Allowed to play for free, angry gamers sparked a month of chaos in the online community.
Despite the unfinished state of the game, one of the biggest problems with Final Fantasy XIV has nothing to do with the game itself.
Flaming and bickering engulfed the community fan sites shortly after launch day. Many people who were upset with the game used the forums to vent their frustrations. Speaking in defense of the game meant being in denial of the truth. Many wars of words ensued, none of it contributing to the quality of the Final Fantasy XIV community.
Square Enix responded to the anger of its fans by extending the 30-day free trial period for Final Fantasy XIV. By giving players another free month, the folks at SE probably figured they stood a better chance of retaining users until the upcoming version updates. At the time, I praised Square Enix for acting so decisively to retain its playerbase. Seemed like a no-brainer. To a large degree, it still seemed like the right thing to do.
However, if the folks at SE could leap into a cavernous maw and go back in time, I wonder if they’d do the same thing again.
Discuss this in the ZAM forums.
Consider this: one of the strengths of Final Fantasy XI was the game’s tight-knit community, both in and out of the game. The ZAM FFXI General Forum was always a great place to discuss the game’s most relevant issues. Over time, the community adopted social norms which were, for the most part, beneficial to almost everyone who visited the forums. Over-the-top rants, dead-horse threads and “FFXI is Dying!” threads were rarely tolerated.
A large MMO needs that kind of community in order to be successful. Having a positive, tight-knit community means people will be happier while playing their game. Happy customers create a more positive buzz, which brings in new subscribers, which creates an environment in which the professional reviewers might highlight the good instead of the bad.
And this is why I’m second-guessing Square Enix’s decision to extend FFXIV’s free trial.
The game’s online community was already deeply fractured when the extension notice was issued, and the move did little to restore faith in Square Enix. In fact, many people intensified their criticism of SE, accusing the company of trying to buy back their affection while turning a deaf ear to their concerns. Never mind the fact that Square Enix had just announced its plans to revamp the game by the end of the year; many players were simply too enraged to give Square Enix any credit.
The mood of the FFXIV community has only gotten worse since then. Fewer productive and insightful threads have been appearing in the forums. The number of rant threads spiked. Those who dared to praise Square Enix or FFXIV were often belittled, flamed and karma bombed. Not surprisingly, the number of players logging into the game has also declined. Many players are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the game to be improved, but I'm certain there are others who simply feel turned off by the negativity surrounding the game.
This kind of behavior would have never been allowed in the FFXI forums, but that’s because Final Fantasy XI wasn’t populated by players who hated playing the game.
There are thousands of gamers who are having fun playing Final Fantasy XIV. I know this because each server has anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people logged into it at any given time. However, many of those players hate the game in its current state – some of them will never enjoy the game regardless of what Square Enix does.
How many times in the past few weeks have you read this in the forums: “I’m only here until the free trial period is over. I’m not going to pay any money to play this awful, embarrassing, unmitigated disaster of a game.”
And how many times have you seen this response: “If you hate the game that much, then why are you still here?”
The answer, of course, is because Square Enix is letting them play for free.
Final Fantasy XIV would have lost some subscribers had Square Enix not extended the free trial period. However, wouldn’t those cancellations have come from the people who dislike the game the most? Aren’t those the people who are most responsible for the hostile, unstable attitude that has permeated the forums? And what would the state of the game’s online community be like if those people had been gone for the past three weeks?
I can’t help but think that we’d all feel better about where FFXIV is going, and that we’d be having more positive discussions about the unique and entertaining aspects of the game. We’d be excited instead of tentative about the upcoming version updates. And maybe, just maybe, a more nurturing attitude offline might have translated to a more enjoyable experience online.
I would like to think Square Enix did the right thing by extending the free trial period. It was a classy move that should have resonated with players. Instead, the collective playerbase snatched SE’s olive branch and beat the company over the head with it, using the extended trial period as a deadline for SE to fix everything, or else.
Regardless of whether the move was good or bad, the free trial period is about to end, according to the warning emails recently sent by SE. If the extended trial did directly contribute to problems, then those problems are about to work themselves out.
But the damage may already be done.