Final Fantasy XI: A new expansion and a vague “expiration date” set

I always try to follow this mmorpg because I consider it one of the best, despite Square then breaks it on a good number of core features. One of those games that I classify under the “what if?” category. Potentially awesome games that could reach and expand on their success but that are then only sinking because of very bad decisions and inappropriate development.

In particular I was curious about the announce of the next expansion because it would have given me more precise hints about what Square wants to do with this game world. Everyone knew already the title (“Treasures of Aht Urhgan”), that it was going to be announced at the Tokyo Game Show and even a few guesses about a possible new class, the blue mage. All three were correct. And I’m not rejoicing. In fact I’m rather deluded. As I said, I believe in the potential of a game and it’s disappointing see the game moving in a direction that I really don’t find interesting or useful for the game. I was expecting (hoping for, actually) something interesting, some new ideas and developments, the developers becoming more self-conscious of the actual problems and needs of the game, addressing them properly. Instead we have an expansion that pretty much repeats the same, consolidated pattern that I don’t really see leading anywhere noteworthy. We have more zones, new missions and one new class that the game doesn’t really need considering its already critical LFG problems. More of the same without anything really important and relevant for the health of the game both in the short and long term.

Beside these few confirmations of suspects we already had, I find more interesting an interview that was published on a german website, which I believe complements the other informations:

– How many users Worldwide are playing FFXI now?

There are over 500,000 subscribers world wide. Also the number of active FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) characters total over 1.6 million, so on average, each player has 3 characters.

The subscription numbers are one of the most quick and direct ways to figure out the health of a mmorpg and that line pretty much confirms the same situation we had in March, which is already surprising considering that the game isn’t really moving from where it is and not trying to get more people interested. What is to underline here is the good retention of old players.

In fact I believe this data plays a strong role on the plans Square has about the game:

– The FFXI Graphical Engine is now 3 years old. Will you update the engine for PC users after the release of Xbox360?

We will keep working hard to improve and expand the game’s quality as much as possible, but we’re very careful to choose what to do regarding upgrading at the same time, as this might affect our development speed sometimes. Until now, we’ve improved our engine to accept wide-screen displays, 3D display function, options for upper spec PCs on the Windows version. But currently we do not have any plans to use next-generation technologies which may require re-creating all graphic data. If we chose to do this with FFXI, it would take a few years to complete upgrading. So we’ve decided to use our development powers to create a new, next-generation MMORPG. Until then, we will keep having version-updates and expansion packs for FFXI as we’ve always done.

Have you ever considered about doing this constantly and progressively? The reiterative development is what could make online worlds stronger.

If you usually follow what I write, you may know how much I hate the announce of new mmorpgs to “replace” old and obsolete game worlds. I always consider this the biggest failure possible and I just refuse the hype for a “sequel” as something good. It’s unacceptable how these game worlds are made to be disposable and get wasted as junk. I just cannot and will never accept this. It’s another game world sinking because of horrible marketing and development decisions and a huge potential once again choked.

I said I believe the data about the subscription numbers plays a role. In fact we have probably another expansion aimed to offer “more of the same” to that mid-to-high level players that are already subscribed. It’s just my personal estimation but I believe no more than a 10% of the subscribers has seen more than half of the previous expansion and I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual percent is way below that one. That’s my point of view. Maybe it’s good to try to retain those subscribers that keep the game active but this is also an implicit decision to NOT DEVELOP the game. Not appeal to new players, not grow it, not believe on the project and invest on it if not to confirm the consolidated pattern to rinse and repeat (exploit) till it’s commercially viable. And till the game is completely “dry” (draining life as from a set “stock”) and has nothing anymore to offer, compared with a game world that flourishes over time.

Maybe I’m just a silly idiot but I believe that these game worlds have their own dignity and a potential to respect. I refuse to consider them as disposable and I strongly believe that these stupid “life cycles” are a deliberate choice of a blind development more than an unavoidable destiny. Game worlds should never be replaced and they can grow along with the technology and their commercial success (instead of relocationg the resources elsewhere). This choice to build them with defined lifecycles is just an heritage of an obsolete attitude coming from single player games. It works but it doesn’t really tap and develop the potential of online worlds.

But who cares? This is once again just a subjective point of view without any concrete foundation. And I’m once again ranting against the wind mills.

Beside this, it’s interesting their position on RMT and gill sellers:

– Do you think SE will ever be able to stop Gil, Item and Account Seller and Buyer? Do you think it’ll be possible to stop them or will you go the way like Sony EQ2?

We don’t think it’s illegal to trade virtual data when there’re buyers and sellers. However, we think the problem is that there’re many criminal acts happening in the real world during those transactions. Also, FFXI is not created based on real money trading (RMT), thus, we believe this will make our title less enjoyable. This is why we forbid RMT with FFXI by user agreement. It will be easy to eliminate RMT completely when we remove economics from the game, meaning removing trade functions and making all items non-tradable. But this will also remove amusement from the game itself. As SOE has done with EverQuest II, there is a way to create a game considering trading virtual currency or items with real money. However, FFXI chooses a different way. Even by choosing different ways, we believe both EverQuest II and FFXI have the same purpose of protecting users from crimes in the real world such as fraud or scamming.

And a final note about the crazy backbone of the game. I suggest them to buy a Lum and spare on those resources:

– What kind of Servers are you using in background?

Each FFXI world has about 20 multi-core processor front-end machines (Solaris OS). As we now have 32 live worlds, there’re totally over 640 servers. In addition to those servers, there’re huge backend servers including DB servers, file servers, and log servers as well as billing servers, PlayOnline type servers, and monitoring facilities, using large-scaled data centre.

Oh, and it’s also sort of fun how the Xbox 360 seems to not be able to handle this four years old game that still runs okay on a Playstation 2 and on PCs:

Visually, Final Fantasy XI seems to be gradually making itself home on the 360. The characters look good; the environments the players moved through were predominantly dry, rocky canyons, flowering cacti, and stretches of deserted beach that the chocobos trotted through. One thing we did notice, though, was that the game’s frame rate took a noticeable, large dip when there was a lot of onscreen action. For example, certain areas on the Buburimu Peninsula blow up dust storms that drift across the arid landscape. These dust storms, in conjunction with a number of enemies spawning or popping into view, made matters sluggish during certain points in the gameplay. The draw distance didn’t seem to otherwise get in the way of matters too much, though, and seemed to occur at a reasonable distance out from the characters.

I mirrored the video if you need it. It’s not really that good, even Promathia’s video was more interesting.

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