Part 1 of a 3-part series on fan fest preparations; pretty timely actually since the next round of them is coming up.
#71: “Fighting Against All Odds – Part 1”
Published in 2016/11/10 issue
FINAL FANTASY XIV FAN FESTIVAL 2016-2017 kicked off on October 14-15 at the Paris Las Vegas hotel in America! On the first day’s opening ceremony, we were able to announce FFXIV’s next expansion pack, Stormblood, and I’m writing this column while still in that feeling of relief.
This is FFXIV’s second Fan Fest; the first one was held in 2014. Just as last time, it’s a world tour to North America, Europe, and Japan. People may be questioning why we hold such a costly and time-consuming event, or why we focus on all three regions. So, I think I’ll use the next three columns to explain my beliefs on the significance of Fan Fest and what’s going on behind the scenes.
As the name implies, Fan Fest is a gathering of fans. To me, it’s an event where we gather people who love FFXIV and give them two days packed with FFXIV content. At the same time, being able to hold such a large-scale event all around the world shows both players and non-players that FFXIV is still going strong. This means that the success or failure of the event holds a lot of weight.
However, Fan Fest 2014 was something I’d loosely planned as a long-term PR strategy, and it’d already been mostly set in stone at the time of ARR’s launch: we would announce the next expansion, Heavensward (although the name hadn’t been decided yet), and proclaim it around the world. 2014 would be the year of FFXIV—the PlayStation 4 version would be announced and Fan Fests would be held. In the following year, the first expansion pack would be released. This was all part of FFXIV’s “rebirth.” In that sense, this year’s Fan Fest holds a slightly different meaning despite being similar.
I can say this now that we’ve come so far: we were determined to hold the previous Fan Fest even if we projected that it’d turn a loss. The biggest motivation was to show all of the people who’d supported us since 1.0 that FFXIV had made a glorious comeback—enough that we could do Fan Fests. Ever since we were remaking 1.0, many of our enthusiastic players told us that they wanted us to hold a fan festival, no matter how small in scale it may be. I thought that holding such an event would be extremely meaningful, even if we ended up not being able to do it again. The result was that the first Fan Fest went just as we’d hoped, and didn’t turn a financial loss either (thanks to ticket and merchandise sales, we just about broke even).
However, this time it’s been three years since ARR’s launch. If it isn’t managed well and won’t turn a profit, the company won’t permit another Fan Fest. As I’ve written about countless times in this column, game development and management are a matter of business. That meant that our planning for Fan Fest 2016-2017 was stricter than last time on all fronts.
First of all, it takes a year to prepare for Fan Fest. The first step is to secure venues that can hold thousands of people, and that is a struggle in itself. There’s a lot of competition for venues that can support large-scale events, so you have to start looking a year in advance. This time, even though we started the selection process that far ahead, the competition was so fierce that in Japan we could only get December 24-25, i.e., Christmas. From another perspective, it means that you have to predict your earnings a year in advance in order to secure funds to hold the Fan Fest in the first place. This may be one of the reasons why it’s getting harder for even large-scale MMORPGs to hold Fan Fests.
And of course, it’s more than a mere player meet-up—we have to reveal new announcements at each region’s Fan Fest, which means working together with the development team as well. We also have to prepare new merchandise to sell at Fan Fest, which involves the merchandising, books, and music divisions. Fan Fest can almost be considered an enterprise in itself. The amount of money involved is in the hundreds of millions of yen per venue, so if we don’t economize wherever we can, the costs will overtake the revenue in the blink of an eye.
So, we started planning Fan Fest 2016-2017 in October 2015. Venues aside, there were many other things we had to decide: whether we had enough funds to do it, the scale of the event, whether to make it a world tour like last time (and if so, what order to go in), and so on. The order of events was especially important because it would narrow down the schedules for the venue search.
Just as last time, the North American marketing/PR/community teams strongly insisted on starting with their region. Since we already decided that we would be announcing a new expansion pack again, they really wanted us to do it in North America.
North America is one of the founders of the MMORPG genre, and they have a lot of gamers who appreciate it. The online game market is huge there. By using Fan Fest to draw their attention, we would see large positive effects on new player acquisition and existing player retention. And in actuality, when looking at the post-Fan Fest 2014 data, the North America Fan Fest produced outstanding results. So, I accepted their request. We would start there and build up momentum as we got to the other countries.
After that came the venue selection, and from there on, every day was a battle against all odds… But I’m out of space now, so see you next time!
 FFXIV’s next expansion pack. We announced it, but there were still many things we didn’t reveal. Please look forward to future announcements!
 Retention is about maintaining player motivation so that they will continue to play. The development team’s retention levels are important as well.