Alpha Test Leaks (an Op-Ed)

If there’s one thing worse than not enough information provided to Final Fantasy XIV fans, it’s too much information provided to Final Fantasy XIV fans. In our quest for knowledge about this exciting new game, it’s easy to forget that we’re only a small part of the potential player base and that the consequences of leaked Alpha test information may have a greater impact than it first appears.

Human beings erect statues to honor four main groups of people: religious figures, politicians, war heroes, and explorers. It’s in our nature to explore new frontiers and we honor those that do. Part of the excitement in a new MMO is getting that taste of a new world to experience. I daresay, “To boldly go where no one has gone before,” if you’ll pardon the geekiness.

It’s just human nature that fans of this game would want to learn all they could before their first journey on release day. After months in the proverbial desert, with only a few drops of precious Final Fantasy XIV news updates to drink, word of an Oasis nearby would be too irresistible to pass up.

But once Alpha testers started leaking information last week, this is exactly what happened. People downloaded copies of the game client to dissect the class ability descriptions contained within the code. Screenshots of the game world and the incomplete character creation screens circled the globe across the internet. And, most infamously, an individual who goes by PookyPoo went so far as to live stream the Alpha test in-progress to presumably hundreds of people: a veritable act of gratuitous pornography in fandom circles.

So while fans swam in data overload last week, it was easy to forget that we really weren’t supposed to see any of what we just saw. But tell a thirsty person that they shouldn’t be drinking the freely available water, and you’re liable to get punched in the nose. I, too, was swept up in the allure of the pond of perspicacity to even consider the consequences of the leaked information I was unexpectedly privy to. And I resented those who tried to control the damage.

“Damage, you say?”

Well, with the data “hangover” now passed, I’ve had a chance to reconsider the consequences of what has transpired. And I believe there is more harm than good to what we’ve just witnessed.

1. Non-fans Get the Wrong Impression

It may be hard to believe, but the Final Fantasy XIV community as it exists today is only a fraction of the number of players who will sign up for the game on release day and beyond. Most people who will play this game someday are only taking a cursory glance at best over what’s going on with its development.

The first impression of someone like this could be a screenshot of some horrible glitch that occurred in the Alpha test. Not having much context to go on, they could conclude that the game was too buggy to play. The result? Square-Enix lost a customer, and you lost a teammate for your guild.

2. Fans Get the Wrong Impression Also

FFXIV Class Ability lists appear on the internet explaining what all the abilities of each Class in the game are. Others have their leveling planned out already based on their observations of the Alpha test.

But forgotten is that Square-Enix is relying heavily on Alpha tester feedback at this stage to (possibly) widely change the direction of the game. Every aspect of FFXIV continues to be quite flexible and could be completely shaken up. Menu screens could be revamped and shuffled, default keys rearranged, abilities could disappear completely, the whole leveling system could be reworked into something different. It’s the whole point of the Alpha test.

Any opinions formed on how things work could be completely out-dated weeks from now.

3. The Appearance of Impropriety on Fan Sites

It’s hard to convince the organization that’s providing you secret information that you’re not breaking their Non-disclosure Agreement while you’re running web site that’s openly discussing their secrets.

Certainly, the administrators of any major Final Fantasy fan site are put in that awful rock-and-a-hard-place because of leaked alpha information that fans irresistibly want to talk about. Do they side with Square-Enix, restrict talk to official press releases only, and potentially alienate the fans that support their site? Or do they side with the fans, and risk jeopardizing all they have worked for to have a close relationship with Square-Enix for years to come?

Leaked information has and will likely continue to strain fan sites as discussions are forced to move off site to less conspicuous locations. The effect leaked information has of sapping the fan base before the game even starts is absolutely damaging to the long term success of Final Fantasy XIV.

The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Your Friend

Certainly, Final Fantasy XIV fans can all agree that they want the game to be as fun and successful as it could possibly be. Wanting to learn about and access the game, even if development is still in progress, is just a part of that passion, and can seem like Square-Enix is working against its fans by trying to keep its Alpha Test a secret.

The reason Square-Enix does make their testers agree to a Non-disclosure Agreement is not because they hate their fans, but because they want to put the best face on FFXIV so that anyone who is curious about it will not be confused about what to expect. If people get the wrong impression now, it may influence them to look elsewhere for a game. The entire point of the NDA, then, is to keep these misunderstandings from happening, especially when anything that happens in the Alpha test could be totally different by release day.

To those thirsty for new game data, particularly when news get slow, it could seem like spilled secrets are mana from heaven. But, when Alpha testers leak information they agreed that they wouldn’t, they cause real damage to the prospects of your future fun. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to learn what they can about Final Fantasy XIV. But keep in mind, the leakers are not the heroes they may at first seem to be.

Written by SharpTalon.
My thanks to ElementalAngel, DC1701, Kylamay, and Joewight for the elements of this article’s picture.