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

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in crafting, Final Fantasy XIV, MMO design, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. pkudude99 says:

    FFXIV was slow to grab me, but now that it has, I find myself not wanting to play anything else, yet’s it’s always been a slow burn. Like you say — there’s really no 1 “killer feature” that makes me love the game, it’s all the small parts done well integrated into the whole.

  2. Azuriel says:

    I would be very surprised if the leveling speed remains constant across five FF14 expansions. If the draw of your game is raiding or similar, increasing the time it takes to get there with each new expansion just makes the new player experience that much “worse.” And while I know that FF14 has ways to get veterans back into low-level areas, as time goes on, this will be less and less the case, making leveling that much worse even as there is more and more of it to chew through.

    “Add, don’t replace” sounds good in theory, but I haven’t really ever seen it work in practice, at least for a multiplayer game. It would be trivial for WoW to require attunements for everything such that new players would have to raid Molten Core (etc) just to get access to TBC content and so on, but that would just segment your audience even further apart.

    That being said, it wouldn’t hurt anything to give players the option to choose “vanilla mode” leveling if they really wanted it.

    • Dan says:

      FFXIV has an interesting philosophy coming with the expansion. In order to play, the expansion you have to beat the entire A Realm Reborn’s story.

      In order to do so, they are doubling experience earned from main quests and gear to post cap quests to remove the grind. However, it’s been said that the next ten levels will take just as long as the old cap to level from 1 to cap.

      To make it better a premade party can go into a dungeon or trial with less members and choose not to level sync (they are also adding ilvl and lvl sync time challenges to them later), and new players to the dungeon or trial get priority in queues if you use Duty Finder.

      This is all for A Realm Reborn content, so they essentially made levelling easier but it doesn’t take away from the challenge because Duty Finder still level syncs (and most will use DF) and none of the content itself is nerfed.

      But, the expansion doesn’t get the easy benefit and it isn’t replacing content or making it dead.

      • MaximGtB says:

        Keep in mind that these changes affect mostly the first class each player levels. From the second class onward, they won’t be able to rely on main story quests for xp or gear, plus the ability to not level sync is meaningless, so the leveling game is pretty much unchanged.

        • SynCaine says:

          I think if anything the main quest should give you enough XP to complete it. Many times we have been doing the main line only to run into an XP roadblock and have to do something else until we ding.

          The second+ role is where the real meat and potatoes of the game is, IMO, since that’s when you really branch out for content.

        • MaximGtB says:

          Not sure I agree with the first part. I think it’s good that the devs assume you are going to be doing some dungeons, leves, whatever between main story quests. Otherwise you’d end up outleveling everything. Yes, you can do dungeons that you have outleveled, but it’s not the same. If anything, the gear will be obsolete as soon as you get it.

          Definitely agree with the second part. Leveling additional classes is one of the most fun parts of the game. I miss leveling. I think I need an expansion.

  3. weritsblog says:

    Sadly, the FF ‘universe’ just turns me off. Otherwise, it sounds cool.

  4. Dan says:

    What’s imressive is that there are currently 29 dungeons in FFXIV – all worthwhile and active. The expansion is adding 8 more and if the incentive remains the same – and it is – that makes 37 dungeons worth doing. If they keep the same content pace and amount of dungeons per patch – and they do 5 dungeon patches again – that makes 15 more dungeons. That is 52 dungeons by time it’s time for 4.0 – all worth doing.

    So, by time 4.0 runs around, you could do one dungeon a week for a year and not have to repeat once, and not a single one will impede your progress.

    That’s not counting trials which there is currently 19 trials and 4 more known trials being added so pre patch there will be 23.

    23 + 37 = 60 different instanced worthwhile ways to progress OUTSIDE of raiding.

    That’s not counting any other content.

  5. Rohan says:

    I think you’re mostly right.

    But as a counter-point, I have seen a lot of complaints lately that people “have to” do all the main storyline, especially all the post-50 patches, before being able to jump into Heavensward.

    Personally, my inclination is that SE should just say “deal with it”, because these games are played for the long run. Starting Heavensward a month or two later is not going to destroy your experience.

    • MaximGtB says:

      Agreed. The main storyline is an essential part of FFXIV. The game is a MMORPG, but it’s also a Final Fantasy. If you can’t deal with “a few” cutscenes (read that as “a lot”, actually), then it is probably not the game for you.

      Now if only the writing of that main storyline was at least a bit better…

    • SynCaine says:

      I think that complaint is a very vocal hyper-minority issue, so hopefully SE does stick with what is working and continues to mostly ignore them.

    • Dan says:

      Honestly, a lot of the complaining really came from having to grind – you need i90 gear and currently, only grinding dungeons or doing Crystal Tower raid grinding will get you that. Since they are removing the grind, it won’t be so bad as long as players actually focus on the main quest (too many get so focused on all of the side quests, they spend too much time in the city beforre they get to kill anything).

  6. carson63000 says:

    Of all the criticisms that can be leveled at WoW, I think the most valid one is (and has been for a long time) that they just don’t GET the whole “updates should add content, not replace it” concept.

    I feel that they’re so terrified of players being “left behind” and have added so many quick “catch up” mechanics, that they’ve completely obsoleted so much (great!) content.

    There WAS a problem – anyone ever try to bring an alt up late in the Burning Crusade expansion lifecycle? – but the reaction to that problem has turned into such a massive overreaction. Especially given that other changes would have solved much of the problem anyway. Having to drag your ass through a string of heroics to get raid attunements, a year after “everyone” stopped wanting to run them, was a colossal pain. But with the automated dungeon group finder they added one expansion later, would it still be a pain? I suspect not.

  7. Sjonnar says:

    Alright, i’ll give it a shot. Any server with a particularly good community? Dumbass kids and their anal spam is not the sort of thing that would inspire me to stick with a game.

  8. tithian says:

    Are you worried that the Expansion may spoil this Vanilla 2015 experience?

    • SynCaine says:

      A bit, mostly because any time a game gets updated there is that risk. I’ve honestly not been following what the expansion brings, since I want to avoid story spoilers, but from what I’ve heard it doesn’t sound like a complete reset ala most themepark expansions, but we will see.

Comments are closed.