I don't really make a habit of defending Square on principle; I defend stuff that's defensible in the first place. There are decisions that might seem odd, but they make logical sense and can actually be defended in the correct light. That's mostly a function of trying to see a reasonable set of decisions and reasonable motivations amidst what can sometimes seem baffling. It's not always an easy road.
And then there are times when I can't even start to decipher what in the world anyone in the management train was thinking. Even when I do decipher the thought process that led to the action, it's the sort of thing that leads to some mixture of bafflement and irritation at the overall lack of thinking. That's my reaction when I look at the whole Square-Enix Account merger fiasco for Final Fantasy XI -- something that could have been a great idea but wound up just being an overall terrible execution.
When FFXI first came out, of course, its signup procedure was a little bit odd, but not hugely so. The main issue was the fact that players were given a randomly generated account name and password rather than having any real control. This went along with Square's equally random decisions to restrict server selection and otherwise shuttle players into random directions. It makes a certain amount of sense, but the net result is that players were saddled with not just a launching program of limited functionality but an account that consisted of a more or less random string of characters.
Of course, this was a terrible solution. And I'd like to speculate on what Square was thinking, but I can't really guess. But at least it included payment options that were entirely normal, even if you had to access them via the awkward and ultimately unnecessary PlayOnline viewer.
Yes, I understand, that was a vital part of making the game work on the PlayStation 2. But if you were playing on the PC, which covers the entirety of the playerbase when the game first kicked off on this side of the pond, it was entirely unnecessary. It also made accessing the game a lot more difficult than necessary... but now I'm complaining about something that's water so far under the bridge it forms an entirely new ocean.
Anyhow, later on down the line, Square-Enix decided that the entire PlayOnline account system was a terrible idea. This was a totally reasonable assumption that, unfortunately, led to virtually no change in the way that players logged in. It did result in the addition of the Square-Enix account, which would lead directly to Final Fantasy XIV's billing system, which... OK, yeah, I've never had much to say about that because it was a staggeringly strange way of implementing anything.
To recap: Essentially, you either signed up with a service that wanted to be PayPal but was endlessly shadier, or you bought Crysta via PayPal and then used that to pay for the game's subscription. This was a process that reminded one of the "Itchy & Scratchy Dollars" from The Simpsons, which was essentially a jab at converting currency for no reason beyond converting currency. It never became a major issue, mostly because the game's billing never actually went into effect.
I'd call that foreshadowing if it weren't transparent. Square-Enix started up the merge and offered the exact same payment options as FFXIV had. Except this is for a game that people had been subscribing to for years by entering credit card information and then just relaxing, rather than converting a big pool of money to a big pool of a special kind of money and then deducting money from the special pool of money and then you just close the window and go play another game because that's clearly far less painful in the long run.
Thankfully -- and probably due to Tanaka's no longer being at the helm -- the whole plan quickly moved into the "whoops, never mind, new strategy" territory. Square backed off. But the real question is why in the world the move even started. How would this even come within spitting distance of helping players? Was there any conceivable benefit?
I can follow the start of the logic pretty reasonably. PlayOnline is pretty useless, and getting rid of it is an entirely reasonable choice of actions. Except that the launcher itself isn't going away... well, OK, it's kind of late in the game to start coding a client for the PC that doesn't require it, I suppose. But at least we can get rid of the PlayOnline account information, finally.
Oh, and here's hoping you hadn't already done that if you had linked your account information and assumed that you would never need that albatross again.
But then we get to the actual billing options, and somehow everything just falls apart. Did you think that people would be happy to start buying Crysta? The whole model only works if you have some sort of microtransaction action going along with the game subscription, and neither FFXI nor FFXIV does. I'd welcome it -- I love getting the opportunity to buy new hats for my characters -- but it doesn't exist at the moment.
I'd love to suggest a reasoning behind all this. I'd love to point to what the developers honestly thought this would do. You still have to jump through all of the inane hoops of the original account setup, but you don't derive any actual benefits, and all you get is a removal of more useful payment options.
That's our column for this week, or more accurately, our enormous rant for the week. (It's kind of the time to be ranting in my neck of the woods.) As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, let's talk about standards, attribute points, and Galka wearing underwear. (And yes, there's a point of intersection.)
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.