This weekend, while everyone and his uncle went to try out the Elder Scrolls Online's latest beta, I popped my head back into FFXIV. Square picked the same weekend to hand out a "come back and see what you're missing" freebie to anyone who'd ever bought the box. Or imagined they'd bought the box in the case of us digital downloaders.
I was quite looking forward to seeing the old place again. I fancied trying out the new Beast Tribe quests, having some fun in the current holiday event, Heavensturn, maybe going to gawp at the overpriced housing. It didn't turn out that way, partly for practical reasons but mostly because it took no more than a few minutes in Eorzea to remember why I never went back after our trip to Spain broke the habit of logging in last October.
The world is still as stunning to look at as it always was, of course. The New Year's decorations looked spectacular. For a while all I did was run around posing next to snowmoogles and taking selfies. Then I spent a little time looking at what the holiday vendors were selling. Hats. Really unattractive hats.
A quick visit to the Lodestone, official source of information for all things Eorzean, confirmed that was about it for Heavensturn. Some hideous hats and a lengthy runaround quest laden with heavy, labored irony about the supposed normality of riding a Chocobo rather than a horse. The reward for which, unless I'm misunderstanding it, is another really ugly, indeed quite creepily disturbing, hat.
So, pass on all that. On to the Beast Tribe quests. Where might those be? A few more minutes of running around aimlessly passed before I gave up and googled it. Beast Tribe quests start at Level 42 and require that you have reached a specific point in the personal story. The level requirement comes with the territory in MMOs and though I may grumble about it, if I was playing regularly I'd suck it up. Yoshi P's insistence on gating content through completion of a storyline, however, is the main reason why I'm not playing regularly, or indeed at all.
The upshot of the weekend free pass was to remind me precisely why we decided not to subscribe and are unlikely to play again until or unless there's a fundamental change of approach by the development team. Or, as Mrs Bhagpuss put it when I asked her if she wanted to log in and let her characters stretch their legs, "I like the game but I'm not interested while that man is still in charge".
All of which feeds into the ongoing (will it ever stop?) debate on payment models. Keen says "Who cares?" claiming "Good games can be ruined by business models, but bad games can never be helped by them." Tobold kind of agrees but claims it's all a question of semantics (isn't everything?). SynCaine disagrees, vehemently.
All of which is fine and dandy but, as always, gets us no further forward. John Smedley today reiterated his wish that "The one thing that I want for our company is to have a well-earned
reputation -- I'm not saying we are there yet -- for listening to the
players more than anybody else". That'll be why we have the PSS1 deal, then, will it? Despite the virtually universal player revulsion expressed from the day it was announced to, well, always.
I absolutely believe that both Smed and Yoshi P genuinely love making MMOs and believe they are doing their flat-out best both to make the best ones they can and to find a way to make as many players as possible happy to play them. The problem isn't making great games, although God knows that must be hard enough, and it very definitely isn't the way they choose for us to pay for them.
The problem is that every decision that makes one player happy makes another foam at the mouth. The very things I can't stand about FFXIV are robustly defended by others on the forums as the backbone of the game. You can't please all of the people, as they say. In MMOs you're doing well if you please any of them.
In the words of Sid Maier, which seem to be doing the rounds again, a good game is a series of interesting decisions. That surely must apply as equally to making them as to playing them. Ultimately, FFXIV turns out to be a good game that I don't want to play. It's not right for me. I wouldn't be playing it much if it was F2P because there isn't much I can do there without knuckling under to its draconian narrative imperative and I just don't want to. The subscription is an irrelevancy.
The kind of things that put people off F2P games generally don't bother me all that much. I don't mind being reminded to visit the cash shop any more than I mind advertisements in a magazine. The restrictions most game companies choose to apply to free accounts tend to add to my enjoyment rather than detract from it - I can always use a bit of enforced self-restraint when it comes to inventory management and the like.
Conversely, the tricks companies come up with to persuade subscribers to go on paying - never-ending tiers of gear or raid content that takes months to learn, for example - don't affect me either. That's part of the game I'd never bother with anyway so it exerts no hold over whether I choose to stay or go.
No, the deal-breaker often comes regardless of both the payment method and the quality of the MMO. It just takes one of those "interesting decisions" to send the game veering in a direction that doesn't work for me and that's it. Game over.
Except for MMOs it never really is Game Over, not until the last server closes and sometimes not even then. The saving grace of MMOs is that they never stand still (shhh Vanguard, no-one's talking about you...). Turn your head for a moment and when you glance back they'll have changed. Sometimes even for the better.
This visit to FFXIV didn't go well but I'll be back. Maybe one day they'll get it right, for my particular subjective value of "right". If so I'll be happy to subscribe or be cash-shopped or whatever it takes to play. It's not about how you pay or how much you pay, after all; it's about whether you get what you want.