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 interviewed Kazuyoshi Mochizuki, the Community Manager entrusted with creating and revitalizing the FFXI community. In this first part, Mr. Mochizuki recounted his history of joining the game industry and his first job with the community team.
Member of the Community team since FFXI’s launch. In addition to partaking in the planning and operations of Vana★Fest and other official events, he also hosts the official broadcast Freshly Picked Vana’diel since November 2013. Mr. Mochizuki is also the Community Manager for FFXIV and is affectionately known by the developers and players as “Mocchi.”
My original goal was landscape design
Before we talk about FFXI, could you tell us about your initial experience with games?
I was first exposed to computer games back when microcomputers* were prevalent. The game I played was sort of like a dog race where everything was comprised of dots. I only have a hazy memory of it, but it was even before floppy disks were a thing; instead, we used a paper storage medium called “punched cards.”* Microcomputers are small computers that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s predating modern personal computers (PCs).
I’m surprised to learn you were exposed to games so early on.
I don’t think I was consciously “playing” the game at the time. I was the age where I still played in the sandbox, so it was more like fiddling with this digital device and feeling intrigued without really understanding what was going on. Because of that, I’d say the NES was my first real fascination with games. My encounter with Mario left a far greater impression with me than microcomputer games, and I’ve been captivated by games ever since. (laughs)
Was Mario what led you to pursue a career in the game industry?
No, my original goal was to get a job in landscape design.
That sounds intriguing, could you elaborate?
Landscape design involves combining nature and architecture in spaces like public parks, commercial building exteriors, rooftop greenery, and so on. The more I studied about it, however, I was met with the harsh reality of the industry in Japan and had to give up my dream.
In other words, it didn’t seem like a career where you could immediately begin with a full-time job, at least at the time.
It would’ve been really tough.* Ultima Online is an MMORPG released in 1997 widely considered to be a pioneer of the genre.
That was when I saw a recruitment ad for a customer support position in Ultima Online*. They hired me as a part-timer, and that was how I got started in the video game industry. At the time, I had no intention to stick around for very long.
So you were intending for it to only be a temporary gig.
Online games were uncommon at the time, and to those around me, working in the game industry seemed like an unstable career. I still hoped to work in landscape design someday, but first, I had to earn enough to get by. (laughs)
My superiors departed from Electronic Arts Square
What sort of work did customer support for Ultima Online entail?
The best way to describe it would be a call center that answered inquiries via email and telephone. Our main focus was answering PC and network-related inquiries, as well as resolving account-related issues related to logging in and password recovery.* Sage Sundi, former Global Online Producer for FFXI.
However, part of me longed to do something in-game. I brought it up with my boss at the time, Sage Sundi*, who offered me a chance to try Ultima Online’s volunteer feature and familiarize myself with the ups and downs of creating events.
Providing customer support and working as a volunteer sound like two completely separate responsibilities.
That's right. Although I was motivated to get involved and do what I’d wanted to do, it was still intense working as customer support during the day and hosting small in-game events as a volunteer at night.
That’s a lot of time you spent in Ultima Online every day!
They had a specialized role called Interest Game Master (IGM) that handled events, and I was excited to see their work up close, like making torii gates for New Year’s. Ultima Online’s object-oriented game design allowed most ideas to be reproduced as long as you had enough imagination, inspiration, and manpower.
I can’t help but notice you included manpower. (laughs)
It was just as essential. Just as I started helping with those tasks and was growing interested in the job, my superiors told me, “Hate to break it to you, but we’re transferring to Square (now Square Enix).”
How did you react to that?
I couldn’t say, “What? Why?” so my reaction was more like a passive, “Oh, is that so?” It can be quite hard to give a reaction when you’re shocked beyond imagination. (laughs wryly) I remember them being thoughtful enough to let me know a few months in advance, but eventually their last day with us came and went.
Who were these superiors that transferred?
That’d be Sage Sundi, Murouchi*, and some others. There was a clear shift in atmosphere after they left. I still enjoyed the work, but I missed how our workplace felt with them around.* Toshio Murouchi, Global Community Producer for FFXIV.
How did you end up transferring to Square as well?
After about half a year, I candidly asked, “I want to move too, what should I do?” Sage Sundi, in consideration of my future career, answered, “I think it’d be better for you to do your best at Electronic Arts Square, but you can join us if you’re willing to take a risk in working for Square instead. I can’t make the human resources decisions on my own, but I think I can at least give you a chance.”
In the end, I was interviewed and got into Square as a part-timer.
I always thought the GM team for Ultima Online had been wholly transferred to the FFXI team. However, I learned in the interview with Mr. Murouchi that it was only a limited number of members who transferred in stages.
That’s right. Those of us who had proven themselves capable in Ultima Online’s operations were transferred to the FFXI team. I was a second stringer compared to them, so I’d say I was lucky to get in.
A small group of the best jack-of-all-trades
What did you do when you first joined the FFXI team?
Back when FFXI launched in 2002, it was a time when a lot of people made personal webpages. As such, my first task was to create a collection of community websites. I visited each of the fan sites requesting to be featured in our collection, and if there were no issues, I’d register their website, and I handled that process on my own.
You did that alone!?
Although the customer support team had many members, I had the impression that the community team was intentionally narrowed down to a small group of people. Since they were responsible for a vital part of our operations, their members had to be familiar with customer support, have some understanding of the internet, and also be proficient in designing and writing.
So they needed generalists over specialists for that role.
I wasn’t proficient at all of that when I started, so instead they probably thought I could handle it if I gradually worked my way up. They first had me evaluate the fan sites to see what I could gain from the experience.
It sounds like it was a test to see what you were capable of.
I think so too. I was also trying to handle events in Tetra Master, and those duties were essentially the same as IGMs in Ultima Online. In one spur-of-the-moment event, I role-played an official character named Mrs. Frogheart to challenge players to a match using special cards. The Vana’diel Tribune project was also in motion, so there were times when I helped put the news together or approached adventurers in-game and conducted interviews.
It’s rather difficult to summarize those work responsibilities in a few words.
I was basically a jack-of-all-trades. (laughs)
But you had the skills to fill the role.
Oh no, I wouldn’t say I did. But as I continually worked on those tasks, I was eventually entrusted with writing announcements.* “Flavor text” refers to text which provides lore context or realism but has no effects on the mechanics of a game.
One problem I faced was how there wasn’t a lot of detailed lore to add in seasonal event announcements. For instance, when we decided to hold a cherry blossom viewing festival in Vana’diel, there wasn’t any lore to explain the circumstances of the festival or why it was being held. That sort of writing required the lore team’s supervision, so I consulted Mr. Iwao*, Ms. Sato*, and Mr. Komoto* to discuss what flavor text* we could add to our announcements.
* Kenichi Iwao, former planning staff for FFXI who worked on the lore.
* Yaeko Sato, planning staff for FFXI in charge of the Windurst missions and other scenarios.
* Nobuaki Komoto, Director of the Chains of Promathia expansion for FFXI.
What were those discussions like?
Even the smallest bit of lore was information that hadn’t existed before, so we reviewed the text to make sure there weren’t any inconsistencies or discrepancies. We also brainstormed ways to make the text easier or more entertaining to read. As that process went on, I gained familiarity within the development team and expanded the scope of my work.
Ah, so that's how you became involved in the world of FFXI.
It was a necessary step for me, because it would’ve been disastrous to have someone clueless write the patch notes or relay player feedback. I was completely oblivious to Sage Sundi and his team’s nurturing guidance in that regard, and it’s embarrassing for me to remember those days. (laughs wryly)
* Part 2 will be available on December 14, 2022.