Even if fixed, the market wards of FFXIV may never recover from a botched launch.
Christmas is coming, which means it's time to shop for holiday gifts. This past Sunday, I headed to the mall to find some jewelry for my wife (don’t worry, she won’t be reading this). I walked in, stopped by a couple stores, viewed a few trinkets and picked out the perfect present.
If you do your own holiday shopping, perhaps you’ll think the same thing I did: thank goodness Mall Eorzea only exists in Final Fantasy XIV.
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Let’s run through my gift-buying excursion as if I were using the market wards. I’d drive my car to the mall, park outside, and then find the entrance to the jewelry portion of the shopping center. Then I’d walk inside to see a myriad of stores with no signs or display cases, like something from the mind of Franz Kafka. I’d approach a counter and ask to see the vendor’s wares, only to find he lacks the earrings I’m after. The next few vendors would have very few items to choose from, and none would be earrings. The last vendor I’d check wouldn’t even be selling jewelry.
“Try the sporting goods section at the front of the mall,” another shopper would say. Although there is no good reason to sell earrings with sporting goods, I would eventually find what I was looking for, but only after spending another hour poking through more unmarked shops. And I'd never know that I overpaid by $50.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Of everything that was wrong with Final Fantasy XIV at launch, the market ward system was the worst. The wards were nowhere near ready when the game was released into the wild. The system itself is unrealistic, with no way to discern which vendors are selling what items. I understand that Square Enix was trying to create a more personal, old-school market system, but the innovative idea was horribly executed.
Fixes are coming, but I fear these changes are coming too late.
It’s time for Square Enix to announce a timeline for implementing an auction house, just as they announced timelines for this year’s big updates. Even if the plan is to add the auction house at the end of next summer, players need to know that a stable, proven economic system is coming.
Players want an auction house. Not all of them, but probably most of them. Adding search functions to the market ward system will certainly make the wards more usable. However, judging by the number of retainers irreverently stashed in the Battlecraft Ward, I get the feeling that too many players don’t give a damn about making the market wards user friendly. I think many players want the wards to fail, if that’s what it takes for Square Enix to install the auction house.
In a keynote speech this week at GDC China, Final Fantasy XIV executive producer Hiromichi Tanaka explained the market wards were conceived to curb deflation experienced in Final Fantasy XI’s auction house system. The auction houses of FFXI allowed the viewing of price histories across various regions, prompting players to continually undercut prices in an attempt to sell their wares. On the other hand, the market ward system “makes it difficult for a single market rate to become established, providing the seller with more opportunity to turn a profit,” said a slide in Tanaka’s speech.
Also during his speech, Tanaka indicated that the development team hasn’t ruled out an auction house system for Final Fantasy XIV.
Innovation is a wonderful thing, and it’s one of Square Enix’s best qualities. I love it that the development team constantly pushes the envelope with new designs and new systems. The fact that Square Enix tried to reshape our economic infrastructure speaks volumes about the bravado and vision of the developers. I also applaud the development team for trying to correct the deflation that eventually drove players away from Final Fantasy XI. I’m sure there is more than one way to crack that nut; perhaps install an auction house without price histories?
As stated earlier, innovation is pointless without execution. I really wanted to see the market wards succeed, but that was months ago when the game was released. Now, I just want Final Fantasy XIV to be functional. I’ve had lots of fun playing this game since launch day, but I have yet to buy a single item from the wards. Once I entered the wards to take a look around, and that was all I needed to see. Broken system is broken.
The market wards could have worked if they’d have had search functions at launch. They may not have worked perfectly, but search functions would have allowed players to grow accustomed to the system without pulling their hair out. After two or three months of trial and error, the development team could have adjusted the wards to make them hum as intended.
Now, it just seems like the moment has passed, doesn’t it? We’re closing in on three months into the game’s life, and we still don’t have basic search functions that should have been in place at launch day. It feels like we’re still beta testing the market ward system, which isn’t a good thing, given the importance of economies in MMORPGs. Players are already upset about shelling out hundreds of dollars to upgrade their computers just to play an extended beta version of the game. They want to know – they need to know – that this game will offer viable economic infrastructure.
Announce an auction house. Do it! The auction house could even operate alongside the wards. Perhaps charge a much lower tax through the wards, and rename the ward areas to represent different in-game events or activities as content is implemented. Or take the advice of a poster on our forums and have the auction house function like an actual auction house, with players placing bids on items and the items being sold to the highest bidders. If the market wards are so important, find a way to make them work as a compliment to an auction house system, but not in place of it.
The time to experiment was last summer. The time for tweaking ended yesterday. Now is the time for results.
Now is the time for an auction house.