By now, the developers of FFXIV should understand the value of speaking up.
Will we keep hearing from Hiromichi Tanaka, Nobuaki Komoto and co.?
Communication was never Square Enix's strong suit during the heyday of Final Fantasy XI -- but could Final Fantasy XIV be different?
We've been hearing from the development team quite often since the launch of Final Fantasy XIV. In addition to the "Ask the Devs" articles on the Lodestone Web site, the development team has been unusually vocal in interviews with various gaming magazines and media outlets. We've even heard directly from FFXIV Director Nobuaki Komoto about the incomplete state of the game. This is in stark contrast to Final Fantasy XI, when the development team spoke to its playerbase about as often as the Queen of England calls play-by-play at sporting events.
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It's hard to say exactly why Square Enix is being so vocal. Are they talking to us to quell the storm surrounding FFXIV's debut? Or has the company finally wisened up to perhaps its biggest mistake in its previous MMO? I've written numerous times during the past few years that Square Enix could significantly improve its standing in the gaming community by communicating more often with its playerbase. At this point, I don't know whether Square Enix is trying to appease its players or simply following a predetermined gameplan.
Really, though, the answer is somewhat irrelevant. All that matters now is what Square Enix does from this point on. The company's ability to communicate with players has helped salvage a persistent community for Final Fantasy XIV. It would be in SE's best interest to keep on talking.
Here's what Square Enix should do as FFXIV grows:
- Continue the "Ask the Devs" feature
Hopefully this isn't a temporary feature planned for the start of the game. As this game grows and evolves, I don't see how Ask the Devs could ever go out of style.
- Maintain availability for interviews with gaming media sites and magazines.
Talking to the media allows players to hear real answers from developers. Even when developers stick to their talking points, their on-the-spot answers can sometimes provde more insight than a carefully worded statement on a Web site.
- Provide fan sites with more question-and-answer opportunities.
Square Enix could have made an in-house fan site to be the hub of FFXIV's online community, but instead the company left that role to the fan sites. With that in mind, it's no surprise that most trends, issues and problems in the game tend to surface on the fan sites first. Answering questions directly from fan site administrators on a regular basis would provide immediate answers to the game's most pressing issues.
- Continue to use the Lodestone Web site as a venue for the development team to speak directly to players.
Players have greatly appreciated Nobuaki Komoto's "state of the game" updates on the Lodestone Web site. The developers should use this tactic on a regular basis to maintain a discussion with players.
- Allow regional community representatives to post more often in site forums.
The administrators at ZAM and other sites know that SE has community managers who read the forums on a daily basis. However, many players don't know this because the community managers rarely post in the forums. If SE's community representatives could post more often in the forums, then more players would have faith in their voices being heard.
- Provide more clarity on issues fixed during minor patches and updates.
The development team is usually very good about previewing large version updates. However, today's average gamer is more cynical than eight years ago. Previewing and recapping as many patches as possible will help players feel better about changes to the game.
And, most importantly...
- Continue to update the playerbase on the development team's plans for the game.
I'm not sure whether Final Fantasy XIV would still have a good chance of surviving had Square Enix not come forward with its plans for the upcoming version updates. While many players were frustrated with the game regardless of the pending updates, other players took comfort in knowing that positive changes were on the way. Being forthright may have prevented those players from becoming overly frustrated with the game. Continuing to be forthright will help keep those players happy, solidifying a dependable playerbase as FFXIV moves forward.
I would like to believe that SE has entered a new era of communicating with its players -- that perhaps the company learned a valuable lesson from both FFXI and the catastrophic launch of FFXIV.