Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Try it, you'll like it!

The reviews for Final Fantasy XIV are rolling in, a month after release because Square Enix had asked reviewers to wait "three to four weeks post launch" before reviewing the game in order "to give the online game time to mature." Apparently maturing didn't help much, and Metacritic records an average score of an abysmal 50 out of 100, with the user reviews being even worse. I especially liked the Gamespy review saying:
I can't help but feel that FFXIV is cosmic punishment, meted out by some avenging massively multiplayer online deity for my years of complaining about the state of modern online RPGs. They're too simple, I've whined; too hand-holdy, too easy, too friendly, and too safe. FFXIV is none of these things. It is the definition of obtuse: poorly designed, aggressively underexplained, and shoddy in almost every respect that matters.
But then of course *some* people love Final Fantasy XIV, and are complaining that these bad reviews are unfair. That is a recurring event in the discussion of game reviews, and especially game review scores. It is somewhat inevitable: How do you boil a complex interaction between thousands or even millions of players and a game down to a single number? What exactly does a review score express?

The one thing a review score never is, is "fair". If you look at sites where players can score a game, you will quickly see signs of manipulation. A natural distribution of scores would be a Gaussian bell curve, but in reality you often see extreme scores of 0 or 100 put in to manipulate the average. Most famously the review scores on Amazon get manipulated all the time, for example by groups of people giving the lowest possible score to a game because of it's copy right protection scheme. Review scores of professional reviewers often are designed to avoid extreme scores, but because the reviewed games come from the companies that pay for advertising in these professional publications, the average is skewed towards a higher value. A score of 75 is an average game, a score of 50 is abysmally low, and lower scores are only given out to low budget games.

Even taking all of this into account, a review score can never measure how much the fans of a game will love it. Or how much other people might hate the game. The best a review score can come close to doing is to give an idea of the probability that an average player will like a certain game. If you had to recommend a game to somebody about whose gaming preferences you know absolutely nothing, a game with a high review score gives you a better chance that a recommendation of "Try it, you'll like it!" will be okay.

And by that measure, I think the reviews of Final Fantasy XIV are fair enough. Even the fans agree that FFXIV isn't for everybody, and that a random player stumbling upon the game has a high probability of being disappointed. That doesn't mean that some people can't love the game dearly. Nor does it mean that Final Fantasy XIV doesn't have good features. Even the bad reviews praised the artwork, the crafting system, and the profession switch system. But the reviewers are right to state that if an average player tried the game, he probably wouldn't like it. And that is the best a review score can do.
I think we need more classifications for online games, aside from just "MMORPG." Games like FFXIV and Darkfall are no more comparable to WoW than they are a FPS game.

I still have no idea if this game is good for what it is. I knew a long time ago this game was nothing I'd ever be interested in playing, just like I knew with Darkfall. It just isn't my type of game.

But I still don't know, is FFXIV better than other harsh, non-hand-holdy games?
But I still don't know, is FFXIV better than other harsh, non-hand-holdy games?

I don't think hand-holdy and not hand-holdy makes good categories either. I wouldn't compare FFXIV to Darkfall, because FFXIV is not a hardcore PvP game. And while FFXIV doesn't hold your hands, much of the content is themepark style, with cutscenes and the like, not really sandbox.

Even if you are okay with not being told much and having to find out everything for yourself, you might still object against FFXIV's control scheme and general unresponsiveness.
As quite a few have pointed out (with screenshots and diagrams in some cases) the graphics of FFXIV aren't really all that.

It has an amazing gosh-wow effect when you log in, and the cut-scenes are superb, but after a few hours of actual gameplay it's hard not to notice that most of the scenery has been cut&pasted from a fairly small number of stock items.

Having to walk around small rocks rather than step over them quickly takes the edge off the graphical immersion, too. Consequently I wouldn't reccommend it to someone whose primary interest was how things look.
Perhaps someone should tell Cheatcode Central how reviews are supposed to work:

"We can't recommend that you spend $50, and then $12.99 a month after the first 30 days, on a title that has as many flaws as FFXIV does. But we can recommend that you keep an eye on the news to see how this game evolves. "

...and yet they give it 84%? Surely 84% IS a recommendation to spend $50?

Maybe Squeenix only paid for the score and not the content. :P
poorly designed, aggressively underexplained, and shoddy in almost every respect that matters

I can't help but laugh at how hypocritical the MMO "veterans" are. Here's a game they should be flocking to for that "adventure" experience; whenever I see people regaling their epic quest to walk across the zone, the above quoted sentence is probably what I would describe that experience as.

So what? I assume people are going to blame WoW for spoiling them too much by making things "too easy" (besides the fact that this isn't really the problem in the first place, it's the destruction of the community in the name of short queues.) What people want, then, is not an adventurous foray into the unknown from which to weave tragic tales of hardy resilience.

They want an adventurous foray into the unknown that they can do in an hour, that's polished, convenient (BUT NOT TOO CONVENIENT) experience and something that, if they get stuck, has a handy Wiki where they can look up the tactics.

Like it or not, wow has setup a higher standard for all MMOs, a "polished" barrier. (notice i didnt say, easy to play)

While you could make a hit with a clunky interface or horrible gameplay before, now players would just get "back to wow", or naturally think that "wow is better" when faced with half baked UIs. (i'm thinking strongly of conan there, for example)
think we need more classifications for online games, aside from just "MMORPG." Games like FFXIV and Darkfall are no more comparable to WoW than they are a FPS game.

I think what we're actually seeing is a breakdown of a terminology that's become dated. This isn't really relevant to FFXIV per se, but there are now so many variations on the MMO theme that, as you say, some games do seem ill-compared to games which fit the traditional definition, like WoW.

As such, I don't know that we need more classifications, exactly. But we need better ones, broadly agreed upon - and with the size of the market right now, it seems unlikely that a consensus will form without some kind of paradigm shift.
"I can't help but laugh at how hypocritical the MMO "veterans" are."

Failing to prefer an extreme to a previously rejected opposite extreme doesn't make a person a hypocrite. For example, I don't think the current American capitalist system works, but I'm not going to rally for the return of the Soviet Union.

Or for a game example: early WoW. Some quests weren't perfectly clear and there wasn't a built-in system to point to exactly where to go, but the vast majority of quests were mostly straightforward and very long travel times were an exception rather than a standard.
The strange fact is that "poorly designed, aggressively underexplained, and shoddy in almost every respect" describes a project done by amateurs, underbudgeted, and whip-driven?

I'd have thought that those spectacular previous failures would have taught a lesson, but no...

apparently you can still find clueless investors and/or managers. Would have thought that the "make quick money and run" old adage doesnt apply anymore in games, especially to mmo projects. Well.
Honestly, I *shrug* at reviews about MMOs that are not mechanic/design centric. It's really quite simple: All MMOs are flawed. Even WoW (the supposed poster boy for polish). If it was so perfect the supposedly massive changes coming in Cataclysm would not be necessary.

One of the biggest flaws I see in WoW (from my personal point of view) is the inability of a single avatar to be anything they want to be. This is why games like FFXI, EVE, Fallen Earth, FFXIV, get my vote as good games. I consider D&D like job segregation to be a flaw I don't want in my game. It's a design cop out. So WoW is not for me.

One person's feature is another person's flaw. The big question is for a specific game, do it's features outweigh it's flaws. FFXIV does (plus it's got that brand new mmo smell). EVE online does (not a great big PvP fan but the wargammer in me just drools at what they've done). WoW does not. But that's all on a personal scale. Each person has to examine all the features and flaws (bearing in mind that any single design element of the game can be a feature to one person and a flaw to another) of a specific game and decide if it's for them.
@Kleps: But FFXIV isn't an extreme. It's exactly what people have been asking for: slower combat, "freedom" to be any class you want on one character, a huge seamless world, not overly-reliant on quests, not "easy" etc. etc. and yet it's universally panned for being crap?

If I asked for butter on my toast, claiming it would make the toast genre so much better and would be the perfect toast for me (whilst also bashing other toppings for toast and calling people who liked marmite (random thought: isn't marmite a better analogy for WoW than McDonalds?) fanbois), but when actually given this buttered toast I called it out for being dreadful and the worst toast to date, then what am I?
@Letrange: Polish is not the same as either quality or relevance. WoW's old zones were, for what they set out to do, polished: almost all the quests worked (shockingly,) the quest chains didn't break and they didn't tell you to go kill harpies when the quest objective was brown bears.

Did they have quality? Personal preference.
Were they new and relevant at the time? Sure.
An Amstrad computer was relevant and a quality home product once upon a time.
MMOs have permanently evolved in the accessibility department. I don't mean accessibility in terms of being easy, but being accessible. If FFXIV came out in 2004 it would make WoW look childish. But since WoW people no longer have an interest in games with unresponsive controls or a poor UI. What was once tolerated is now bad game design. There is still a market for games that insulate you less than WoW, but you damn well better have some polish and accessibility.
Agree with Ben.

Your toast analogy doesn't work. We asked for toast with butter instead of jam (or whatever the hell Marmite is), but with FFXIV they gave us untoasted bread with a stick of frozen butter that doesn't spread without tearing up the bread.

The polish and accessibility are now the norm. A new game has to start by toasting their bread to perfection, then add the toppings we their fan base prefers.
So it's doomed.

Free2Play in 1,2,3...
The problem with the toast analogy is that the "toast" is not "MMORPG", the "toast" is "WoW".

I've always said that success is not based on quality. It's based on whether people like what you're offering or not. You can make the greatest thing in the world, but if people prefer something else, then you won't be successful.

Let's put it this way. What's the most successful game in the world? Nope, not WoW. It's Pokemon. No matter what WoW did, it can't beat Pokemon. Just like no matter what other MMORPGs did, they wouldn't be able to beat WoW.
Interesting point:
If we're looking at metacritic scores, go take a look at APB: 58. FFXIV: 50. I don't know what metrics SE's corporate overlords are using, but if metacritic factors in, they're right to be worried.

I've given the thing a lambasting over on Massively, whenever it's seemed appropriate. Which is often. The last struggling, valiant defenders are slowly dying off in that particular forum.

I have a limited understanding of the logistics and battle-tactics in open forum warfare, but I'm getting a mental picture:

It seems the coherent, eloquent FFXIV defenders have withered under an overwhelming (if not necessarily well-coordinated) barrage of criticism and have beat a slow retreat from the larger theatres of war, routed back to the safety of their sovereign territories (FFXIV fansites). Historians may later argue that the defenders were a better standard of warrior, but fighting with scarce ammunition or support from their patron. A few undisciplined FFXIV skirmishers are making brief appearances in expletive-riddled guerilla attacks of limited effectiveness, hindered by their dwindling supplies of punctuation, grammar or emotional restraint. Like most fanatics, they appear to be hoping that zeal will compensate for any tactical advantage, but their incursions by now seem to be crashing, futile, against silent walls of disdain and down-voting.
I've been playing ffxiv since launch and it's not terrible but seriously they should have had a 6month beta test. All the what players want patches should have been done before release. As it is, even with extended trial time, it's like us pc users are the crash test dummies figuring out what is needed before the ps3 launch. I think it will be a pretty good game by then but it's a kinda silly to alienate lots of player base in the process and of course the less than ideal reviews.
Problem is that they said the same about FFXI, really. And it beat out almost any contemporary MMO for player retention and longevity. So I pay little to no attention to reviews, but try the games instead.

Age of Conan actually was another example. That game was horrid, yet constantly praised as fixing itself.
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