Final Fantasy XIV Going Pay to Play

by Jessica "Allahweh" Brown, December 15 2011

Anyone that says that Final Fantasy XIV has had a great history would be totally lying. The game was very rough around the edges in the beta period, and as the summer of 2010 wore to a close players who were hoping that many of the bugs in the game's wrinkles would be ironed out by the time of its release in September realized this wouldn't be the case. When the game hit store shelves it was universally panned by critics who claimed that the game's release version was about on par with a very rough alpha. The game featured many bugs that made it unplayable in certain instances, a very poorly optimized graphics system, and a large game world that featured very little real storyline (the leve system employed by the game was hardly a substitute for real quest progressions).

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In many ways, Final Fantasy XIV belongs in the recent WhatMMORPG article about developer lies. While the game was initially billed as a new online adventure though a completely different game world, all one has to do is fire up the character creator to see that many aspects of the game are directly ported over from Final Fantasy XI. The races, although renamed for this newer entry, bear a striking resemblance to one another that is hard to deny. The game also returns to the idea of central city-states that players can embark from upon their quests. The overall world is a bit different, but the lack of story makes it just seem liked a slightly-updated, hollowed-out version of the 2002 game.

Square-Enix had a plan to rectify this. Not long after release, the company issued an apology for the game's severe lack of polish and offered to extend the free 30-day trials that were included with retail copies of the game for an indefinite period. Meanwhile, they planned to bring on a new development team and slowly rebuild the game from the ground up. The process was slow, but by the summer of 2011 the game's developers believed they were getting closer to the goal they initially wanted for launch and inevitably they announced that by the end of 2011 the game would return to a subscription-based system.

There was one obvious problem with this: The game had been free-to-play (outside of the initial retail purchase) since September of 2010. After over a year of the game not having any sort of subscription costs, players had gotten used to the game as it was. Moreover, quite a few that enjoyed the game still would notice that it was far from perfect and likely would not enjoy it enough to pay for the game. Warren C. Bennett (@warrencbennett on Twitter), Senior Editor at Anjel Syndicate, specifically expressed his belief that everyone had gotten used to the free-to-play model of the game and likely would immediately jump ship when the game introduced its payment system. He even went on to say that he, too, would quit playing the game when the subscriptions started.

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While these sentiments are easy to understand, Square-Enix has little choice but to begin to charge for the game. The game wasn't originally meant to be a free-to-play title like many games that employ cash-shops for income. Likewise, it wasn't meant to be like Guild Wars and release a new campaign or expansion every 6 to 12 months. While the initial retail purchases of the game did indeed build revenue for the company Square-Enix has no other way to recoup their server upkeep costs other than, naturally, to have such costs offset by popular titles like Final Fantasy XI or their various console entries.

Longtime Final Fantasy XI, and now Final Fantasy XIV, player MithraDragoon (@MithraDragoon on Twitter) wrote that “the game in its FTP state had to be made that model. No one would have paid for a game that had next to no content. Now that there's real content and more on its way that makes it a real MMO that they had to start charging [for] sadly.” She is right, of course. Even if Square-Enix loses fifty percent of its current players, all they are losing is people that weren't netting them any money outside of the initial purchase. Thus, it ultimately boils down to making a choice to not get any money or to at least make something and begin to recoup the development and upkeep costs and Square-Enix is simply making the choice that makes the most economic sense for them.

The game today is far from perfect and perhaps not even on par, content-wise, with Final Fantasy XI, but it has come a long way since last summer. Moreover, the game has an interesting profession system and a sandbox style that gives players a lot of freedom that simply isn't found in most MMORPGs on the market. A great example of this is the game's crafting system which is so complex as to, in many ways, mimic real-life. The profession system (rather than the focus on physical leveling like most other games, Final Fantasy XI included, employ) is varied to the extent of allowing someone to do almost whatever they want. They could even make an in-game living as a merchant, fisherman, or any of numerous professions.

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Square-Enix has some big plans for the game over the next year, so much so that by the end of 2012 the game plans to enter a totally new version number. Dubbed Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, the new version will feature a new graphics engine, revamped server and data structures, a much-improved user-interface system, and will finally be used as the basis for the PlayStation 3 port of the game (due in late-2012 or early-2013). While it is impossible to tell at this point, it is likely that Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 will be a drastic enough improvement over the present version of the game to bring those that have abandoned the title in the last year or so to come back to the game and get a positive experience from it.

Final Fantasy XI enjoys considerably more popularity than Final Fantasy XIV and it is hard to say whether this newer game will ever surpass the original. Yet, the game's developers have truly done a 180 and have opted to create a much better gaming experience in order to show their fans that they do care about them and aren't trying to pump-out half-rate games to drive up revenue. Thus, even if the game doesn't become one of the strongest titles in the MMORPG market, at least it shows that Square-Enix believes in a long-term relationship with their fans.

Final Fantasy XIV will be going pay to play on January 6, 2012. To learn more about the planned changes coming to Square-Enix's new MMORPG, head on over to the Lodestone: