Did the Extended Free Trial Hurt FFXIV? Answer: No

Thayos over at ZAM posted a well-reasoned editorial asking “Did the Extended Free Trial Hurt FFXIV?”  His conclusion (while hedging somewhat)  was that the extended free trial backfired because it allowed those players who don’t enjoy FFXIV to hang around longer and poison the community.  We’ve hung out with Thayos a few times now, and respect his opinion, but on this one we disagree.  Let us explain…

  • FFXIV is not FFXI.  Sure we all know that it feels like it at times, but the fact is that the games are pretty different from a pure game-play perspective.    Levequests and synthesis completely revamp the solo-ability of the game.  The armoury system allows for experimentation from the very first log-in in a way that FFXI never really allowed – and certainly not to the same degree or with the same ease.  And while large-scale battles and even party dynamics are in major flux, it seems clear that while there will certainly be overlap with, and will always be comparison to, FFXI, the game itself will be different and cater, to a decent degree, to a different audience.  Which brings us back to what’s at issue – the community and player-base.  Precisely because of the history with FFXI, and the surface similarities, the community will take more time to adjust to the differences.  As we determined last month, 57% was long-time FFXI players.  These players need time to recognize, and hopefully accept, the differences.  FFXIV wants these players – and more likely – needs these players.  The more (free) time players are given to experience Eorzea and FFXIV, the more likely they will stick around and eventually come to terms with the differences from FFXI.
  • Trolls should not dictate development.  Thayos comments, rightly so, on the increase in trolling on community forums.  We’ve seen this too – and have tried to manage it as best we can.  It is a fine line in a situation like this – where you want to allow a platform for everyone to express their opinion – and that means ensuring that those that like FFXIV – or at least trust that SE will improve the game and they will like FFXIV – are able to express their opinion as well.  But trolls, almost by definition, are loud, vocal and prolific.  So they tend to dominate the conversation, even if they are the minority.  While one solution is to stifle the free speech of the trolls – it is not one that we favor.  The extended free trial was an attempt to convert those trolls into players.  Pure and simple.
  • Not only did the extra 30 days not backfire, Square Enix should extended it even further.  This is a long-haul for Square Enix.  FFXI has been around for the better part of a decade.  The MMO battle is not won in the first month, or even in the first 3 months.  But it can be lost in the first week.  Square Enix should know this better than anyone.  A bad launch can kill a MMO – and by most (all?) accounts this launch was bad.  The remedy is not to bury its corporate head in the sand and press on while ignoring the community.  The remedy is to own up to the situation.  Confront the problems head on – both from a technical standpoint (i.e. the November/December fixes) and from a community relations standpoint (i.e. the extended free trial).  The problem is not that the free trial gave trolls more time to troll.  The problem is that the technical fixes are not here yet.  So extending the free trial until after the fixes are in is the solution.  Let the player-base experience the fixes before forcing them to make a monthly commitment.  Whatever short term losses in revenue there are will be more than made up for if the game can recover from the shaky launch with a larger, committed, player-base.

The free trial (whether extended or not) is about allowing players to experience the game as Square Enix wants it experiences.  Whether the player approves of the game in its current shape, disapproves of the game in its current shape, or somewhere in between, it is not the game Square Enix wants the players to experience right now.  To Square Enix’s credit, and to our benefit, that message has been conveyed clearly.

Addendum:  After I wrote the above (but before I had posted it obviously) SE extended the free trial for another 30-days.  With 90 days of free play being provided, what can we as a community do in the meantime?  Square Enix does read our forums.  So use them and continue to provide constructive feedback.  We can see that the feedback is making its way into the game.  Also, don’t let trolls ruin the community or your play experience.  There are thousands of players who are enjoying the game and enjoying the community.  They may not always be the most vocal, but nobody should feel like they are alone in their enjoyment of the game.