Ragar wants more Eorzea on his phone than an authenticator and a database.
Hello and welcome to the 24th edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM's column on Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week's column, we're looking at FFXIV's mobile extensions: smartphone applications. Unfortunately for all of us, there comes a time when we must step away from our PC or console and venture into the real world, be it for work, school or just to grab food. This may have been a problem with early MMOs, but these days many MMO players have a smartphone at their side. These mini-computers have the power to keep you connected to your friends both in the real world as well as your friends in Eorzea through web access and dedicated applications. The options available from Square Enix right now are a step in the right direction, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
My Phone Can Do More Than Authenticate
FFXIV players with smartphones currently have two options available for applications. The first is the most basic, yet most important: the authenticator. This tool provides that second layer of security on top of your account password to prevent keyloggers, social engineers and other ne'er-do-wells from stealing your hard-earned characters and Gil. The second application available to players is Libra Eorzea. LE's closest equivalent would be the World of Warcraft Armory application, offering players a mobile database of items, quest, etc. to peruse when they can't actually log into the game. Players can also use the app to view their currently equipped gear, look at profiles for characters on their social lists (friends/linkshell/Free Company) and search for other players.
For all intents and purposes, Libra Eorzea gives players a mobile interface to what's available with Lodestone on the official FFXIV site. This all assumes that you have access to the internet though – without that, the application is dead in the water as it cannot access any information. To be fair, we can allow for an application to require an internet connection when it's related to an MMO; when the game itself requires being online, it only makes sense that a support application may require the same for accurate and up-to-date information gathering.
Of course, even if we accept this limitation as a necessary evil for the application, we now have a new problem. As I said before, all of the information presented by the Libra Eorzea application comes from the same Lodestone resource available on web browsers. The devices those applications are loaded on also come with web browsers which can access the same Lodestone website and pull up the same item/character information as Libra Eorzea provides – the only difference is the website has a different layout than the application and your browser supports multiple tabs. Sure, it's not exactly uncommon to have an application that just streamlines the functions of a website, but in most of those cases the website is all that's available to interact with. Groupon, Kickstarter, Twitter – these apps can get away with just reformatting the options of their respective websites because that covers 100% of what's available to the users. This is an MMO we're talking about here, however, and there's more the FFXIV player on-the-go could use from their smartphone apps – just look at the competition.
Buying, Selling and Chatting on the Road
Other MMOs have mobile applications, many of which use the same "authenticator/database only" route that FFXIV currently has. Some MMOs don't even go as far as Square Enix has right now – Guild Wars 2 and NCSoft's other games (e.g. Aion, WildStar) use Google's Authenticator app rather than creating their own. There are at least two others that offer their players more, RIFT Mobile and the WoW Armory.
RIFT's application doesn't offer the database access of Libra Eorzea, but all of that information can be found through a browser at sites like Rifthead. Instead, RIFT Mobile offers its players a chance to interact with the world of Telara while on the road. The application allows you to talk to your friends and guildmates through whispers and guild chat, keeping you in the loop with what's happening while you're stuck at work or even allowing you to chat with other mobile players outside the game. Zone alerts keep players informed on major world events in the various parts of Telara, letting you keep tabs on those events you've been waiting for or, as a PvPer, know where the opposite faction's going to be swarming to. On top of all of that, the RIFT Mobile app offers players one more unique bonus: scratch cards. You start off with six credits for scratch tickets – after an hour of real-time, you'll earn another credit up to the max of six. By default there are three scratch games available - Planar Invasion, Crafty Critters, and Shinies! Each of these provides a different kind of reward: Planarite and other planar loot for PI, crafting supplies for CC, and artifacts for Shinies! Additional games have been known to pop up during in-game events and I believe during Storm Legion's launch. All of these potential rewards, which scale applicably for the character you have selected (eg crafting material quality, planar loot type), as well as guild/player chat contained inside a free application. There's no real reason any RIFT player with a smartphone wouldn't have this installed next to their Glyph authenticator.
WoW's Armory application, on the other hand, is a little closer to Libra Eorzea. It offers players the chance to peruse the current equipment on all of their characters as well as look up items and other game features in the database. That's just the tip of what the app is capable of, however. Want to know what you can replace your helmet with? Select your character's helm and you can click Upgrade to look through shinier loot and find out what you need to add to your raiding shopping list. Want to show your coworkers the new weapon you got last night? Click the 3D button and your character appears in full gear, waiting for you to spin him around, change his stance/emote, give him a different background, or even take a screenshot to save as your phone's wallpaper.
Like the RIFT Mobile app, players can chat with their friends and guildmates through the mobile application, allowing you to stay in touch while you're away from your keyboard. There's no zone alerts in WoW's app, but players can have access to the calendars for all of their characters to keep in the loop for scheduled raids and events. Talent calculators are available for those who want to put together a new loadout while they're at school or work. A realm status list lets you know if maintenance got extended and don't need to rush home. Your guilds have their own section in the application – select the guilded character you're interested in, then you can peruse your guild's roster, available perks, news feed, achievements, and even the times they've set in Challenge Mode dungeons. That's already quite a few more features than Libra Eorzea and I haven't even touched on the big difference: auctions.
The auction house feature used to be a paid feature, but now any player can use this tool. All of your characters can use the auction house to sell items from their inventories as well as buy items others have listed. Of course there's still the matter of all those items you purchased sitting in the mail – it's annoying when you snipe a low-bid item and can't post it till you get home. With the WoW Armory however, this is no longer a problem. Your bags, mailbox, and bank slots have been combined for easier inventory access. In addition, the mobile app allows players to relist expired auctions, review competitor prices while making their post, and collect all the gold from their sales with a single click. Auction house barons really have no reason to avoid using this feature – even those players without smartphones can make use of the mobile auction house from another web browser. Something like this would even be a boon to questing players, allowing them to sell items on one screen while playing the game on another without having to make an Orgrimmar/Stormwind run. All of these features available to WoW players for free and, with the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion adding in player-run Garrisons, I wouldn't doubt we'll see additional features. Libra Eorzea is starting to look a little sparse now, huh? Luckily there's plenty FFXIV can do to make those players stuck at work or school feel a little more connected to Eorzea.
Help, My Retainer is Trapped in My iPhone!
To begin with, an FFXIV mobile app should really have one key feature that both the WoW and RIFT apps share: chat functionality. FFXIV in particular is a game that would benefit from mobile chat because the game is designed to allow players to participate in multiple social groups. You have your friends list, your Free Company as well as however many Linkshells you may be participating in (eg cross-FC friends, crafters' circle, pick-up dungeon/raid groups, etc). Given all of those people you would want to talk to on a regular basis, the ability to talk on the road would help tremendously while you're away from the computer. Your FC leader can ask around to see who's going to be available for a Coil run that night and you won't be left warming the bench. Your crafter/gatherer contacts can reply to your mails about what they have available and you can set up a price/trade. If we combined that last one with access to in-game mail, you could even mail off the items and have your end of the bargain waiting for you when you get home.
Fleshing out character details like all of your class levels would be a nice addition along with something like WoW Armory's Upgrade button to show loot you can shoot for, but both of these are more polish features. It's the same thing with the 3D models. Calendars are higher on the list, but those should really be considered part of keeping you in touch with your friends, Linkshells and Free Companies. If we're really trying to make Libra Eorzea a more significant tool for FFXIV players and a valid link for players on-the-go, there's a much better way to do it and the venue for it already exists: Retainers.
Your Retainer in FFXIV is already somewhat of a side activity in the game. You access them from either your personal room or the summoning bells inside the three main cities. Once they're available, you give them items to sell on the Market Board or you send them off on various Ventures (essentially quests for your Retainers). After all of the items are loaded and priced, and the Ventures are queued up, you have no interaction with your Retainers until it's time to collect your Gil/rewards and assign them new tasks. Everything related to your Retainers comes down to a few minutes of assigning tasks, then coming back to assign new ones after an hour or two. Sounds like half the games I have on my phone, so why not bring Retainers to Libra Eorzea?
Adding Retainers to Libra Eorzea would require the app to pull more information from the game than simply what's available on the Lodestone. You would need access to your characters' inventories for Market Board posting and the ability to pull up available Venture lists. Considering you need to log in and use your authenticator code with LE for what's available right now, the player should be allowed to gain access to this information already. If this level of information is granted, then the actual interface doesn't have to be any more complicated than the current app's format. The main window for a Retainer would have Market Board and Venture as the only two options. Inside Market Board we could have a history option for previous sales and an Add to Retainer option that brings you to a list of items to load up for sale; the actual item loading would likely work better as a list with checkboxes to fill for loading multiple items at once, but we can keep it simple for now. With Ventures, all that's really necessary is three main buttons: Assign Class, Assign Venture and View Report (for completed Ventures). Nothing flashy for any of those three menus – lists of options or a paragraph describing earned rewards. If we wanted to get fancy, we could allow for swapping gear on the Retainer to support the class change, but that's unnecessary complication of the system. Besides, you still need some incentive to see them in-game, right?
The idea behind this column actually came up when I was talking to a friend about Warlords of Draenor and was trying to explain the Garrison, particularly your followers within the Garrison. It got me thinking about adding Garrisons to the WoW Armory app and assigning my followers various tasks while I was at work. When I went to launch the app, I noticed Libra Eorzea next to it and it occurred to me just how little incentive I have to use the app. All of the other non-authenticator MMO applications I have on my phone would always see some use while I was playing the game, but I can't remember using LE more than a handful of times since I installed it the day it was released.
If I had mobile chat however, I would love to talk to friends while I'm stuck away from my desktop. Mobile chat would also be quite beneficial for any of the PS3/PS4 players out there. It would be too awkward to allow posting in party chat most likely, but having a phone keyboard to use when chatting with your friends would save an awful lot of slow typing with a controller. Having a Retainer on my phone would have been a boon in the race to make money for a house. Normally the limit on items posted keeps a crafter from maximizing sales, but if I could post items from my phone, the only limit on how many items I could sell is how many I have in my bags. Ventures would be a nice bonus on top of all of this, especially for those players who want to keep their Retainers questing, but are too busy playing the rest of the game to run back to town when Ventures wrap up, or simply aren't online when it's time to pick a new one.
That's it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. How many of you currently use the Libra Eorzea app? Do you wish you could chat with your FC mates while at work or do you prefer having some away time? Are there any other features you'd like to see in the app that I didn't cover? Tell us in the comments below. If you've got any requests for column topics, add those as well. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael "Ragar" Branham