to those days, everything seems like a good memory. (laughs)

  • Were you on the planning side of those events?

  • Murouchi

    Vana★Fest was typically directed by the publicity team, so I worked in tandem with Ms. Katayama*. We planned everything from the venue layout to the videos that’d play during intermissions, then essentially roped our colleagues into our schemes. By that, I mean we provided a framework for exhibitions like the developer panels and left the rest for Mochizuki* to flesh out.

    * Rieko Katayama, Lead Publicity Planner for FFXI.
    * Kazuyoshi Mochizuki, Community Manager of the Community & Services Division.
  • I assume what you learned, like event layout, was valuable in later events as well.

  • Murouchi

    I certainly gained a lot of experience. At this point, for example, I can already tell when an event will go under just by looking at the event traffic management plans.

  • On a different note, having been a member of the community team, did you ever imagine that FFXI would continue for 20 years?

  • Murouchi

    I’m sure all of us wanted the game to keep going, but it’s not like I was thinking “I’ll stick around for five years,” or “Let’s keep this up for at least a decade.” Our team wasn’t part of the development process, so the way I see it, we simply kept relaying player feedback to the developers, planned community initiatives based on the roadmap, published announcements, etc. and a decade or two had gone by before we knew it.

  • In other words, you were all working as hard as you could, and these past 20 years just seemed to fly by.

  • Murouchi

    I’m sure the same goes for our players, who are probably looking back and thinking, “Man, it’s been so long,” or “I hope we can keep playing for years to come.” But I don’t think there that many who had a specific number of years in mind like “I’ll play for at least a year.” In that sense, we obviously owe these past 20 years to our loyal adventurers and their passion for FFXI.

  • How would you describe yourself as a player?

  • Murouchi

    Thankfully, my feelings as a player have never changed over the years. My role in the operations team has never hampered my enjoyment of the game as a normal player. Everything I know about the operations side of the game doesn’t keep me from enjoying the game, nor does it make me feel obligated to play. I may have quite the skewed playstyle, but I’m still enjoying FFXI and FFXIV in my own way.

  • Could you tell us about your playstyle?

  • Murouchi

    In FFXI, I’m a brute player through and through. (laughs)

    As a matter of fact, I chose to main warrior but used scythes early on, solely because they looked cool. It helped me become more familiar with skillchains than anyone else and I’d often explain to my parties about the skillchains we could do with scythes. Though later on, I switched to using axes just like everyone else. (laughs)

  • What race is your character?

  • Murouchi

    I chose Galka, since my personal policy is to always pick the largest character in MMORPGs. My only reason for doing so is to leverage the advantage of having a larger character: getting a good view of all the cool gear in the game. On the other hand, the sad thing is how the running animations for larger characters don’t feel very exhilarating in any MMORPG. The nature of those games requires all characters to traverse at the same speed, which unfortunately means that the larger your character is, the slower they’ll appear to be moving. It makes me a little envious to see Tarutaru characters running around at full sprint, even if we’re actually moving at the same speed.

My 20 years with FFXI has defined who I am

  • Please tell us about your current position and what kind of work you do.

  • Murouchi

    I’m the head of the Community & Services Division. The main purpose of our division is to provide customer services for games and services released by the Square Enix Group in Japan. I’m also responsible for supervising the FFXIV operations team as Global Community Producer.

  • What is your current involvement with FFXI?

  • Murouchi

    There isn’t much that requires my direct involvement. When something goes wrong, the community team under Mochizuki’s supervision, the GM team, and the Special Task Force will fill me in so I can decide our next steps.

  • What about your work has changed the most significantly compared to a decade ago, when you were focused on FFXI?

  • Murouchi

    The largest difference is how my role in FFXIV requires me to appear before our players. However, my work ethic itself has changed very little, and the only notable difference is that I get my haircuts based on when I have to appear in live broadcasts. (laughs)

  • So the essence of your job remains unchanged?

  • Murouchi

    I don't think much has changed, fortunately enough. In that sense, situations like this interview are rare since I’m often the one listening to other people speak.

  • How do you see FFXI from your current position?

  • Murouchi

    I know it’s a cliché to say this, but my current position has only made me even more aware of how amazing it is to have FFXI around for 20 years. I also believe it’s extremely stable as a service. On top of that, we recently even added new GM commands to help with customer support. As FFXI shifts to allow more activities to be soloed, we’re continuing to evolve behind-the-scenes as we address previously innocuous situations which now require our attention, for example.

  • I see, so certain additions were made in consideration of FFXI’s present situation.

  • Murouchi

    FFXI as a service may have largely stabilized, but there will always continue to be smaller aspects to address.

  • Before we wrap things up, could you summarize the past two decades you’ve spent with FFXI?

  • Murouchi

    It’s no overstatement to say I joined Square for FFXI. I was just a part-time GM for Ultima Online, so Square was my first real employer, and I ended up where I am today after sticking with them for two decades. In those 20 years, I’ve had countless experiences, like working abroad for two years, learning English, planning large-scale events, and more. To sum it all up, FFXI is everything that made me who I am today.

  • So over the years, FFXI has molded you into who you are now.

  • Murouchi

    There are numerous other titles I’ve been involved in as customer support. However, FFXI and FFXIV are the only two titles I’ve been involved with as part of the operations team. Opinions may vary on whether it’s more satisfying to work on one title or multiple, but personally, my experiences feel like a privilege that others cannot easily experience.

  • Lastly, do you have any words for our current adventurers as they continue to celebrate the 20th anniversary?

  • Murouchi

    FFXI is celebrating its 20th anniversary, which we owe to your longtime support. I imagine many of you have stuck it out with us all these years, and I’d be grateful if we could keep working together for years to come.

Share this article