Look. I'm willing to argue back and forth over whether or not a game deserves the "beta" tag, and in fact I have had to do that behind the scenes ever since I took over Betawatch. But I don't have to argue definitions on this one; Naoki Yoshida himself said that this was not a beta but a free trial. When the man in charge says that it's barely a beta, it's not really a beta any longer.
And we all knew that. If these errors hadn't cropped up, I doubt anyone would have even taken the very idea that this was a beta test seriously. We were well past the point when any major changes would be made. When a game is due for release in about week, that means that the boxes are being finalized or are already finished. Nothing left to do but double-check the systems and make sure that everything works.
Unfortunately, it turned out that not everything worked.
What followed thereafter was... well, not good, certainly. Users suffering from the errors were asked to submit bug reports on the forums (which were repeatedly crashing throughout the test period) and then received absolutely no further communication regarding the issue. Servers were closed to new characters and new servers were opened, but nothing was said about players trying to play characters that were already there. The beta test was extended slightly at a time when most of the people who would have liked to play were at work.
Of course, you could argue that the entire point of this non-test was to double-check network issues like this one. (Why these issues cropped up now but not in the last test is a mystery for the ages, I suppose.) It's not technically early access, after all, and no one wants early access to translate into paid beta testing. So the open beta wasn't perfect -- no big deal, right?
Except that the open beta was also the chance for the game to surprise people who were still on the fence, something that was not done for people who got stuck unable to play or the people who heard about both the issues and the complete lack of communication from Square regarding that problem. That swings right back around into problem territory again.
Now, with pre-orders coming around, the game's website is still giving people issues, up to the point that some readers are asking me if I had the same issue of "the site won't take my darn code." I haven't, but that's because I'm a Legacy player; I can bypass a lot of this. The people who have the right to get into early access cannot currently get in to early access.
You know, the early access period that the last beta test was specifically trying to avoid interrupting.
I appreciate that Square-Enix is being smart in many ways with this game. Server additions are slow and used only as a last resort, for starters, which is much better than the current trend of "launch with X, double that number, consolidate to half the launch number in a few months." The game itself is great fun. But the last thing that it needs is a reputation for not working or a website that doesn't actually function.
The company is acknowledging these errors, and I'm sure some of the lag in communication is simply due to the differences between Japan and the US, both in programming culture and in time. As it stands, though, the launch isn't going all that smoothly, and it's starting to muddy the image that has been constructed over the past several months.
What has been done with that image is nothing short of amazing. In the span of months, Final Fantasy XIV has gone from a punchline to a game that people are genuinely anticipating. I even spent an entire column talking about how it converted someone with zero interest in the game to being very excited. The time of its release is right (other big-ticket launches are all due for next year), the game itself is hitting a lot of notes people want, and the only thing that might be less than viable is the subscription-only business model.
Nothing can be done about the previous beta test. But the team behind the game needs to know that this was unacceptable because against all odds they've gotten a second chance. There will be no third chance, and I would hate to see all this hard work go to waste because of something as ridiculous as a minor database issue.
Feedback can be left in the comments, as always, or sent by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and if there was any doubt, you can expect more extras right up to the official launch on the 27th. (Much as with my preview in February, I have taken on an insane and enormous project.) Next week: thoughts after the first full week in the launch environment.
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.