After Phase 3 of beta testing closed and all character data was wiped for the last time, however, Square Enix went remarkably quiet about the upcoming game. Activity on the tester forums dropped, and there wasn't any sign of a date when we could expect to be able to log in again. There were a few rumors going around, but none which offered a convincing source -- or indeed a source at all in many cases.
However, in a four-hour "Letter from the Producer Live" event today, Naoki Yoshida and friends announced a wealth of information about the upcoming game, along with answering a selection of the most popular questions from the community.
The most significant information that came out of the presentation was the long-awaited announcement of dates for open beta and early access.
Open beta will run from August 17-19, with those who participated in Phase 3 of the closed beta -- that's the phase just passed -- able to log in and play on both PC and PS3 from August 16.
Early Access for those who have preordered the game, meanwhile -- this includes legacy players of the original Final Fantasy XIV -- will run from August 24 onwards. Live service will begin officially on August 27, but the devs note that servers won't be going down between Early Access and the start of official service, so you'll be able to play uninterrupted from August 24 onwards.
While open beta is only short, characters will not be wiped at the end of it, so it's a good means of getting a head start prior to the official launch of service. There will be a few restrictions, however -- most significantly the fact that the level cap will be just 20, so the accessible content will be limited to that which it's possible to successfully complete at levels up to 20.
The team will also be testing the basic functionality of player-vs-player combat in a special area known as the Wolves' Den. This will only be accessible to those of level 30 and upwards, so during open beta it will only be accessible to legacy players with high-level characters -- once Early Access starts, however, anyone of a high enough level will be able to challenge other players.
Regarding payment of subscription fees for the game, you'll have three options: credit card, game time cards -- which will come in a variety of different designs -- and Square Enix's online currency Crysta. Those who played version 1.0 of Final Fantasy XIV will be able to play A Realm Reborn free until September 9 of this year -- it doesn't sound as if there's going to be the usual free month of play that is traditionally bundled in with new subscription-based MMOs, but this wasn't confirmed one way or the other.
As an incentive to subscribe to the game in the long term, the game will be implementing a veteran reward system, with players receiving items for every 30 days of subscription. After 30 days, you'll receive a "Wind-up Cursor" minion character and a "Phial of Fantasia" that allows you to change the appearance of your character. After 60 days, you'll receive a voucher for black "heat resistant gear" (otherwise known as "a swimsuit") and a Chocobo Chick minion. After 90 days, you'll receive an Ahriman minion and mount. Interestingly, you don't have to actively play to receive these rewards -- you receive them the moment you subscribe for a period of time. As such, if you sign up for a 90-day subscription option, you'll immediately receive all of the 30, 60 and 90-day rewards.
There'll be a smartphone companion app available a week after the game's official launch that will include character information, statistics of items, quests and information on dungeons. It will be linked with the Web-based Lodestone service that allows you to view your character and interact with other players outside of the main game. It'll initially be available for iOS only -- an Android version will follow later -- and will be free to download and use.
You can check out the full list of questions and answers at this link.