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Final Fantasy 15 director wants to use leakers to games’ advantage

Turning a crisis into an opportunity

Final Fantasy 15 screenshot Square Enix

After years in the making, one big thing nearly thwarted the excitement and hard work put into Final Fantasy 15’s launch last year: early copies. Despite director Hajime Tabata’s conscious efforts to create a master team of experts to create the game, they were no match for retailers who broke street date and the “early birds” who took to social media with pre-launch spoilers.

This was one of the biggest and most last-minute challenges that Square Enix’s Business Division 2 faced during Final Fantasy 15’s lengthy development process, as Tabata told the audience during his Game Developers Conference 2017 talk. The director described his journey in going from an underdog of sorts — his previous projects were handheld games like the PlayStation Portable’s Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 — to the head of a human “mass of mastery,” but even his 200-person team hadn’t adequately prepped for the possibility of leaks.

“We’d never done a simultaneous worldwide launch before, so we lacked the expertise to stop early copies,” he explained.

Retailers in countries around the world broke street date, and content began to circulate online weeks ahead of Final Fantasy 15’s launch in November. At the time, Tabata was furious — particularly on behalf of his team, which he described as composed of mountain climbers tirelessly trekking toward a gigantic peak throughout the development process.

“If the early birds were enjoying it in silence, we could bear it,” Tabata said. “But there were people actually actively trying to ruin the experience for those waiting for the launch with campaigns on social media.”

Tweets and images containing story content made it online quickly. Gameplay footage from deep into Final Fantasy 15 was easy to come by as well in the lead-up to its release date.

At the time, Tabata spoke publicly about his disappointment with these early adopters, as he reminded the GDC crowd.

“A large and dedicated team have worked extremely hard to make this game and to create a Final Fantasy that everyone can enjoy,” the director said in November, in a press release issued a week before the game launched. “It would be a huge regret for us if the excitement of the launch was to be spoiled for so many when we are so close to release.”

The response to the message was critical, to Tabata’s disappointment. Fans criticized him for calling out their desire to play the game early, and he said that he turned that criticism back on himself.

Reflecting on the development process as a whole months later, Tabata said he realized that dramatic events can create new opportunities for a resourceful team.

“I’d like to use the spoiler makers to our advantage and come up with a way to integrate them into promotion somehow,” he said, as opposed to using law enforcement or other penalties to make buyers pay the consequences of spoiling big-name games.

It remains to be seen if or how that will bear out, but Tabata spoke positively of the entire experience.

“Any other project you’re working on, there’s always a drama and a crisis and some big problems waiting for you,” he said. The important thing is to transform that crisis into something positive — whether it’s spoilers or, even more importantly, nailing the landing on his first huge console project, which has sold more than six million copies worldwide thus far and received rave reviews upon release.

Final Fantasy 15 is “not a success story,” Tabata added, and the team continues to work on the game. More major content is on the way, but don’t expect it to leak out early this time.

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