No, it's more about the question of whether the upcoming updates will be the last, or if there will even be any changes that could break something. There is an elephant in the room with a big number fourteen on its side, and while few fans of the game are upset that Final Fantasy XIV is coming... well, it raises no shortage of questions about the future of the game we're already playing.
And it's not new. People were saying as far back as the leadup to the July update that something was rotten in the state of Jeuno. But when coupled with the promise that Final Fantasy XI isn't over... well, there's an excellent article that almost every fan needs to read on Allakhazam, summarizing what no small number of fans have been thinking. Where are we actually going to be when the dust clears?
Let's be perfectly clear about something: no one is forecasting the absolute death of FFXI. EverQuest is still running along and getting expansions, and that game isn't precisely attracting new players at an alarming rate. One might argue that part of the reason is that the entire Station Pass concept makes also playing EverQuest on occasion far less daunting than having a completely separate subscription, but that's a discussion for another time -- and really, would it be so difficult for Square-Enix to give us an FFXI subscription along with Final Fantasy XIV?
Probably not. But there isn't a whole lot to indicate that we'll get any such thing, which leads us to the problem of how closed FFXI is becoming to new adventurers.
When I started a new account, it was after a long break, and I was immediately struck by how much smaller the world felt. Not that I think the game has hemorrhaged players too badly -- it makes money back for Square quite handily -- but if you're starting the game, just think about all of the things you need to do right out of the gate. You need your subjob. You need your airship passes, both to Kazham and to the capitals. You need a pass to get on the boat to Al Zahbi, and you need a chocobo license. You have fourteen advanced jobs to unlock, Tenshodo reputation to gain, and a whole boatload of spells to buy.
All of this is going to cost you a lot of money, and several of these things are going to all but require the help of other players. Your subjob items are unobtainable solo until Level 25 or so, and if you think you can hit 25 easily with no sub, I envy your skill at overcoming obstacles. Oh, and let's not forget that you also need to do several missions and travel through time for several of these, while shedding a silent tear for those people who don't know to run through Garlaige Citadel in the past.
We have a lot of barriers to helping new players get to a point where they can just start experimenting with options. We don't think about these things that much, because we didn't have to do them all at once. If you've been playing for most of the game's lifespan, you just had to do one or two new things each expansion.
The bonus is that there is a real sense of having reached new and expanding plateaus even if you already had jobs at 75. The downside is that it makes the game an increasingly closed system. High-level players are much less willing to help a low-level character get their subjob garbage or kill that stupid wyvern so they can become a Dragoon, because it's old hat. There's enough of a top-end population that they don't need to sweat it all that much.
From the perspective of Square, I can't imagine the game looks all that salvagable. They're not seeing huge numbers of players leave, but they're probably seeing a slow trickle down with the occasional slight trend back up. New players are going to have a very long climb ahead of them.
If we want FFXI to stick around after FFXIV launches, some of that climb should be -- must be -- removed.
Make subjobs more obtainable. Make it possible to travel to Al Zahbi and Kazham without so many hoops to jump through. Make the rank missions below 6 or so soloable at a reasonable level -- or, heck, just make all of a nation's missions soloable. The vast majority of people playing the game have been sitting at Rank 10 or near enough for an eternity. The time when gathering these things was an accomplishment is long past, replaced with a time when these things are absolutely mandatory to your play experience.
Yes, the endgame is wonderful and engaging, but most new players aren't ever going to get there at this rate. They're going to quest a bit, get discouraged when they see the slog that's awaiting them, and then they will leave. And by all indications, FFXIV will not have this barrier to entry. The designers have said that they disliked the forced group leveling mechanics and that they want to do away with it. People will have a much easier time picking up and playing.
And similarly... yes, we do need a new expansion. These things should really go hand in hand. One of the wonderful things I remember about the launch of Treasures of Aht Urghan's launch was the fact that everyone, no matter the level, was diving in together. People were playing new jobs at low levels, or taking the chance to level another job because it would set them apart from a sea of pirates, blue mages, and monks playing with dolls. People were exploring and trying new things, at all levels, because the content was all there.
That, to me, is the sort of thing we really need to hear to confirm that there's life left in FFXI. At this point, the critical mass at endgame is simply unavoidable. And if it's only targeted by making a new area to travel to, well, it's going to become yet another barrier to entry in a game with too many of them. Over the game's lifespan so far Square has consistently turned out expansions that were deep, immersive, and full of content and additions that were relevant to everyone, enforcing the idea that a Level 15 WAR/MNK and a Level 75 DRG/SAM were both, at the end of the day, adventurers with common goals and shared hopes.
Of course, the flip side is that they're just going to spend the whole time telling us how awesome FFXIV is going to be and when it's getting released. Which, as consolation prizes go, isn't all that bad after all.