Square-Enix has taken the controversial decision to limit players' ability to level up in Final Fantasy XIV - by imposing an 8 hour a week time limit. This doesn't mean you have to stop playing the game after your eight hour Sunday stint until the next weekend - you can still play and converse with other players and complete quests as normal.
But it does mean you won't be able to play the game non-stop as soon as you get back from the midnight launch and hit the level cap before some people have even got the wrapping off. This is, in my view, a very good thing.
As the game's director, Nobuaki Komoto, explains: "First off, the main concept behind FFXIV is allowing those players with little time on their hands to play effectively, and game balance is based off of that. Furthermore, it is being designed to not give those with more time on their hands to play an unfair advantage."
This is bound to annoy hardcore MMO players. But to be honest, it only gives them a healthier way to enjoy the game. And if you want to spend all day every day playing the game, you still can (especially as the 8-hour limit reportedly only applies to one job, so you can switch jobs and level up a different one if you really want to feel like you're progressing). If anything, it will mean that experts' rate of growth when they are allowed to level up will be far greater than those annoying newbies who waste their allocated time doing stupid dances or (gasp) talking to other people.
Above: Everybody's going to be watching the clock when Final Fantasy XIV hits the servers
As for newer players, this system is going to be incredibly welcome. No longer will the best players be kings before you've even given your character a name. You'll be able to grow naturally with the rest of the online community - and everyone will have the chance to be one of the first to reach the level cap, even if they do have a full-time job and/or a life.
Limited levelling systems like this have actually been used before. A similar method was used to prevent people leaving their pet hamster (or whatever) to press the jump button in Oblivion for a couple of days. After you've levelled up a certain amount, the game demands you find a bed and sleep. This means you have to be actively involved in the game instead of cheating it or just grinding away without a break. It's arguably better for it... which of course doesn't excuse the godawful like-for-like system that the enemies enjoy at your expense.
Above: Oblivion's enemies level with you, which is rubbish. But the sleep-to-level mechanic itself is sound
In fact, the only thing that's slightly dubious about the FFXIV move is the subscription fee. You still have to pay it every month to play the game. This appears at first glance to be a cynical way to get people to pay for longer. There will undoubtedly be players out there who will see it as their duty as a Final Fantasy fan to reach the level cap, which means they'll play it as long as they have to. If that quest takes some 300 hours, that's nine months of subscription costs. Those same players will bemoan the new system, but I guarantee very few will be able to ignore their passion and boycott the game.
However, how many World of Warcraft players hit the level cap and then stop playing? It doesn't happen - most either continue at the highest level or start a new character. Either way, they're still paying the fee.
Good or bad, the result for Square-Enix is a business model that keeps bringing in the money over months and months, a community that keeps coming back every week to get the most out of their allocated eight hours, and just maybe the most successful console MMO ever as a result. And every Final Fantasy fan would love to see that.
At the end of the day, Squeenix wins, regular players win and noobs will be able to enjoy the game and get into MMOs. Only the hardest of hardcore fans will suffer. And, let's be honest, even they will still be able to play the game they love - they'll just have added incentive to make their limited levelling time count and race to be the first to get there despite the system. So surely everyone's a winner?
Let me know what you think in the comments.
26 Aug, 2010