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Thoughts on XIV’s ‘fatigue’ system

August 26th, 2010 by Tony Garsow

If you’ve been following our coverage on Final Fantasy XIV here at FinalFantasy.net or elsewhere, you’re probably aware of the recent controversy over the implementation of “surplus experience points”. Before I go on to talk about it in detail, I’d like to make absolutely clear that Square-Enix is still testing this feature and they have mentioned multiple times that it may be changed partially or completely based on player and community feedback. When it comes to the final version, we can only speculate on what it will eventually look like. It may also give you some context that I’ve played the second and third beta testing phase at length. I am also a former player of Final Fantasy XI, and a current player of World of Warcraft. Now I’ve read here and there some varying opinions (including on the beta test forum) about the concerns of this feature and I think it really does boil down into two camps: those who oppose it out of principle and those who tolerate it based on what has been explained of the system. In this post I will try to encapsulate without stereotyping those feelings so that we might better understand this debate. I will then summarize my own personal feelings in closing. So I’ll take a crack at this bad boy, and hopefully I can shed some light on the subject. Hit the jump to read all about it!

First, it’s pertinent to define what Square-Enix plans to accomplish with Final Fantasy XIV and the surplus experience feature. In recent postings1 leading up to the time of this article, the development minds behind FFXIV have stated that they don’t want to reward players who grind one specific class for egregious amounts of time, and that they want players to be rewarded for playing for a shorter but smarter period of time. They want a player to feel accomplished after one or two hours of meaningful play, rather than an all-night grinding session. I will try to delve into this a bit more in-depth below when I dissect each side of this debate further.

The surplus experience feature can be explained thusly: you have eight hours of play time per week where you gain one-hundred percent of your potential experience points for your class. (It is important to note that your weapon/tool levels independently of your character.) If you exceed that allotment in one sitting, you will gain less and less experience over the course of the next seven consecutive hours of gameplay. Square-Enix also describes that if you play like this in non-consecutive bursts, it may take longer to reach hourly “thresholds” that tick away at your play time. However, if you decide to switch your class from Gladiator to Archer for example, you will be able to gain the full allotment of experience points for that specific class. There will be eighteen available classes at launch: combat, gathering, and crafting combined. Players are also able to easily change their class by equipping different weapons and tools in their respective slots. That’s basically it in a nutshell. Again, I stress that this is subject to change between now and the final version, and even then it may go through more changes based on feedback. So now that we know what it is, let’s take a look at the two major viewpoints of this feature’s implementation. I’ll start with those who oppose:

Point: “Why restrict this type of gameplay? If I want to grind one class for more than eight hours in a play session, why not let me? I’m paying a monthly fee for this MMORPG, and if I want to play if for more than the average Joe, why should I be discouraged to play the way I want for something I’m shelling out $12.99/mo. for?”

The major theme behind this sentiment seems to be a fundamental freedom of choice when playing a MMORPG especially when it comes to play style and time management. I’ve told my friends that I personally love grinding in some RPGs, and that it can be relaxing and almost therapeutic. Sure, some see it as a waste of time, but others see video games in general as a waste of time. There’s nothing like the gratification of coming home from work, sitting down with an ice-cold beer and booting up a RPG and grinding until the sun comes up to get some “shiny lewtz”.

Ultimately, people are going to vote on this with their wallets. If this feature is a deal-breaker, people are going to find another MMORPG that gives them this experience, and 2010 is going to offer them many. That, and the mantra that Square-Enix wants to cater to people who play for only one or two hours a day, may put people off who have more time to burn than others. When it comes down to it, Final Fantasy XIV, its players, and Square-Enix may be better served by scrapping this feature in favor of something else to promote a more meaningful experience playing their game.

Counterpoint: “If the same experience can be delivered in one or two hours instead of eight, that’s perfectly fine with me. MMORPGs rely too much on character progression coming down to “carrot-on-a-stick”, in which no matter how many hundreds of hours you sink into it, you’ll never feel accomplished. If you want to grind endlessly, just switch classes.”

Now, for the other side of this argument:

Point: “By encouraging players to switch classes by reducing EXP, Square-Enix is coaxing people to try out all the jobs that they have to offer instead of just one. If playing for two hours in FFXIV can equal eight hours of grinding in other games with the same level of satisfaction, I’ll take FFXIV. MMORPGs require a bigger time sink than other types of games, and the nature of baiting players along for hours and hours with addictive gameplay mechanics disingenuous and irresponsible.”

This argument seems to primarily support the same idea that Square-Enix is proposing: that gameplay in MMORPGs should be more meaningful. Why spend eight hours of your life doing what you can accomplish in two, especially if the only key difference between the two is that one road is longer? Grinding doesn’t require much of a thought process (in most circumstances) other then occasionally planning out before hand what you’ll grind or dealing with setbacks that prevent you from grinding. It doesn’t make it any easier either.

Given that players are able to gain the full benefit of experience points again when they switch classes; it isn’t as if you’re necessarily being discouraged from playing the game or even grinding. It just prevents extremely repetitive behavior and gameplay. With people potentially changing their job and play style on a regular basis, the game’s economy will thrive and will ultimately be a very rewarding pursuit to invest your time in. If you’re grinding a combat, harvesting, and crafting class every week, you’re going to end up way better off than grinding one combat class. If people want to get an edge on other players, they may want to start along that route.

The practice of keeping players inundated with repetitive tasks that end up being a drop in the bucket in terms of their overall progression is a mechanic in MMORPGs that needs to go. Other genres of games provide this kind of “carrot-on-a-stick” progression but do it in a fraction of the time. One could argue that this practice is deceptive on the part of the developer and recent legal action against companies such as NCSoft2 exposes the precedent that MMORPGs have set for themselves to become addictions rather than hobbies and leisure.

Counterpoint: “How I spend my time is inevitably up to me and my schedule, and if I desire to play a game this way, then I’m entitled to it. The developer shouldn’t shoulder the blame of people getting sucked into the addictive nature of MMORPGs, blame lies with the individual player for not being able to control their urges. The community shouldn’t have to suffer for the failings of one. If I’m not spending my time playing the way I want in Final Fantasy XIV, I’m doing it with a competitor.”

My personal thoughts in closing:

Its entirely understandable to want to be able to control our experiences playing these kinds of games, whether we want a specific experience or a general experience. People come into this genre from all places, whether they play games casually or intensely. Time management is intrinsically important when it comes to most MMORPGs, and I personally feel like a lot goes into Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft (and many other MMORPGs I’ve tried or observed) without feeling the same sense of satisfaction I get from off-line games of the RPG genre. With that said, I do like grinding with a purpose. It seems as if Final Fantasy XIV can provide that experience, just not in a conventional sense where you’re achieving one specific task or goal over a great period of time. If FFXIV can provide me with a more meaningful gameplay, while sating my desire to chill, decompress, and work on a specific goal with a sizable chunk of time, then I’m sold; even if I end up playing it less often that my other MMORPG dedications!

Feel free to comment below, or on our forum Ill enjoy reading your guys’ thoughts on the subject!

1 http://www.ffxivcore.com/topic/12068-balancing-character-growth-in-beta-3/ (Recent post on the FFXIV beta testing website via FFXIVCore.)
2 http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2010/08/smallwoodallegations.pdf (Transcript of Craig Smallwood v. NCSoft Corporation.)

Author’s note: Title has been changed from “Thoughts on XIV’s surplus experience system”, to a title that more accurately describes the topic. Apologies for any confusion. -Tony