Hi Mommy, I didn’t know your name was Square-Enix

August 26, 2010

There really is no debate in my mind.  However with the recent interviews by several Gaming news outlets, fansites and even a pair of statements from Nobuaki Komoto himself have left the FFXIV community in an uproar.  People seem to be on both sides of the argument, but most everyone is angry about some part of what went down.

Thanks the aforementioned statements by Komotosan we now have a real answer as to what Surplus actually is.

In order to achieve this balance, we calculated a value for the amount of skill or experience points that could be earned in a one-hour period. This theoretical value represents an hour spent engaged solely in combat, levequests, or any other activities that earn skill or experience points, and sets a threshold delimiting how many of these points can be earned in a period of play.

Based on this, we have implemented a “threshold value” concept. These thresholds are regulated by a one-week timer that begins counting down the instant you earn skill/experience points. After a week has passed, the thresholds will reset, and the moment skill/experience points are earned again, the timer begins counting down anew.

What do all these big words mean?  Well to put it simply, Square-Enix is going to limit your ability to play the game at your own pace.  They have created a number in their heads as to how much experience per hour they are willing to let you have.  Once you get 8x that amount of experience, you see limited returns.  So if we take their number as the average amount of skill points and experience points you will gain in a single hour as they say.  We can play for 8 hours during any given week without being punished for “overplay”.  Once we play for that 9th hour, we receive a punishment in the form of an “XP Tax”.  This tax is incremental.  During the 9th hour of play you will receive a ~12% “XP Penalty”.  The 10th hour of play will harbor a ~25% penalty.  This penalty adds up over time so after 12 hours you will be getting 50% of normal experience and after 16 hours you will receive 0, zip, zilch  in the way of experience and skill.

Now, Komotosan indicated that there would be a way to remove this stacking Penalty, however the manner in which you do so is extremely vague.

It is worth noting, however, that the reduced rate will also gradually recover while players are engaged in activities that do not yield skill/experience points. In this manner, it is possible for the threshold value to reset completely, even before the completion of the one-week timer.

So we can get out of “Timeout” by being good and sitting in the corner and doing nothing of interest?  You have to remember that this game is based on everything you do in game being a job class and garnering experience.  Kill a monster, gain experience.  Go fishing, gain experience.  Craft your friend a pair of pants, gain experience.  The only thing that doesn’t garner experience is standing around with a Bazaar sign above your head in an already laggy town or Aetheryte Camp.

Let’s get this straight.  The entire object of a MMO is to grow your character over time.  The highly publicized mission statement for Final Fantasy XIV is to provide an environment for players to create and grow their characters however they want and at whatever pace they desire, but we are getting a penalty for choosing a path that the developers don’t like?

Over the past few days I have heard every argument on the other side of the issue.

1) It is their game, they can make it however they want to.

Sure, its their game and they can make it how they want to, but do they want to make money?  If game companies were all about pushing out games that the were solely based on the developers dreams and not caring about the bottom line, then this statement would be absolutely correct.  We do not live in that kind of world.  Games need people to play them and MMOs need people to subscribe and play them for a very long time.  No MMO is going to make its development cost during its initial launch.  This is not a movie where those first weekend numbers matter.  This is an MMO, it needs to have a successful lifespan and not making its players happy before subscriptions are even sold, is not a step in the right direction.

2) It is not a punishment.  It’s simply withholding a reward.

I actually laughed at this one.  The school system in America really needs to take a long and hard look at itself if someone can honestly come up with a statement like that and try to back it up.  Any time you can use the term “Tax” or “Penalty” onto a concept it is a punishment.  Taxes are our punishment for living here.  No really, that makes no sense at all, but anyone who thinks of taxes as a good thing needs to take the time to head on down to their local emergency room and get a CAT scan.  A penalty is a penalty.  If I do something everyday to gain a certain amount of reward I expect that reward to be consistent.  If I go to work for 8 hours on Monday and get 20$ an hour go to work on Tuesday for another 8 hours and come out with only 10$ an hour, I have a right to call that punishing.  If I am an idiot and go back to work on Wednesday and come home with 0$ for the day, I would call that more than a punishment.  I would also have to question my sanity for sticking with the job past Monday.  Why would you even agree to start a job like that in the first place?  If you knew from your job interview that you could only make a decent wage one day a week, why would you not just say “Thanks but no thanks” and walk out the door looking for another job that was a better fit?

That is exactly what people are doing.  Doing it in droves.  I have been a nostalgic Final Fantasy fanboy since I picked up my first FF game many years ago.  I stepped into Final Fantasy XI shortly after its North American release and have been a fan ever since.  Through thick and thin, I stuck by the game.  Even when I was off in the realm of Azeroth, I never stopped paying Square-Enix their monthly fee.  Coming back to the game time and time again.  This news will only push me back to the better designed and more interesting concepts that Vana’diel has to offer.

The Surplus system would probably push me out of Final Fantasy XIV by itself, but overall there are so many problems with the game that have not been addressed.  I am not one of those that has gone out and canceled my Collector’s Edition preorder quite yet.  However, I am on the brink of doing so.  No matter how beautiful the game is (and it is beautiful), if it doesn’t have the gameplay to back it up, it won’t last.  Look at Age of Conan and Aion, both were beautiful games at the time of their launch.  Yet, they both have bombed in the worldwide market.  Age of Conan was a huge flash in the pan, mostly because it had “cutting edge graphics” and was an alternative to World of Warcraft which was in a large content drought at the time.  Aion followed suit in a similar launch environment with similarly “beautiful graphics” only to fail to succeed.  Since their expansion outside of Asia , Aion has actually lost more than 700,000 subscribers.  Games that rely on their beauty without substance are just not safe bets.

I am cautiously hopeful that the Open Beta build of Final Fantasy XIV will show us that the developers have actually listened to their potential customers and stopped believing that all of their ideas and limitations are best for the game.  There is a fine line when it comes to what works and what doesn’t work when “sticking to your guns” as a developer.  It’s about time Tanaka and the other fine people at Square Enix figures that out.

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