In another theoretical timeline, there’s a place where Final Fantasy XIV really would have stepped in it when it subtly noted that the game’s subscription on Xbox would require also subscribing to Game Pass. This is, in and of itself, not all that unusual; it’s pretty normal for games that require a subscription online. But it is unusual insofar as FFXIV doesn’t have that kind of pricing structure on PlayStation, which meant that eyebrows were raised along with a large number of jokes about how this version has been killed before launch.
The amount of ire directed at Square-Enix over this, however, has been minimal… and with good cause, I think. But not with absolutely justified cause. I think it’s worth examining in more detail, at least, which is why I’ve changed my plans for this week (series references can wait, they ain’t going anywhere) and want to talk about the past of this particular console port, what can reasonably be assumed by those who don’t have Microsoft gaming division brainworms, and the reasonable impact.
Whenever people have asked Yoshida why he hasn’t previously brought FFXIV to the Xbox, he’s always had the same answers. I cannot find one of the many interviews in which it’s mentioned here at a glance, but I have been interviewing the man for more than a decade now, so this is a case where I’m pretty confident about these answers. Put succinctly, Microsoft required Xbox-only servers and to have an Xbox-specific subscription in addition to the FFXIV subscription. Those were the points of contention. That was it.
Clearly, Microsoft backed down on the server requirement. But there’s no reason to assume that they backed down on the subscriptions. Claiming that maybe there won’t be a separate subscription because the wording on the statement didn’t specifically itemize the subscriptions has some real “Bed Bath & Beyond stockholders looking for a merger with GameStop” energy, trying to construct enough double negatives that this isn’t just a bad deal.
So why was half of this acceptable? I don’t know and my approval isn’t required; I do not conduct Naoki Yoshida’s performance reviews, after all. But I can think of a few potential reasons, and the one that comes to mind first is pretty obvious insofar as it is not really Square-Enix’s problem how Microsoft runs their flailing console business.
It seems to be consciously ignored in every discussion about this particular pricing arrangement, but it strikes me as doing a notable disservice by assuming that no one will pay $10 a month to play the game on the Xbox. Some people will definitely do that, either because they can afford it or because the Xbox is the console they have to play his game on. You can argue whether or not this will be a statistically meaningful number, but that’s also moving the goalposts. Heck, odds are good that there will be people who are happy about this that will not actually even know there’s a difference.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if at the end of the day Microsoft offered some kind of deal to Square-Enix regarding the port and they decided that the benefits of that deal plus the optics of having the game on Xbox was worth more than any ill will from the pricing structure. Given that at this point basically all of that ill will has been directed at Microsoft, that seems to have been the right decision. At this point it’s a net benefit even if Phil Spencer just gave Naoki Yoshida $3.50 in scratch tickets and a ham sandwich.
That was a joke, obviously. Naoki Yoshida is a steak man.
And in the broadest strokes, I agree with that decision. While I don’t think 100% of the blame should be laid at Microsoft’s feet here, I do think upwards of 80% should be. The fact of the matter is that continued mismanagement of Xbox did not start here, and deciding to not budge on subscription prices is definitely not going to move more Xbox units for people who don’t already have one. But it technically makes a line go up, maybe.
Were I feeling like gambling at it, I would bet that some other deal had been struck, and Square-Enix benefits from that enough and the porting isn’t arduous enough that from Yoshida’s perspective, there is no real bad outcome. Any outpouring of rage about the increased price is likely to be directed at the people who are actually increasing the price, and that’s not Square-Enix. The server part would have been more arduous to deal with in the first place.
So what does this actually mean in terms of reasonable outcomes? It’d be nice to imagine that this would be what pushes Microsoft to reconsider this position, but that would also require a critical mass of FFXIV players who were looking forward to the game just on Xbox that see this as a meaningful distinction. That’s… unlikely. I do not believe there is such a clamor of people champing at the bit to play a decade-old game who have not found their way to it by other means now. Most likely the people who will join are people who already subscribe to Game Pass and thus partition the added expense.
On the same note, I don’t see this as meaningfully doing much to the overall reception of the platform elsewhere. I suspect that’s probably somewhere in the Microsoft calculus, but as mentioned, this game is a decade old, has a robust culture, and it’s hard to believe that there is someone here or in Japan who is suddenly staring at the two major consoles and asking whether they should buy an Xbox or a PlayStation. This does not substantially move the needle. Sorry.
The reality is that this isn’t a complicated story beyond the exact shape of machinations. Microsoft made a not particularly good deal that is probably unlikely to help them, and they did it for predictable reasons. If you’ve been paying attention the past few console generations have not gone well for Microsoft, and playing catchup with Game Pass is not actually working out or shaking into a form of genuine profitability. That’s the tea, as the kids say these days.
Could Yoshida have pressed harder to get everything that he said was important? Probably, but what would be the point? I suspect it was more likely to just blow things up. Compromises get made. Whether or not they’re the compromises that should be made are a very different question, but it is what it is. It’s not a good arrangement for anyone who isn’t already neck-deep in the Xbox ecosystem, there are better options out there, but at that point it isn’t really going to matter beyond the facts as they are presented.
And hey, considering what everyone is expecting Phil Spencer to announce in a couple days, this may very well not even be the biggest egg on the company’s face this month, you dig?
Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org as it is every single week, you know the deal by now. (Or you’re new here, in which case… welcome! Nice to see you.) Next week, yes, I’m going into the whole rigamarole of references to prior enemies and such. And this time, I mean it. (Unless something significant happens before then. This might be a trend.)