All's Fair with First Impressions

September 16th, 2010

Being the huge Final Fantasy Fan that I am, of course I was excited about Final Fantasy XIV, and of course I was excited about the open beta. So it might seem like I was a bit harsh in my prior blog entry about my first impressions with the game. But negative first impressions abound with the FFXIV open beta. The game's fallen off the front page listing of top anticipated MMOs at mmorpg.com. Comments on their forums, as well as on other sites, are indicative of a great deal of frustration and disappointment. To be honest, I think a lot of it is justified.

The thing is, an open beta is more like a demo or trial than the "full game." Square Enix has acknowledged this, but only in so far as limiting the game (eg: level cap at 30 instead of 50; storyline quests removed; etc.) for the duration of the beta. Demos are supposed to give players a limited taste of the game, but they're also supposed to leave players hanging with anticipation. The open beta does just the opposite: it dumps players into a big, open, and relatively boring world, and says: "don't you want to pay for more of this?" Of course players are going to say no.

FFXIV, just like its predecessor FFXI, is inherently a grind-based game. The problem is that people don't want to waste "grind-time" by grinding and having their game reset. Who wants to spend a hundred hours grinding in open beta, only to be reset when the full version comes out? Well, the hardcore fans maybe, but they're shoe-ins anyways. The point is that the people on the fence, the people who aren't sure about the game, they aren't going to want to grind. Hey, lets face it, even I don't want to grind. I haven't had any interest in going back to the FFXIV open beta since I finished two and a half town tutorials: I can't see any more content in the open beta without some egerious grinding time.

I think what Squeenix should have done was declare the open beta to be a much smaller experience. Cap players at level 10 instead of 30. Boost xp gains. Cut out re-use timer limits. Basically, allow players to churn content as fast as they can play it, then hit that "you gotta wait for the full game!" barrier that makes player run to the store for a pre-order. A demo that's too short is far, far better than a demo that's long enough for players to get bored with a game.

The two-day reuse limit on Guildleves was a poor decision too. Two days. Geez. And you can only have 8 at a time. World of Warcraft's daily quests are daily, and you can do some obscene number of those... 75 a day now? I don't remember. But it was more than plenty. I think players these days are spoiled by the notion of having more content available than they could consume. You never have to stop playing World of Warcraft for the day because you've run out of things for that day. Or, if you do, it's after a VERY long play session. For FFXIV to be limiting people to a half our of new content every other day is a major mistake.

I think the entire focus on Guildleves in FFXIV is problematic. Especially because the timers are shared between difficulty levels. It's not like you have 8 quests to do solo and 8 other quests to do in a party. You have 8 to do, period. This doesn't encourage grouping at all. Moreover, when people can't find a group, they start doing them solo, and shoot themselves in the foot if they do find a group later. "Oh, sorry, I already did all my leves..." Ouch. Really, there should be separate solo and group leves, so you have something to do while you're waiting for a group to become available.

Again, it doesn't help that FFXIV is wholly focused on Guildleves for xp gain. There's nothing else to do: you can't do quests (in the WoW-sense), you can't do public quests (in the WAR-sense), and you can't do PVP (in any sense). I'm not even sure how viable plain old grinding (in the FFXI-sense) is. So you just do some leves, then you leave. Is it any wonder people are complaining?

A lot of the other complaints I've been reading about are pretty valid too. The marketplace system is abysmal. I've never been able to buy something else from another player, let alone sell anything of my own. I loathed the bazaar system in FFXI, grudgingly using it solely for items that could not be placed in the Auction House (Mannequin Body, anyone?). I even found the FFXI AH to be limited and wished it to expand into something more like EVE Online's fabulous market. For FFXIV to be backtracking to a pure bazaar-style system is simply absurd.

I can understand the appeal to making a store-like experience. I can understand the desire to give that functionality, to allow players to build up a reputation as a store-operator, to create havens for groups of players to market their goods together. But not at the expense of other players! Especially in the transaction of commodity goods! Players should not have to browse tens of thousands of shops to buy a common item that shows up in the vast majority of them in order to determine the best price for that item! This is especially true when a player simply wants to sell off some junk they looted; the value of a centralized market is that basic commodities can be moved very rapidly and efficiently, and both buyers and sellers have the knowledge they need to conduct as fair a transaction as possible in as short an amount of time as possible. Key words here: fair and fast. These are golden rules if you want to keep players happy.

I'll be honest. Even my enthusiasm for FFXIV has been dampened. I really liked FFXI and I want so much to like FFXIV even more. But now that I've had a little taste and that first taste has been so bitter... I'm just not sure. First Impressions are immensely powerful in setting the tone for a game. When I talk to people who don't play FFXI and WoW, they still nay-say the game based on information they learned about it when it was first released. When people get a negative view on a product, they simply will not invest any time or energy in learning more about the product to change their view. It is extremely difficult for anyone to change their opinions, no matter what objective facts they throw around.

FFXIV might turn out to be a fantastic game, but I fear a great many people will never find out.

Posted by: Soulrift

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