Last week, a developer from Parisian developer Dreamz Studio posted about how early access was the best thing that happened to his game, specifically because the early access playerbase acted a sort of extra pair of hands for developing the game.
“I believe that there’s no need to be a former Chef to make innovating pretty little tasty meals,” he writes. “Indeed, you just have to know the basics and then let you guide by the taste of your customers, right?” The studio basically retooled everything from the main character and the world to visuals and level customization based on eight months of feedback, even adding multiplayer because people begged for it.
This is basically how early access is supposed to work, right? This was the whole point of letting people buy their way in early, either with early access or Kickstarter or preorder packages, and then help test and guide the game as superfans. We’ve just seen it go wrong over and over, either because studios abuse the early access tag to make easy money and then abandon the title and the loyal players, or because early testers abuse their input to guide the game into becoming something nobody but them wants to play and causing it to flop hard. I bet you can name games for each group.
How much input do you, as someone who buys in during a game’s development, expect to have in the game’s ongoing design? To the pollmobile!
first came out, I had very low hopes for it. The game already was launching into a crowded field, and it was doing so while basically just taunting
Blizzard to invite comparisons to World of Warcraft
. Seriously, the game had that remarkably ill-advised “We’re not in Azeroth any more” ad campaign, that looked like a bad idea then
and looks even worse now. I didn’t play it before launch, but at a glance I had thought, “this looks like a good free-to-play title but it can’t go up against WoW
To put this in street fight terms, this is the 98-pound weakling kicking the head of a motorcycle gang in the shins, then asking him what he’s going to do about it.
Fortunately for everyone, that story did not end the way you might expect. Sure, RIFT did not in fact take the entire world by storm, but it has been running successfully for several years now, pumping out expansions and big updates and generally managing to keep its head above water. And it no longer looks, at a glance, like WoW with a lick of paint despite that being its initial design.
Here’s the weird part about this week’s column: I’m going to tell you, in short, that Final Fantasy XI is still a good game once you get past the initial hurdles involved. I am also going to tell you that it is a game which has not aged well, in part because of those facts. Which no doubt is going to sound kind of weird, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in.
There are really two things you have to look at with this particular game. The first is whether or not the game is approachable by someone who hasn’t played the game in years or ever, whether or not you can make reasonable progress when you start playing. The other is whether or not the game gives you slightest idea about how to do so, or indeed about how to do anything in the game. Because all of the systems in the world don’t help if you don’t know what they are.
All right. When last I left off my Final Fantasy XI time, it was… wait, June 7th?! What the heck happened? If not for the fact that my posts still show up here regularly, I wouldn’t blame people for assuming I was dead, and I certainly wouldn’t blame people for thinking that I had dropped the column altogether. But neither of those things occurred, and I’ll happily explain… past the cut.
The important thing is that after the last column, my goal was back over to leveling and to seeing how far I could get within my one month of playtime. The answer is… well, about as far as I initially thought, but it didn’t look like it at first. After all, at level 25 and having hoped to hit the game’s first level cap before my playtime was up, it sure seemed like it would be a tall mountain to climb, even if I had at this point gained some fifty-odd levels across multiple jobs.
MOP reader BulletTeeth pointed us to a piece on The Verge this week about an incident in online shooter Battalion 1944. A highly placed e-sports team member, SUSPC7, apparently went off on Discord about the studio’s slow rollout of skins meant as prizes, trollishly threatening to shoot up the studio. It got back to the devs, who decided to “teach [him] a lesson about comedy” by proposing to reskin his weapon, not with his earned prize but with a hand-drawn penis icon. Yeah, they pranked him.
“I thought you were kind of being a dick,” the studio rep tweeted, going on to tell the player he wanted him to become an “ambassador” for the game.
As The Verge writes, it’s an unusual tactic for a game studio to take against a toxic player in this day and age. While it might be nice to think that studio have the time and money and resources to hand-hold every lost boy and talk him down to being an ally, it’s not particularly realistic, and it creates a perverse incentive system whereby toxic players mop up studio attention that ought to go to non-toxic players.
I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what we think studios ought to do when disciplining players. Does this sort of reverse-prank actually work, or would it be better for companies to just boot the problem children and move on?
You wouldn’t think this was something that would frequently slip one’s mind, but somehow I manage to repeatedly forget that Dancer was made in no small part as a job to settle people tired of dealing with Final Fantasy XI’s nonsense. It seriously has a bit of everything. Want to dual-wield? Great, it gets that slower than Ninja but it’s still perfectly capable of handling it. Curative magic? Yes, and it doesn’t cost MP. Movement speed boosts? Naturally. Sneak and Invisible in one ability so you can stealth without items? By all means.
This comes up as a relevant fact whilst doing missions because FFXI has a weird approach to handling missions. It has no level requirements for any mission, just progress requirements… but it also barely needs level requirements, as several of them will absolutely murder you below a certain level. And that’s just in the process of getting to where you need to go for those missions, much less the challenges involved in the missions themselves.
Some weeks you have more time or less to do stuff. I managed to get a fair chunk of time in for Final Fantasy XI for my first week with the game, but circumstances conspired that I just didn’t have as much time for my second. So I had to reluctantly admit that I would only be able to get up to around level 20 on dancer after I unlocked it.
It would have been higher, but you know, there was some rigamarole that had to be done ahead of time to unlock the job; you understand, I’m sure.
There’s a very different feeling to the game at this point just because of the differences in leveling process, because historically FFXI has often been a game in which progress was slow and laborious. It was reliable past a certain point, yes, but it always carried a certain risk with it. Nowhere is that more evident than when you’re dealing with the advanced job quests, which could sometimes feel like balancing on the edge of a knife back in the day.
I’ll be happy if I never have to type the phrase “Steam refunds” ever again, after this week of Bless Online coverage. Nevertheless, the idea of trying out a game and taking it back to reclaim your money if and when that game sucks is a relatively modern invention for MMORPGs, and it’s probably here to stay, which honestly is a good thing, at least for the consumer.
Still, I’ve never actually refunded an MMO before. Part of this is because I have plenty of access to try things out (or watch staff try them out) ahead of time, so I know better than to go swipey-swipey with the credit card. I also have seen so much shit go down and so many “preorder exclusive” shenanigans that I rarely buy anything at launch anyway. I am probably not a good test case here. Clearly, a lot of MMO players buy first and think second. That’s how I am with mobile games and apps; I’ve refunded probably a dozen apps over the years when I realized they’d been misrepresented somehow. But it’s never come up with MMOs.
How and when do you decide whether to refund an MMO or wait it out? (There’s some overlap in the answers, so you can choose all that apply.)
After what was nearly an interminable teaser stream, Bethsoft finally announced this morning that it’s working on Fallout 76, another entry in a beloved franchise and another chance to trot out retro-futurist Pip-Boy iconography. At first, I shrugged – it’s neat, and a lot of us will buy it, but seeing as how Fallout is traditionally a single-player sandbox RPG, it’s not something we’d normally cover.
But then the rumors started flying. Kotaku floated the claim that it’s an “online game of some sort.” Polygon said it “heard the game will feature multiplayer.” The Twitterverse is chirping about battle royale. Nobody seems to know (or be allowed to say) for sure, and barring leaks, it’ll be another week and change until Bethsoft spills its post-apoc can o’ beans. [Update: Kotaku has another piece out since this one went live, with anonymous sources claiming it’s an online post-apoc survival game a la RUST and DayZ.]
So why not speculate? What type of multiplayer do you think Fallout 76 will have? Are you spotting any clues in the trailer? Place your bets – and yes, you get multiple choices here.
Earlier this week, GIbiz put out a piece on the Shanghai Dragons, the Overwatch League e-sports team representing China. In a letter to fans, the team appears to have inadvertently revealed that it’s grotesquely overworked; in bragging that the team has the “most intensive training scheme among all the teams,” the team manager admitted that the group trains 12 hours a day, six days a week. That’s 72 hours a week.
As GIbiz points out, not only does this “seem to fly in the face of Blizzard’s goals for a sustainable league that supports its players,” it also doesn’t seem to actually be working, as the Dragons haven’t won a single game in 32 matchups. It’s almost as if hustle/crunch culture exhausts and drains people rather than beefs them up!
Most of us are never going to be, or even aspire to be, professional e-sports gamers to the degree that someone will pay us thousands of dollars per year to train and play. But I bet most of us do aspire to be decent or even great at the games we invest the most time in. So for this week’s Leaderboard, I thought it would be fun to explore just how much time you think you need to put in to be a great player of the typical MMORPG?
If I have to summarize, in brief, how much Final Fantasy XI has changed since its launch in the United States? In half an hour before leaving the house I made a character, started the first nation mission, and reached level 6 in the process of smacking six bees. Most of the way to 7, at that.
This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but if you played the game before your remember it primarily for being insanely brutal and slow. The idea of reaching the limit breaks in the course of a month would require hardcore play and persistence along with lots of high-end help, which is why I specifically stated I’d be getting none of that. My playtime with this characters sits at around 9 hours right now, which is a fair chunk of time, but it’s not much when spread over the course of four days.
But yes, I am now ready to pick up my advanced jobs helped significantly by the fact that my adventure started in Windurst. So let’s start talking about the mechanics of the game, how you can end-run so many parts of the system now, and how bad the game still is about telling you these things.
This is actually a Choose My Adventure that I was somewhat reluctant to do for a long time, simply because… well, in some ways, it goes against the entire spirit of Choose My Adventure. Or at least the spirit that I’ve always used as a guiding principle for these columns, for however much it matters.
The goal of Choose My Adventure has always been to take someone who is either wholly unfamiliar with a game or at least not an expert at it and throw them into a game with as little support as possible. There’s no way that I can realistically hit the level cap and make major headway into the endgame, of course, but I can at least try a game with fresh eyes and see how it plays, while presenting those thoughts in a non-tedious fashion.
And then we have Final Fantasy XI, which I cannot possibly look at with new eyes because I know this game very well. If I had to list the MMOs I know best, FFXI would probably be third or fourth on the list. Which is why for a long time I didn’t bring it up, because… I know all of this stuff, right?
Yes, this is going to come in as the shortest Choose My Adventure series, but I feel it’s got a good reason to be so. I went into Ultima Online with a very simple question: Is the game worth playing now as a free-to-play title for the curious? I very quickly got the answer to that question: No. Definitely not. And writing a whole lot more on it is just going to continue to harp on that point.
That’s not to say that there aren’t at least a few more words to be spared on the subject, of course. There are a lot of games with a free-to-play option that players have said don’t feel like free-to-play titles; you can technically play without paying, yes, but the game doesn’t seem to want you there and keeps hitting you with paywalls. That wasn’t the problem I ran into with Ultima Online, though. If anything, it seemed like the game didn’t want me there at all. Not as a free player, but as a new player.