Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Good News, Bad News : FFXIV:ARR

It's almost exactly a dozen years ago that I experienced my first MMO launch,  Anarchy Online, still considered by many to be the worst of all time. It set a benchmark of badness that I have yet to see equaled, although often it's been a close call.

When it began AO was quite literally unplayable for many. I remember having problems getting the game to run at all, problems logging in and incredible, unplayable lag. The first couple of weeks I spent far more time reading the forums than playing. Funcom suspended the subscription for several months and I don't believe I ever did subscribe even though in the end I played for quite a while.

Horizons managed to be playable after a fashion. It ran and people could log in at least. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be much to do when you got there. Huge tracts of land were virtually empty. The city, on the other hand, lagged so badly it was barely possible to get through the gates. I didn't manage the free month in that one.

Then there was Vanguard, commonly thought to be the buggiest, if not the worst, launch ever. Vanguard was the MMO I most wanted to play since I first played Everquest and I'd prepared for it. I'd been in the beta for several months (in fact I was in the betas for all the games mentioned above, so I really have no-one to blame but myself for going ahead and buying them) and found it utterly unplayable at first so I'd taken the extreme step of buying a new PC chosen specifically to run that one game.

I'm coming! Don't close those doors!
And run it it did. So Mrs Bhagpuss got an identical one and Chez Bhagpuss Vanguard ran
tolerably well from day one. Of course we still had the vast bug army to contend with but for us, as launches go, Vanguard wasn't all that bad. We played for a year and a half and both of us have been back plenty of times since.

Keen thinks the FFXIV:ARR is the worst launch since WoW. I can't really comment on that because not only did I not play WoW at launch, I didn't even follow it's progress at the time. It's only in later years that I've picked up on the notion that WoW wasn't a screaming success out of the gate. I was too busy plodding through EQ2, which launched just before WoW with a dull thud entirely appropriate to the thuddingly dull game it was until Scott Hartsman arrived on his white charger to save it the following summer.

So I've seen a few bad launches and every bad launch is different. FFXIV is probably having the best kind of bad launch there is, at least from the perspective of the company behind it. It isn't buggy or laggy or unfinished or broken. It's just way, way more popular than anyone expected. Or Square were woefully unprepared for the interest it's received. Either way, there are more people trying to play the game right now than there are servers to play it on.  A lot more.

The servers have been up and down all through the ironically named "Early Access" and as I write, they're down again. Yesterday a list was posted of NA/EU servers that have been closed to new characters for an indefinite period. I haven't committed the names of every FFXIV server to memory but it looks suspiciously like all of them.

Square have announced they are adding capacity to their Data Centers and making changes to permit higher concurrency. Good news, if not much consolation to friends and guilds currently scattered over servers or even regions.

Three tickets for "Goblin" please. No, three.
The long-nosed one in the hat's not with us.
After the utter debacle of the original FFXIV (which doesn't really count as a terrible launch, more a fairly smooth launch of a terrible game) one might have thought another disaster would be the stake through Final Fantasy's heart, at least as an online proposition. But no.

Yoshi P, the "hardcore gamer" super-bouncy, pro-active Producer Square entrusted with rebuilding the brand was his usual upbeat self in the Launch Day producer's letter. And well he might be. In the letter he states openly that Square expect FFXIV to run for ten years at a minimum. If the game does well any bad publicity received from problems at launch will evaporate like summer mist, a mere footnote in the history of a successful, long-lasting game.

Look at the list of horrible, failed launches above. All of those games are still running (Horizons changed its name to Istaria but its still there. They sent me a "What's changed since you last logged in" email only this week). The one Keen compared FFXIV's launch to is WoW, for heaven's sake! A diabolical launch didn't put them out of business, did it? There are worse problems for a company to have than too many customers wanting to buy what it's selling, that's for sure.

Cait! I've told you before, no busking the queue!
Silver linings for Square aside, it's a shambles and the way it's been handled is a disgrace. We all understand the trade-off between having enough servers at launch so that everyone can get in and the inconvenience and bad publicity of server merges in just a few months when all the tourists leave. Rift was the poster child for that approach.

It's not as though Square don't know how many boxes they shipped and how many digital downloads they sold, though, is it? Surely preparing for the best-case scenario where they sold all the boxes right away and might even need to throttle back digital sales for a while should have been in the plan somewhere?

Even if it wasn't, wouldn't a straightforward queuing system be more acceptable to everyone? I remember being six-hundred and some in the queue to get onto Faeblight and watching it tick down for an hour and a half before I got in back at Rift's launch. That would be so much better than being barred completely from joining friends or having to close and restart the client over and over and over again in the hope I caught the server when someone had logged out.

Enough. It's just gone 11.00am and that's when the servers are supposed to come back up. I have my two characters made on Goblin (the only two I'll be having for the foreseeable future - it's new characters that are barred, not just new players) and mid-day, mid-week isn't busy, if yesterday was anything to go by. Come teatime, though, if I disconnect I won't be getting back on and it'll be back to GW2.

It's not ideal, but then what MMO launch ever was?


11 comments:

  1. I wasn't really interested in FFXIV but I am very curious about it now since I see lot of positive reactions to it in the blogs (including yours) I follow. So to a person like me, all these news of queues is another positive sign about the game since it tells me that lot of people are interested in it even in this age of F2P!

    I am thinking of ordering a copy now and the cheapest I find in UK is £15 from Amazon for a boxed copy. Anyone knows anywhere else cheaper?

    Also is there a official or unofficial UK server?

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    1. We paid £19.99 for our digital downloads so £15 sounds like a good deal. With the chaos going on at the moment I can't imagine any firm unofficial playstyle or regional servers have gotten off the ground. It's been hard enough to get onto any of them.

      Even if you know people who are playing there's probably no chance you'll be able to join them right now due to the server locking so if you want to play you might as well just start wherever you can get on and hope to move later if need be. I would hope, expect even, that once the dust settles Square will offer some kind of Free Transfer system so everyone can get to where they need to be but they haven't said anything yet.

      Once you actually get in it's shaping up to be a really good, old-school MMO, I think. Certainly worth giving it a look.

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  2. I second the sentiment. Initially, I wasn't very interested after how much of a disaster the previous game was. But reading the blogs...It's sparked my interest, for sure.

    How is the combat and exploration though? Huge world & interesting combat, I hope? I'll probably wait a few months for them to polish it off before trying.

    -Ursan

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    1. There were a lot of complaints in beta about the combat being slow, stilted and dull but Yoshi P pointed out that most of the criticism was based on the first fifteen levels, which are very close to being an extended tutorial. Since I only got to 15 in beta and I just hit 14 in Live today, I can't really say how the combat changes further into the game, but I can say that even at 14 it's already very obvious how much *is* changing, so I'm prepared to take his word for it. From what I've heard, higher level combat gets a lot more tactical and there's the whole "create your own build from skills from many classes" thing to add complexity. I'll let you know when I get there.

      As for exploration, I did think looking at the maps that the overall size of the world seemed relatively small but it certainly doesn't feel that way when your traveling through it. The zones are quite complex and really beautifully and convincingly designed, apart from the odd quirk of no body of water being more than three feet deep (because no swimming, I guess).

      It's an odd game and it would be very, very easy to write it off as old-fashioned, slow and plodding if you came to it fresh from, say, GW2 or Neverwinter. What it feels to have right from the outset, though, is depth, complexity and integrity. I think it will probably repay commitment from the player, but it will also require it.

      The most surprising thing is the unexpected surge of interest it's getting. If it weathers the teething troubles of launch and manages to hold on to a substantial audience it's going to have made a very strong case for the old-school, traditional style of MMO not being anywhere near as dead as we thought it was.

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  3. Simple solution; Limit initial sales or entry, only let enough people buy the game to fill the expected number of servers. Then as activity drops off, allow more to buy. Base initial sales on pre-order timing; the earlier you buy, the sooner you get in.

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    1. I do like the "first come, first served" idea for Head Start. Whatever system is used, though, it's the way these big launches apparently take the companies behind them so completely by surprise *every single time* that gets me. It's like learning to drive all over again every time you take the car out of the garage.

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  4. WoW's launch is hard to categorize because the experience was so different depending on which server you were on.

    On the lower population servers, it was actually extremely smooth and problem free. But some servers were adopted as "the place to be" by various online communities, and those ones were overcrowded and suffered horrible queues, lag and outages. I, for example, was on Blackrock, the "unofficial Aussie PvP server", and it was pretty bad. But I have friends who were problem-free.

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  5. FFXIV ARR is fantastic! If (and it is a big, long drawn out if) you can log in... There is a queue system that, since launch, I have seen twice out of thousands of log in attempts. Normally you get 1015 error (busy, try again later... no ETA) or 10102 error (Server? what server?) and 9000 error (we dropped you from the server we recently say we didn`t know existed).

    Today is 10102 and 1015. The problem is so bad, linkshells have named themselves after the error codes.

    There is also no AFK timer so because of the codes, people are staying logged in AFK and filling up the servers. Square Enix`s fix? nearly two weeks later, they decided they will add more servers but no ETA on server transfers so anyone with decent levels will be starting again. 6 months apparently if they are on a legacy server.

    If you are starting the game, I recommend finding the lowest population server and start there.

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  6. Here an official update of the status :

    http://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/83596-Further-Server-and-System-Improvements

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    1. Well the log-in issues are a thing of the past, thank heavens. For once the fix worked exactly as promised. Just leaves the issue of people stranded on servers they would never have chosen. I hope they do a round of free transfers to sort that out.

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  7. It took me over 2 hours to update my ps3, then the game, create accounts, link the accounts, update the game again then found I had to run my ps3 overnight to do the final update. Took me half an hour to create a character and then got stupid graphics and text boxes rather than voice and decent cgi. Lucky for me I can take it back to the store for a complete refund as that's what I am doing tomorrow. Fail!!!!

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