Getting through to the developers by speaking their language
Things have been hectic lately regarding Final Fantasy XIV. The revelation of a long dormant fatigue system has many fans up in arms. An official English explanation is now available, which has begun to calm the swirling rage, but a deeper problem still lingers: the rift between foreign players and the Japanese developers. Call it the language barrier, a cultural misunderstanding... but it is there and it has begun to wreak havoc on the promotion of FFXIV.
So, let's get right to the heart of the issue: communication. We are going to direct this to the developers and speak their language to communicate 5 pieces of advice to help ensure the success of their newest MMO overseas.
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Strike while the iron's hot - Recently, ZAM ran a Beta Key Giveaway for players to get a chance to enter phase 3 of the beta. It was an exciting event, which generated a whole lot of activity; our ZAM FFXIV section saw unique visitors skyrocket as people scrambled to get their chance to experience Eorzea.
Things were hot, but Square Enix did not strike.
The deadline passed and questions arose as to when contestants would get to see their beta keys. We were refused an official explanation, and our users simply had to wait and wonder. Finally, the keys were received and mailed out around August 20th, shortly after which, Square Enix decided to shut down the beta, giving winners about 4-5 days to enjoy their prize.
A cane to prevent a fall - That is, something you have ready to prevent a negative consequence instead of patching up the problem after the fact. This could apply perfectly to the fatigue system debacle. The claim is made on the NA Beta tester site that "this system was not introduced in Beta 3, but has been in place since the beginning of beta testing." If so, how was there no explanation ready for such a controversial addition to the game?
Furthermore, once the secret was out, an official comment from Nobuaki Komoto was only available in Japanese for the first 48 hours or so. Although I posted a translation on ZAM and Bluegartr and did my best to monitor those threads, every other site got it wrong. Again, the system was mistranslated as being strictly time-based, and the bigger gaming news sites picked it up and lambasted FFXIV and Square Enix for limiting players to "8 hours a week."
But this is not an indictment of shoddy Internet reporting -- we cannot do anything about that. But what Square Enix could have done was have an English statement written and ready. Instead, lacking their metaphorical cane, they had nothing for overseas fans and fell flat on their face. Again, the overseas news cycle is filled with attacks on Square Enix and recommendations for people to hold out for Cataclysm.
He who chases two rabbits will end up with neither - In other words, you can't have it both ways. The developers want FFXIV to be everything to everyone. It's a casual-friendly hardcore solo-oriented party experience made for long-term MMO newbies and Final Fantasy fans new to the genre ... in 3D!
The latest issue with the fatigue system is a perfect example of this. The idea is that casual players are able to get more out of their limited amount of play time. After earning a certain amount of experience within a single week, you start to earn bonus points. This keeps casual and hardcore players on a more level playing field. However, the developers also do not want to punish players for playing too much. After all, people are paying a monthly fee to enjoy their game.
So, the bonus points will apparently have some other use. The only problem is, bonus points can't be too enticing or else players will simply grind to earn them, completely defeating the purpose of the system.
In other words, they want to have it both ways -- but you can't. The rabbits won't allow it.
The sound of the bell reflects the strike of the mallet - As a company, the message you put out affects what kind of response you get. Only difference with gamers is, if you do not strike the bell at all, they go absolutely nuts. Besides that, the point here is how you interact with your fan base.
A loud and clear message goes over best. With countless sites vying for daily hits, the first one to put out a succinct, attention-grabbing headline is going to get linked all over the Internet. As we have seen during the fatigue issue, it does not even have to be true. Telling people FFXIV will limit players to one hour a day is an alarming message anyone can understand.
Square Enix needs to take back the mallet and start whomping us over the head with their own message. Tweeting your grievances will produce a dissonant cry from overseas players, but providing a clear and concise message will earn you a ringing endorsement -- even if it's just something silly to laugh about.
Chasing a deer without noticing the mountains - Here we are, chasing animals again. Still, if you pour all your attention into obtaining something, you may not notice you have suddenly entered some dangerous, rocky terrain.
As they stated at Japan Expo this year, Square Enix wants the attention of foreign media. They have been obviously put back by the recent negative coverage as well. However, as they continue to chase after gaming magazines and larger news sites, they are ignoring a core fan base that is growing ever more disenchanted with the developers behind their beloved MMO.
They already have the attention of core fans, so why spend time coddling those little communities? Because in the struggle to gain quantity, the quality of the message is lost.
News flows upwards, and often times a tiny blog will be thrown into the spotlight as sites higher and higher on the Internet food chain link its story. The ridiculous claims made about the fatigue system were all linked from a single mistranslation. Controversy generates hits -- even phony controversy. Plus, even the biggest blunders in reporting will be swept away by the never-ending news cycle, errors forgotten and lessons gone unlearned.
By working closely with fan sites, Square Enix can put out the correct message right off the bat and eliminate this nonsense before it begins. These are communities that want to promote the game. They want to enjoy it, want to know more about it, and want to tell everyone else how awesome it is going to be, so let's give them something to work with!
If they would stop to look around, Square Enix might notice their surroundings have been growing decidedly less friendly as of late. Forget the deer and come back and tend to your fan base. Besides, that thing will turn around and gore you the second it gets the chance.