The Sea of Criticism: Final Fantasy XIV (Part 2)

I don’t need to tell you how many fans the Final Fantasy series has, and if you read my previous blog regarding my thoughts about FFXIV, you’ll know that the game is drowning in a sea of strong criticism from game developers, the media, and fans worldwide. I choose to be a big part of this community: I make friends online, I read the forums, I listen to concerns, and I think about ways that the game can be improved. The only reason I haven’t submitted my feedback to Square-Enix (SE) is because there hasn’t been a formal venue (i.e. survey) to do so.

But in reading the experiences and opinions of fans like myself, I not only end up with feedback about the game, but also about the people providing the feedback in the first place.

So if you’ve been playing FFXIV, you need to read this.

It’s no secret that the game was released prematurely. It’s no secret that it’s filled with clunky interface, slowdown, server issues, lack of transparent tutorials, and the like. If Square-Enix wasn’t aware of these issues during the beta phase, the online community has certainly rammed them down SE’s throat.

Most developers understand their development cycles and finished products a little better. I’m big a huge fan of Activision Blizzard (formerly Blizzard Entertainment) since the days of WarCraft, and the company is notorious for delaying almost every major game release for good reason: it’s not quite done yet. It’s not uncommon to see a 3-month delay, followed by another 3-month delay. A more recent example of this would be the development of LittleBigPlanet 2, which had an original release date of November 2010 and was subsequently pushed into early 2011 because the developers wanted to create the best game possible.

Does that mean that, by releasing the game prematurely, SE doesn’t want to create the best game possible? Not at all. One of the major goals for SE in releasing FFXIV, and by virtue of the game being an MMORPG, was to have a worldwide simultaneous release that would engage fans in Japan, North America, and Europe at one time and encourage a worldwide community.  In fact, it is the first time SE has done a worldwide launch for any FF game in the series history. But it must have put tremendous pressure on the development team to ensure that the game was playable by the September 2010 release date–but “playable” is a very subjective term.

It doesn’t help that SE continues to have a very successful and loyal fanbase with FFXI, which retainers a large number of active users to this day despite being a game of the previous console generation.

Could SE have pushed the release date like Blizzard or Media Molecule? Of course, but then there’s that thing called revenue that more often than not takes priority over a change in release date. So in the end, SE made the wrong decision: they forced the game out early and, as a result, received what some might consider appropriate criticism. But you know what? Companies make mistakes.

The FFXIV community, however, is not so quick to let SE forget this, let alone have a momentary respite from the onslaught of enraged forum posters. SE has been active in listening to the community and their concerns, and addressing them with updates, patches and a mile-long list of new features and improvements to the game (released yesterday via the FFXIV Lodestone website), as well as a list of established and documented goals that the development team is working on from now until early 2011. But guess what? Most fans still aren’t satisfied. What’s the most common comment?

“These things should have been in the game when it shipped. I’m not supporting SE and I won’t be playing past the trial period. SE should have never shipped this lousy excuse for a game!”

For as much as I can understand opinions like this, the fact remains that: (1) the game has been shipped, so deal with it; (2) SE made a mistake and they are taking actions to retain their player base; (3) SE obviously has a long-term plan to adjust the game and refine it accordingly.

When problems exist within a game after it’s been shipped and released, it’s up to the developer to address the issues. Now I can say that I haven’t played any game as controversial as FFXIV, but I also haven’t seen such thorough and transparent action taken from a development team in response to criticism once the game is already released–most feedback is taken into account during the development cycle and the game adjusted prior to final release, with few patches afterword. And yet the community continues to hound the developers because the game doesn’t include absolutely every feature. So while I am a strong believer in fan feedback informing the process, I am not a fan of the continued barrage against SE when the company is so clearly trying to rectify the concerns with a 6-month plan (that we know of). The fact is: SE knows that it made a mistake. It’s fixing them as we speak, and the game will get better.

Read that again. The game will get better.

If the feature you want isn’t yet implemented, hold your horses. MMORPGs have the longest lifespan of any game; it’s doubtful that SE is going to abandon this project any time in the near future, particularly given that they have hinted at features that “cannot be revealed yet”–clearly there is a lot of exciting things awaiting the FFXIV community. And while it’s unfortunate that the game needs to be “fixed” before the new content comes out, we’re lucky to have a development team that not only takes user feedback into serious consideration, but is making such public efforts to satisfy the end users in a timely fashion.

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