Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 22, 2010
We'd be ashamed to take your money for this

In the complicated game of public relations and customer relationship management between MMORPG companies and players, giving out free play time to your subscribers is one of the stronger signals. Thus the decision by Square Enix to grant players not one, but two 30-day extensions of their original 30 free days that came with buying Final Fantasy XIV raised some eyebrows. Other companies hand out maybe a few free days as compensation for servers having been down, but Final Fantasy XIV players receive 60 free days as compensation for the game not being well received. Final Fantasy XIV has a miserable 51% review score on Metacritic, and sold only 630,000 copies worldwide by November, a result that disappointed financial analysts and contributed to Square Enix’ share price dropping by 15%.

One good thing in this story is that Square Enix obviously got the message the players were sending. Not only do they let buyers of the game play 90 days for free instead of just 30, but they also announced various major patches to address the main points of criticism, adding for a example a search function to the player economy, and promising to improve the tutorials. Unfortunately all this will take time, with some of the improvements scheduled for November, others for early 2011. And, as always when a MMORPG has a not-so-stellar launch, questions abound on why these obvious shortcomings haven’t been addressed earlier. It wasn’t as if the beta players weren’t sufficiently vocal about the game’s flaws.

Now optimists might claim that between major improvements and free months of playtime, Square Enix might be able to turn around Final Fantasy XIV, hold onto their 630,000 players and gain some more, to get to an overall quite respectable and profitable number of subscribers. Final Fantasy XIV is still planned to be released on the PS3 next year, and it isn’t as if Square Enix could silently drop a game with the “Final Fantasy” brand name on it. The pessimistic interpretation is that the 630,000 subscribers are a pure book value, because none of them had to actually pay for a subscription yet, and that the moment Square Enix will actually demand money for their game, that number will drop precipitously. With both WAR and AoC having lost two-thirds of their subscribers after the free period ended, that would hardly be unprecedented.

There isn’t exactly an abundance of console MMORPGs, and it appears logical that console players might have different requirements, and are used to different control schemes, than PC players. Thus the PS3 launch of Final Fantasy XIV might still be a success. On the other hand, even console players might check out the reviews of the PC version before paying for this game, and those reviews aren’t exactly likely to encourage people to buy it. So my best guess at this point is that the future of Final Fantasy XIV depends on the success of the PS3 version. For the predecessor Square Enix said at the time that they broke even at 200,000 subscribers, a number that is still well within reach of Final Fantasy XIV. So all isn’t lost yet, but as it stands Final Fantasy XIV is likely to be remembered as one of many MMORPGs with a botched release, and not as an instant success.
I think it's fairly obvious that FFXIV has botched released, but would it be remembered as an MMORPG that has botched released and then turned it around into success/decent, or would it be remembered as an MMORPG that has botched released and then freefall downwards to doom?
Anarchy Online had a nightmareishly bad release and if I recall correctly (it was ten years ago, after all) Funcom also held off charging subs for at least a month, possibly more.

AO is still around despite that so the precedent for turnaround is there. It's clearly not the way you'd want to do it, though.
I get the impression from various interviews that the dev-team had their hands tied over release date by someone else in the organisation. And someone failed to recognise that players won't stand for "tough sh*t - this is how it's gonna be" anymore. It's good tho, that they're prepared to make major changes. Personally I've quit until at least the ps3 launch and cancelled my payment card even tho the trial has been extended again.

In the meantime ffxi is looking a lot more appealing; I have stuff to do, jobs I want to level to the top anyway. dnc55, pup41, SAM85
I strongly suspect they're relying on the loss aversion syndrome to lure folks into playing (we hate missing out on free stuff, so will play the free time), then having players so invested in their characters that they will be drawn back.

It's true, I do sometimes miss my fiery little miqo'te and having her drag around her largely-confused young band of adventurering followers through the often-puzzling game head-first, but it was us versus devs, not us vs monsters. (Apart from all those times the party was wiped by squirrels.)

But whenever I move my mouse to the game client and cower from the immediate Pavlovian electro-shock aversion-therapy reaction, I realize it wasn't the experience I was enjoying but the idea of it, the possibilities. Possibilities which failed to manifest.

Free time or no, I'm not logging back in. I know I'm not alone.
630K is quite a lot.

Maybe the real story is that expectations are now so massive. Before DDO went free to play sent MMO numbers haywire 100K-300K was standard for the number of subs a MMO had with Eve, Lotro, EQ2, all in this range.

People commenting on the MMO industry seem to be a bit stuck in the loop of contrasting everything with WoW.

That 630k seems to be total number of copies sold, which means that it is the maximum possible number of people playing FFXIV. A good deal are likely not still playing or, as Tobold suggests, only playing because FFXIV is still currently free to play.
90 days free or 30 days free, if the game is risky getting more for free wouldn't get me to spend the initial box price. A cheaper box, and of course a decent length of free trial, is my preference.
I think something people seem to be unaware of is that the messed up PC control scheme is there solely because of the console release.

As any FFXI player will tell you, the game is *meant* to be played with a gamepad. In fact, most people initially said that FFXIV was good on one as well.

Clearly they aim to cater to console players.

But would it really be so hard to have an alternate setup for PC users?
Really FF14 was a fun game... the UI and lag were terrible though. I'm not saying I would go back to it, but they would have a solid game on their hands if they did fix those two things.
For 10-15 dollars you can get a proper control pad for the game. They've been making them for PCs for years now. It sounds like they should have put a note on the box that suggests players have one.
I can't comment on the Asian MMORPG market, but the reception in the North American market was pretty much EXACTLY what I would have predicted a year before the release. A prediction which only solidified over time with each new bit of information we got out of beta.

I have to agree with Stabs. 100k-300k is clearly typical for a subscription MMORPG. Anyone who projected this game to do BETTER than typical is an idiot.
I have to agree with Stabs. 100k-300k is clearly typical for a subscription MMORPG. Anyone who projected this game to do BETTER than typical is an idiot.

Considering that FFXI was pretty much around 500k mark all the time, it isn't that stupid to predict FFXIV to do better than 100-300k. Not to mention that the console version is yet to be released. It's fairly possible that the console version, especially the Japanese players, are the main target market.
Yup, I'm glad I didn't buy that game. That's why I always check Game Ogre's top free mmorpg list before I spend the money on a game that I don't even know is good.

It was at 500k with the US launch, including PS2. The game additionally tapped into the userbase of the XBOX360, where it sold 220k copies of the last expansion.

I can pretty much guarantee you that FF14 would have sold far more copies if it had been more polished and lacked some pointless design decisions like the fatigue system.
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