[FFXIV] The Developer that just wouldn’t give up

In August 2010 I commented briefly on the personal disappointment Square Enix’ (SE) long awaited FFXI successor FFXIV (or FF14) was quickly becoming. As it turned out not just for myself. Scores of franchise fans and die-hard FF online gamers turned away in horror over the sluggish and boring combat system, the bad pacing and endless walks, slow controls and overall slow responsiveness, badly designed UI, hindered social interaction and controversial design such as a lack of auction house or diminishing returns on XP. FFXIV didn’t just have a bad launch as some MMOs do – it had a completely premature launch paired with the highest player expectations. A recipe for disaster.

The rest of the story is well-known: as the bad reviews (the linked one being a personal favorite) were piling up, FFXIV flatlined shortly after and went temporarily free-to-play. SE announced the dismissal of a substantial part of their management and development team. Considering the game had only been out for three months that reaction was both quick and meant as a statement.

After the initial shock had ebbed down in the media, things went quiet around FFXIV. The game that was meant to appeal to a wider, more casual mainstream audience than its predecessor (still going strong and releasing expansions after 8 years) was shelved in the collective memory of the MMO market, the way Age of Conan was after a similar launch mishap in 2008. It’s hard to judge whether MMOs can ever truly recover from launch failures like that but in FFXIV’s case too this is not how the story ended.

A Realm Reborn in more than just name

As reported by Gamespot in August 2012, the severe damage to SE’s flagship has been done but they are far from accepting defeat for FFXIV. Not only has the game undergone a drastic revamp and overhaul in many necessary areas, SE mean to re-launch the title completely – as in there be no more trace of past failures! FFXIV has not just been fixed or patched these past months, it has been turned into what the developer considers a new game. Retail partners of SE have been asked to discontinue all FFXIV sales until A Realm Reborn launches and to “destroy all remaining inventory” of the old title. How is that for faith in your own product?

“For many companies, that would be the end of it. Call it quits, burn it down, and cut its losses. But not Square Enix.[…]

And so Final Fantasy XIV lives on, but the game is almost unrecognizable. The visuals have been greatly improved, powered as they are by a new graphics engine, which Yoshida says needed to be as impressive as possible, thanks to the long life span of the MMO. The animation engine has been overhauled too, with the niggling lag that made the game feel so sluggish now eliminated. The maps have been redesigned, all-new assets have been created, and there are “hundreds” of new quests to complete, and dungeons to explore–a content quest finder will make them easier to find.  More importantly, that sprawling, confusing interface has been streamlined, and seeing the game in action, it immediately looks a lot more user-friendly. Menus have been simplified, icons have been made clearer, and the whole thing can be customized to your own preferences. And that’s just the PC version.” (Gamespot)

During my research for this article, I came across many negative forum comments along the lines of “why aren’t SE not giving up already?” and I seriously cringed inside. Yeah, why don’t they? Why not just give up on so many years of hard team labor, development, vision (financial expenditure aside)? Why not just toss a 20+ year old legacy to the wind after a mere three months of a bombed 1.0?

Is that even a serious question? ….

Obviously this is how MMOs are treated by cynical gaming audiences these days. Not only is launch time pivotal, it is not enough anymore to safely steer your ship through the calmer seas of a few 100k subscribers, the way FFXI always has done while staying profitable. But when major titles like SWTOR or even TSW face ruin so early into their life cycles, it is a horribly sad thing for everyone involved. The wonder box that could have been FFXIV was barely glimpsed.

Call me biased. As a gamer raised on classic JRPGs and used to the brilliance of FF titles, my heart goes out to this new MMO. Forever Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series (along with other titles such as the Secret of Mana or Chrono games) have been the epitome of polish, beautiful graphics and music, unforgettable characters, interesting team combat and narrative depth. For a very long time did the RPG powerhouse not only dominate the genre on console but constantly set new standards for quality gaming experiences – not unlike Blizzard in its own niches. The only other, similarly consistent contestant during that era was Nintendo’s Zelda franchise (and we are still debating if Zelda is not an adventure game!).

So yes, I would like to see FFXIV get another chance. If SE have the resources, which seems to be the case, I fully support this developer in its unfaltering faith and endeavor to give things one more go before tossing them in the gutter for good. The shaken development team deserves as much.

A first beta for A Realm Reborn has been moved to February 2013 and an official launch ETA has yet to be revealed by SE. Late 2013 is probably the fairest estimate at this point. For my part, I want to keep an open mind. I’m very interested in the final conclusion and having moved FFXIV to my MMO to-do list anyway, I am excited to see 2.0 go live. I keep my fingers crossed for SE delivering on their promises – and convincing the rest of the MMO world out there that such a thing as second chances exist in the world of online games. In the end it’s you who decides.

8 comments

  1. I am one of those who started with Final Fantasy XIV during the beta, liked the potential but was thoroughly disappointed with the implementation after launch. I still stuck with it because Square-Enix went out of its way to make amends and when Yoshida took over it looked like the game was going back on track too.

    Regardless of that, I am still kinda fearful. I like Yoshida’s pragmatism on what gets changed and implemented. He took out a lot of stuff that was detracting from the game. At the same time I fear some changes might make the game lose a lot of its unique elements and make it more bland. An example would be seem that the game was gearing more towards Elemental fights (I think that was the name for the fights with the Ye Olde FF Summons) which are pretty much raids. Raiding was never something I liked much in other games and I started fearing that could end up being the only thing I could do once I finished leveling my character. It is most likely a silly fear since as I said, Yoshida is a pretty pragmatic guy. So much so that I remember in one of his producer diaries that he recognized that there was a lot of types of players out there and his intention was to accomodate all of them in gameplay. I am still holding him to that and so far he hasn’t done anything to contradict that statement.

    So to make a long story short… They did a lot to make me want to give them a second chance. I will keep a close eye on them, see how the beta goes and what are their plans for the future.

    1. I see how that could be a concern; if I remember correctly though they always meant for FFXIV to appeal to more casual audience and playstyle variety. So I definitely hope it won’t end in one big raiding endgame or the endless outdoor boss camping of FFXI. of course then the question arises what they want to do with ‘endgame’ – as we know from GW2 by now, that one is a big can of worms! I’d like to see small group dungeons and campaigns with easy tools for grouping up. and quests that are not yet another fetch&deliver routine.

      well, I wanna keep an open mind in any case. seeing how great the game looks already, I need to see it live sometime. my biggest turn off were the control issues and combat before, so if those are off the table I am in. the only thing making me cringe a bit is the playonline client…but then my bad memories are from way back. things surely must have improved since. ;)

  2. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. I can still see my thoughts on it from my previous blog on my feed reader and it just brings back the pain that was playing Final Fantasy XIV *shudder* it was just a really really crap game. And I played it a good few months after launch.

    Here is my end summary from it…..

    ‘There is no easy way to say this, Final Fantasy XIV is truly the worst MMO I have ever played.

    Beautiful visuals and stunning cut scenes can only hide so much and my over arching feeling whilst trying to play was ‘WTF were they thinking?’

    The game feels like it was made by Final Fantasy hardcore fans for Final Fantasy hardcore fans and screw the rest of us. It seems to mock you at every turn for not understanding how to do things and I’m not sure it would get easier to stomach even when you had become accustomed to the weird choices of mechanics. With this in mind I cannot and would not be able to recommend this game in its current form and/or in the future. This game in my opinion is past the stage where it can be successfully salvaged and I must say it is pretty gutting to see a great IP wasted on such a crap game.

    I can understand them wanting to create their own game without following the WoW clone mentality of recent releases however if you are going to go down this line you need to make sure you have a solid game with solid mechanics to back it up. Bar having top notch Final Fantasy stylised graphics there really isn’t many positive things that I can say works for Final Fantasy XIV.

    I’m aware the game will have its long suffering hardcore followers and if they are happy with the game fair play to them, for me however this was a real waste of development costs and no matter how long they take to patch the game up I don’t think any band-aid will cover for the serious flaws regarding the actual meat and mechanics of the game.

    In short this just isn’t a fun game and its the only MMO I have regretted purchasing.’

    haha

    1. Haha, wow! that IS quite a rant! :)
      I don’t blame you though – I think a great deal of fans were let down just like you when they bought FFXIV. “what were they thinking?” is a good way of summing it up. what baffles me the most is probably how this is supposed to be a more ‘western mainstream’, casual approach to things….if I hear correctly, FFXIV was more hardcore in some respects than FFXI (which has undergone a lot of softening up over the years anyway). that makes no sense(?)

      Alas. as I don’t hold the same grudge as you, I will definitely give 2.0 a chance when it launches. as you say, a beautiful world is not enough longterm, but being a franchise fan I would like to see it for myself nonetheless.

  3. I’ll be watching FFXIV’s relaunch, I tried the game soon after launch and was very disappointed. I’m not a huge FF fan mind, I just wanted to play a MMO with a different pace and with crafting that had more depth.

    If they can implement a world you actually want to inhabit AND get game systems that are actually playable without a dose of masochism then I’ll be interested in trying it.

    1. I definitely lack the masochism these days. we will see what happens, I keep my fingers crossed. as for the crafting system, I have painful memories of FFXI in that respect, but I am not the best judge of such things (my tolerance level for crafting is as low as it gets). would you consider the crafting in GW2 good or bad?

  4. I’m actually pleased that a developer wouldn’t take no for an answer and keep on working on a product. The era of instant MMO gratification means that people are chasing an illusory amount of subs, and they should instead be working on trying to achieve and maintain a lower base level. If FFXIV’s relaunch acquires that baseline group, then they’ll have achieved their primary mission.

    1. Jep. It can only go up from here, really. I hope for their sake that there is still some goodwill out there, after all it’s a very beloved franchise.

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