Monday, January 13, 2014

Pay Up! Pay Up! And Play The Game! : FFXIV

This weekend, while everyone and his uncle went to try out the Elder Scrolls Online's latest beta, I popped my head back into FFXIV. Square picked the same weekend to hand out a "come back and see what you're missing" freebie to anyone who'd ever bought the box. Or imagined they'd bought the box in the case of us digital downloaders.

I was quite looking forward to seeing the old place again. I fancied trying out the new Beast Tribe quests, having some fun in the current holiday event, Heavensturn, maybe going to gawp at the overpriced housing. It didn't turn out that way, partly for practical reasons but mostly because it took no more than a few minutes in Eorzea to remember why I never went back after our trip to Spain broke the habit of logging in last October.

The world is still as stunning to look at as it always was, of course. The New Year's decorations looked spectacular. For a while all I did was run around posing next to snowmoogles and taking selfies. Then I spent a little time looking at what the holiday vendors were selling. Hats. Really unattractive hats.

A quick visit to the Lodestone, official source of information for all things Eorzean, confirmed that was about it for Heavensturn. Some hideous hats and a lengthy runaround quest laden with heavy, labored irony about the supposed normality of riding a Chocobo rather than a horse. The reward for which, unless I'm misunderstanding it, is another really ugly, indeed quite creepily disturbing, hat.

So, pass on all that. On to the Beast Tribe quests. Where might those be? A few more minutes of running around aimlessly passed before I gave up and googled it. Beast Tribe quests start at Level 42 and require that you have reached a specific point in the personal story. The level requirement comes with the territory in MMOs and though I may grumble about it, if I was playing regularly I'd suck it up. Yoshi P's insistence on gating content through completion of a storyline, however, is the main reason why I'm not playing regularly, or indeed at all.

The upshot of the weekend free pass was to remind me precisely why we decided not to subscribe and are unlikely to play again until or unless there's a fundamental change of approach by the development team. Or, as Mrs Bhagpuss put it when I asked her if she wanted to log in and let her characters stretch their legs, "I like the game but I'm not interested while that man is still in charge".

All of which feeds into the ongoing (will it ever stop?) debate on payment models. Keen says "Who cares?" claiming "Good games can be ruined by business models, but bad games can never be helped by them." Tobold kind of agrees but claims it's all a question of semantics (isn't everything?). SynCaine disagrees, vehemently.

All of which is fine and dandy but, as always, gets us no further forward. John Smedley today reiterated his wish that "The one thing that I want for our company is to have a well-earned reputation -- I'm not saying we are there yet -- for listening to the players more than anybody else". That'll be why we have the PSS1 deal, then, will it? Despite the virtually universal player revulsion expressed from the day it was announced to, well, always.

I absolutely believe that both Smed and Yoshi P genuinely love making MMOs and believe they are doing their flat-out best both to make the best ones they can and to find a way to make as many players as possible happy to play them. The problem isn't making great games, although God knows that must be hard enough, and it very definitely isn't the way they choose for us to pay for them.

The problem is that every decision that makes one player happy makes another foam at the mouth. The very things I can't stand about FFXIV are robustly defended by others on the forums as the backbone of the game. You can't please all of the people, as they say. In MMOs you're doing well if you please any of them.

In the words of Sid Maier, which seem to be doing the rounds again, a good game is a series of interesting decisions. That surely must apply as equally to making them as to playing them. Ultimately, FFXIV turns out to be a good game that I don't want to play. It's not right for me. I wouldn't be playing it much if it was F2P because there isn't much I can do there without knuckling under to its draconian narrative imperative and I just don't want to. The subscription is an irrelevancy.

The kind of things that put people off F2P games generally don't bother me all that much. I don't mind being reminded to visit the cash shop any more than I mind advertisements in a magazine. The restrictions most game companies choose to apply to free accounts tend to add to my enjoyment rather than detract from it - I can always use a bit of enforced self-restraint when it comes to inventory management and the like.

Conversely, the tricks companies come up with to persuade subscribers to go on paying - never-ending tiers of gear or raid content that takes months to learn, for example - don't affect me either. That's part of the game I'd never bother with anyway so it exerts no hold over whether I choose to stay or go.

No, the deal-breaker often comes regardless of both the payment method and the quality of the MMO. It just takes one of those "interesting decisions" to send the game veering in a direction that doesn't work for me and that's it. Game over.

Except for MMOs it never really is Game Over, not until the last server closes and sometimes not even then. The saving grace of MMOs is that they never stand still (shhh Vanguard, no-one's talking about you...). Turn your head for a moment and when you glance back they'll have changed. Sometimes even for the better.

This visit to FFXIV didn't go well but I'll be back. Maybe one day they'll get it right, for my particular subjective value of "right". If so I'll be happy to subscribe or be cash-shopped or whatever it takes to play. It's not about how you pay or how much you pay, after all; it's about whether you get what you want.


  1. Let us commemorate this post as the first where you use the word "selfie."


    1. I used the word "sitrep" in WvW last night and got roundly abused for it. I'm on a roll!

  2. Heh, Tobold claiming it is all semantics after making his completely semantics based "if you must pay to play the game, then it is pay to win" argument is pure comedy gold in my book. We have quite the community.

    I didn't get a TESO beta invite. They must have sensed my skepticism. Or maybe not... how could SynCaine get in then?

    1. I don't believe I ever actually applied for (T)ESO beta. Definitely didn't apply for WildStar.

  3. I've always felt MMOs are at their best when they pick a niche and stick with it. For me FFXIV is perfect in most of it's ways and it's become my 'home' game as long as Yoshi-P keeps doing what he's been doing (opposite of your wife entirely!). For me the dungeon encounter designs at high level are perfect, and I find the quest dialogue (particularly the Heavensturn holiday chain, which is basically a joke and absurd on purpose) cleverly written and entertaining.

    I think it's a thing for many MMO players to believe their preferences are objective truth about a game rather than accepting that everyone has different 'dealbreakers' and 'dealmakers' in game designs and that's not only ok but a GOOD thing for the diversity of the genre. If more companies just picked their angle and did it up 100% instead of constantly aiming for broad appeal by watering themselves down too much (and spending way too much on their development budget to where niche existence is impossible for them to survive at) things would be better for MMOs in general.

    1. I can't agree with you more. I don't mind other games in other genres that clearly aren't for me, but I would never complain they exist.

      I hate that every MMORPG has to have the level grind, the raiding, the esport, and the big PvP game. They end up botching them all, rather than getting a single one right.

    2. You can see the desire to be all things to all players even in the supposedly niche MMOs seeking both funding and an audience through Kickstarter. The basic proposal often looks tightly focused but as the stretch goals appear it's clear that the net is being cast wider and wider. Is that because the developers would really prefer to make a big, sprawling MMO that does all the things, if only they had the money, or is it because no-one likes to leave money on the table so if there are people out there who'd give you some if you added PvP or housing then why not?

  4. I prefer a subscription model because I feel like I am getting a full game and a company willing to support it. That's not always true, but I still perceive it to be true. I also prefer an expansion over DLC when it comes to MMOs because it is a lot harder to push a game forward mechanically just by optional-DLC.

    You can still have big, required expansions with a Free-to-Play game, of course, but it gets a bit tricky.

    You are spot on with the story requirement of FFXIV. While for some it may seem no different than just leveling to access content, it is far more restrictive and linear. It may do a good job of keeping people paying that subscription (which is probably needed since rolling an alt is silly in that game), but it is a strong negative force as well.

    If I were in your shoes, I'd never look back at the game, but I bought it and played it for the relaunch, and while leveling with a new character, being forced into the story wasn't a huge hindrance. Sadly, I didn't care for the game enough at the end to continue playing past the first month. Oh well!

    1. One thing I meant to mention in the original post but forgot was how quickly I forgot all about the story when I stopped playing. At the time I thought it was interesting and well-written and I was intrigued to know how it turned out. It was the forced grouping dungeon elements that I strongly objected to.

      From the day I stopped playing, however, I quite literally never thought of that storyline again until I played briefly again this weekend. I could have gone on YouTube at any time and watched all the cut-scenes up to the end but clearly I wasn't anything like as interested in the story as I thought I was. Conversely, I have thought frequently about how nice it would be just to be able to log in and go do some goat farming or take some screenshots.

      Confirms my instinct that MMOs not only don't require a narrative structure they positively suffer from having one.

    2. As simple as some of the older games were, I miss actively filling in the gaps with my own imagination, my ability to roleplay, and the roleplaying of others.

    3. "I prefer a subscription model because I feel like I am getting a full game and a company willing to support it."

      Unless the game is free, that $50-60 you just paid is the price of the game.
      The subscription is not you getting a full game and a company willing to support it - it is you buying the support for the game.

  5. I think this business model debate happens because people don't know what they are paying for.

    Can a good game be created just with the box sales expectations?

    Can a service be run for free?

    MMORPGs are games and services.

    When a MMORPG sells you a box, you are paying for the game development.
    When you pay a subscription or purchase something in game, you are paying for the service. You are not paying for the game previous development or for the next paid expansion. You are paying for costumer service and for a live team (that may or may not release content).

    1. I think that used to be clearly understood under the old subscription model. It's the crazy variety of funding methods coupled with the smoke-and-mirrors insistence of game companies that their MMOs are "free to play" that's muddied the water.


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