Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reduced to Farce? An Analysis of a Bad Early Access Weekend

What exactly happened this weekend, what's being done, and should gamers be a bit more patient?

This weekend should have been glorious. Early access to one of the most hotly anticipated MMORPG titles this year just happens to coincide with a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, meaning I had a full three days to play the full game ahead of its release on August 27th. Like many, this was the big reason to have placed a pre-order.

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But could I get any decent playtime in? Did I kweh!

In these situations it’s very easy to fly off the handle at Square Enix. So let’s break it down and see if players’ anger is justifiable, or not, and what this could mean for the title.

The Fix Is In?

One of the games key features, the Duty Finder, kept breaking. Unfortunately, even though it’s designed to help solo players, everyone, even parties, must use it. This affects everyone’s ability to do both solo and group events and battles. When this breaks, no-one can advance their character through key points of the storyline, or even their class/job.

Understandably, when this happens, something must be done, and pronto. Yes, it means having to consider the possibility of leaving the house whilst servers undergo maintenance, but when an integral part of the game doesn’t work, there’s no point leaving players stuck for longer than needed.

Therefore, the first few emergency maintenances were justified, and players, though disgruntled, seemed to understand. At least Square Enix was quick in addressing the problem, which is no less than what we can ask for. But, things were just about to get worse.

I’ve Got 90000 Problems…

One of the other issues that the game kept experiencing, and inherited from the beta stages, is the dreaded Error 90000. Although not as catastrophic as Error 3102, it meant that, without warning, you could be booted off the server, and sometimes out of the game entirely, taking up to 20 minutes or more to get back in if the game was busy.

After supposedly being eradicated in beta phase four, it’s still occurring in early access. What’s embarrassing is that the developers keep assuring gamers that they’ve fixed it, only for it pop up again, as welcomed as a pork pie at a Bar Mitzvah. Even producer and director Naoki “Yoshi-P” Yoshida waded in at one point with reassurances that the issue was no more, thanking players’ for their patience, only to be proved wrong.

If First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, Try, Try, Try Again

The stubborn Error 90000, Duty Finder, and log in issues, keep eluding developers of a permanent fix. Since early access has started, there have been no less than five emergency maintenance periods, each lasting about 2 hours.

But the issues just seem to get worse after every time they’re sorted. After the fourth maintenance period, many players, including myself, couldn’t even load the server list for over four hours once it had finished. Part of this reason may have been because Square Enix were limiting log-ins to make sure that the fixes were actually stable and working. But then a fifth emergency maintenance period went underway to address “log in” problems

It’s not looking good that these issues become more prevalent with each attempt at a resolve, and it’s all starting to look gobsmackingly incompetent.

I Think I’ll Turn Japanese

The real insult to injury is that the problem seems to affect only the North American and European (NA/EU) Data Centre servers. The Japanese (JP) Data Centre has swanned through early access without any issues.

Being an EU player I noticed something interesting. These problems would only arise and reappear every time it became prime time playtime for North America; so around 2pm GMT/9am EST, and 9pm GMT/4pm EST. Therefore, it’s clear that the issue is that the NA/EU Data Centre just can’t handle the traffic.

The put it bluntly, Americans are breaking the game. But it’s the fault of the game’s server set-up than the fact that these players are American; the influx simply breaks them. The decision to group all of North America and Europe together is an odd one, as this covers a lot of people. And it’s not like Square Enix didn’t see the traffic coming. The final beta weekend saw them break all records for the amount of people playing an open beta in Japan, so why would NA/EU be any less popular? The hyperbole around the game has been established, and it’s not like Square Enix didn’t want this.  

 Some players might have lost their cool, but not their wit!

The Course of MMORPG Launches Never Did Run Smooth

The thing is, all online game releases experience issues. Think recently to the disastrous launch of Electronic Arts and Maxis’ flagship game Sim City. Then there’s the catastrophe that was Diablo III. World of Warcraft, despite the huge success that it is, got off to a ropy start too. So should we really be surprised that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was ever going to be plain sailing?

It’s not like Square Enix aren’t doing anything. They’re pulling out all the stops to make sure this game is as stable as it can be when it releases tomorrow. But, although their response has been good, they’re addressing issues that are what beta tests are for addressing and resolving, not the eleventh hour of a game’s release.

Early access is a real make or break period for the title. Expectations are running high for this relaunch; the game has already failed once. Reassuringly, if you do actually get that fleeting moment of actually being able to play, the game itself (bar the voice acting) is rather marvellous. But if players cannot be convinced during pre-release that the game is stable and playable, then they may send back their pre-orders and never to return to the lush world of Eorzea, regardless of how fantastic the gameplay and storyline actually are.

What really drives the contempt it that it’s clear that the incompetency at Square Enix is squarely on only one side of the Pacific. Whoever is running the NA/EU side of the operations should be feeling very uncomfortable at the moment. There have clearly been some very bad management decisions made about the NA/EU Data Centre, whether it’s not investing enough time, resources, staff, or, more likely, money into it.

Yes, players should be a bit more expecting and enduring of such problems, as Square Enix are really working hard at the moment to fix things. But, the frustration felt by many is becoming more and more justified with every time things go wrong, or get worse. With less than one day left to get things right before even more customers join the fray, the situation is looking rather grim. Even if things miraculously get resolved by then, the damage to the confidence of players may already be too great.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn releases on August 27th 2013. For more information about the game, please visit www.finalfantasyxiv.com.


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Author
Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
Bearded British game-bear. Likes his JRPGs accompanied with a G&T. Lives in London, UK. Also writes a lot about theatre and film. *jazz hands*