Backstage Investigators #12: Project Managers Yu Nagai & Tsukasa Sato

Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team!

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


The subjects of our twelfth interview are...

Project Managers Yu Nagai & Tsukasa Sato!

In this interview, Ms. Nagai and Mr. Sato gave us a brief overview of what Project Managers do in the FFXIV team, as well as their own specific roles!


Miyamiya: To start us off, could you tell us what Project Managers do in the FFXIV team?

Nagai: Our biggest responsibility is managing the work progress of each section within the Development team. As you may know, we have a somewhat predetermined interval between our expansions and other patches. FFXIV is a massive project involving designers, artists, programmers, and many other roles, so it's our job to oversee each group's progress and ensure that patches will be released on time.

Project Managers are also liaisons on behalf of the team for third party contracts and negotiations, or when working with guest creators as we did for Save the Queen and YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse.

All in all, you could say we handle all the other aspects of development that don't involve creating in-game content.



Miyamiya: Progress management must be exceptionally difficult in a live service game like FFXIV; I can't imagine having a wide range of other responsibilities on top of that!

Next, could you tell us about your professional backgrounds and what you've worked on so far?

Sato: I was a progress manager at an animation studio for about four or five years, then changed careers to join SQUARE ENIX's Creative Business Unit III as Assistant Project Manager for Dragon Quest Builders 2. At first, I knew nothing about game development and really struggled with getting used to how different its workplace culture was compared to animation production. From there, I eventually joined the FFXIV team and have been with them since.

Right now, I oversee the graphical aspects of the project, primarily those related to character models, backgrounds, animations, and visual effects. Aside from that, I also supervise the overall development schedule for both major and minor updates. It involves consulting the leaders of the Development and Quality Assurance (QA) teams to determine the timing and method of addressing known issues and necessary adjustments, which I oversee the progress for as well.


▲ The character Mr. Sato uses for playtesting. He's wearing the gear from YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, which he supervised as Project Manager!

Nagai: As for me, I joined SQUARE ENIX in April 2016 as a new graduate and have been in the FFXIV Project Management team ever since, so this will be my seventh year working as a Project Manager for FFXIV. I was assigned to oversee the User Interface (UI) team when I was first hired, and since then I've also worked with the Event, Non-combat Content, and Localization teams. Nowadays, I primarily oversee progress for the Battle System and Game Content section, but like Mr. Sato, I handle other miscellaneous tasks like submitting the game for ratings and platform-related work.


▲ The character Ms. Nagai uses for playtesting. Her main job is warrior!

Miyamiya: I see, so the two of you are in charge of graphical and battle-related aspects respectively. What did you work on for Patch 6.3?

Nagai: This goes for all major patches in general and not just Patch 6.3, but during the early to middle stages of development, I make sure the Battle System and Game Content sections are developing without a hitch. If we run into an issue, I talk it over with the appropriate staff to get it resolved, and that process is continually repeated as new problems come to light.

Once we enter the final stages of development, we begin the review process called the "P/D check," which involves Producer & Director Yoshida. For the P/D check, it's my job to organize a schedule based on when each content will be ready for review and how much time it'll require.

Going back to Patch 6.3, since we were releasing a new alliance raid, we also had several rounds of playtesting with 24 people. The P/D check and playtesting are done by players of an average skill level, ideally first-timers, so we have to round up quite a lot of staff members from our teams who've never seen the content before. Finding the right playtesters and organizing a schedule around that many people can be surprisingly difficult!


▲ The Promotional team also participates in the playtests every so often, which oddly take place on the days that screams are heard echoing from somewhere in the office.

Miyamiya: And that's for alliance raids, which require 24 people; I can only imagine how hectic it can get when testing adventuring forays, which involve 72 people or more! What about you, Mr. Sato?

Sato: It varies with the team, but the graphics-related section generally starts working on updates at full steam earlier compared to others; for example, the character models and backgrounds for Patch 6.3 were already requested before Patch 6.2 was released. The teams first create prototypes to check if what they've envisioned are in line with the requests, and similar to what Ms. Nagai mentioned, I track their progress from there to completion. As the review period draws near, the other sections begin to send in their graphics-related feedback, which are addressed or discussed as we wrap everything up for the final product.

In addition to working on patch-related tasks, we're also working on the graphics update planned for 7.0 at the same time. That involves creating prototypes and new features for our development environment, then checking with other teams involved to see if there are any issues with the direction of our results. I make sure to set aside sufficient time for our teams to work on that in the midst of working on patches.


▲ An image from Letter from the Producer LIVE Part LXVIII showing a sample of what we can expect from the graphics update in the upcoming expansion.

Miyamiya: What can you tell us about the teams you oversee? Do they inspire you in any way?

Sato: The graphics-related section has a cozy atmosphere like no other, but also a strong sense of professionalism that never compromises quality in their work. We have two major review phases with relevant members: one during the prototyping stage, and another when it's very nearly complete. Even when their prototype looks polished enough during the initial review, they never settle for that as the final product. As long as they have time, they're constantly looking for ways improve even the finest details to aim for a better quality overall. Their admirable approach inspires me to do everything in my power to aid them, like starting discussions with other sections beforehand or whatever else that might give them more time to refine their work.

Nagai: The members of the battle-related teams are all huge gaming enthusiasts who are always playing lots of different games. Even in their hectic day-to-day, they always set aside time to play the latest titles or watch the latest movies. I often hear our team members chatting among themselves like, "What'd you think of the way they presented that scene?" and I've come to understand that they're constantly taking in inspiration in order to maintain their own creative output.

There's no such thing as a magical number of work hours that guarantees a particular piece of content will be enjoyable. Because of that, the design process always seems to be giving them a hard time, but they always finish everything on time while managing to come up with innovative ideas, and I admire their professionalism as creators.

Miyamiya: What are some moments that help you feel fulfillment in your job as Project Managers?

Nagai: That would be patch releases, when everyone comments on our work on the official forums and social media after trying the new content. As a Project Manager, most of my work is basically "neutralizing negatives," like resolving issues, which makes it all the more rewarding to see everyone enjoy the content I was involved with.

Back when I was overseeing the UI team, I occasionally introduced UI-related updates through the Developers' Blog. I may not have been directly involved with creating the updates myself, but I still wanted to shine the spotlight on the changes that may not have stood out otherwise. Whenever I wrote those posts, it made me very happy to see comments from our players like "I've always wanted this feature!" or "I never knew how much I needed this!" I find it very motivating to see that our Warriors of Light always pick up on even the smallest of updates listed in our patch notes.


▲ Ms. Nagai's posts as "Project Manager U" were translated into English and relayed by the Community team. Notable ones include the post introducing Doman mahjong when it was first implemented, or the one about additional settings being added to HUD layouts.

Sato: The same goes for me as well; it's very encouraging to receive comments from our players regarding the finished product.

I also find it really fulfilling when I manage to facilitate an ideal solution to an issue during development. Whenever a problem arises, I immediately take the initiative to coordinate between the relevant teams. Doing so might involve creating a dedicated group chat or scheduling a real-time discussion, among other efforts to reach a solution. Considering how many people are involved, we Project Managers need to accurately relay the issue to each of them and also vigilantly eliminate any uncertainties or oversights, instead of going, "Well, it's probably okay now..."

Miyamiya: That sounds like an important mindset to have, regardless of whether we do progress management or not!

So now that we're familiar with what Project Managers do in the team, do you have any interesting stories from your working experiences?

Nagai: In Patch 5.35, we added field notes as a way to introduce the various characters involved in Save the Queen. When writing the field notes for Aggie Glover, a 17-year old girl, Mr. Yasumi Matsuno and our teams, including myself as the Project Manager overseeing Save the Queen, had a huddle to decide her favorite food. We were all clueless about what girls around her age would like, and we considered popular real-world sweets but they didn't really make sense either... (laughs) In the end, we chose "zefir," a confectionary from her homeland that also made sense from a lore standpoint.


▲ Pictured in the center is Aggie Glover.

Miyamiya: I never would've imagined her favorite food was decided in that manner, or that project managers were also part of those kinds of brainstorming sessions! What about you, Mr. Sato?

Sato: When the team was designing the Tower at Paradigm's Breach for Patch 5.5, they proposed setting the final encounter in an urban area and having the boss enemy attack using trains and buildings. I checked if that would be okay with the NieR team, and they approved but also suggested, "If it's going to hurl buildings around, how about having it hurl the SQUARE ENIX office building?" The FFXIV team agreed as long as the company was okay with it, so then it became my responsibility to check how far SQUARE ENIX would let us go with this idea.


▲ The setting of the final encounter of the Tower at Paradigm's Breach. You can see the cityscape and even some ominous-looking traffic lights...

In my discussions with the SQUARE ENIX brand team, I basically tried to figure out where they drew the line: Could we depict a building with the SQUARE ENIX logo getting destroyed? Or would we have to omit the actual logo and just have the company name instead?

During these talks, someone poked fun at me, saying, "Why are you being so insistent on destroying a building with our company name on it?" And so for a while after that, I was known around the company as "the guy plotting to destroy our office," much to my chagrin...

As for how it turned out in the end, well... some of our readers may not have played through it yet, so I'd like to leave it for them to find out for themselves.

Miyamiya: I'm glad you could share such an interesting story from behind-the-scenes with us!

Last but not least, do you have anything you'd like to say to our players?

Sato: Thank you all for playing FFXIV. I'm always looking through your feedback and it's been a powerful source of motivation. Your comments help me to reevaluate my work and what my section should be working on. I'd like to continue supporting the development process to maintain an enjoyable quality for our players, as well as a safe playing environment.

Nagai: There are so many people who enjoy FFXIV and I still can scarcely believe that I've been permitted to work on such a grand project. I really enjoy the game as a player too, and although my part may be small, I'd like to continue doing my best as a member of the Development team. I hope you continue to enjoy your time in FFXIV!


Project managers are an essential part of the FFXIV team who enable developers to focus on their tasks and make periodic updates possible. I hope you enjoyed taking a step back with me and learning more about our overseers in the Development team!

See you in the next one!

- Promotional team

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
(No. 6): Community Planner Takeshi Kato
(No. 7): Lead Technical Artist Tatsuya Okahisa
(No. 8): VFX Artist Takayasu Ishii
(No. 9): Localization Team (Pt. 1)
(No. 9): Localization Team (Pt. 2)
(No. 10): Character Concept Artist Tetsu Tsukamoto
(No. 11): Lead Item Designer Yosuke Hayashi