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End of Year: 2016 Edition

There are many who will argue that 2016 was the worst year ever, and I am inclined to agree. At least, I would, until I start looking at my own personal life, in which case things have been largely fantastic. Part of the slowdown in the past two months, for example, was because I was shopping around for a house. I’m technically in contract, but we’ll see how it goes.

Looking back at the New Years Resolutions (of sorts) from 2015, I had:

  • Actually playing FFXIV for real this time. [Completed]
  • Maybe, potentially sticking my toe back in GW2. Briefly. [Yep]
  • Oh, yeah, I bought GTA 5, didn’t I? [I did, and I beat it too.]
  • Being more excited than I probably should be about Overwatch. [100%]
  • Spending a WoW token and immediately regretting it. [No regrets]
  • Being amazing. [Of course]

I completed my foray into FFXIV fairly early on in the year, and am tempted to give it another go – especially given that I’ve done this spontaneous “Yearly Attempt” deal for ESO and GW2 recently. Perhaps a melee class would be better suited to my “actually press buttons” playstyle? Plus… I feel kinda guilty for finally deleting FFXIII’s 60+GB install, despite the fact that I technically already own FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns. Final Fantasy used to be my jam, you know?

Anyway, my goals for 2017 can mostly be summed up with:

  • Give FF14 another shot.
  • Play through some of those PS3 games I bought four years ago.
  • Resist playing WoW until the WoW Token -> Blizzard balance goes Live.
  • Clear at least 30 games from my Steam backlog.

That is basically it. See you folks on the other side of 2016.

 

FFXIV Impressions: Dungeons

A little while ago I got the early dungeon wall that I heard people grumbling about back in the day: a point near level 20 where the Story quest gets gated around running three dungeons in a row. I spent an entire day’s session pushing through it like a particularly difficult bowel movement, with very similar end results.

FFXIV_Dungeon

Somehow they managed to make playing an Arcanist even more boring.

The first two dungeons were not actually that bad. Long, boring slogs through story-less gameplay, but whatever; I’m not sure Wailing Caverns performed much better when I played it six years ago. Then came Copperbell Mines. If I continue playing FFXIV, it will be in spite of my experience in this dungeon.

To be clear, it is not necessarily the dungeon’s fault. I assume Copperbell Mines is just as bland and flavorless as any other dungeon in this game. But within the first two pulls, I realized we were in trouble. The only non-new player was the healer, and it became very clear that 1) the tank had no clue how to hold aggro, and 2) the lancer had no concept of how dungeons or the holy trinity works at all. The lancer spent the entire dungeon running ahead, grabbing aggro, then running away once his HP hit 25%. While no one can expect a tank to completely take control of that, one can reasonably expect the tank to at least have higher aggro than the healer. Which he could not, to literally save his (and everyone else’s) life.

FFXIV has this reputation as a nice, friendly environment for noobs and such, but I feel that it let us down in this case. Friendly suggestions to not be fucking stupid (paraphrasing) did not reach the lancer, who might have been illiterate for all we know. Had this been WoW, either the lancer or tank or both would have been straight-up kicked (assuming no 4-hour timers) for not doing the goddamn jobs they signed up to do, but no no. It is our responsibility – nay, privilege! – to repeatably wipe with the classical stoic grace of British aristocracy. I summoned my tanking pet to at least give the healer an extra 15 seconds of life and largely went down with the ship with a stiff upper lip.

At the end of it, several things were very clear to me then:

  1. There was zero reason why those dungeons were mandatory for the story.
  2. There wasn’t any story to those dungeons at all. No background material, no Dead Mines-esque buildup.
  3. It was yet another “travel across the world three times sequentially” time-sink, after literally just finishing a similar one.
  4. I’m done waiting 15-20 minutes to play a game.
  5. I’m done waiting to play with bad players.

This attitude will, of course, put me at odds with the standard MMO appointment-gaming zeitgeist.

I was also struck with the realization of what FFXIV’s combat reminded me of: Aion. As in, a pretty world with great animation and bizarre old-school throwbacks combined with an awfully boring combat system. Again, I’m an Arcanist, so I’m sure that has something to do with it – Thaumaturge felt more exciting for the little I played of it. At the same time, I view FFXIV allowing me to pick a boring-ass class more of FFXIV’s problem, than my own.

In any case, my free month is up next week, so FFXIV has until then to convince me it has any redeeming factors at all. People keep going on about the story, but I can no longer tell if they mean an actual good story, or a good story in comparison to other MMOs. Either way, it has the aforementioned amount of time to get down to business if Square Enix wants to continue getting my own.

FFXIV Impressions: Combat

FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played.

FFXIV_LevelDifference

Must be some hill.

It is not just the 2.5 second global cooldown, although that is a significant factor; it is the entire early game experience. I started with Arcanist, which is probably something I shouldn’t have done to begin with, and here are the levels in which I get buttons I can use:

  • Level 1: 2.5-second generic nuke.
  • Level 2: instant-cast DoT
  • Level 4: Summon and forget a pet
  • Level 6/8: 60-second cooldown gives a buff that let’s you press a button once.
  • Level 10: 2.5 second cast DoT
  • Level 26: 2.5 second cast DoT
FFXIV_Arcanist

Eww.

So, from levels 1-9, you press 1-1-2-1-1-1, then from levels 10-26, you can press 3-2-1-1-1-1.

I thought that melee had it better, but when I rolled a Marauder, I saw that the level 2 ability was a 2-minute defensive cooldown and I instantly deleted the character. Now that I look at the rest of the Marauder ability list, I do see quite a few extra buttons to push, but I was pretty exacerbated at the time.

I did manage to get a Lancer up to level 8, and I will say that melee definitely feels better than Arcanist at least, but my Lancer was a Miqo’te so… yeah.

FFXIV_Exenterate

I hate when I’m disemboweled for 30 more seconds than normal.

Now, I have heard all the arguments already – something something console gamers, something something players new to MMOs. But, Christ, this is vanilla WoW paladin-level nonsense in 2016 (or 2013, whatever). Regardless of whether it ramps up to having too many buttons to push at max level, the era in which a game gets away with having a boring start is basically over.

…or not, considering how FFXIV is clearly the #2 MMORPG on the market at the moment. But still! In terms of combat, Guild Wars 2 beats FFXIV hard enough that even FFXI gets bruises, let alone in comparison to WoW. The moves look fancy, but that’s just because you have to look at something while you wait one extra second * a million goddamn times.

[Fake Edit:] After writing the above, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen the WoW beginning experience sans Heirlooms in like three expansions. So I went ahead and created a “F2P” Starter account and rolled up a Warlock, Mage, and Paladin. Conclusion? As it turns out, WoW doesn’t really give you many abilities either:

WoW_WarlockPaladin

Paladin in particular looked pretty heinous, with Crusader Strike having a 4.5 second cooldown and Judgment not coming until level 5. If I’m looking at Wowhead correctly, it seems like Paladin is Crusader Strike, Judgment, Templar’s Verdict until… level 38, when Hammer of Wrath unlocks? Can that be correct? Holy fuck. I haven’t leveled a Paladin since TBC, but I’m pretty sure that was my rotation throughout all of vanilla content. At least back in the day, we had to recast Seals every time we hit Judgment!

In any case, one of the differences I noticed right away on all the WoW characters though was how utterly satisfying it was to kill mobs. The Warlock had 2.5-second Shadowbolts just like the Arcanist, but the Warlock was 1-2 shotting all the creatures in the opening areas. Hell, Corruption at level 3 was more than enough to kill them in seconds too. Try that with Bio and let me know how it goes.

So, basically, I’m sticking with what I said earlier: FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played. And that negative feeling apparently has everything to do with the longer GCD and longer Time-to-Kill, rather than lack of abilities. Although more buttons to push would help a lot in making the combat feel less like a slog.

FFXIV Impressions: Beginning

Amazing opening cinematic? Check. Playing for two hours without entering combat once? Check. Playing a Final Fantasy game: confirmed.

FFXIV_Sun

Fantastic skyboxes.

I had bought FFXIV ages ago for $15 in some sale or another, and had ostensibly been waiting for a good time for me and a friend to jump in together. The GTA 5 brouhaha, however, gave me an impetus to clear hard drive space and I didn’t want to redownload FFXIV again. So I channeled my inner Shia LaBeouf and just did it.

The first thing I encountered (after the lovely character generation screen) was the inability to create a character on Hyperion. Apparently when there are a lot of people logged onto a given server, Square Enix just shuts down character generation for a while. There are websites to keep track of this sort of thing, but they are only updated every couple of hours. In digging around, it appears this issue is related to the fact that FFXIV does not boot you for being AFK. Like ever, apparently. Leave the game running for 10 hours while AFK? You keep your spot. Game has been out for three years, right? Don’t know if this is a Japanese thing or what.

[Fake edit:] Apparently they finally added an auto-AFK logout in the recent expansion.

Characters with fully-rendered panties seen through basic armor, though? Definitely a Japanese thing. And technically Korean too, but who’s counting.

FFXIV_Tail

Total accident in character design, I’m sure.

I ended up creating two four characters, as given how every character can be every class, the most important decision you can make is deciding on a look. And, bizarrely, this made character creation almost more difficult for me. If you don’t like playing a Druid in WoW, create a new toon. If you don’t like playing a cat-person in FFXIV though… good luck, as you’d need to do everything all over again.

I’m assuming there is a way to pay money to change it.

In any case, I stuck with human, because as nice as the Miqo’te look, I’m not terribly convinced that the tails won’t look goofy in endgame gear. Or any gear, really. Still kinda gun-shy with tails after sticking with my namesake draenei in WoW for nearly a decade and basically having 100% of all cloaks look dumb. Plus, apparently the Miqo’te are the spiritual Blood Elf equivalent in FFXIV, so there’s that. I almost stuck with Lalafell for the lol’s, but it was actually the running animation that nixed it for me. Playing a gigantic Roegadyn healer briefly crossed my mind as amusing, but my human (or “Hyur”) was already an Arcanist, and that seemed silly.

Further impressions to come.

End of Year: 2015 Edition

Something something… hope you have a good new year?

What I will say is that 2015 has been a particular year of changes in my real life, which I haven’t much talked about before, and don’t particularly feel like starting now. But things have been changing, life decisions made, and so on. All for the better, for the record. I doubt said changes will have any impact on my postings in 2016, as I am rather fond of writing and ranting to you all. With any luck, most of you feel likewise, at least some of the time.

My resolution for 2016 is to not play “just OK” games to completion anymore. Because reasons:

Challenge Acc... deferred.

Challenge Acc… deferred.

What I anticipate doing in 2016:

  • Actually playing FF14 for real this time.
  • Maybe, potentially sticking my toe back in GW2. Briefly.
  • Oh, yeah, I bought GTA 5, didn’t I?
  • Being more excited than I probably should be about Overwatch.
  • Spending a WoW token and immediately regretting it.
  • Being amazing.

So there you go. Let’s look forward to seeing what sort of shenanigans 2016 has in store for us all.

FF14 Subscription Number Speculation

How many active subs does Final Fantasy 14 have? More than WoW?

The answer to the latter question is “lol no,” but the former is a bit trickier. The official word circa July 2015 was the following:

During today’s Japan Expo, Final Fantasy XIV Producer Naoki Yoshida shared that the game has accumulated a total of five million paid subscribers during its 21 months on the market.

To be clear, the current subscriber count hasn’t been announced, nor has Square Enix ever shared this figure. The five million subscriber total doesn’t include trial accounts, and only those who have at one time or another paid the $12.99/$14.99 monthly fee making it a substantial feat.

Estimates place FFXIV at around 800,000 to 1.2 million subscribers after a one million subscriber bump from February’s announced total of four million, averaging at around 9,000 new players per day over four months. Significant post-launch updates and the arrival of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward have been key components to recent growth

An embarrassingly large number of people have taken the “5 million registered accounts” news to mean 5 million active subs, but that does not pass the smell test. Which smell test? The March 2015 yearly report smell test (PDF):

The graph above shows that all Square Enix MMOs generated around 6 billion yen on a quarterly basis, or roughly $49 million. If we assume that 100% of those dollars came from FF14 subs at the $12.99 price-point, that would put the sub numbers at $49m / 3 / 12.99 = ~1.25 million subs.

We can be more charitable in our calculations, if we wish. Let’s take the yen/dollar exchange rate from back in 2014, so 6 billion yen is now… erm, way less than $49m. Nevermind.

Okay, let’s assume that the chart actually refers to 2014 sales (or projected 2015 sales) instead of what it’s labeled as. We know that FF14 had 4 million registered accounts in February 2015, followed by 5 million in August 2015. Looks like it also had 2.5 million in December 2014. That amount of box sales + 2nd month sub fees is nothing to sneeze at, especially 1.5 million over the holiday season. Assuming a 100% retention rate, if we add the 2.5 million to what we have already established, we get 3.75m subs, which is the closest any MMORPG has ever gotten to WoW.

Of course, that’s all a bit silly.

What we know from other sources, is that there are 408k characters (not players) at the highest level cap in the five months since the expansion was released; the number of level 50+ characters stands at 1.3m. Maybe FF14 takes people longer to level through, sure, fine. So lets now assume that the chart we used before speaks about all of Square Enix’s MMOs and not just FF14, and the fact that it includes box sales, so whatever FF14’s portion of those numbers actually is, is reduced again.

Still think FF14 has 5 million active subs? Half that? Even a third?

There is every indication that FF14 is a great MMO, and I expect that it is. What I do not expect is for the Square Enix 2016 report to show even 2 million active subscriptions throughout this year.

We’ll have a better idea around this coming March, I suppose.

Non-Asian WoW Accounts

File this under “Potentially Interesting Information.” MMO-Champion has a graph up showing the percentage of players (e.g. accounts, not characters) who have defeated various bosses in this raiding tier. This is how the data is described in the post:

The data used today is a sample made up of 2.1 million accounts, with at least one character active after April 1. The sample is slightly biased, as players who are not in a guild are much less likely to appear in our sample.

Someone in the comments made a dumb post that 2.1 million accounts isn’t representative of anything out of 7 million. Chaud popped into the comments to clarify:

You ignored the rest of the sentence and ignored the fact that ~half of the 7 million “subscribers” are in Asia, which we don’t track. We track a total of ~3.3 million US and EU accounts, which is likely the vast majority of them.

And further clarified how these figures are determined:

We only can see what you can see on armory. Achievements, ratings, season games played/won/lost. The other 1/3rd in our DB haven’t logged in since April 1.

It’s not news that about half of WoW’s total subscription numbers are NA/EU accounts, with the rest coming from South East Asia. This sort of information has been known for quite some time, even if we stopped getting regional figures around 2010:

WoW-Subs

I still miss MMOData…

 

What is significantly more interesting is that out of 3.3 million US/EU accounts, only 2.1 million have logged in once since April.

The reason this is merely interesting and not particularly ground-breaking news is due to all the unknowns. Around 1.2 million NA/EU accounts have not been logging in since April… but did they unsubscribe months beforehand, and therefore are already accounted for in the earlier subscriber drop? How many still have active subscriptions going, even if the person isn’t playing? What’s the margin on Chaud’s claim of “the vast majority” of accounts being counted? 95%? 80%? The difference between those two percentages is nearly another million subscriptions.

In any case… kinda interesting, yeah? WoW has always seemed like this unstoppable juggernaut, and still technically is in comparison to its peers. But the reality is that there are only 2.1 million players you could conceivably play with, and even less if you are playing on your own continent. Based on that graph above, the high point for WoW West was ~5 million. Now less than half are still online.

I’m still not convinced that FF14 will overtake WoW just yet overall, but that wall is looking more assailable every day. And who knows, there may already be more NA/EU players.

Subscriptions Are Dead; Long Live Subscriptions

Tobold has a post up talking about the fate of the subscription model. Namely, that while TESO and Wildstar devs are heroically trying to swim against the F2P current, the hard numbers and future MMO releases paint a different, more bleak picture. As somewhat hilariously pointed out by commenter Mike Andrade in that post, this sort of subscription analysis appears to be a Tobold yearly August tradition, but nevermind.

Both Gevlon in the comments and SynCaine in a post come out of the gate with a rather blistering one-two retort: 1) maybe recent sub games are floundering because the games themselves are bad, and 2) where are all the F2P successes then?

Granted, SynCaine moved the goal-posts a bit by specifying “day-1 F2P,” when the facts of the matter are (likely) that subscription games that have made the F2P transition are only still online because of said transition. In other words, SWTOR and LOTRO and Aion and DDO and STO and TSW (etc) are perfectly valid examples of F2P success stories by virtue of those games still being online and profitable. That all of them would prefer the giant piles of initial subscriber cash isn’t really saying anything about the long-term sustainability of the model itself. Why would any of them start off F2P if it’s possible to not leave that money on the table?

But if we’re looking ahead, I suppose ArchAge and SOE’s flagship EverQuest Next being F2P might be potential candidates day-1 F2P success (however that ends up being defined).

The subscription counter-example a lot of people have been using is FF14, which frankly shocked me in terms of subscriber numbers. Apparently there are 2 million of them? If legitimate, that would rocket it past all non-WoW MMOs to be one of the most successful subscription games of all time. Of course, it sells for $15 on Steam every three weeks, there’s a sizable console market for the game (something not many MMOs can achieve), and it technically got a do-over that allowed it to “launch” with years of content instead of the normal zero. But still! That’s impressive.

Okay, actually FF14 has two million “registered accounts,” which is sort of like subscribers in the same way F2P games are “free to play.” Still, subscriptions! 500,000 people log on at least once per day! For now, anyway.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the subscription game musing is sort of missing the point. While there are subtle pressures involved when you look at a subscription game – worrying about getting your money’s worth even if $15/month is pocket change normally – I agree with people like SynCaine that say if a game is worth it, you’ll pay the money… to a point. Because when you are talking about MMOs, the quality of the content itself is almost a tertiary concern to retention. Don’t believe me? Then tell me how a game like WoW can get away with having zero new content from September 2013 to today and “only” lose around ~10.5% of its population. It’s the people, stupid. Yeah, there’s an underlying game space that needs to be entertaining enough to collect everyone in one spot and having fun during downtime, but how long is anyone really subscribing to a single-player game? You can have the most entertaining base game in the world, but if nobody is making those sticky social connections – perhaps because they already have social networks elsewhere – then they are just going to leave in three months anyway.

Frankly, the biggest issue with subscriptions are companies whom vastly overestimate their own popularity, and otherwise set themselves up for failure. If you budget your MMO such that you need 500,000 people paying $15/month just to survive, you’re going to have a bad time. The lower that floor is, the more space you will have to grow the audience later. Or, hell, just maintain the people you have currently.

So while I do not believe the subscription model itself is going anywhere, I do think that it’s only going to be particularly sustainable to those games which have tightly-wounded social pockets. Creating said pockets out of thin air is incredibly tough, but that’s not going to stop games like TESO and Wildstar from at least capitalizing on 6-12 months of bonus revenue they would not have otherwise had if they went with B2P and/or F2P.

Maybe Too Much Verisimilitude

So, I guess the devs from FFXIV just released the prices for in-game housing and no one is happy. The pushback from the devs was phrased this way from Massively:

Yoshida said that the high cost in intended to prevent wealthy players from snapping up all of the plots and that all players will be earning more money with patch 2.1. “I understand that, in taking these measures to ensure even distribution of land, we are asking for considerable patience from those players who are eager to enjoy housing right away,” he said. “While I sympathize with players concerns, we believe that this is in the best long-term interests of the game.”

In other words, the concern was that the wealthy players would go around and snatch up all the land before the average player/guild could do so, Monopoly-style. Considering that the housing area is already going to be instanced away from the game world, which is itself already segregated into identical servers, this seems like an Extraordinarily Dumb Problem to Have.

In fairness, I have never thought that “in the world” player housing was ever a good idea, in any game. I’m sure that it “worked” (for very narrow definitions of the word) in various games, but the whole thing strikes me as a kind of bizarre pyramid scheme. What’s the content? Where’s the gameplay? If you are first in line, congratulations, you have an exclusive advantage on into perpetuity and everyone behind you is screwed all in the name of… what? Some vague sense of permanent ownership in a virtual world? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support player housing in general. I just don’t see the point in finite plots of land in a game ostensibly being played by hundreds of thousands of players. This sort of nonsense is why I never got into playing multiplayer Minecraft – where is the fun in traveling to the shit ends of the world because all the prime real estate is taken?

But hey, Square Enix, good job with that heavy, capitalistic dose of realism in your escapist fantasy MMO. Maybe you could add some adjustable-rate mortgages in the next patch, or just allow the rich players to become landlords and rent out property.