Matt Hilton & Anthony Caraway 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 interviewed Matt Hilton and Anthony Caraway from FFXI's North American Community team. What were their perspectives on FFXI as they relayed announcements and organized fan events in the West? In this fourth and final part, they shared their thoughts on the past 20 years and the current state of FFXI.

Matt Hilton

Senior Online Community Director of Square Enix America. As leader of the North American Community team for FFXI and FFXIV, Matt has hosted various events in the U.S. and is a familiar face to Japanese players as well.

Anthony Caraway

Senior Online Community Manager of Square Enix America. Having been born and raised in Japan, Anthony translates between English and Japanese in both his public and private life. Known as “Tony” by fans and within the company.

Biggest impressions with FFXI

  • FFXI and the overall game industry have evolved in various ways over the past 20 years. Were there any noticeable shifts within the North American player community as well?

  • Anthony

    I'd say yes, considering how in the early days, both Japanese and Western players usually stuck to their own insular communities. In the midst of that, I personally wanted a community where Japanese and overseas players would play together, which I feel has become more prevalent nowadays.

  • Did the auto-translate feature play a part in bringing the two communities closer together?

  • Anthony

    I think auto-translate really helped, even if there were some unusual ways of using the feature or words with different connotations when converted from English to Japanese.* (laughs)

    * For example, the auto-translate phrase for the beastmaster ability "Reward" is often used in shouts by English players looking to buy or sell. This can often be confusing for Japanese players, as the Japanese name of the beastmaster ability means "taking pity." To resolve this misconception, the auto-translate phrase "Reward:" was added for the purposes of describing compensation.
  • Matt

    It's super useful and does a good job of smoothing out conversations between players who can't speak each other's language at all. There's always going to be some difficulty due to phrasing and terminology, but I think what they have for FFXI is a good level for basic communication. I really think more games should include auto-translate functions when possible.

  • Aside from communication between Japanese and Western players, what other aspects of FFXI have left a lasting impression with you in the course of your work?

  • Anthony

    This is more of a constant reminder than a "lasting impression," but I always feel that the FFXI community is a truly passionate group of players. Even in the North American community, we always see numerous comments asking for more communication from the Development team. However, saying more than necessary might stir up too many expectations and ultimately lead to negative reactions, so it can be hard to meet that request. With that said, I want to emphasize that we really appreciate the feedback from our players and we're always relaying your opinions to the Development team.

  • Matt

    My favorite memories of working on the project was doing live events; not just Fan Festivals, but the smaller events we had as well. The cool thing about those events is that everyone there is a big fan of FFXI, so you could walk up to any group of people and effortlessly have a conversation about the game. I don't always get to talk with attendees because I'm usually the MC or working behind-the-scenes, but I'll always remember the times where I was able to chat with players and hear about their experiences.

  • What other personal experiences have you had through FFXI?

  • Anthony

    On a personal level, I feel I've gotten better at communicating with our players. I also gained a deeper understanding of why players might be requesting something instead of simply relaying their feedback to the Development team at face value.

  • Matt

    FFXI has provided me with global experiences, both as a player and a member of the Operations team.

    One of the most important lessons I've learned was to "look at the bigger picture." When you're waiting for an HNM to spawn, for example, it's important to remember that the other characters you see on the screen are real people, which obviously applies not only to your friends but your "rivals" too. FFXI taught me to have a broader perspective when playing with people from other countries and cultures, as we're all fellow adventurers in Vana'diel.

The rising number of North American players

  • How would you describe the current state of the North American community overall?

  • Anthony

    Since many FFXI players are fans of the FF series in general, I imagine a lot of them are playing FFXIV at the same time. It's fairly common to see players take a break from FFXIV to visit Vana'diel. Of course, there are also many dedicated players who've been exclusively playing FFXI for a long time. There's also been an increase in new players, some of which can be attributed to the return of the free trial in North American regions in 2017.

  • What's the general age group of these players, and what are their playstyles like?

  • Anthony

    I think most of them are in their 30s. FFXI has a really amazing story, which seems to be the main draw for many new players. In the early days, the Western community also had many newcomers who were unfamiliar with MMORPGs, but it seems that players nowadays are coming in with their own personal goals, whether it be completing certain content or creating "Ultimate weapons."

  • Speaking of the story, how has The Voracious Resurgence been received with North American players?

  • Anthony

    It's been popular, and we often see many comments from players who can't wait to play the next part. We also see a lot of positive reactions from those who weren't expecting new music to be added to the game.

  • We're also seeing a sizable player population on the Asura World; what are your thoughts on that?

  • Matt

    I don't really know why players had initially chosen to gather on the Asura World in particular. But it seems that once someone said, "Let's go to Asura, there's a lot of people over there," everyone started going there to have an easier time meeting up, forming groups, and experiencing the game with friends. From there it snowballed into this one server that's become the hub for many players and that's continued to this day.

  • Last but not least, do you have any words for FFXI and our adventurers as they continue to celebrate the 20th anniversary?

  • Anthony

    I started a bit late with the Japanese launch of the Windows version, but even that was nearly 20 years ago. As someone who originally wanted to be a game programmer, I really admire the fact that the game continues to receive updates even after so long.

    I'd also like to thank my fellow adventurers for sticking with FFXI until now. FFXI made it this far thanks to the continued support of our adventurers; I'm proud to be an adventurer myself, and I imagine all of you feel the same way too. Thank you all for adventuring with us so far, and I hope you'll continue to be with us in the journey ahead.

  • Matt

    FFXI reaching its 20th anniversary is a huge milestone, and the people over the years who've worked on the title should be extremely proud of everything they've done to create the world of Vana'diel.

    Above all, I want to thank all our adventurers who are still playing now: thank you for being here with us, and for joining us on this journey. We'll continue to do our best for you, and I hope you're having a good time.

    And for those of you who've played in the past, your home is still here. Your old character is waiting for you, so I hope you'll come back and visit; a lot may have changed but I'm sure you'll find that it's still the FFXI you know and love.

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