The “Upheavals” of MMORPGs, and of Final Fantasy XIV in Particular

I have written this piece with no particular logic in mind, so the thoughts here are mostly emotional responses to the games I’ve played. Apologies to anyone who feels slighted by any poor word choices I have made here.

In August, I played a total of four MMORPGs. There was Rift, Xsyon: Prelude, Everquest 2, and Final Fantasy XIV. Each MMO I picked during that month seemed to have one thing in common that wasn’t actually particularly common: they were all in a weird state of upheaval.

To my knowledge, my playtime with Rift was spent more on July during the Waves of Madness world event, a prelude to the arrival of patch 1.4 during the first week of August. When 1.4 came around though, I spent a few days and felt the change did nothing to keep me enthused: slightly revamped soul trees, PVP additions, and the addition of stuff for high leveled players to do, while definitely useful for keeping the 50s entertained, did nothing for me as a level 30+ player who wanted something he could own.

On a whim, I then bought and subbed to Xsyon for a month, hoping that then lure of terraforming and nearly limitless crafting would make me want to stay. This game is in a state of upheaval, even within its playerbase, because aside from crafting and killing four creature types (that’s what I was told) and dodgy PVP, the game was about barren of things to do as, well, a post-apocalyptic Lake Tahoe would probably be. Two days later, the unsubscribe button was promptly pushed.

I played Just Cause 2 for two weeks afterwards… that was a fun distraction. but a completely different thing to discuss.

Following some documented troubles with subbing to Everquest 2, I managed to get in a subscription and play before Game Update 61 became available. While the changes to the game as a result of the update did not greatly impact me (I even completed the Beastlord prelude quest that came with the update), it troubled me how everyone else felt bad because of how this game update was handled, prior to and during its introduction into the game. This was a state of upheaval that affected me because it hurt a playerbase that loved the game more dearly than I did, so I opted to temporarily try something else this past week so that the developers could remedy the situation accordingly.

To that end, I chose Final Fantasy XIV to occupy my time. So far, I am finding that not much has changed since I last played, but from my experience, what has changed has been important and it’s revitalized that love I’ve always had for the potential Final Fantasy XIV had to please people.

There are two things that have consistently gnawed at me during my time playing FFXIV. The first thing that tore at my imagination is the fatigue system of ability gain, and what it would be like to have that abolished: would it make me want to play more of the game, less of it, or the same amount as a result? The second issue that ate up my brain was the panic of playing a combat class: simply put, the system they had in place when I last played made me feel like a sitting duck because I was always waiting for Stamina to recharge to perform an action.

Patch 1.18 removed fatigue from the game’s leveling system, allowing casual players like myself to enjoy leveling up while not penalizing those who wanted to spend more time developing their characters further. It also ushered in the beginning of sweeping changes to the entirety of the battle system, beginning with the revamping or outright removal of specific skills and the abolition of the Stamina system, as well as adding something most MMOs take for granted these days: auto attack.

I see four upheavals at work here in these four games. There is an “upheaval” which is more of a small quake that did nothing but agitate the PVP playerbase and ruffle a few feathers (Rift). There is an “upheaval” that is more like terraforming, in that it is deliberate and slow to progress and, ultimately, rather like watching grass grow (Xsyon). There is an “upheaval” that wounds the playerbase severely because it came hastily, and with repeated, significant aftershocks as the world attempts to right itself (EQ2). Then there is the positive “upheaval,” in which certain foundations are taken down, and the ground is broken again to usher in a determined rebuilding and restructuring of faulty foundations (FFXIV).

The change happening in FFXIV is astounding, because the plans are being laid out in developer letters in a way that informs everyone of a concrete, long-term plan for rebuilding. I know other developers are open with their plans for a game, but for me, seeing someone literally explain how the foundations for a new “home” are being built, (specifically the plans for patch 1.19 that were written on August 15, and for 1.20 and 1.21 that were written a few hours ago today) with a projected timeline and explanations as to the reasoning behind specific actions, is a very positive way of introducing change to a community that has already suffered from the pain of a nearly a year’s worth of disappointment.

They’re revamping the battle, experience, and mob claiming system, adding new modes of transportation, introducing further tutorial quests, creating additional, unlockable job classes through questing, and making crafting more accessible and more fun (THANK GOD) to a wider range of players by simplifying certain crafting processes. They literally have a monthly plan that they are working hard to follow, and they have an excellent team that translates these producer letters so that they come out on the same day they’re made worldwide (at least, that’s the impression I’m getting). These guys have waaaaaay more discipline than I could ever imagine from myself.

The funny thing is, they know this upheaval and rebuilding is going to hurt. In a post made yesterday regarding the revamps coming to claiming and engaging enemies, producer Naoki Yoshida wrote (translated into English, obviously),

I want to make it clear now that I believe there is no way to settle this argument in a way that everybody will be 100% satisfied with.

In this one sentence, I feel the burden of being a producer, as this translation would imply that he concedes that the changes the current team is making will not please everyone and potentially please no one. He even goes on to explain what he thinks various portions of the playerbase are thinking:

This is an extreme example, but even for non-online, stand alone games, there are players who enjoy completing the game even if they use cheats to obtain all items or max out their levels. However, other players feel that this is a waste of time and that it defeats the purpose of buying the game. As such, this is a difficult issue to address.

In MMOs, there are players who would like help with leveling, because they want to play with other players as soon as possible. There are also players who would like to help new players level up, so that they can play with them. These players don’t want strong restrictions on power leveling, nor to be confined to parties with major level differences.

In contrast, there are players who believe that, “Players grow together with their characters,” “If other players are power leveling, leveling up becomes meaningless,” “Power leveling will become a necessary part of the game,” and “Power leveling will disrupt areas for proper party play.”

Even without considering RMT and people who level up other players’ characters for profit, this issue is the cause of a lot of friction. For online games, RMT and people who level up other players’ characters for profit will both certainly exist, so they must be considered. This is a good point of discussion, but opinions will vary based on perspective, so it is difficult to reach a definite conclusion.

He then explains their current battle plan for this particular system, acknowledging that not everyone will be pleased, but also explaining that the team is doing something for people with a particular mindset and explaining that mindset to everyone:

…as a current generation MMORPG we would like to do something about,

“new players who would like some help, because they want to play with their friends as soon as possible, as well as players who are willing to sacrifice their own time to help out new players get involved in the game quicker.”

To return to my metaphor, the upheaval is painful, but the reasoning behind the rebuillding process is there, and he hopes everyone will accept the mindset they have in order to make the game fun for more people.

To a gamer with my mindset, this certainly reads in a tone that I’d want every developer to adopt when they know they’re not going come into opposition from the fanbase (which is to say, “every developer out there”). As a result, I’m excited to see their development plan come to fruition, which is a lot more than I can say for the way EQ2’s most recent upheaval came to be seen.