DOP: Is NY Comic Con the Last Chance for FFXIV?

Guest author Sephrick asks whether SE still has the ability to produce a winner.

As far as public and media relations go, the New York Comic Con may be the "last chance gas station" on the deserted road of game sales for Square-Enix's recently released MMO, Final Fantasy XIV.

In today's gotta-have-it society, the holidays begin Nov. 1. Store shelves once overflowing with economy-sized bags of candy transform overnight into a winter wonderland. As the range of the gift buying season widens with each passing year, competition to be that game beneath the wrapping paper -- and likely the game that dominates a player's attention through the first quarter of the year -- tightens.

The recently-released Gamespot review of Final Fantasy XIV was but a rumble before the tsunami of potential negativity. With a wave of bad press on the horizon and one last media event before the holiday season, will this be Final Fantasy XIV's last hurrah or its moment of triumph?

Discuss this in the ZAM forums.

The Casual Field of Dreams

When Square was but a budding developer, the term "casual gamer" may have referred to someone who occasionally picked up that classic Nintendo Advantage controller and fumbled through a few levels of Dr. Mario. The market has changed since Square rolled the dice with the inaugural Final Fantasy installment, and the developer is starting to show a few gray hairs.

Today, casual gamers load up their customized professional football teams or kitted out soldiers of fortune and go toe-to-toe with those among the ranks of the hardcore. Defeat may be inevitable, but the fact remains that casual and hardcore gamers stand in the arena together. The key difference between them is while hardcore gamers are dedicated masters of their crafts, casual gamers have a more flighty jack-of-trades nature.

Even since Square's first bid in the MMO genre, the shape of the gaming world has changed and developed into a high-definition online experience. As the concept of what is casual has rapidly changed through the development of Final Fantasy XIV, one has to wonder at which point Square-Enix decided its game was geared for the casual crowd? Just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come. Even if it's called Final Fantasy.

Twenty Years, Fourteen Games and One Confused Fanbase

Throughout the 90s, Square in all its forms reigned supreme. Where Nintendo had Mario and Sega had Sonic, Square had developed a banner; Final Fantasy. Where other companies relied on the adoration of a character, Square built upon its own reputation, working to make its name synonymous with quality. From the first installment to nine versions later, Square was repeatedly viewed as an unstoppable force.
The first decade of the new millennium, however, has shown a different side of the company. One that begs the question, can they stop counting on name alone and begin competing? Since the release of Final Fantasy X in 2001, Square-Enix has seemed to forget there is a difference between innovation and opposition. One does not need to forsake something successful in order to make something new.

In the 90s, SE developed a winning formula -- cutting edge graphics and the best score technology would allow along with rich, immersive game play and storytelling. Final Fantasy X featured all of these things that were perfected through the first nine games, and managed to successfully usher in changes to familiar battle schemes and character development. The follow-up, however, was met with raised eyebrows. Final Fantasy X-2 was more action oriented than its predecessor and featured a convoluted path to attain a complete ending. Still, gamers embraced the opportunity to play battle action Barbie.

Final Fantasy XI was, and remains, a success due to a core of devoted fans. It's hard to say XI was a departure from that 90s winning formula, as the MMO world was new territory for the developer. Still, more than eight years after the launch of FFXI, it would seem Square-Enix did many things correct throughout the game's lifespan. Outside the game world, though, Square-Enix’s lack of public relations skills were often on display for all to see. Even the most devoted players would find themselves frustrated with the lack of outward communication. The term “ninja fix” was born through questionable changes made by Square-Enix that were never announced.

Final Fantasy XII was an installment that was a dividing point for many gamers. Regarded by many as an "offline MMO" experience, gamers found it tough to get into a game that essentially played itself.

After many years of development, the much anticipated Final Fantasy XIII fell flat as it seemed more of a CGI movie on rails than any sort of gaming experience. The few times XIII did let players off their leashes, restrictions in the ability to advance characters beyond a given point made the freedom seem more like a small room than an open field. This proved that beyond aesthetics, SE had all but given up on what made its games so popular throughout the 90s.

Finally, the latest edition and second online installment, Final Fantasy XIV, has been on store shelves for but a few weeks and has given the aging developer a potential public relations nightmare.

Final Fantasy XIV contains all that makes a game recognizable beneath the Final Fantasy banner. The music, graphics and story are all there. However these staples of the series are but a shell in which the heart of the game should rest. So far removed from that winning, fan-favorite formula, it has become clear that those on fan sites for Final Fantasy XIV are none too pleased with the current state of the game they longed for since it was announced at E3 2009.

The playerbase that should be circling the wagons to defend minor issues in a new MMO game are instead crying out, as they have been since the initial stages of beta testing. When players ask for a better user interface, they get an update correcting a minor avatar display flaw. When players ask for incentive to party instead of penalty, they are updated on how to better use abilities they cannot yet attain. When they ask for computer-friendly controls, they are met with the same silence with which long-time players of FFXI are far too familiar.

Fans were promised a new Square-Enix with XIV; instead they got the same old busted car with a new coat of paint.

An Old Man in the Age of Superstars

It's no secret -- gamers have the knack for teaming on the brink of the fanatical. Midnight releases can get ugly, new hardware can be driven into scarcity within moments of release. With so many so willing to throw down their hard-earned cash, it's no wonder the gaming industry has boomed into a multi-million dollar business.

While Square-Enix was off slowly crafting its self-assured "hits" like XIV and the Fabula Nova Crystallis compilation, other companies have risen to meet Square on the pedestal it once held on its own.

What separates these new faces from Square-Enix is their possibility to reach new heights due to an understanding of the importance of communication. Media saturation is a term applied to ensuring your product is in the face of the consumer. It's how brand recognition is developed. Between 2000 and 2010, there have been many who have done this well -- most notably, World of Warcraft. Between Gary Coleman and Mr. T and his Mohawk Hand Grenades, Blizzard-Activision has managed to make the World of Warcraft brand recognizable to those who don't even own a computer, ensuring there is a large enough base of players to enjoy the game.

In the console realm, online multiplayer is more and more becoming the focus of development, thus adding more contention to SE's PS3 hopes. Games like the soon-to-be-released Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood promise a deep, robust multiplayer experience. During each of these game's development, the cogs of the PR machines have been spinning to make sure the brand is out there and gamers can be sure to put a note in their budget for when release date rolls around.

These sure-to-sell titles alone will leave console gamers to wonder why they should invest in such a poorly reviewed game when other A+ titles offer so much more for so much less. What will SE have to offer but a clunky game filled with players who have a six-month advantage? Each passing week between now and March adds another release to the list of reasons why casual console gamers will pass up the required time investment of XIV in favor of better reviewed and better crafted games. The key demographic for which SE was aiming with XIV has a constantly decreasing amount of time to play a rapidly increasing number of titles.
If they choose to stay the course, what SE will be left with is a gathering of tiring hardcore PC gamers and a failing game designed for casual console players.

Choices on the Road Ahead

Consider the mountain of fixes that dedicated players have been asking for since the early stages of beta testing. Think about the loss of faith among players who should be singing SE's praises. Read the hard-hitting yet honest reviews. With FFXIV in its infancy, how should SE prepare to do business throughout the next decade?

The damage to FFXIV is already done, with the game holding the reputation of a bruised apple. Some will see only the bruise while others will gladly eat around it.

But the New York Comic Con gives Square-Enix a chance to change its direction. This is an opportunity for SE to finally grasp the importance of public relations and engage in open communication with the world media -- a communication which SE stated it wanted.
Actions speak louder than words though, and the developer of so many memorable titles is showing its true face. As of Oct. 8, the company has but a week-and-a-half to ensure it retains its starting playerbase beyond the trail period. Without those valuable players -- and in the face of all this negative publicity -- FFXIV may fail before reaching its March console release. While a company with the resources of SE can certainly absorb a failed product, it shouldn't do so while the rest of the gaming industry sprints past it into 2011.

The question remains: will Square-Enix stop and fill up at the New York Comic Con, or will it attempt to coast on fumes until the PS3 release?


Post Comment
# Oct 09 2010 at 9:34 PM Rating: Good
3,089 posts
I'm in that boat with the people who said "They could at least put the features that XI had in it", like the Auction House, as a big thing.

Also, is there any in-game mail system? I never saw one when I was in the OB. No mention of anything having to do with mail. So if I have 2 characters, I can't move items between them without buying them off my own wards or some-crap?

Honestly, now that OB is over, I can say that I have no plans of touching XIV. I think SE was just trying to beat Cataclysm, they were trying to hurry up and release XIV so that it'd hit the market sooner, I think they were hoping to get people sitting in front of their computers playing Final Fantasy, instead of having people Pre-ordering Cataclysm.

The trouble is, they gave us such an unfinished product, that it is getting huge negative reviews after all the hype that was raised up about it, that it appears to be quickly losing steam. Meanwhile, "The Competition" is about to release their flagship. Unlike XIV, theirs is actually Done or at least 99% done.

Their flagship is also a little more well-timed too, it will come out December 7th, just a couple weeks before Christmas. That release date allows people to get it, get the game patched/updated, get used to the changes if they were previous players, and get "settled in" just in time for their Christmas Vacations, which they will happily enjoy. New players have some time to get it, learn the game, and be having fun by Christmas Time. Latecomers who get it as a Christmas Present aren't too far behind or out-of-the-loop; they're only 2 weeks late. That's not that bad.

Meanwhile, XIV came out at the end of September. No real holidays around there (there isn't an actual holiday until Thanksgiving. Halloween doesn't count; very few people get vacations, days off from school, etc for Halloween), and those who get XIV for Christmas... well, at least the game might be closer to being "done", I dunno.

Either way, unless they unleash a mountain of changes and make the game good, I don't think I'm going to touch it. I'll keep an eye on it, but I suspect I'll be busy with the aforementioned "Competition" for quite some time. Actually, I think 1 less subscription is good for my bank account; I can put that $15/mo to something more important.

In other news, I'm breathlessly awaiting FO: NV. lol. 9 more days!
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 4:22 AM Rating: Default
6 posts
I mean seriously, I hate all this the sky is falling attitude people adopt. Yes agreed, the game is still a beta, but to be honest, maybe its my expectation but thats what I assumed it would be and over time it will come into its own. I think they're delaying a major part of the content for the ps3 (maybe xbox) player influx.

If you don't like the game fine, maybe its because you guys want them to do so well, you find it annoying. Seriously though, take a chill pill. The game has only had 1 week after release, Nobody can tell me they got to level 50 already and seen its full potential. The idea I think its to hold people back until the ps3 version is out. Not repeat the nonsense of ff11 of given japanese base years head start.

its been a rushed release, the best thing SE can do is increase the free play period and keep players interested till the real content comes along. The criticism is fair but it does not mean the problems can't be solved and I know the worry of most people, is if SE is listening at all to the base. My advise, is to wait and see how things pan out, 6 months from now, you maybe like what was I thinking....
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 6:09 AM Rating: Default
138 posts
Trade shows are just one Marketing channel.

They've hardly pushed this game anywhere else, for good reason as they know it's not ready and shouldn't have released it yet. Trade shows and twitter don't justify a marketing spend for a company like SE.

They are easily big enough to re-market ff14 in March, large scale. They will, for PS3, and loads of people will re-engage - many don't even know this game exists.

Us PC owners are unfortunate guinea pigs in a giant paid-for beta test.

It'll all be good next year. We'll all still be here. Waiting on the forums eagerly dribbling for patches and version updates. It's disappointing, but ***** it, what else are we gonna do? Play wow?

Nah, i'll wait for the fixes and pay my money, dip in and out of other games like GT5 and Castlevania.

We all did it for years with 11 and we'll do it again. We're nuts, but we will.
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 9:18 AM Rating: Decent
149 posts
Things will no doubt be different this time around. When 11 first came out here, there was only EQ and UO to play, and those games were incredibly daunting. FF11 blew them out of the water. However, interface problems and lack of communication out of SE was disconcerting to western players, so when WoW came out, they exited in droves and never came back.

These days there are literally thousands of mmos we could be playing (admittedly, only a few dozen are decent and available to western players). We don't have to suffer on, because there are alternatives. I want this game to succeed in a bad way (must...resist...cataclysm...), but if they don't make any major changes before march (other than a goofy fix to market wards), there won't be a population by then.
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 6:01 AM Rating: Good
149 posts
The problem with this attitude is that there were plenty of people like you when FFXI first came out, and after years and years and years, there are STILL unaddressed problems that have been complained about from near the beginning. If you don't believe me, ask any summoner. The attitude of "just wait, it will be fixed" works for MOST game companies, but not Square-Enix, which was one of the points of the article. SE's fixes tend to be "eyebrow-raising" or stealthly (ninja fix), and they very frequently break significantly more than they fix.

From the time of the first release of XI in japan, it took 2 months to get an auction house and 6 months to get a bank. Once you hit the level cap, there wasn't anything to do, so they raised the level cap over and over until the endgame was ready. It took almost 2 years from the start of the JP version to see any sort of endgame. Do you really think ANYONE will wait that long in these days of GIMME GIMME GIMME NOW NOW NOW!

And yet, here we are, at the start of FFXIV, and even the most basic of lessons SE could have learned from their 8 years of XI are still left unapplied. I think the question most people wonder is, "Why doesn't FFXIV at least have the features that FFXI had in it?"

One last thing: if you think western reviewers are harsh, check out and search for final fantasy xiv. After 100 reviews, the average score is 1.5/5.0, and the reviews (if you can understand the google-translated pages) are extremely harsh.
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 11:30 AM Rating: Decent
5 posts
Maarg wrote:

And yet, here we are, at the start of FFXIV, and even the most basic of lessons SE could have learned from their 8 years of XI are still left unapplied. I think the question most people wonder is, "Why doesn't FFXIV at least have the features that FFXI had in it?"

My thoughts exactly. There's no need to re-invent the wheel... take what works and what has proven to be successful as the baseline, and build off in new directions on that idea. I'm not saying give me a repeat of XI, but there were things in XI that just plain worked. I personally don't mind not having an AH, but there needs to be at least a comparable alternative. And why in the world would you remove something like the ability to sort your inventory?? Not only did they remove the ease of inventory management, but they also ADDED ridiculous lag and clunkiness to it as well. I just don't get it.

From a personal standpoint, I love FF titles and I think this game has potential so I plan to stick it out for a bit and see what changes they plan to make. However, two of my favorite things in gaming are Final Fantasy and Star Wars - when FFXI and SW Galaxies came out I chose in favor of XI because I didn't really enjoy galaxies all that much. With "The Old Republic" on the horizon, I would say SE has some serious competition in keeping me on this side of the fence this time around... and I really want to stay SE, I do. Please give me a reason to stay SE, I love FF...
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 7:14 AM Rating: Decent
6 posts
Maybe its because I work in the software industry and see how products go from preproduction to market,its a hard ask to start anything from scratch, am sure they tried porting software from 11 to 14 and it's an incredibly buggy process, especially when you have different engines running it. Maybe it is that attitude that does not make me angry about the current state. I worked for Sony TV branch for almost 3years and see how hard it is to start a new project, new UI design and still try and keep the old features, the first mass production software is always gimped. You would think years of experience on previous projects will make it a breeze through, but its hard.

To be honest from a customer point of view, its annoying but from a developer and test engineer point of view this common practice, the idea is just to ride the storm until we get a stable product.

For me they have a powerful engine, which is the best foundation you could ask for anything else can be built upon. Although a new UI would be a hard task, maybe a new expansion CD will sort that out. This negative reviews actually favour the player base, as it will force them to act. However, they need to keep the player base strong by offering free play till ps3 comes out, because if you ask me we just a large group of beta testers at the momen and paying for it.
Patience People
# Oct 08 2010 at 4:31 PM Rating: Decent
172 posts
There's a reason Blizzard used to always say the release date was "When it's done" I know SE wants their MMO to be as different from WoW as possible, but they could at least try to incorporate that motto. FFXIV was no where near to being ready for release, yet they probably went over budget and so they released it way too early anyway. Now it's just another **** on the Final Fantasy brand name and it's going to continue to stink for at least another year or two.
Patience People
# Oct 12 2010 at 11:46 PM Rating: Default
110 posts
Nice article.

"Fans were promised a new Square-Enix with XIV; instead they got the same old busted car with a new coat of paint."

Sadly yes - which is exactly why I expect the answer to your final question is also yes...

Will [SE] attempt to coast on fumes until the PS3 release?
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