What does FFXIV need to do to keep its playerbase?

October 7, 2010

More specifically the question is, “What does Square-Enix need to fix or add in Final Fantasy XIV to keep players past the first month?

Now I realize that is a heavily loaded question. Final Fantasy XIV is far from a game without its problems.  Avid series fans and SE alike will like to remind you that every MMO starts off to a bumpy start.  They will remind you of WoWs initial woes.  They will remind you that on XI’s initial release the game was a disaster for a 6+ months before the developers got their feet underneath them.

The problem is that Square-Enix still believes that its 2002.  They believe the average MMO player is still extremely patient and trusting.  Unfortunately, they are wrong.  In a world almost 10 years removed from the release of their last game, they are still in the mind-set of the past.  That slow fixes and not communicating with the community are things that need to be left in the past.

So what do the developers need to do to make FFXIV survive better than games like Warhammer and Age of Conan?

1) Fix the Lag –

The sheer amount of lag that is prevalent in the game is unacceptable for the long-term viability of the game.  Now lag is not a new thing to the world of MMOs.  It’s a common place problem that all games in the genre.  However, the sheer amount of lag that is held within every aspect of the game precludes most of the fun.  Everything from combat to crafting to the mere act of trying to browse a bazaar are effected.

Combat becomes a little less fun when your abilities do not go off when you push the button.  Sometimes seeing 2 and 3 abilities going off in succession and sometimes having abilities happen on time.  When fighting monsters that can easily defeat you, any time lost due to lag can make or break.  Dying is not a fun experience, but feeling helpless due to ability lag is just not acceptable in a game of this type.

2) Fix the Economy –

Notice I am not saying that they need to add an Auction House.  I honestly, do not think that is a requirement to fix what is wrong.  The current system is outright horrible.  Trying to find a bazaar with the goods you are looking for is like searching for a needle in a very laggy haystack.  Attempting to use the Market Wards is an adventure in wasted time.

Spending hours a week trying to find the materials, armor, consumables that you may need is just plain not acceptable.  The changes to the Market Wards that have been proposed are a decent start.  They simply are not enough to fix what is wrong.  We may not need an Auction House, but we do need a way to quickly and easily search and purchase items.  This could be achieved by creating a database of all bazaar’s in the Market Wards.

What I believe will happen is that we will see a searchable database but still need to locate the bazaar in question.  Which simply is not enough.  In today’s MMO where time is as big of a commodity as anything else, we require a streamlined method to obtain goods and services.  The bazaar system has its uses.  It can even be used as a good base to build a global “shop” system.  If SE is so adamant about not having a so-called “Auction” based economy, that is fine.  Let players set their own prices, let the economy be run by players selling at a given price instead of having to guess what price people are willing to sell it for.  Although I really do prefer FFXI’s Auction House system over WoW’s, Aion’s or any other recent MMO release, SE seems to not want to go down that road.  It’s fine, but give us some easy to use way of controlling the economy rather than something that is based on the players rather than based on the players willing to spend an hour or more each day to find what they want.

3) Balance Skill Ups –

Skill is a very random thing in the game.  This randomness is not a fun aspect of the game.  The almighty RNG has been eliminated from so many aspects of the MMO because it was not fun, why is it being used in the very core leveling system in FFXIV?  We need to be able to play the game and not be surprised in the leveling process.  We need to be able to kill an enemy and receive an expected amount of skill towards are next level.

No player wants to go out and kill monster after monster and gain zero progress towards their level.  This happens far too often in XIV and it needs to be remedied in some way.

4) Add a Player Search/LFG System –

To put it simply, this game is a Massively Multiplayer game without an easy way to find people to group up with.  People are relegated to meeting people randomly at Aetheryte Camps and shouting or asking for help with their guildleves.  If you want to grind, you are more than likely stuck with hoping you have friends already playing the game that are willing to only grind.

The most important part of any online game is player matchmaking.  This is not something that is unique to the MMORPG genre.  Yet, in Final Fantasy XIV we do not have a way to find other people in order to do anything in the game.  In WoW we have a LFG/Dungeon Finder and a /who search system.  We do not necessarily require multiple systems like WoW, but we do need something.  The previous Final Fantasy MMO had one of the simplest and most highly functional player search systems out of any MMO that has been released in the past 15 years.  By not including one of the best designed functions of their former game, SE has shown us one more reason to believe that they do not know what they are doing.

MMOs are an inherently social genre of games.  However, not being able to easily group up with people across the entire game world inhibits that social interaction.  Final Fantasy XIV needs a /search system as well as the ability to invite players to groups, linkshells and the eventual companies no matter what game region they reside.

5) Fix the User Interface –

There is so much I could dump into this category.  I will just say that Final Fantasy XI was also designed specifically for the use of a controller on a console and not solely on the PC.  It had a very simple, elegant and extremely functional interface.

Things like sorting inventory are things that the UI does not allow.  A lot of the UI problems come down to lag, but not all of them.  There are so many issues here that its hard to narrow it down to just a few.

a) Get rid of the embedded menus –

In order to do just about anything the player is required to make far too many choices and confirmations.  Sometimes causing the player to spend upwards of 3-5 minutes just to do things like, check item durability, place synthesis materials in the synthesis area, equip or unequip armor, move items to and from retainers, check and browse other people’s bazaars, and much more.

b) Viewing and Sorting Inventory –

Currently there is no way to easily view your inventory.  In every other game in the genre you can press a single key in order to quickly bring up your inventory.  That is not the case in FFXIV.  Going further, you are unable to sort your items by type, name or any other way you may choose.  Items are placed in your “bag” in the order they were obtained.

While equipping armor in a certain slot the game lets you choose from all 80 items in your bag.  In its predecessor, you would only be given the valid options for that armor area.  Once again, why are we seeing things that were extremely well done in FFXI done in such a way that is so far from player friendly?  FFXI was far from a perfect game when it came to a number of areas.  However, there is a real reason it has lasted for 8+ years as a profitable entity for Square-Enix.  It did a lot of things better than any other MMO out there both at the time and now.  Why step away from these well done aspects in favor of something “new” just to be “new”?

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