When Final Fantasy XIV was released on September 22, 2010, it was supposed to be Square Enix’s grand follow up to its popular Final Fantasy XI MMORPG. Being Square Enix’s second MMORPG, how could it possibly have been bad? Take everything that was good about Final Fantasy XI, build on it, make it more modern and polished, and you’ve got yourself a great game. Unfortunately, the game was bad, really really bad.
So bad that Square Enix decided to go back to the drawing board. So bad that the former president of Square Enix, Yoichi Wada, went on the record stating that as a result of the game, “The Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged.” At that point in time, Square Enix could have done a couple of things: scrap the project entirely and pretend it never happened, refunding all the gamers to build back some good will; or go the much more expensive route of rebuilding the game from the ground up, proving that the company still had what it takes.
Square Enix chose the latter, ousting the game’s management team, delaying the PlayStation 3 version, and essentially starting from scratch. The result is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn that went through several phases of closed beta, a short phase of open beta, and started its head start for pre-order customers this past weekend.
Carbuncles… Carbuncles everywhere!
Over the course of the closed beta phases, whispers that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was actually a good game started spreading. Square Enix had done the seemingly impossible task of transforming the failed MMORPG to the point that scorned buyers of the original were interested in the upcoming remake. It’s been almost three years since the original game came out and here’s Square Enix, trying to fix Final Fantasy XIV at all costs.
While the open beta was filled with server issues, many still felt confident that those problems would be resolved before head start began. They weren’t, and it was bad for a lot of gamers. People that had paid for a product and expected it to function. Those that haven’t even stepped foot into the new world of Eorzea are shunning the game as yet another mistake for the MMORPG and that Square Enix just can’t get things right. Those that have played and enjoyed the game are almost apologizing on Square Enix’s behalf stating that all major MMORPG launches have issues.
Despite my Arcanist class being level 15, I never finished my level 10 class quest due to Duty Finder server issues.
Admittedly, I was fortunate enough to play all day Saturday and Sunday on the Legacy Excalibur US/EU server. I didn’t run into the login issues that plagued so many and managed to get my Conjurer to level 27, my Arcanist to level 15, and several of my crafting classes up. But that doesn’t mean that I was blind to everything that was happening. The server issues impacted all of my friends, and the Duty Finder restricted many of us from even progressing in the game on Saturday. It was frustrating to say the least, but we made the best of it by finding other things to do – which there’s plenty of.
But here’s what went wrong with the head start: Square Enix didn’t seem to have a “Plan B” stored in its back pocket. Short of disaster recovery, the company wasn’t ready and didn’t have a plan in place if certain scenarios happened – certain scenarios that had a very high probability of occurring. The company’s biggest mistake was having a shortened open beta period, and not extending it after the disastrous Error 3102 lockout. And while the Internet will sit there screaming all day that Square Enix should have anticipated the high traffic and should have had an idea of the amount of people wanting to play the game, it’s still a big question if the technology even exists to handle hundreds of thousands of people trying to log in at the same time.
Duty Finder server issues kept players from progressing on Saturday.
Blizzard Entertainment, which has nearly a decade of experience with its World of Warcraft MMORPG had huge issues with Diablo III‘s launch. And trust me, Blizzard Entertainment was well aware of how many people would be playing that game come launch time. And yet, even with all the knowledge it had with WoW, a game at one point that had over 12-million active subscribers, Error 37 became world famous. Yes, they were different development teams, but it’s not a far stretch to believe the Diablo III team reached out to existing resources to determine what would work for high volume server loads.
The point is, it’s hard to blame Square Enix for botching up the servers based on load, even though it makes sense. As was evident over the weekend, the Japanese servers had zero issues. That’s not because Square Enix favors its Japanese players, it’s because American and European players outnumber Japanese players greatly. What Square Enix can be faulted for however is not having alternate options in play if certain scenarios were to arise. For example, the Duty Finder server didn’t work on Saturday, at all. That prohibited players from even progressing in the main quest or their class quests. A really awful way to start, especially for those joining the MMORPG for the first time based on the merits that everyone else has expressed. Then there’s the question of whether or not the cross-platform integration with Sony’s PlayStation Network caused scalability issues.
Not everyone was fortunate enough to get their own Chocobo this past weekend.
Before that even occurred, Square Enix should have had something ready if the Duty Finder server became overloaded. Whether it’s to implement a quick change that had the Duty Finder working non-cross server to lighten the load, or to allow players to form their own groups in order to enter dungeons without using the Duty Finder. Or better yet, put all single-player quests onto its own separate instance. Yes, we totally understand that these aren’t “easy fixes” or “quick fixes,” but they should have been available as an option.
Would additional servers have fixed the issues? Possibly. The problem with spending money on additional servers is that Square Enix realistically knows that subscriber and player count will decline over time, which means they’ve invested heavily into servers that no one will play on ever again. There’s a good chance that many of those servers would have been wasted before a majority of gamers pay one month of subscription time. Unfortunately that’s a business decision that Square Enix had to make. On the flip side, Square Enix could have just been that confident that its servers would be able to handle the load of that many players, and well, that’s silly to believe if that’s the case.
Having reported over 150,000 concurrent players during open beta, Square Enix should have added some more world servers during the break between open beta and head start. Free character transfers should have been readied as an “emergency” scenario – which this past weekend became. A lot of problems could have been fixed if Square Enix was able to just add a dozen or more worlds, offer free character transfers for those that created their characters during open beta, and all would have been great.
Meet Papalymo and Yda. You’ll be seeing them a lot, especially if you start out in Gridania.
Another major decision that was mind boggling was the restriction of character creation. It’s one thing to not allow someone to be able to login, but to not even create a character so that someone could potentially play with their friends? There are plenty of other viable options and it appears that Square Enix didn’t even consider them. To make matters worse, Square Enix constantly did “emergency maintenance” that didn’t seem to fix a whole lot in the eyes of the players (that’s not to say they did nothing at all).
Unfortunately, the biggest problem Square Enix faced over this past weekend was making the decision of either allowing everyone to be able to login and experience a portion of the game with the Duty Finder server broken, or to restrict who could login but allow them to experience the full game. The company was essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those that managed to log in on Sunday were able to do everything the game had advertised: Queue up in the Duty Finder, progress their class and main quests, and see the wonderful world of Eorzea. But that meant a lot of people weren’t able to play the game at all. We feel that Square Enix took a gamble, believing that those that weren’t able to play the game at all, will still want to play the game. And those are better people to have waiting around than those that are new to the game, play it, and think that it’s full of bugs and nothing works and cancels their pre orders.
The world of Eorzea is very much alive, and very much populated. Let’s hope it remains so.
But here is the thing with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn that makes all the events of this past weekend a real shame. The game is really polished and really good. There are very little bugs with the game itself, for an MMORPG entering its launch phase. And there’s a ton of content, a well-written storyline, and Square Enix quality cinematics. It’s a real shame that not everyone was able to enjoy it.
As I roamed Eorzea on Saturday morning, I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of people in the game. I can’t recall the last MMORPG I played that felt this populated, this alive at all times. Everywhere you looked, people were fighting, joining FATEs, crafters lined up the cities – the world felt alive. I honestly hope that remains to be the case in the coming weeks and that people are patient with Square Enix. The team behind A Realm Reborn is truly dedicated to making it a great title and whether many would like to believe it or not, they’ll find way to make it happen. If the quality of the game is any indication, Square Enix will be scrambling this week to ensure that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is as smooth as can be within the coming days.
Though I personally wasn’t impacted by the server issues, I know many were. I personally have nothing to complain about, but I’m also realistic in knowing that many people do. Square Enix should be commended on the efforts that they have made towards Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and I personally believe players need to give them a break and to allow them to work through all the errors that’s been creeping up, expectedly and unexpectedly.
But for those hitting the cancel pre-order button earlier this morning or later today, I can’t fault you either. As they say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I, for one, will be enjoying the wonderful world of Eorzea for quite some time and will be more than happy to give Square Enix a break, again.