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FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 6): Community Planner Takeshi Kato

Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team!

FFXIV Backstage Investigators is a blog series that share behind-the-scenes stories from the team members who work on all aspects of FFXIV.

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This time we interviewed a member of our Community team, one of the sections within the FFXIV Operations team which plans live events, such as Fan Festivals and live streams!

Community Planner Takeshi Kato!

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▲ The profile picture he provided was taken when the team visited Route 66 the day after the North American Fan Festival in 2018. Leave it to a community planner to submit something event-related before the interview has even started!


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Miyamiya: To start things off, could you give us an overview of what the Community team does, and what your specific role is within the team?

Kato: The Community team is part of the FFXIV Operations team; in other words, we provide support for players so they can enjoy the game. Frequently reading through the official forums, social media, blogs, and various other sources of player feedback is a major premise of our work. We then relay our findings to the developers or Producer and Director Yoshida, and also consider factors which tie into player concerns or enjoyment.

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▲ The official forums are a place for the player community to socialize, as well as vocalize their opinions to the Development and Operations teams.

Additionally, our job also entails creating and managing community events, streams, and live events, not to mention drafting and scheduling Lodestone announcements, and writing patch notes. I can rely on my team to handle these everyday tasks, so I'd say my unique roles are supervising the team and dealing with "reckless demands" from Project Manager M and Global Community Producer Murouchi. (laughs)

Speaking of reckless demands, the Operations team is always prepared to immediately respond to critical in-game issues and bugs. The hardest part about that might be how, no matter what time or day of the week it is, all other tasks must be put on hold in order to prioritize these urgent matters.

Miyamiya: Thanks to the dedicated support of your group and the rest of the Operations team, we all can play FFXIV without worry! Next, please tell us about your career, or how you joined the Community team.

Kato: I joined Square Enix in 2006, so it's been about 15 years.

I've always enjoyed working face-to-face with customers and had been in customer service ever since I began working part-time when I was in high school. It was when I was looking to challenge myself in new ways that I found a recruitment listing for a support role at Square Enix. I'd always liked games from an early age, so I applied on a whim and ended up being hired in 2006.

I believe we began assembling an Operations team for the FFXIV 1.0 beta test around 3 years later. It was around that time that I was invited to the Community team, which I joined in 2009 and have been part of since.

Miyamiya: I realized again that you're one of our founding members who were around for FFXIV 1.0!
Next, I'd like to ask about the Digital Fan Festival 2021 held in May. You were in charge of everything behind the scenes, and I'm sure it was a daunting task to organize our first-ever digital event. Were there any specific areas that you found particularly challenging?

Kato: The hardest part was taking COVID-19 into consideration and making adaptations to the event as the situation continued to change worldwide.

The original plan was to hold separate live events in North America, Europe, and Japan, which is our usual format for Fan Festivals. We were looking into possible venues as early as September 2019. Over in Japan, we were in the middle of preparing to hold the event in Nagoya when COVID-19 began to spread, and we had no choice but to cancel our plans.

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After the cancellation, we still had to consider all sorts of unanswered questions, such as how we might proceed with the Fan Festival, or how we could hold a digital event if we decided to switch to one. Above all, I found that the hardest part was continually looking for an ideal solution as we tried to adapt to the situation as it changed with each day that passed.

Miyamiya: Despite the difficult decisions to delay the events and cancel live attendance, players responded to each announcement with heartwarming comments, which I'm sure were a source of motivation for the Operations team. How did you go about planning a digital event, something we had never held before?

Kato: We started by looking back at what Fan Festivals are about. After mulling it over, we concluded that a Fan Festival should reveal new information, allow players to socialize with each other and developers, feature unique event experiences, and be a celebration packed with all things FFXIV for the duration of the two-day event. In our pursuit to fulfill all of these elements, we decided the event would focus on two main categories: stage events and digital activities.

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▲ Photo from Fan Festival 2019 in Tokyo.

Our typical Fan Festival venues feature gameplay booths, activities, merchandise, and refreshments, and attendees can decide what they would like to do next as they watch ongoing stage events. We strove to digitally recreate that two-day experience and brainstormed various ideas within the Community team while also consulting the Development team and our business affiliates. With their tremendous assistance, we were able to realize all sorts of digital activities, such as the Moogle Treasure Festival, limited-time Group Pose frames and stickers, social media campaigns, and Eorzea Café at Home!

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▲ The Digital Fan Festival featured a wide selection of digital activities for players to enjoy.

Until the very end, we were worried whether players would enjoy these ideas as true Fan Festival activities. However, we looked through the comments and found players who were trying Eorzea Café recipes while viewing stage events, taking screenshots, completing Moogle Treasure Festival content, purchasing all sorts of merchandise... I truly felt that our players were having a blast during the two-day celebration. I'm inclined to believe our digital event was a good first attempt, but also just relieved that it's over with. (laughs)

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▲ The closing ceremony of the Digital Fan Festival. There were many heartfelt comments from our players as the event concluded.

I mentioned "reckless demands" earlier, and we actually had one of those at the Fan Festival too. (laughs)

Sound Director Soken wanted to do the dance from the Twinning meme and asked for specific staff members to participate. For some reason, the request was forwarded to me through Project Manager M, so I had to relay the request to members of the Development team, even my boss! I didn't have to dance, so I just kept a straight face as I went around relaying the message. (laughs)

On the other hand, the number of dance rehearsals gradually increased to more than what was originally proposed, which meant we had additional studio fees... as the person overseeing the Fan Festival budget, I think that was the true "reckless demand." (laughs)

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▲ The dance featured in this segment originated from a meme a player had created based on "A Long Fall," the track that plays in the Twinning. It was even incorporated in a music video in an album by THE PRIMALS.

Miyamiya: Based on the excited comments on social media and streams, players were obviously having a blast, and it was really encouraging for us! We received a lot of encouragement from the original dancer as well!

On a different note, the 14-Hour Broadcast is taking place this weekend! This is also hosted by the Community team, so please tell us if there's anything we wouldn't want to miss!

Kato: The broadcast was originally planned for February and delayed due to the COVID-19 situation, but we were finally able to reschedule it for July. The situation still remains, but we'll be taking meticulous precautions for those appearing in the show as well as staff members who will be on site. There will be no need to worry about their safety, so we hope you'll enjoy the broadcast!

One of our segments will feature not only our usual broadcast members, but Yui-P will be appearing for the first time in an official FFXIV broadcast, and will be around as with the previous 14-Hour Broadcasts. They're avid players of FFXIV, and I'm personally very interested in what they'll be talking about.

Hiroyuki-san will be joining us for a talk with Producer and Director Yoshida for the first time in 5 years. We've broadcast their conversations a number of times in the past, and honestly, you really can't ask these two to hold back! (laughs) We always provide them with predetermined conversation topics, but they haven't ever used them a single time. At this point, I'd like to just leave things to them and a certain bearded fellow who will be sitting in on the conversation, so please wish them all the best. (laughs)

Additionally, our very own Captain Takeda and Leader Gunisaka from the Japanese Community team stream will be making their first appearance in the 14-Hour Broadcast! They'll be joining all of you in-game for their show, How Do You Like Hydaelyn?, so please give them a warm welcome in-game or in the stream comments.

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▲ We also had a special episode of How Do You Like Hydaelyn? during the Fan Festival. Where will we explore this time?

We'll also have a Letter from the Producer LIVE, and a diverse number of other segments for you to enjoy throughout the 14 hours, so please look forward to it!

Miyamiya: Thank you for the shoutout! Finally, our usual question about your tools of the trade! Is there anything you simply can't work without, carry everywhere with you, or find useful?

Kato: Something I personally can't work without is the communication platform I use for work, Slack.

As many of us are now working from home, it's become harder for us to have light-hearted conversations among ourselves. In the Community team, we've decided to use Slack to chat with each other for everything from casual conversations to work-related discussions.

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▲ Look at the sheer number of channels!
According to Kato, all the connections he'd made with other teams until now are what allow him to casually communicate with them over Slack.

I said that I wouldn't be able to work without Slack, but I believe the most important thing is the communication and connections I've built with other people in our company. I believe we can light-heartedly talk over troublesome topics without meeting in person because we had these connections from before. This is something I value very dearly.

Miyamiya: Do you have any parting words for our readers?

Kato: First of all, a big thanks to all of you for playing FFXIV. I'd like to continue making FFXIV an enjoyable and memorable experience for our players. We're eager to hear what you enjoy about the game or concerns you may have, so please let us know through the official forums, social media, blogs, or other platforms. Our Community team will always be here to lend an ear, so we hope you'll entrust us with relaying your feedback to the Development team and Producer and Director Yoshida.

I spoke about events today, and while I'm not sure how things will go from here on out, I personally hope we have an opportunity to meet you all in person at a live event. We had our trailer playing at full blast during our Fan Festival rehearsal, and I wanted to share that experience with all of you. Looking into the empty audience, there were numerous times where I found myself thinking about how things would've been different with everyone there and how we all would've had a great time. It always brings me great joy to see your faces light up in awe and excitement, and more than anything, I'd like to share those moments together with you in a hall filled to capacity with FFXIV players.

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While I'm unsure when the COVID-19 situation will end or what we'll do for the next Fan Festival, I hope we have an opportunity to meet with all of you from around the world in real life once again!

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How did you enjoy our interview with Community Planner Takeshi Kato?
I hope we can meet you all directly soon! For now, let's look forward to this weekend's 14-Hour Broadcast!

Previous Editions of FFXIV Backstage Investigators
(No. 1): Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda
(No. 2): Lead Level Designer Arata Takahashi
(No. 3): Web Director Hiroyuki Takachi
(No. 4): Lead UI Artist Yoichi Seki
(No. 5): Character Concept Artist Hiroyuki Nagamine

Miyamiya
- Promotional team