It’s been exactly one year since Final Fantasy XIV fans in Australia and New Zealand were given the biggest recognition they could want as a dedicated community of players – a localised data centre for the Oceania region dubbed ‘Materia’.
In the 12 months since its debut, the Materia DC has provided ANZ players with not only a refreshingly stable connection to the game itself through our otherwise-shocking excuse for internet, but a sense of camaraderie and community with fellow local players and all of the colloquialisms that come with it. With player names like Maccas Run, Waltzing Materia, Astra Zeneca and plenty of jabs at local pollies, it’s only fitting that servers designed to be populated by Aussies and New Zealanders would feel very much like a population of Aussies and New Zealanders.
With a full year of Materia behind us and in anticipation of many more to come, we were lucky enough to be able to chat to revered Director and Producer, Naoki Yoshida, about Final Fantasy XIV and how the Oceania data centre has helped to nurture and grow the global FFXIV community – much like its players can grow crops on their Island Sanctuaries.
“Having been widely spread across the Japanese, North American and European data centres, players in Oceania had long awaited the launch of a local data centre. It took some time but I am very pleased that we were able to accomplish this goal, and that we were able to alleviate the latency issue for players in the region,” Yoshida-san said of the launch of Materia in January 2022.
It’s certainly something that local players have been more than appreciative of, both from a technical point of view as their access to and experience of the game has been smoothed over immensely by the improved infrastructure, as well as from the increased sense of community. The Final Fantasy XIV team brought a handful of quotes from ANZ players to our attention ahead of publishing this interview, like Janet who said, “The first night on Materia was so special, waving and saying hello to everyone. There was also a lot of stopping to laugh and congratulate people on their choice of some great Aussie and Kiwi names!”
New Zealand player John Benedict T. Gabitan with Yshtola-flavoured ride.
I brought up the idea of the emotional impact of a local data centre launch on the game’s players with Yoshida-san, curious as to how that impact is felt on the other side of the coin within the Final Fantasy XIV team at Square Enix’ Creative Business Unit III.
“Emotionally speaking it’s extremely complicated. For FFXIV we’ve built on-site data centres as opposed to cloud-based servers. This is because we place importance on the speed and stability of the data writing, as well as the stability of our content. We have tried and studied cloud-based solutions many times in the past, and we have ongoing collaborations with major cloud server manufacturers to continue our research,” he explained.
“An advantage of physical data centres is that they’re less expensive than cloud solutions and very stable. The “stability” is especially important to deliver quality gameplay to our players. We continue to create more and more stories and content based on this stable foundation, but on the flip side a lack of infrastructure unfortunately ends up causing inconvenience to new players when we experience explosive player growth, which occurs following the acclaim we receive for the aforementioned “stability” aspect of our service. It always pains us to see this happen to new players. So, even if it involves skyrocketing initial costs, we look at how things will be several years into the future and are working to enhance our infrastructure now. Well, the only thing skyrocketing is the pressure on me!” (Naoki Yoshida smiles bitterly at this point).
That growth is evidently incredibly important to Yoshida and the greater team, and the ability and agility to continue to grow the game is without a doubt a critical component in its success. I asked Yoshida-san what he thinks the core of that growth is and how Final Fantasy XIV, amongst the multitude of other MMORPGs on the market both successful and less so, has been able to enjoy the dedicated fanbase that it has and continue to grow it year after year.
“The engaging story, the depth and multitude of game experiences, as well as the incredible sound design in the game, all of which have constantly been maintained and delivered to our players. Above all, FFXIV has been supported by many friendly and dedicated communities. I think these are the reasons why the game has been able to grow so much,” he explains, before launching into heartfelt thanks.
“To all our Warriors of Light, the Development and Operations teams, and to the media outlets who have always looked over our game in a fair manner, thank you so much!”
Yoshida-san also clarifies that he’d love for players to not think of Final Fantasy XIV as an MMORPG, but instead the true “14th instalment in the Final Fantasy series,” a fact that’s highlighted by the option for players to now team up with NPCs to clear all of the main scenario dungeons that are part of its Free Trial content. Coming from someone who typically avoids MMOs for the exact reason that linking up with other people and scheduling playtime can be a nightmare, it’s exactly the kind of feature that would tempt me over were my Final Fantasy fandom not reason enough already.
New additions in recent updates have also continued to expand the Final Fantasy XIV experience beyond what’s expected of a traditional MMO to tempt new players into its world or give existing ones exciting new gameplay to enjoy. One of those is the Island Sanctuary, released as part of the Endwalker expansion and having received plenty of updates since. Players get the ability to build their own personal paradise away from everything else, cultivating the land and growing crops, finding resources, building and more. It’s a novel addition and one that has a lot of potential as a game-within-a-game, and given that I had Yoshida-san on hand to chat to I wanted to make sure I quizzed him on the inspiration behind it all.
“The impetus came from a TV show broadcast in Japan that for years has featured a segment in which a group of entertainers take on the challenge of developing facilities on a deserted island. I’m a long-time fan of that show and this was the source of my inspiration,” Yoshida explained before promising that more is most certainly to come.
“The two biggest pieces of feedback have been from players wanting to express a greater degree of individuality on their island sanctuaries and requests to enhance the usability of the UI. Both will be addressed in future patches!”
At the end of the day, a game with the scope and breadth Final Fantasy XIV really is designed to not only send players off on grand adventures and foster communities, but give them the opportunity to make new memories in a fantastic world, either on their own or with friends. I was curious to know what memories Naoki Yoshida himself held dear as both a creator and a player of Final Fantasy XIV.
“I myself play FFXIV quite a lot in my private life, so I have many fond memories together with other Warriors of Light. But if I were to divulge any details, it might give away my private character. As such, let me keep that a secret,” he laughs.
“On the other hand, I can mention the North American Fan Festival in Las Vegas that we held back in 2014. This was our first ever fan festival for FFXIV, and the raucous cheers from the many Warriors of Light who gathered there hold a special place in my heart. I’ll probably never forget it. In fact, even now it brings me close to tears when I look back at that incredible reception!”
If you’ve yet to jump on the Final Fantasy XIV train, allow me to do the classic pitch – Have you tried the expanded Free Trial of the critically acclaimed MMORPG #FFXIV? You can play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award-winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for FREE with no restrictions on playtime!