It wouldn't do to just interview the developers. The Fan Festival only exists because of the fans! So I decided to interview a couple of players that I ran into, so that I could get their impressions of the show.
The first person I spoke to was "Kinta" from the Ramuh server, Linkshell SilentWinds. Kinta is a level 75 WAR, RDM, MNK, THF, DRK, BST, RNG, and COR. This was Kinta's first time at a Fan Festival. When I asked him if he enjoyed the day, his initial response was "it's alright. Not too much to do. They need more activities." But as we continued to talk, he told me more about the things he enjoyed.
Kinta's take on the morning's presentation was a positive one. He enjoyed Fujito-san's presentation of Moblin Maze Mongers, though he thought the demo played slowly and hopes that it will be more enjoyable when he can play it with his friends. He agreed with me that, while "The Swarm" was a lot of fun, there seems to be a lack of purpose to the whole thing. Though, he mused, one could argue that there's no purpose to any MMORPG other than to pass time and have fun without any serious physical exertion.
Kinta also commented on the price one pays to attend the Fan Fest. He thought it was quite fair to pay the 40 dollar fee, especially considering the open bar. He said he saw people get far more than 40 dollars' worth of drinks on Friday night.
The other person I spoke to at length was Seyrr. Seyrr plays on Gilgamesh, and was associated with the social Linkshell "El Forto." He plays as a level 75 THF, RNG, and NIN. Unlike Kinta, Seyrr had been to the two previous FFXI Fan Festivals, and was happy to be at third third one, even though he commented that this event was "smaller" than the last two. This comes as no surprise, since it was essentially a one day event.
Seyrr was somewhat disappointed with the announcements made at the Fan Fest. Reason being: the Japanese "Vana'Fest" two weeks prior revealed almost exactly the same information. He believes that Square Enix needs to recognize that there is a pretty free-flowing stream of information between the Japanese and English-speaking gaming communities, so many of the attendees knew about some of the announcements before they were made. However, he was happy that we did get some exclusives, such as the Scholar category 2 merits.
Seyrr saw a lot of potential in Moblin Maze Mongers, and he also enjoyed the Swarm (primarily because of the Mythic weapons being equipped to the demo characters). But his favorite part of the show was "definitely Kumi Tanioka's performance." Obviously, Seyrr had seen her perform at past shows, but this one showed an especially warm and genuine side to Tanioka-san.
In speculating on the future, Seyrr commented to me that he thinks the Dev Team is going through a learning process of their own, and that the Fan Festival is important for them so that they can become more in touch with the community of fans. He also thinks that FFXI will continue to exist "at least until its 10 year anniversary, if not much further." In his mind, FFXI isn't going away anytime soon, nor does he want it to. This line of thought, of course, brought up questions about Square Enix's as-yet untitled next generation MMORPG. We talked for a bit, speculating about what it might be. Ultimately, Seyrr was convinced that it would either be part of the Ivalice universe, or else an entirely new IP. I suggested that perhaps it would be part of the Final Fantasy (something) XIII "Fabula Nova Crystalis" series. Both he and I agreed that, whatever it is, it better be a major overhaul compared to FFXI. Though FFXI is a fantastic game, and it has aged well, there's no question that it is old as it now enters its seventh year of service.