FFXIV: The good kind of difficult

July 6, 2015

One of the aspects that soured me on WoW post TBC (although even prior to WotLK this was already somewhat of a trend in the game, just much slower) was the decrease in challenge in the ‘normal’ game, with only special ‘hard mode’ versions of the same content being tuned to really push you. Especially in vanilla, there was plenty of content that would test you, even during the leveling game (elite quests, certain dungeons). This removal never made sense to me, because WoW never forced you to beat that content, and outside of max-level stuff, you always had the option to go back later if you wanted to see something.

FFXIV is a lot of fun in part because the content challenge doesn’t insult you with how trivial it is in spots. Yes, most random quests you pick up ARE very easy kill five of this or collect five of that tasks, but the dungeons you run as you level require some level of competence, and the main quest line (that isn’t optional) and class quests have some fairly challenging fights you must solo due to the Duty system (basically a private instance).

It’s these Duties that my wife struggles with at times (and sometimes I do as well), mainly because we always do them right as soon as they become available, and because our gear is limited to what we get from questing and running the dungeons once (no AH or crafting), and I think this challenge is a great thing overall. The smart thing about this design is you CAN come back to the Duty later when you are a bit stronger, but even then you can’t completely overpower it as the Duty will level-sync you should you be more than four levels above it (though four levels is a fairly significant amount of power).

The only consistent complain I’ve seen about FFXIV is that the main story is required to progress in the game, but I think the real complain is the challenge, because WoW has trained newer MMO players to not expect any. And again, this isn’t even older WoW, where if you wanted to see the main villain of the expansion (Illidan) you had to be a top-tier raider; this is simply required content you can’t completely faceroll to progress past, and yet a minority still complain.

As Rohan wrote, this overall helps FFXIV, as it weeds out the worst of the ‘WoW-kiddies’, meaning you don’t get randomly grouped with them during a dungeon, or have them running around spamming local chat, tagging mobs, and generally being WoW players. I’m glad SquareEnix ‘doubled down’ on this design by making the expansion content gated behind completing the original content, and hopefully they don’t make the mistake Blizzard made with WoW starting with WotLK.


What really makes a themepark tick, and why FFXIV is a rolex

June 9, 2015

Where a good sandbox is like a mountain climb with incredible peaks along with plenty of valleys, playing a good themepark is like taking a nice walk on a familiar path; at no point are you overly thrilled, but the activity as a whole is enjoyable and ultimately you feel good about the time spent.

Most themeparks ‘fail’ because that steady drip of entertainment drops below an acceptable level, and people drift away (or you do something really dumb to instantly piss them off, like Allods with its cash shop). This is especially true if the themepark tries to use the sub model, because now there is further pressure to justify not just your time, but also your monthly cost (trivially low as it may be). At least under F2P, it only takes a tiny subset of all players to whale it out and keep things going (short-term anyway; long-term the need to keep those whales spending inevitably dooms the game), rather than a majority vote of happiness that is the sub model.

For years WoW held a choke-hold on themeparks because of how good+popular it was (not the post for that breakdown/discussion, but hopefully you understand that WoW wasn’t successful just because it was well-designed). The fabled coming of a WoW-killer was announced often, and each failed. If you were going to play a fantasy themepark (or ‘Sci-Fi’ that was fantasy reskinned), you might as well play the one with good content that all your friends are playing, right?

Realistically the only entity capable of ‘killing’ WoW was Blizzard itself, and thanks to New Blizzard making one mistake after another with the game since WotLK, that process has been underway for a few years now. WoD was able to lift WoW as much as it did because the hype was “a return to Vanilla”, but clearly New Blizzard wasn’t able to produce what really made Vanilla WoW, and sub are once again dropping.

While New Blizzard was working hard on stopping what should be an unstoppable juggernaut, SquareEnix re-released FFXIV, a themepark that is, in a way, Vanilla WoW in 2015. Not in terms of content, systems, or any specific design (all those are evolved and better), but Vanilla WoW in terms of keeping you on that nice, steady, enjoyable walk along that familiar path. Much like in 2004 WoW didn’t do any one thing amazingly well, in 2015 FFXIV doesn’t have a ‘killer feature’; it just has basically everything you could want, all co-existing beautifully in a world you want to spend time in and with a character you want to progress further, with plenty of ways for that progression to happen.

Themeparks don’t need a Burn Jita event. They don’t need to push the envelope in terms of battle sizes, or economic complexity, or to build and sustain the history of large player groups and rivalries for a decade. You don’t play a themepark expecting the peak of something like BR5 to happen, because you also don’t play it for the hours and hours of valley that makes something like BR5 possible and matter as much as it did. And you most certainly shouldn’t attempt to design your themepark to achieve this, because you will fail, horribly.

At least so far, SquareEnix seems to understand this with FFXIV. While the pace of content updates is very high, few if any of the updates are highly controversial or change/remove something you previously enjoyed. They add stuff, and generally the new stuff is good so you will experience it, but it if doesn’t happen to click with you, you aren’t disrupted or upset.

The other very important thing for any MMO, themepark or sandbox, is that updates should add content, not replace it. EVE is amazing in this regard, and FFXIV is good as well. WoW hasn’t been for some time. Most of the time a major addition to WoW effectively replaces something else, which can not only cause disruption, but also doesn’t create the massive content juggernaut that the game should be.

Take something as simple as leveling; in WoW every level increase should extent that part of the game (the best part of the game for many), but with every increase the leveling rate is also increased, so while you have more levels, they come quicker, and can be accomplished with less content consumed and time spent. That makes sense if you are dead-set on everyone sitting at the level cap, but for those that wish to experience an older zone as it was meant to be played, they either can’t (outlevel it) or can but only though additional hoops (stopping xp gain, limiting what items you use, etc).

Right now I’m ‘behind’ in FFXIV, with my main class at 38, my highest crafter at 25, and my miner at 21. If I was playing WoW, at lvl 38 I’d quickly outpace my current zone, everything would be a cakewalk due to item inflation, and it all wouldn’t feel like it did for those who hit 38 originally. Forget experiencing dungeon or group content ‘as intended’. In FFXIV none of this is the case. Every dungeon run has felt appropriate, every zone feels alive, and group content (fates) are still very popular (imagine playing WAR a year after release, being in a mid-level zone, and being able to complete every PQ with a group; that’s FFXIV today).

Other related little bits:

I recently opened up ventures for my retainers, as well as the dye and materia systems. All three open up once you complete some quick and easy, but totally optional quests. We talk often about exploration in MMOs, but way too many games have exploration limited to going to a pre-set and easy-to-spot landmark and getting an achievement, which is more achiever content than explorer. In FFXIV ‘exploring’ is, in part, finding these optional quests that open up more content for you, which is awesome.

Ventures for your retainers also tie nicely into the economy, crafting, and the roles system. Since you have to equip your retainer, and how well you equip them impacts the rewards you get, crafting lower level gear is viable/valuable, and your retainer can only level up as high as you have that role, be it combat or gathering (no crafting). Since you can have multiple retainers, this further encourages (though doesn’t force) you to switch and level different roles to open them up for your retainers as an option. The ability to switch roles on your character is already a great feature, and retainers add just one more reason why.

The dye system is fluff, of course, but is one of those “every game should have this” system, and again feeds into crafting nicely. The materia system is, as far as I see it right now, mostly an end-game thing, although you can use it earlier to give your gear a little boost. Creating materia by first getting gear to 100% bind, and then breaking it down, is another nice system that again ties other systems together. Since you can equip retainers, maybe you don’t automatically break down all your older gear? It’s not a major decision point (you can always craft or buy gear), but it exists, it adds depth to the game, and it’s a tiny little piece of a much larger, yet all inter-related puzzle that keeps you playing/paying.

FFXIV rightly deserves its spot as the top themepark MMO out, and hopefully current Square-Enix doesn’t become Old Square-Enix ala Blizzard in the years to come. If they continue down the path they have traveled so far, we’ll wonder if any MMO will ever topple it, much like we did with WoW back in 2007ish.


2015 midyear check-in: Still not a single great F2P MMO

June 4, 2015

Wildstar announcing it is moving to the minor leagues of the MMO world (F2P) is… something? Personally I have zero investment/interest in Wildstar, as I never saw the point of creating a ‘hardcore’ raiding MMO and then picking a hyper-cartoon artstyle and thinking more than a tiny population would remain interested. Those seem a bit contradictory, and anything bigger than “tiny niche product” for Wildstar was never going to happen anyway.

The only real surprise I guess is that Wildstar is going F2P later than ESO did, though I highly suspect the delay for Wildstar had more to do with resource limits, and console-release deadlines for ESO pushing it towards F2P faster-than-needed (and I’m not sure ESO wouldn’t have stayed sub if it was a PC-only title anyway).

But all of this does further reinforce my point about business models in the MMO genre; if you have a good game, it can be great if its sub, and no F2P MMO can be great. That Wildstar wasn’t great and is now moving down to F2P doesn’t change that. Nor does ESO, as ESO wasn’t great.

What was of interest when both games were announced with the sub model is that it gave both games a chance, at least in terms of the business model, to be great. No MMO that is under the F2P weight can ever be great. If an MMO tomorrow is announced, and part of that announcement is that it’s F2P, we know that, at best, it will be mediocre, with very good odds that it will be hotbar-selling garbage.

That’s just the upper limit of F2P. Always has been, and midway through 2015, nothing has changed. In 2015 the best and most successful MMOs are still sub MMOs (FFXIV, WoW, EVE). Saying the sub model is dead or outdated makes you sound like an ignorant fool at best, if not an outright idiot. What is almost-dead is the MMO genre itself, at least compared to days of old, with only a few studios still making MMOs that are anything above mediocre. But make no mistake; if you are one of those studios, the sub model is the one model that will allow you to truly create something great. That hasn’t changed in 2015. As always, lets revisit (repeat) in 2016, shall we?


How many more people will we allow Blizzard and WoW to murder?

May 22, 2015

I think its about time someone took up the righteous cause of saving the world from murder/suicide-assisting MMOs and the evil that they bring. Now you might be saying “But SynCaine, surely the developers are setting proper limits here and not encouraging such things?”, but you would be wrong.

When this little angel got tricked by evil Blizzard, did they change the game? Or did they further push the boundary limits of their suicide-assistance machine with more social-engineering grind? Did they step in to stop the evil, or did they add more daily quests? Did they add a whole new method of gameplay (garrisons) that further preyed on the weak-minded? How many have died? And how many more will die, just because evil Blizzard is left unchecked, and their evil supporters have long stood with them and get off on the deaths of others for pageviews, clicks, and maybe a free coffee?

Well not anymore my beautiful internet! It’s time we, the non-evil, stand up, rise together, and say no more! No more assisted-suicide via themepark grinds! Shut them all down (except FFXIV, that game is fine), and let us live in a more peaceful, evil-free world! Where only such virtuous titles like EVE Online exist, where CCP has been so merciful as to allow progression when offline to not commit the evils that Blizzard and their ilk have.

It’s time internet! Good men must not sit idle as these atrocities continue! Join me, and together, we can save the world from this this evil!

#gamerlivesmatter #WoWisEvil #DeathToTheDeathMachines #DeathToTheirSupporters


GTA V: A monster of quality content

April 21, 2015

Quick plugs first: The CoC clan has one spot currently open. Anyone with a non-rushed TH7+ that will be active please apply to “Supreme Cream!” and mention the blog. Also the Boom Beach group “Hardcore Casual” has spots open as well. More relaxed in that game so no reqs to join.

Moving on.

GTA V is an example of a massive budget used well. For example, the amount of top-notch voice work you will miss or have in the background easily outnumbers the total amount of voice work in most ‘AAA’ games total. Or how some of the side activities are better ‘games’ than other products that do just that one thing. Or just the sheer size and detail of the world, right down to traffic patterns. It really is mind-blowing when you stop and think about all of the work put into the game, and how somehow, amazingly it all comes together to form such a great game. From a project management aspect the game is a huge accomplishment.

It has been said in the past that WoW is impossible to replicate because it has so much content, but WoW over time has been replacing stuff rather than just adding more and more on (unlike, say, EVE). It’s why you can launch FFXIV and not have it feel like a much smaller version of WoW, despite WoW having nearly a decade head start. GTA V isn’t that. Sure, it builds off of what worked in previous GTA games, but GTA V itself is a massive package of content that few if any games can even come close to matching (Skyrim is really the only title that comes to mind).

It also brings me back to when I played Saint’s Row 3 (a solid game itself), and why that game is smart to push what it does well (over the top action and comedy) and not just try to straight-up be a GTA clone. If it did that, it would get slaughtered, because it would be nearly impossible to stack up in terms of quality AND quantity, and the corners cut would be noticeable.


FFXIV: Playing different roles on one character is brilliant

March 18, 2015

Quick note to start with: Playing the relaunch of The Elder Scrolls Online just reinforced how much better FFXIV is at being a thempark MMO. I might still try to get back into ESO at some point, but after spending 15 minutes with it, I’m more than fine waiting a bit longer.

Anyway, FFXIV. Having finally hit level 30, I’ve dug more seriously into leveling other roles using other (non-questing) systems, and man oh man is it fun. As I keep saying about FFXIV, what makes the game great isn’t the addition of some new magical feature, but rather taking the existing themepark formula and significantly refining it towards perfection. Rift certainly wasn’t themepark 3.0 (thanks Trion!), but FFXIV is. The order of significant themepark evolution now goes EQ1->WoW->FFXIV.

When I play MMOs I want to play my avatar, which is why I’ve always hated alts. I don’t want to be a bunch of characters in a game; I want to be ONE character in a world experiencing things. I don’t have multiple people playing my account, so I shouldn’t need multiple characters to play the game.

FFXIV nails this by letting you switch from role to role, and also by making the gathering and crafting roles a real thing rather than just a single skill bar to max out. Finally I can ‘play an alt’ in an MMO while still being my one character. That sounds so simple, but at least for me goes such a long way.

But that feature alone wouldn’t be nearly as great if FFXIV did what most other themeparks do and force you into the normal questing grind until you can do other stuff. FFXIV has that option mind you, there are three separate leveling chains from 1-cap (I believe), but that is but one choice among many (how sandboxy huh?), and you can mix and match all of the options as you go, which is also brilliant. Whether you decide to chase Fates, run dungeons, do guildhests, or just farm mobs for xp and crafting resources, how often and in what order you do all of this is up to you.

What turns a lot of MMO players off from a sandbox is the lack of direction, while what annoys others in a themepark is the on-rails experience. FFXIV has plenty of guided content (and also plenty of not-so-guided content), but at almost any point you can stop the ride and do something else, potentially never returning to that ride again (the main quest chain aside). I love that, because I can play an MMO ‘my way’, but it’s not as investment-heavy as a sandbox often requires.


FFXIV: 4 million ‘registered accounts’

February 27, 2015

Square Enix, in announcing 4m players, continues to troll all of us with their use of the term ‘registered accounts‘ in a world where F2P exists and the Turbines of the world announce number of characters created as an example of success.

As stated before, for whatever reason Square uses ‘registered accounts’ instead of subscribers, but they mean subscribers. So 4 million before the release of the game’s first paid expansion is rather historic; only WoW ever hit that mark, and if we are tracking growth since release, the chart for FFXIV looks very similar to WoW in 2004-2006.

With the expected sub dip for WoW coming ‘soon’, the question comes up once again; when will FFXIV have more subs than WoW? I think the safe money is just after the launch of the expansion, especially if it launches during one of the many and very long content lulls that WoW is infamous for, that FFXIV continues to show is more Blizzard being lazy than any real constraint in terms of content delivery pace/quality.

The other interesting question is at what number will WoW officially be dethroned? It dropped to 7m or so subs before, but perhaps it drops further this time around? Will the number be 6.5, 6, 5.5? What will FFXIV be at after the expansion? I’d put my money on the number being around 5.5-7 million. I think WoW will drop rather sharply, and I think a lot of those players, if they haven’t already, will head to FFXIV.

Either way, interesting times. FFXIV in many ways is a modern vanilla WoW; fitting that the ‘WoW-killer’ will be a game that is, in many ways, WoW’s best version that it itself has moved away from that their own expense. There is a very solid lesson in that for the genre, so I’m all for it.


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