Saturday, November 13, 2010

RE: Square-Enix and their arrogant/unprepared development teams.

I. Introduction

II. The Current Problems
III. The Future Solutions

I. Introduction

I am left to be very disappointed with Square-Enix. Very, very disappointed. Two games that I was looking forward to this year, Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIV ended up tanking (in my opinion).

Although Final Fantasy XIII got good scores because of its graphics and story and presentation, I was put off by its linearity and lack of freedom in the game. Every dungeon was just a line with different graphics with the majority of the game and bosses that take an unnecessarily long amount of time to beat.

Final Fantasy XIV, on the other hand, I was looking forward WAY more than XIII. It is supposed to be the spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy XI and had the setting I like, a medieval fantasy setting that actually felt Final Fantasyish, and they even brought Nobuo Uematsu back to compose the score of it. I thought the game was going to be a serious World of Warcraft contender just from looking at the trailers.

I couldn't be any more wrong.

II. The current problems.

Square-Enix, in some desperate attempt to try and beat out World of Warcraft: Cataclysm severely ruined their launch by releasing Final Fantasy XIV about six months too early with a barely functional game. A laggy user-interface, chocobos nowhere to be seen, party imbalance, a grindfest (when they stated there wouldn't be one), convoluted menus, a lack of a decent player-interactive market system, lack of a decent search system, bad targeting, ...

I really can go on and on.

Why? Why would Square-Enix shoot themselves in the foot on a launch? They effectively beat Cataclysm to the shelves, but in essence ruined a lot of their potential subscribers and former players that have already quit out of frustration.

Being a linkshell leader in FFXIV with what used to be 55 people, I log on (as well as some of my other friends) and only see 1-2 people on the whole linkshell anymore. That's a strong message, people just don't like the unpolished, unfinished state of the game (including myself) and it shows in the reviews:

Compare it to FFXI which came to our shelves (even though way past the Japanese launch, that may have been a better decision over here to save the wrath of the reviewers)

Metacritic 85/100
Famitsu 38/40
Gamespot 8.2/10
IGN 8.8/10

In comparison...

Metacritic 50/100
Famitsu (Didn't even rate it yet!)
Gamespot 4.0/10
IGN 5.5/10

No one can disagree here that FFXIV's initial reception was a launch/failure. It even goes on the list of "2010's biggest video game flops", and rightfully so.

The thing that Final Fantasy XIV has over XIII though is that it has the potential to be a good game. But first impressions can mean a lot to someone. You don't go to a job interview looking completely unprofessional and with the promise that you'll improve for your actual job only after you are hired and start receiving payments, and games shouldn't be released like that for a paying subscriber base either.

All they can do from here is "hope" that they can regain their user base once these November-December updates are completed.

Gamers, however, are generally very unforgiving. And it shows on past MMOs with horrible launches, such as Age of Conan or Vanguard. The former is doing somewhat well now, but it took an irrecoverable hit in subscribers it can never get back and lost out on a lot of potential. And the latter? Well, that's on life support.

The thing that Final Fantasy has over Age of Conan or Vanguard though is that it's a (somewhat) well respected franchise. People (like me) will play just for the fact that it's a Final Fantasy game, and all of them are supposed to live up to a quality standard. We all may have our different shares of which game in the series we like and do not like, but we can all agree that until XIV, they all came out at the highest possible quality.

III. The Future Solutions

Right now, Final Fantasy XIV has a terrible reputation. But it's only been released on the PC so far. It's going to have a second chance to get reviewed when it's released in March for the PlayStation 3. However, I really hope Square-Enix knows what they're doing this time. If they screw up this launch, Final Fantasy XIV will no longer be seen as just a short-term PC launch failure, but a long-time failure for all platforms.

Square-Enix is well aware of all of the bugs I (and countless others) have mentioned. Tanaka, in a recent interview with Eurogamer, said that he is sorry for the quality of the game and that they focused on getting bugs out of the game by its launch rather than working on other issues that should have taken priority, like UI interface design and server/client lag.

Square-Enix has also given players of the game a bonus free month for people who subscribed before October 25, so players like me get to play for free until November 22nd.

Also, they outlined a long timetable for updates to the game that will be coming late-November, December, and in 2011 with reassurance that the game is going to improve.

The time table of game fixes can be seen here at Final Fantasy XIV's main site, the Lodestone.

Personally, I'm looking forward to this game fixes, as a frustrated buyer who spent $80 for this game, and more importantly, as a Final Fantasy fan. I want to be able to look at this game in retrospect and say that these were the "dark ages" of the game, and not to look back.

The problem is, will gamers be willing to give this game a second chance in the future? Or did Square-Enix let their long-term MMO tank because of their poor management?
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