Using Final Fantasy XIV As A Learning Experience
Ah, gamers. Sometimes I think we’re third in line of all-time opinionated jerks, behind political junkies and religious nutcases. I kid. I’m aware of and OK with people having opinions on a topic; everyone has different likes and dislikes, after all. Sometimes, though, I think many people don’t even bother with first hand experience any more, or only bother with 30 minutes of game play. Nowadays, it’s about opinions of opinions that sway our own opinions, garnered from big-name blogs or sites like Metacritic.
What’s this got to do with Final Fantasy XIV? Well, it’s hard to find a flattering opinion of the game on the web, despite having been on the street for only a week. Usually it takes at least two weeks for a game to generate the level of hate that FFXIV seems to be garnering (or a wide open beta period).
This post was originally planned to be about my starting out with the game, but I wanted to address the elephant in the room as a matter of course so I headed over to Metacritic to see what the aggregate score was for the title. What I found was that the user score was an abysmal 4.0 out of 10. I decided to change the topic slightly when I asked myself, why the hate?
Here’s some sample comments:
“The graphics are the only redeeming quality to this game. The game is missing everything that you would come to expect from a modern MMO.”
“Only a completely out-to-lunch JRPG knucklehead designer would release such tripe to the NA market.”
“This game is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind our day and age… Why did WoW do so well? it was fun and refreshing for players.”
“No search feature, no mail system, no AH and no support for party play are just a few of the things that are broken with this game”
“The game has made absolutely no improvements to the genre…”
Ouch. Of course , the tone in these comments is nothing that we don’t see being said about most new MMOs, which is why I wanted to use this to address expectations. This is 2010. MMOs have been around more or less in their current form for over ten years. Over time, things have become fairly standardized, which is something that generates it’s own forum heat: standard UI, standard mechanic tropes, standard features that people expect to be in any new MMO. Yet many (but not all) players clamor for “something new” or “something different”. FFXIV offers different in many regards, and now some people are slamming it for delivering what they were asking for (maybe they should have been more specific?).
FFXIV makes you work for your reward. Really work. I don’t mean “open a browser and click the shortcut to your favorite game spoiler smorgasbord” kind of work. We’re talking walking-from-place-to-place, talking-to-every-NPC, writing-down-recipe-components, taking-notes kind of work. In our jobs (those who have them), many of us probably derive the most pleasure from tackling difficult tasks and conquering them. In our gaming we may not always feel that we want to work that hard after coming home from our day jobs of surmounting impossible challenges; there are games and resources that we can employ to give us that same sense of achievement for very little investment, but FFXIV isn’t one of them. Expecting that it’s going to be a Japanese “I Win” button that other titles have conditioned us to expect isn’t a fault of the game. It’s a fault of preconceived notions which are entirely of our own making.
When gamers pit FFXIV against other MMOs, then we can start talking about expectations of standards. Pete of Dragonchasers.com made an excellent observation, both on FFXIV and on the potential consumer base, in a post from last week when he wrote:
“When stacks of boxes show up on retail shelves tempting impulse buyers looking for a break from WoW while they wait for Cataclysm…things are going to get UGLY.” [Emphasis mine]
The comments from Metacritic and the game’s overall score have proven him correct, and it seems that it’s because people expect FFXIV to be another standardized MMO. However, the menu system in FFXIV is non-standard. The quest system is non-standard. The fact that the game plays better with a gamepad then with a mouse and keyboard is non-standard. These differences apparently scare some people to death, based on many of the comments that I’ve read. Since many gamers won’t admit to being wrong, or surprised, or that they’re unable to comprehend something that doesn’t fit a specific mold, they troll. These opinions are then leeched out of this “fertilized soil” by those who have no preconceived notions or ideas of the game except those based on what they read around the ‘net…and because of these trolls, these potential players now think that the game is absolute trash because too many people “don’t get it” or aren’t willing to open their mind to a different experience, and who have framed their arguments as if it’s the fault of the game.
Does FFXIV have real, definable issues? Come on…do we really need to tackle this question in this day and age? When is an MMO released that doesn’t have launch issues? It’s too easy a weapon to wield to support a negative opinion because it’s concrete and gives someone’s point of view gravitas if there’s a reproducible and wide-spread experience tacked on to “support” them, but it’s an unstable argument. Part of the beauty of MMOs is that they get patched, fixed and modified over time. If you agree to play an MMO, you can’t complain about waiting for the promise of a game because that’s exactly what you’re buying from day one: a promise that the game will hold your interest over time through content updates, modifications and expansions. Patching bugs is part of that promise. Technical issues cannot be ignored, of course, but including them in the damnation of a week-old MMO is cowardly and borderline ignorant of the MMO genre as a whole.
It is, of course, everyone’s prerogative to like or dislike what they do like or dislike. We get some good discussion because of that logic – when it’s actual discussion, and not an argument or flame war. It’s unfortunate that it’s so easy for a person to slip into lazy trolling when he can’t be bothered to step outside his narrow opinion of how things should be based on his limited exposure to options, or isn’t interested in putting some old-fashioned effort into earning his achievements under his own steam. Actually, I can respect that point of view; to each his own. What’s really sad is that people come out of the woodwork to vomit these opinions all over our kitchen tables, ruining the feast for those who have yet to arrive. To those who would base their research on Metacritic or “scores”, I suggest that they get back to open-minded first-hand-experience, and let themselves be their own guide.
Funny…that’s probably also the best overarching advise for getting around in FFXIV as well.