PlayStation Home is closing down next week.
It was like Second Life, but with long loading times for managing your inventory. It ran only on the PS3. It was funded by microtransactions, both directly to Sony and from their cut of third-party developers' takes. Players could choose their wardrobes and decorate their homes and clubhouses, but could not create items or spaces themselves.
Final Fantasy XI is ending its content updates late this year.
It was an early-2000's era MMO, with far more haters than fans. The Final Fantasy name inspired a number of people to try it out, while its punishing mechanics and near-complete lack of in-game directions left most of those people disappointed. Those who toughed it out were rewarded with stories and cutscenes which were sometimes incomprehensible, but always breathtaking and epic ... just like in most Final Fantasy games.
These games were my homes.
FFXI got us through the worst years of our family of origin's abuse, and helped us find the self-confidence to take on a leadership role. Home came installed on a PlayStation 3 we received as a gift, soon after coming out as transgender, and it was one of our biggest lifelines. We were too scared to go outside, but we could log on and feel like we were actually with other people. And explore spaces we never could otherwise.
We tried to log in to Home tonight. It hurt too much, to see the place all but abandoned. I think it hurts more than it normally would, because of all the other people and things that we've lost in just the past few years. Just this month, someone we care about deeply and used to be able to call family told us to GTFO, apparently because our religious beliefs are now unacceptable to them.
Nearly everything that we've known in our life has basically died in a fire, and sometimes we feel like we died along with them. Sometimes, all we can do is sit here paralyzed and wish that someone would come back. Or that we hadn't driven them off, or that we hadn't been unable to be around them, or even just that we knew why they had gone.
Either way, we're sorry. And we hurt a lot, sometimes. Like right now.
The following essay was originally posted on the Final Fantasy XIV forums, where it will probably be eaten alive.
Full disclosure: I played FFXI for seven years or so, starting in 2004. I love FFXIV, but for different reasons than I loved FFXI.
When I started playing FFXI, I was completely taken in by its graphics, its community, and even its timesinks. It taught me the ferry arrives in 15 minutes, you need to have food to go levelling, and be careful ninjaing past Valkurm Dunes goblins. I took it all without questioning it, because this was my world and I wanted to go on adventures in it. And when it came time to do Divine Might, I /shouted and rallied my friends until we were herding 18 cats, which to me was the bigger challenge than the actual boss fight itself.
I'm glad that I have those memories, and I think the world needs more sandbox (or sandbox-ish) games. FFXI and EVE Online are "niche" titles, but with surprisingly loyal players. And if FFXI's slowly shrinking while EVE's slowly growing, it's partly because FFXI's based on 10-year-old tech and went neglected for years.
I'm not sure it's possible to build into a game, by design, the kinds of emergent gameplay those two have to offer. I don't think you can queue up in the Duty Finder, for the kind of unforgettable experience that was my friends and me beating FFXI's Ultima with 10 seconds left on the timer. I don't think scripted, themepark games should replace sandbox ones, and I think it's sad that 1.0's fans and SWG's fans lost theirs (multiple times, in the case of SWG).
But I also think they're unfairly romanticized. And I think sandbox fans like me tend to gloss over their faults, and give other people the sense that we think we are better than "casual" gamers, which are really just "anyone not as invested in ___ game as I am."
I think we should stop doing that.
For every one who has glowing memories, there are a lot more who remember a bewildering and frustrating game. For every one who remembers discovering how to beat a tough boss fight, there are a hundred who looked it up on FFXIclopedia (or Erecia's guide, remember that?). Sometimes you want to do it yourself, but you want to be told how to do it. And sometimes, you just wish the darned ferry would get here already.
For every day I spent having awesome adventures, I probably spent ten getting my head handed to me in Valkurm, or running around doing tedious crap and waiting for JP midnight. We don't remember this stuff as well, but they're all that the people who quit remember, which is why FFXI and EVE both have so many haters. Not because the "casual" gamers weren't "hardcore" enough to "learn to play," but because the games disrespected their time and money investments, and failed to fulfill the promise of being an awesome Final Fantasy / Internet Spaceships adventure.
Who made that promise, and how they made it, we could probably argue about. But FFXI and EVE are simply not like the games next to them on the shelves, and someone who bought FFXI thinking it'd be like FFX would be in for a rude shock.
(Just got my FFX/X-2 preorder, BTW. It's gorgeous.)
FFXIV:ARR, I feel, fulfills that promise. Say what you want about it, it is a Final Fantasy game, complete with boss fight and ending sequence. It's just unique among FF games in that you can keep playing after you beat it, unlocking more jobs and teaming up to defeat superbosses, and the developers keep adding new features and storyline quests.
I think their "ideal player" is a core FF gamer, who's new to the MMO world. I think that's the person they design for. And while I sometimes miss not having stuff spelled out for me, I'm also not sure what the difference is between having to research crafting recipes and food stats on FFXIclopedia, and having the game's UI just tell me. Beyond the fact that one of those things makes me do the same work as FFXIV's devs, unpaid.
TL;DR Sandboxes are fun, but people aren't worse gamers than I am because they don't want to do unpaid dev work.
So, I'm reading Final Fantasy series fans' criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII and its spinoffs, as found in the comment section of this article and the apparently-widespread attitudes that it addresses. They seem to amount to:
The story is weird and convoluted, and the characters are unlikeable anime stereotypes.
As someone who's played and/or watched Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts, FFVII: Crisis Core, FFXI: Chains of Promathia, and Final Fantasy IX, I have to wonder ... are we talking about the same series of games here? Are we even on the same planet?
Yes, the first half of FFXIII was more or less linear. So was a lot of FFX, as I recall. And Cloud Strife, FFVII's protagonist, was getting flack for being an emotionless anime stereotype with unbelievable weapons and hair since before it was cool.
Here's where I think the real issue is. This is the first half an hour or so of Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay, but you should be able to spot what "mainstream" gamers don't like about it in the first five minutes.
Notice something about the protagonists? That's right. The first two that we see on-camera are a white woman and a black man. The white woman never gets a love interest, and the black man never stops being the Voice of Reason and standing up to white characters.
Now take a look at this footage of a LAN party.
What do pretty much all of the gamers there have in common? What two characteristics do virtually all of them have in common? And if you answer with parts of their anatomy, I will slap you.
That is all.