Final Fantasy XIV is in the final push to launch now, with phase 4 right around the corner and early access shortly after that. This is good news for me, since it means I can get back to actually playing the game that I write about every week after nearly a year. And, you know, the game is pretty awesome, so that’s a bright point as well.
It also means that the future isn’t what it used to be. The relaunch has been The Future for a very long time, but now the relaunch is The Almost Right This Second, and The Future consists of patches and expansions and new classes and the like. All good things, all welcome, and all things that could take a few lessons from Final Fantasy XI.
I’ve said before that Final Fantasy XIV was designed to fix some problems from Final Fantasy XI that it never was going to have, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead of talking about preventing players from leveling consistently or hunting the possibility of RMT with McCarthy-level vigilance, let’s look at some simple lessons to internalize in the future.
Don’t skimp on the tanks and healers
FFXIV has four spaces for light parties, eight spaces for full parties, and three different roles. Assuming that full parties require double everything (two tanks, two healers, four DPS), reasonably speaking, you should have about a quarter of the games classes and jobs capable of tanking, a quarter capable of healing, and half capable of DPS.
It’s not precise math, but it makes logical sense. If you’re drawing classes out of a hat, you wind up with odds in favor of forming the right party distribution. Obviously reality doesn’t quite work like that, but it’s the sort of distribution that Final Fantasy XI never had and suffered for.
FFXI currently has 22 classes available, and of those only three are really designed as tanks. You can make arguments about Dancers technically working in the role, but you can also make arguments that Rune Fencers fail to actually tank effectively, so it’s belaboring the point. Even in a game with more than three roles, the distribution is horribly skewed.
As it stands right now, there will be nine jobs at the endgame: Warrior, Paladin, Monk, Dragoon, Bard, White Mage, Black Mage, Summoner, and Scholar. We already know that Warrior and Paladin are tanks and White Mages are healers, and there’s a fair speculation that Scholars will fill the healer role as well. That’s good so far, especially as Bards also offer party support rather than pure damage. What we need is to keep this distribution, ensuring that no one is stuck with two options for tanking or a dozen options for melee damage. There’s always going to be a divide between those willing to play tanks and healers compared to pure DPS; it’s best not to widen it without good cause.
Do go for breadth over insanity
I know there are a lot of people who loved Dynamis in FFXI, and that’s cool. For some people, fun is running around with a huge group of other people, and that’s fine. I am not one of those people, and that’s also fine. FFXI had a broad enough endgame that you could go to Dynamis or not without lacking for things to do. It lacked much to do if you weren’t interested in group content, but that’s a different discussion altogether.
The point here is that the best part of FFXI’s endgame was that there was no single path to power. There were a lot of things to be done and several ways to earn rewards, and many of them didn’t require crazy amounts of dedication unless you wanted to be at the absolute apex. New content was not exclusively geared toward one sort of thing.
Ideally, the endgame should consist of lots of paths, some group-focused, some solo-focused, some PvE, some PvP, and so forth. You reach the level cap and you can go in many directions without feeling limited. Obviously leveling multiple classes helps with this, but the core of this lesson is being able to do many different things even when you want to play at the apex. Options are good, and they’re far better than simply having a fixed raid progression or something similar.
Don’t make the game hostile to new players
It helps immensely that FFXIV features level sync right from the start. Veteran players aren’t actively discouraged from helping newer players at an appropriate level. But as I’ve mentioned before, even once that feature hit FFXI, the low-level areas were not awash with activity. Nobody wanted to go back to the Dunes if it could possibly be avoided because why would you subject your high-level character to countless wipes when you weren’t even getting anything out of it?
Cosmetic gear is nice, yes. Company seals are another good motivator. But beyond even that, new players should be able to walk in and start enjoying the game instead of having someone fix the intensely broken nature of the lower levels.
Right now we don’t have any subjob quests. Travel is a bit restricted early on, but you have plenty to do until level 15 and you aren’t really asked to group before then. There’s no gating mechanism to prevent new players from jumping in and seeing what the game has to offer. The trick will be in keeping that door open as the game moves onward and upward, with more levels and content added on to the top end.
Don’t add in gating quests at the level cap that require a party that won’t materialize after launch. Don’t make unlocking new classes an exercise in misery for anyone not at the level cap. Don’t give players a new town that becomes the default point of congregation while ensuring that new players can’t get there, thus ensuring that a new arrival walks in and wonders where everyone is.
In short, don’t make new players want to quit as soon as they start.