After its wobbly launch plagued by issues relating to server overcrowding, Final Fantasy XIV has become a much more stable experience. This means that Yoshi-P and his team can now focus on adjusting, rebalancing and generally improving the game according to fan feedback.
The most recent maintenance period culminated in an update to the game this morning, and it's specifically addressed three common complaints that people had. Let's take a look at them, and what impact the changes might have on the game.
The Idle Problem
Part of the server congestion problem around the game's launch was due to people who, seeing how difficult it was to get logged in, simply opened up the game, parked their character somewhere and remained logged in for days at a time. While this guaranteed that they'd be able to pick up their control device of choice and start playing the moment they were good and ready, it also filled up one of those valuable concurrent player slots, leaving someone else locked out of the game.
A significant number of players suggested that the addition of an "AFK kick" function similar to that found in other MMOs might be a good way of solving this issue. With today's update, that particular criticism has been addressed, as there is now a 30-minute idle timer in place that will kick people off after half an hour of inactivity.
The news that Final Fantasy XIV didn't have an AFK kick at launch was greeted with incredulity by veterans of other MMOs, but given the history of the Final Fantasy MMOs it's actually not all that surprising. The first reason is that both Final Fantasy XI and XIV version 1.0 included a "bazaar" system, whereby a character could be set up as a vendor, and other players could buy things directly from that character's inventory. Busy urban areas were often as full of player character vendors as they were of NPCs. A Realm Reborn doesn't include the bazaar system, however, so that's no longer a justification for allowing people to remain logged in to the game when inactive.
However, discussing the matter with some veterans of XI and XIV 1.0 revealed another consideration that might upset a few more people: previously, a number of more "social" players would leave their characters logged in even when they weren't playing in order to be able to review their chat log in detail when they returned to the game. For those who were serious members of the game community -- perhaps a leader of a lively and active player-made group such as a Linkshell in XI or a Free Company in A Realm Reborn -- it was often important to remain up-to-date on their group's happenings. The new AFK kick means that this use of the in-game chat is no longer possible -- though to be fair there are a number of new options for communication now available, including the in-game mail system and Free Company forums on the Lodestone website.
On the whole, the AFK kick will probably be a positive move for the game as a whole. While those who remained constantly logged in for social reasons will find the change frustrating, as noted above there are now other means for players to communicate with one another both inside and outside the game. The relief on overcrowding that the new system will provide will help ensure servers remain more stable than they have been, which will hopefully improve the game experience as a whole.
The Economy Problem
Some of those who have reached A Realm Reborn's endgame are starting to complain of issues with the in-game economy: there's not enough virtual money coming into the game, which makes some of the more expensive endgame activities very difficult to accomplish.
Balancing an in-game economy in an MMO is a very difficult task, because there are lots of factors at play. Let's take a look at how they work and interact with each other.
Money is created in the game whenever players complete a task for which they receive a reward. Sources of income like this are often referred to as "gil fountains," and include non-repeatable quests, repeatable Levequests and certain other challenges in the game. Money is also created in smaller quantities through "pure profit" items that don't do anything -- they're simply designed to be sold to vendors. Most quests allow players to take a handful of these items in lieu of a piece of equipment they don't want, and they're also one of the most common treasures found in the chests scattered throughout the game's dungeons.
Conversely, money is taken out of the game any time a player hands over money to an NPC rather than another player. The most common drain on an adventurer's finances is repairing gear, which becomes more and more expensive the higher-level a piece of equipment is. In FFXIV, you can repair gear either by paying money to a specific NPC, by having a crafter player of the appropriate level repair it, or by repairing it yourself if you have a crafting class to the appropriate level. The latter two options still cost money, however, as the repair process requires the use of a material known as "Dark Matter" which, in many cases, players will purchase rather than gather.
With the latest update, the cost of both repairs and the purchase of Dark Matter has been significantly reduced, which should theoretically prove much less of a drain on the collective coffers of Eorzea's adventurers. At the same time, the amount of "pure profit" items dropped in two high-level dungeons has been increased, which will in turn increase the amount of cash coming in for endgame players. It remains to be seen whether this is enough of a solution to the issues some people have been complaining of, but it's a start.
The Speedrun Problem
The very same two endgame dungeons that have had their rewards increased were, it seems, being used as "speedrun" dungeons, with players running straight through, refusing to engage any enemies and simply heading straight for the boss.
"As advancing through dungeons without defeating enemies is not an intended strategy," says the update notice, "we plan to continue making further changes in the future to discourage this type of behavior." Changes made include adjustments to the behavior of the enemies in dungeons that make it harder for players to run straight past
This will doubtless frustrate people who enjoy playing that way, but on the whole it's probably a positive thing for the game community as a whole. If you're a person who likes to take their time and enjoy the game content and you find yourself stuck in a pick-up group with a speedrunner it can be a frustrating experience for everyone involved; while discouraging speedruns altogether isn't, perhaps, the ideal solution, short of revamping the Duty Finder to include a dedicated speedrun queue, it's difficult to suggest what else they might have done.
One thing's clear from this update: Square Enix is listening to the player base, and will continue to evolve and change the game based on feedback. MMO players can be an extremely demanding, often unreasonable bunch en masse, and difficult for developers to keep up with at times, particularly when there are conflicting requests and complaints floating around; fortunately, thus far Yoshi-P and the team appear to be doing a good job though it is, of course, early days yet!
Full details of the update can be found here.