Last week I promised to bring you all of the hard-hitting coverage of Square-Enix’s presence at PAX East 2013 as it pertained to Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. So here’s that coverage: Both games still exist.
We good? Great. I’ll spend the next nine hundred words or so discussing cats, then. Seriously, if you’ve been following this site or this column, you know everything from PAX East already.
Of course, all of this underscores what I see as a simple fact: PAX was not meant for fans of Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. If you scan fansites and this site for coverage, you would not be blown away by any of this information, and that’s fine. It’s not actually for you, and I’m going to go ahead and say that it really shouldn’t be for you because it would just be preaching to the converted.
MMO gamers live in an isolated little world. I can name about two dozen MMOs that shaped the design of future titles in significant ways, and I can speak at length about the design space that MMOs make. But to the rest of the world, there’s one MMO (and you know full well what it is) and the other ones are just things that launched and never went anywhere, right?
The Final Fantasy MMOs, meanwhile, live in a little bubble inside of that little bubble. FFXI is an enormously popular and successful game, but the vast majority of people I encounter outside of it have never played it. And these are not people unfamiliar with the genre. For whatever reason, for a very long time there was a wall around these games, and so the only thing people outside of FFXIV knew about the game was that it launched to extraordinarily poor reviews.
Heck, on staff I’m one of maybe two people who actually knows what the deal is with FFXIV. Everyone else asks me when he or she has a question.
I’ve discussed this sort of ivory tower syndrome before, specifically in the context of how it’s been amazingly harmful. This little bubble creates an uncomfortable feedback loop, and it’s something that the game needs to break out of. More to the point, considering Square’s recent woes, FFXIV needs to reach a wider audience than the converted. Marketing to me and people like me — which has been traditionally been the strategy — is simply not going to work.
One gets the sense that the new wave of management agrees. Naoki Yoshida took the time to record a short video for PAX attendees, the community team was out in force, and the presentation on FFXIV covered a lot of ground from a quick high-level point of view. It showed off stuff that’s old hat to you and me, but it’s novel if you heard about the game only from its less-than-stellar launch.
The talk of FFXI had a similar feel. If you’d never played it, some of the resonance was lost, but it highlighted the neat stuff in the expansion and how good the game still looks after a decade of operation. It’s the sort of thing to make you sit up and say, “Wait, that’s the game? That’s older than World of Warcraft? Man, I should try that out.”
It’s not for us. It’s for the people who don’t know the first thing about these games.
At first I was surprised that there wasn’t a playable demo on the floor, but the more I think about it, the more I can see where that strategy came from as well. Those who attended the panel got some suitable swag, enough to pique the interest of attendees and the interest of any friends who didn’t attend. That means forcing people to go out and look, and you tend to get more involved with anything that you seek out yourself rather than game demos you’re led to. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best choice, but it’s an understandable choice.
Of course, from my perspective this meant that the most novel moment was learning a bit more about Final Fantasy X’s remake, which also contains Final Fantasy X-2. If only we could get a decent redo of Final Fantasy VI now. We’ve seen sequels to Final Fantasy IV, for crying out loud.
But that’s all right. It doesn’t have to all be about us; in fact, it has to not be all about us. People need to see these games as something other than just another MMO with a weak launch.
The one new thing that was on display was equipment concept art. Saying it looked gorgeous is a foregone conclusion, but it was also discussed as if some of these other suits were replacement to more standard artifact gear. I’m not even sure where to start speculating on that. Obviously artifact gear wound up sinking in the gear rankings in FFXI fairly quickly, but that was with the benefit of several more levels and expansions and several sets that were arguably lateral moves.
Not that this means much, since we don’t know anything about what things will look like in the relaunch. For all we know, artifact armor pieces are as rare as air molecules. Time will tell.