Memories of an MMO: Setting the Bar

In my previous entry, I discussed my perspective regarding MMOs before having ever played one. There were many to choose from, but the style and world of WoW made me hesitant to want to play it–I knew it wouldn’t be for me.

I had spoken to many gamers in the community, and have friends, who played FFXI religiously and spoke very highly about it. They were all stoked about the spiritual follow-up title Final Fantasy XIV Online, and being the Final Fantasy whore that I am, I became more than a little interested. It would provide me with a new gaming experience, I was in need of a new computer, and I had friends who would be playing along with me. Why not test out the MMO waters?

And so, in September 2010, I took my first leap into the MMO pool with FFXIV.

Into the Deep End

Once character customization was over, I was dumbfounded by FFXIV’s, well… dumbness. They throw you immediately into a battle with no tutorial for how you attack, or in the case of my “Conjurer” (Black Mage), cast a spell. A friend was watching me during this moment and she said: “How do you attack?” and my response was simply “I don’t know.”

Really, really not a good start.

Without boring anyone with the details, I can summarize my first few weeks of playing FFXIV in a single word: frustrating. The game lacked comprehensive tutorials or instructions, the controls were unintuitive and illogical, the UI was the equivalent of a clogged artery, the gameplay was slow and repetitive, and the environments were too large and took so long to go through that I almost felt like I was playing Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. For those of you not in “the know”, Tears of Blood stands as what I consider to be one of the most atrocious RPGs ever made and a shining example of what NOT to do in a game (mental note: write a blog entry on this in the future). Each time I played FFXIV during this time I would call my friend and say: “What am I supposed to do? Okay, now how exactly do I do that?”

Never, ever force the player to figure out your game for themselves. If the game is not accessible, you’ll risk losing the player. Forever.

FFXIV, as I’ve written before, suffers from development holes that, upon the time of the game’s release, were bottomless. There was clearly a lack of communication and a holistic design concept among the developers as though 100 people had all been assigned to 100 different tasks with no leadership to tie them all together to form a coherent whole (something that an aspiring designer, for example, reflects upon quite critically). The game was a dog’s breakfast and the reviews reflected such. But it was my first MMO, so how was I to know where the bar had been set?

Treading Water

With all the pitfalls of FFXIV glaring me in the face like Mexican sun, how was it that I managed to stick with the game at all? Why didn’t I become one of those players I just described? There are two reasons for this: (1) I was sad to give up on a Final Fantasy game, and (2) I had the support of friends.

I’ve played all main entries to the FF series (and most related games or spin-offs). There are plenty of reasons why I like them and recommend them to friends. Conversely, there are plenty of shortcomings that I see in the series as well, elements of the game that are present or absent that help inform my experiences as an aspiring game designer. With FFXIV, I wanted to stick it out because I was certain that there would be a reward: the game had to include something, anything to remind me that, yes, this game was worth it (beyond the graphics which are, hands down, the best of any MMO I’ve played or seen to date). To this date, the game still struggles with this very idea, and I’m still not 100% convinced that the reward will be worth it at all. It is, however, an experience unlike no other. (Come on: how often do you get to play a game so horribly ill-functioning that the company reboots the development team who then has to nearly rebuild the entire game from the ground up?)

My friends were also there in my corner, inviting me to play and giving me direction. We were forming parties and completing tasks cooperatively, watching our characters evolve and exploring the world. Having a group of people in the game with you really makes a difference to the play experience. It’s no different than Mario Kart: it’s decent on its own, but when you have another human player in the room, the fun factor grows to levels of epic hilarity.

Making it to Shore

I’ve been playing FFXIV since the day of release, and while some things have changed (the learning curve is gone, the UI and control systems have been vastly improved, new content has been added), others have yet to evolve. Perhaps the most interesting element of FFXIV is not anything about the game itself, but how the game has been publicly received and how the game developers have had to react to the negative criticism. Since the time of release, the developers have been altering FFXIV to make it the game it should have been by listening to and incorporating player feedback. For all intents and purposes, the game, as it currently exists, is still in “beta” form. (What comes after a beta build? Post-beta?) FFXIV is, much like Magna Carta: Tears of Blood, a shining example of what not to do with your MMO.

And in entering the industry come September, the evolution of this game, the communication with the player community, and the media reaction to the decisions are what keep me informed. I see FFXIV as a game with massive amounts of potential, and as an opportunity to provide FF and MMO players with a unique and worthwhile experience. I think the development team feels this way as well. Square-Enix could have given the game the axe. Frankly, I’m quite impressed that they didn’t. It will be interesting to see what decisions are made in the future to allow the game to triumph over its many shortcomings and negative media.

That said, FFXIV set the bar, and a low bar it is–the equivalent of a high jump bar set so low that everyone in your phys-ed class can jump it with ease (just to get you warmed up). What does FFXIV do well? Beautiful graphics, excellent character customization and animation, and a world brimming with potential. But in this day and age, people don’t want a game with potential–they want a fully-realized game. The latter FFXIV is not, I’m sad to say.

Oh, and the other reason that I still enjoy FFXIV? Because my character is freaking cute.



One thought on “Memories of an MMO: Setting the Bar

  1. Tears of bloooood….. Forever we will stay
    Tears of blooouuoood…. To live and fight another day…..

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