Eorzea's birthday is upon us, but should we really be celebrating Final Fantasy XIV's launch? Thayos discusses the topic in this editorial.
If you had asked me a year ago what Final Fantasy XIV would be like at its one-year anniversary, my prediction would have been glowing.
Like many people, I ignored the warning signs – the lag and problems throughout alpha and beta testing, the surprisingly early release date just ahead of a World of Warcraft expansion, even the lack of attention devoted to Final Fantasy XI during the previous couple of years.
Now, here we are. Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary in Eorzea for those of us who bought the collector’s edition. A week later, people who saved money on the standard edition will notch their one-year marks. While most anniversaries are events to be celebrated – and while there is much to be happy about regarding the recent updates to the game – I can’t help but wonder whether we should be celebrating at all.
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Launch day was truly a memorable day. My linkshell from FFXI had been planning its move to Eorzea for months. We had chosen Ghysal as our sever, and Ul’dah as our nation. Despite the lag and lack of things to do, we were thrilled to find each other in this stunning new world. Most of these guys were like me, in that they’d spent months looking forward to that day, launch day, a year ago from Wednesday.
We weren’t the only online friends who migrated to Final Fantasy XIV. Many other groups from several other games started linkshells in Eorzea, regardless of the fact that linkshell management controls were (and still are) nonexistent. In less than two months, roughly 630,000 copies of the game shipped to players all over the world. The Playstation 3 version of the game was planned to be released last March, roughly six months after the PC release.
As much as I remember the thrill of launch day, I also remember the growing sense of uncertainty as issues were allowed to linger. Why was the lag so bad? Why weren’t quests being implemented? Why was the user interface so unintuitive? Why was crafting so convoluted? After doing a handful of guild leves, what was left to do? We told ourselves the development team must be on the verge of releasing a slew of fixes and content updates. As the days passed, the updates never came.
That’s when the exodus began. Players started leaving in droves. Most of my friends who had waited so long to play were gone within a few weeks. Linkshells that grew meteorically after launch day were suddenly empty, with the few remaining members unable to clear the dozens of inactive, grayed-out names from the ranks. The initial linkshells were broken, and the stragglers repearled. Then more people left, and more shells were broken – the cycle repeated itself too many times. Server populations dropped so drastically, the development team even revoked the ability of players to see how many others were online with them.
Is the game’s one-year anniversary really something worth celebrating? Is it possible to feel good about a day of false hope that was followed by months of frustration and loss?
Or for the real mind-blowing question: should Wednesday even be considered the game's true anniversary?
Perhaps a more worthy anniversary worth celebrating would be Dec. 10, 2011 – one year to the day that Naoki Yoshida replaced Hiromichi Tanaka as the game’s producer and director. Please realize I have nothing but respect for Tanaka, a father of the Final Fantasy franchise and arguably one of the most influential video game designers of my generation. However, his development team dropped the ball in a big, big way. A game that should have enjoyed more success than its predecessor was instead the laughingstock of the MMO industry.
Nobody expected Tanaka would be replaced – the official story is he resigned – but the enormity of the news signaled a monumental shift in how FFXIV would be managed. The announcement marked the first day since the game’s disastrous launch when players had good reason to be hopeful.
In the weeks that followed, Yoshida began to unveil his ambitious plans for rebuilding this broken game, and then he set a bold goal of releasing two patches per month. As his development team introduced quests, notorious monsters and other bits of content into the game, Yoshida asked us to be patient while more sweeping changes were worked on behind the scenes. Now we’re seeing those massive patches come to fruition, and so far the changes have been stellar. Already we’ve seen an overhaul of the battle system, the implementation of raid dungeons, the introduction of companies, the abolishment of skill points fatigue and other important updates. Later this month, the next big patch is expected to deliver chocobos, airships, overhauls to crafting recipes, a redo of the guild leve system, more dungeons, a new caravan escort activity and more. And on the horizon, a third giant patch promises to deliver even more Eorzea-altering content, possibly including the creation of traditional Final Fantasy jobs.
There’s a lot to be excited about, but that doesn’t change the fact that being a Final Fantasy XIV player is hard work. We’re still playing a game that is below industry standards. We’re still stuck with the awkward market wards instead of an intuitive auction house. The user interface still lags, although not nearly as bad as before. We have no mailbox system, and character animations are repetitive and boring. Forming parties is shockingly difficult because we inexplicably don’t have a basic party search tool. Cultivating a healthy, active linkshell is nearly impossible given the lack of linkshell management controls.
But things are getting better, and they’re getting better fast, and I don’t think I’d be saying that if Naoki Yoshida hadn’t taken the reins from Tanaka.
So say what you will when Wednesday arrives, but realize that Eorzea as we know it wasn’t founded on launch day. The game that launched a year ago today died in early December, and Yoshi-P’s version of Final Fantasy XIV has taken its place. To put it simply, this Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of the game’s servers being turned on -- nothing more, nothing less. We still have a few months to go before the game we’re playing turns a year old.
When that day comes, I hope to give Final Fantasy XIV a glowing review.