My own take and opinion on the subject is based on my experience from previous MMO's, ranging from the old days of Everquest, and then into FFXI and WoW.
I agree with the OP, that they'll focus mostly on increasing accessibility, and thereby introduce the game to a much wider audience. This doesn't neccesarily mean it'll be very fast and easy to accomplish things, but rather that the focus will be on reducing it the times it takes to progress once you've logged onto the game.
There's a few major things they'll need to focus on fixing in FFXIV to make it more appealing to casual players and just a wider playerbase in general. Like the OP said, the time it takes to start "progressing" from the moment you log in will be the biggest change I think we'll see in FFXIV. There's a few major things I think they'll be overhauling, and concentrating on balancing. They include, but are not limited to:
- Extremly reduced log-in time (PlayOnline Viewer removed, possibly no launcher or very small and fast one)
- Making/Looking for group tool (Will be greatly expanded to allow for quick creation and finding of groups for a wide variety of content ranging from quests, storyline missions, leveling, merit parties and more.)
- Focus on balancing classes (No jobs will have to sit in the main cities looking for groups for hours unsuccessfully, and not every group will need X or Y class to go out and do something.)
- Expanded jobsystem (This touches on the thing above, but with S-E saying they'll expand on the jobsystem, I think you'll be able to borrow abilities, traits and skills from several different classes all at once. This could possibly imply that you can borrow things like healing skills, tanking skills and support skills from classes when you wish to do lesser content and group content. I don't think it'll be as potent as having them skills as a "main" job, but it'll get the job done for anything outside of end-game raiding content or the hardest group content.)
- Travelling will be vastly improved. (While I do think there'll be things like slow airship rides and large zones, I also think they'll add easier accessible mounts like chocobos, and also larger variety of portal spells, outposts and something like a default warp item to quicken the time it takes to get from A to B and return to the cities.)
- Solo content (This can be everything from killing npc's to adding quests, tradeskills, farming, certain story-line elements which all be done on your own.)
- Expanded auction house. (It'll expanded to allow easier access, overview and purchasing selling of items.)
- Massive overhaul of many UI elements. (Expanded quest/mission logs, much improved map system, better minimap, ingame friend list, better search tool and macro functions, a bit more customizable unit frames.)
- Low to mediumrange endgame content, which is acccesible to a wider audience. (I do believe that Square-Enix will continue in the tradition of having much if it's endgame content being very time-consuming, but they'll try to add more end-game content which a single groups can accomplish, and still get good rewards from.)
- Viewble and attainble progress (Meaning they'll have a few "point based" systems where people can easily and quickly see their progress towards their next item or character upgrade)
There's alot more things for them to improve and add, and I personally think they'll take many of the things from FFXI, such as Besieged, campaign, level sync, FoV and add them in one way or the other to FFXIV. As for the intial release of the game, I do not think it'll be anywhere as fast to level to "max level" in the game as it is in FFXI today. The reason is rather simple. Just like most MMO's, content will be somewhat limited at release, and it's not good for a large population to be at the end of the line with few things to do. For me, Final Fantasy has never been about the end-game, but rather the journey towards it.
FFXI stood out from the crowd of MMO's, as it had a large amount of worthwhile content available as you progressed towards the max level. This is something they've taken from the Final Fantasy franchise, and incorporated into their MMO, and I think it's something they'll stick with. Instead of just rushing people towards the end, they let people travel across the world, enjoy the areas, listen to the music and take part in the grand and epic storyline. The questlines to attain summons, to get access to chocobo, airships and completing genkais were things that stood out for me the most. I think these smaller events will be something they'll add more of in FFXIV, and greatly expand upon. With that in mind, I do not think they'll rush people towards max-level, and subsequently, I don't think you'll get to max level within a month, even if you're a hardcore player.
All in all, with the major goal of reducing time it takes to start progressing in FFXIV, with improved elements from FFXI, the Final Fantasy franchise and new improved mechanics and gameplay features I think we can expect one of the more interesting and better MMO's in 2010.
Edited, Jul 8th 2009 8:11am by muppenz