FFFF 2023

Just got done attending the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest in Las Vegas. It was two days of hanging out with 15,000 people who were all there because they love a game enough to throw down on tickets, airfare, hotel, and all the other costs to be there, to celebrate with other fans, to learn new things, and to see the announcement for the new expansion, live:

And that includes me. This was the first time I’d been able to attend (27 million players, 15,000 tickets means a lot of people who really wanted to go but didn’t get in), and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t really know anyone (a small handful of folks on one of the Discords I hang out on, but we didn’t actually manage to meet up other than one, Midna, who kindly made a point of letting folks know where to find her 😅), so I mostly did the event solo.

Being an introvert with a strong aversion for crowds, that could’ve ended badly, but it was actually fine! Everyone there was also a nerd about something I also enjoy, and I ended up having a lot of nice chats with folks while standing in lines for various things, or sitting waiting for a session to start. Even when I was feeling a little cooked, I could usually find a chill spot to stop and people watch (many, many cosplayers dressed up in often incredibly elaborate outfits).

The lines and the crowds were definitely a bit much – unlike a more generalized gaming convention where you’re pulling in different types of gamers (tabletop, cards, PC, console, etc), everyone at Fan Fest was there for the same reason, which meant certain events were just absolutely swamped, because basically the entire audience wanted to do them. Not ideal, but there’s not really a good way around that, either. I was up early the first day and so managed to be fairly well positioned in line to get in for the keynote, but the second day I got in line an hour before the first talk, and spent that entire hour in queue, as it wrapped down the length of the north hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, up an escalator, and then up the length of the convention center. And even then, I was lucky – the line ended up continuing on and eventually went outside and down the block (in Vegas, in the summer, where it was already over 100 at 9am).

Large crowd waiting to enter the main event area for the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest keynote.
This was just the first part of the line for the keynote – it filled the room, then looped down the hall and outside.

Doing the keynote, live, with literally thousands of other fans was certainly a highlight for me. You could feel the excitement and energy, and when the trailer for the new expansion started playing, everyone lost their shit, and all in the same places because everyone there knows the characters in the trailer and what bits were being teased about what was coming. It’s like seeing a movie in a theater packed with fans: it elevates the experience.

Picture of the keynote stage at Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest in Las Vegas. A red meteor-logo arch is on the stage, with a large screen currently listing event sponsors above it.

The majority of the keynote was covering information about the new expansion (I’m not going to dive into the details, there are better resources out there for that and I think the whole thing is up on YouTube somewhere), but it was also neat to see them announce that they’ll finally be bringing the game to the Xbox – this had been a frequently requested thing for years, and they finally managed to work through the snags to make it happen (they had Phil Spencer show up for the announcement). It doesn’t impact most of the folks who were at the event (they already play, after all), so the announcement might not have been as expressive as some of the other announcements, but personally I think it’s great to see the potential audience expand and to have one fewer roadblock from getting your friends to play with you.

So, one of the recurring themes I heard a lot wandering around, and from the developers who were at the event, was that it felt a lot like a family, and coming home. Which I get. Unlike a standalone game where once it’s done, it’s done, this is an MMORPG, an online game with ongoing development, and so there ends up being a sort of relationship (or at the very least, a dialogue) between the developers and the players, to form a sense of community. Yoshi-P (Naoki Yoshida, the producer and director of the game) has cultivated this relationship from the get-go, and you genuinely get a feeling like the developers sincerely give a shit about the community (and not just because it keeps them in paychecks). They could very easily keep things more separated, not spend the money for these sorts of events, not spend the time getting out on the event floor to talk to actual players, and still end up with a successful game. But probably not as successful, and not with the sort of staying power that the game has demonstrated (13 years since 1.0, 10 years since the ARR relaunch, and the game is just getting more popular, not less). They chose to invest in, and show respect for, the community, and it’s paid off for them handsomely.

The talks were all good and I think will go up on YouTube at some point if they aren’t already. One thing that wasn’t recorded or streamed was the concerts that wrapped up each night: first a piano concert with an accompanying vocalist, and then a rock concert the second night. Both were excellent, both in large part not just for the performances, but for the energy. The energy of the performers and the audience alike – everyone was so, so happy to be there.