In a recent interview, Yoshida described the plans for the revamped Final Fantasy 14's upcoming alpha and beta testing phases. The alpha test will take place this autumn and will be a relatively small-scale server stability test. While players would have to create new characters for the alpha and beta test, Yoshida assured that players would be able to convert their existing Final Fantasy 14 characters to the Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn world. With the upgraded and increased customizability of characters, Yoshida stated that he intended to allow players to redesign existing characters once, although how far players would be able to redesign their characters, such as race or even gender, is still unknown.
As redesigning a MMORPG essentially from the ground up is something of a new ground for all parties involved, Yoshida said that the developers are doing their best to make the transition as smooth and painless as possible. "[Current players] will be able to continue to use their present accounts without any added procedures; all they will need to do is download the new Final Fantasy 14 client and install it." Yoshida explained. Server names will also remain the same to prevent confusion.
While it looks like the soonest anyone will be able to get their hands on a playable demo is when the beta is released, it's kind of understandable, given the breakneck pace at which the development team has been having to retool and redesign the game. Considering that it was less than two years ago when Square Enix handed Yosihda the reigns and made the decision to save their floundering new MMO by rebuilding it from scratch, the development team has been bending over backwards to make sure that they make the new game as good as possible without alienating current users, also while maintaining the current Final Fantasy 14. Normally a game is developed to the point when a viable release date can be determined before any PR even starts. Ideally, Yoshida's team would probably want at least six more months before making any announcements.
Sadly, what goes on behind the developers' doors is mostly hidden from public view. One can only speculate on the amount of work that has been done, even with an existing base system to start with. Yoshida has said that for the upcoming Tokyo Game Show he plans to have demo videos to help spread the word that a new Final Fantasy 14 is coming. Let's just hope it doesn't get buried behind whatever they're planning for Final Fantasy 13. Whether A Real Reborn is successful or not, Yoshida has my support for the Best Effort by a Game Director or Producer award. (And if there isn't an award, there should be)