Ragar wonders if FFXIV players like questing enough to make their own
Hello and welcome to the 34th 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 going to look at something a few other MMOs have played with over the years: player-generated content. Typically when an MMO gives players room to create something in-game, it’s usually limited to something like player housing and crafted items, where the impact on the game as a whole is limited to the player themselves or at most a small group of other players. MMOs like Neverwinter and the now defunct City of Heroes took this to another level and gave players the chance to add more substantial and long-lasting content to the game.
Out of Quests? Create Your Own!
For most MMOs like FFXIV, players only engage in quests and fights designed directly by the developers themselves. Every line of text, every monster’s design, every map layout and boss placement is all the work of the game’s designers. Since the designers are the ones who built the world and arguably know these systems better than anyone, it makes sense that the vast majority – if not all of the content – comes from them. Players did pay them for the game after all, so it makes sense to get a finished product with enough quests/fights/etc to carry you through to endgame.
So why would an MMO need the players to pitch in with the design work? There are actually a few reasons for this. The most obvious reason is that it’s almost free as far as the developers are concerned. Sure there’s work up front to develop the tools for the players, hosting for instances, etc, but after that 90% of the work is handled by people off the payroll. You give them maps you’ve already designed, monster models and abilities that have already been built into the game, and the players run with it. Sure they may update the tools periodically with new content, but in general that’s just adding in maps and models from official releases that have come out. In return, the developers and other players get as much new content as those player creators can come up with.
Another major reason some MMOs are looking at player generated content is because it can help smooth out the wait in-between official releases. Despite what many players may believe, there are limits to how fast the developers can (and should) throw out new official content. Dungeons, raids and other instanced content take time to build, especially when completely new artwork is involved. In addition to that, they have to make sure they’re not burying slower players under content to make them feel behind the curve as well as making sure they’ve got enough new content to last until the next expansion; when you go too fast, you end up with something like World of Warcraft’s Siege of Orgrimmar problem where players are stuck with one raid for over a year. If players can create their own content to supplement the official releases, it helps make those waits until the next raid seem far shorter.
Smoothing out waits between dungeons is great and all, but why should players be interested in making content for the MMO they’re playing? Isn’t that the developer’s job? Isn’t it a ton of work? Most players probably won’t delve into creating their own content, but there are quite a few folks out there who love to make things in games. For some, they’re content with things like player housing and crafting, but other folks would love to have a bigger impact on the games they love. Some roleplayers out there would love to give everyone the chance to see the stories and characters they’ve been coming up with. In addition there are players out there who would love to make games of their own, but lack the expertise, tools and/or money to build one from scratch. Player-generated content in an MMO gives those players the chance to work with similar tools to the developers, so they can get experience making quests, fights, etc for other people without requiring them to do all of the coding and artwork themselves.
Could Player Content Work in Eorzea?
We’ve established reasons for adding player generated content to MMOs in general, but FFXIV is a unique case. The game’s relied heavily on its storytelling and its main scenario – could player created quests really compete with that level of content? Yes and no.
From a sheer mechanical standpoint, player content will always lag behind because you’re limited to the art assets already existing in the game. The only way to get around that limitation would be for the developers to allow players to import their own art and that’s a bad idea all around – nothing breaks immersion like players importing pictures of Reddit memes, not to mention those trying to get around filters and import more “colorful” imagery.
Despite being limited to pre-existing art assets, player generated content does have the potential to get close to if not on par with content already existing in the game. After all, not all quests involve new backgrounds or monster designs. The vast majority of the quests in FFXIV are sidequests and those are really what the players are competing with. A player-designed quest could easily compete with the fetch quests and “go kill X of this monster” guildleves in the game. Depending on the writing skill of the player, they could even create a chain of quests to tell a mini-story in their instance, which would be far more interesting than most side quests.
There is one other reason player generated content could stand on par with the existing content: it would fill some sizable gaps in what’s available. When you leveled your first combat class to 50, the majority of the time you were doing new content, be it main scenario quests, side quests, hunting log completions, guildleves, instances in the duty finder and a variety of different FATES. What about your second class and all of the others after that? You can’t repeat main scenario or side quests. Sure you could find side quests in other zones you missed and each class had their unique quests and their own hunting log entries to fill in, but the majority of those 50 levels involved a lot of repeat content, particularly chaining FATEs.
If we throw player generated content into the mix, now we’ve got plenty to choose from. Those players who prefer the old method can still chain FATEs and dungeons to their hearts’ content, but for those leveling class #4+, they’d probably love to see some variety. With player generated content, they could choose from a long list of different quests. If a browser system like Neverwinter uses was implemented, players could even filter based on content type, look at reviews from other players, etc. The longer the system is available to players, the more choices there’ll be down the road for those looking to do something different on yet another alt class.
How Do You Make It Work?
Content variety is all well and good, but what can players actually make with a builder like Neverwinter has? That’s entirely up to the imagination of the designer. At the simplest end of the spectrum, you’ve got your basic arena fights: players go in, there’s some quick dialogue from the guy running the show, then you fight waves of monsters with a big one at the end. If the designer is feeling a bit more creative, they throw in some extra story dialogue, maybe something in the environment to click on (depending on the assets available) and perhaps some surprises during the fight like NPCs that jump down from the stands to join in the fray.
On the opposite end you’ve got your story chains. Each individual quest fits one of your archetypical quest types: go fetch X, kill Y of this monster, protect this guy, etc. It’s the quest text and how the environments chain together that really sells the story. The designers can’t use players skills here since there’s no equivalent to Neverwinter’s dungeon skills (eg Dungeoneering, Religion, Arcana, etc), but they can still use interactables to do things like spawn new monsters, open doors or other simple tricks to progress the story. At the end of each step there could be a cliffhanger or a hook to lead into the next quest once the player designer has finished it.
This is an MMO though, so I’m sure some of you are wondering: where’s the reward? There needs to be some form of reward, be it experience or material reward, to keep players interested in running this content. For experience there’s two ways to go about this. You can either give players XP with each monster they kill or you can give it as a lump sum upon completion of the quest. To incentivize players to do more than make monster arenas to AoE to 50, the lump sum upon completion route is probably the best choice. The same can be said from any Gil or item drops that could come from the dungeon – you want to encourage players to finish the content and you want designers to do more than make monster pits.
As for the amount of XP, Gil and loot, that one’s a little trickier. Make it too much and no one will run FATEs or low-level dungeons because it’s the most efficient way to level or make cash. Make it too little and those player creators will have a small audience because there’s not enough payoff to do their quests. So how do we fix this problem? There’s a couple ways to go about it. One is to make a guildleve that gives bonus rewards for running player content. This would control the bonus XP and resources by tying it to the same limit as all their other guildleves; after that, you would be back to a relatively level playing field with FATE grinding. This could also be accomplished with a separate daily bonus – you’d still get a boosted reward for doing player generated content a few times each day, but without dipping into your guildleve allowance.
Those limited bonuses are likely the right way to go about things from a high level, but we also need to look at rewarding the creators. After all, not everyone has a story off the top of the head – some players need something to push them into trying their hands at making content for others. Again we have to limit this reward to prevent people from gaming the system; otherwise you’ll have a deluge of awful quests and players will get discouraged from sifting through that list looking for anything good.
So what do we use for this reward and how do we keep people from screwing with the system? This would be a good place for a secondary currency. We can’t use the Seals from FATEs since those are already grindable, but they’re a good example of what this currency could be used for. A few miscellaneous pieces of equipment to help you with gaps while leveling, some consumables to help with leveling your non-combat classes, but primarily cosmetic items: mounts, non-combat pets, barding for your Chocobo, house furnishings, etc. Whether through guildleves or a separate daily limit, players would slowly accumulate this currency by running through quests made by other players.
What about the creators themselves? How do we reward them for their work without leaving loopholes to take advantage of? We tie it to the players running the content. When you finish running a player-made quest, in addition to rating it, you could also tip the creator for their work with the currency you got from completing the quest. There could be achievements tied to getting high reviews, a ranking list with additional rewards for the top rated quest creators, and more if more incentive is needed to pull in new creators.
Player generated content is far from perfect: you can’t include voice acting, you’re limited to what resources are available, and not everyone has the experience with design to make a quest that’s on par with what the developers are capable of. The benefits to the system are massive though and can keep players going through dry periods between official content updates. In addition it can pull players into your game and keep them there when they can have a hand in making something other players can play.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think of player generated content? Do you think there’s room for it in FFXIV or would you prefer to keep to what the developers have envisioned for content? Have any of you made a quest in Neverwinter or another MMO? What would it take to get you into creating content? Tell us in the comments below.
Since news has been somewhat sparse lately other than yet more holiday events, we’ll be switching Eorzea Examiner from its current bi-weekly schedule. When something pops up to talk about or I feel like playing class designer again, there’ll be more columns. In the meantime, I’ll be writing about some other games I’ve been playing lately, so please keep an eye out for that.
Michael “Ragar” Branham