Pay to Not Play: On Jump Potions (EWCxTMP)

This is an article I wrote to be featured in The Moogle Post, a fantastic online Final Fantasy XIV fan magazine you should check out on mooglemedia.com. You can view it in its final form, complete with a beautiful layout treatment, alongside lots of other great articles in the July 2017 issue of The Moogle Post, right here.

 

Take a trip back to the days of old, before you ever hit level 60. Think about your least-favorite moment of that leveling experience. Is it that series of quests before Titan, where you’re literally running errands for 10+ quests so you can have a damn meal before you fight him? How about that stretch between level 47 and 50 where you’re out of story quests and grinding Dzemael Darkhold and Aurum Vale? Maybe you only remember the leveling days for their moments of triumph. Did you love the time you protected the secret of gobbie cheesemake from the Illuminati? Were you in tears when [Spoiler] showed up to fight the [Spoilers] so you could land the [Spoiler] in [Spoiler], only to be [Spoiler] in a giant [spoiler]? That was pretty epic.

 

Now ask yourself this question: Would FFXIV mean as much to you now if you’d never had those experiences?

 

Right now, some would-be adventurer is facing that very issue, due to 4.0 and its implementation of the infamous “jump potion”. It’s the biggest thing to hit Eorzea since Bahamut. Too soon?

 

The details boil down to this:

There were three “jump potion” items implemented at the launch of Stormblood.

  • Tales of Adventure: A Realm Reborn skips up to the final quest of the 2.x story.

  • Tales of Adventure: Heavensward skips up to the final quest of the 3.x story.

    • Both items unlock all dungeons and trials that would otherwise require side quest or story quest progression to access. They also grant the player a chocobo with a randomly-generated name, a Grand Company affiliation based on their starting city-state, and a full backlog of cutscenes, accessible via The Unending Journey.

  • Tales of Adventure: [Job] levels one job to level 60, and grants a level 60 weapon and level 60 gear. The player will have all job quests finished and every skill unlocked, but this can only be purchased once per player account (for now). This can’t be used for RDM or SAM.

 

In totality, jumping to where the player base left off just before Stormblood would cost $50 USD, or basically the cost of the game and its expansions.

 

The Resistance: a.k.a. Do You Even Hear, Feel, Think, Bro?

Emotions run pretty high on both sides of this debate, and understandably so. On one hand, people don’t think it’s fair that some sprout will get to wander our end game without climbing the mountains we climbed. The journey from A Realm Reborn through Heavensward is about 150 hours, if you don’t stop to smell the roses, and there are some really enticing roses. That adventure means making friends, shouting for rezzes, and having some angel/asshole tell you how to tank or use Cleric Stance or not spam Blizzard. It’s a process that does demand a lot of the player’s time, but that also rewards the investment with this nerdy, but kind of awesome feeling of having actually grown into the title of Warrior of Light.

There’s real validity in the argument that playing this game means seeing its story. Some of Final Fantasy XIV’s biggest strengths lie in its excellent writing. There’s meaningful lore in each zone, class, trial, and gear set. Playing the game on the outside of all of that can’t possibly be as fulfilling an experience.

There’s also the issue of player skill. FFXIV is one of the most skill-based games in the MMORPG genre; so much so, that the new job changes – one of the main draws of Stormblood – are designed in a specific attempt to lower the player skill gap. Many current players fear queuing for a level 70 dungeon and getting matched with That Tank, who doesn’t know how to use Flash or Provoke. The most recent Letter from the Producer Live did mention that players who jump to level 60 will still have access to the game’s tutorial trial, Hall of the Novice. We’re left to wonder if that thing is good enough to train people like That Tank even when they have 20+ abilities to learn.

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The Ambassadors: a.k.a. I Don’t Care Who You Are, Where You’re From, or What You Did As Long As You’re 60.

The other side of the FFXIV player base has reasons why story and level skips are fine. Regarding the former, players already have the option to skip cutscenes and many players take advantage of that. In fact, there’s one particular member of The Moogle Post I always make fun of for having skipped like 90% of the story. You know what you did. The point is, plenty of dedicated FFXIV players love the game and don’t care in the slightest why we all just fought goblins and giant robots inside a more-giant robot. That’s partially a factor of the game having a (usually) fantastic community. People often say MMO’s are about the stories we have individually. Those moments happen to every player, even outside of cutscenes.

That type of passion for the game despite a lack of patience for Alphinaud’s rambling can also come from just how damn fun the game is. There’s more than enough gameplay to be found trying to reach the skill ceiling on just one class, but with other combat classes, disciples of the hand and land, and other non-combat gameplay options, this game is very much enjoyable without paying attention to the story.

There’s a strong concern that we’ll have a bunch of players who paid their way to 60, that we’ll get stuck with our good friend, That Tank. But consider why we know That Tank, and players like his buddy Ice Mage exist in the first place: there are already bad players. Plenty of people who played this game from the betas of 1.0 up to your last migraine-inducing run of Dun Scaith are terrible at the game. The risk that we’d end up with a max-level player population where 70% of the players don’t know their class is already a reality. Despite this, we’ve built raid teams, cleared content, and otherwise enjoyed the game, anyway.

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It’s worth considering that allowing people to pay for a catch-up is actually better for all of us. We can recruit our friends who have more money than time, and teach them the game. I personally know tons of people who wonder why I’m so in love with FFXIV and have a desire to find out for themselves, but are intimidated when they see we’re now basically four years and two expansions in. The idea of a $90 entry fee to get thousands of hours of video game (and friendships with us, the sexier members of this community) sounds a lot better than, “Sweet! You got the game! The real game starts when you hit level 70, so here’s some low-level gear and I’ll see you in October.” A larger player population is almost a guaranteed positive for the game.

 

So, basically this is the second coming of Bahamut

For the sake of information, I actually looked into what happened when a similar game, the Garlemald to FFXIV’s Eorzea, World of Warcraft added a level skip option. As you would expect, people were pissed when it was announced. These scenarios are slightly different, though. Firstly, power leveling used to be a huge part of WoW. It’s pretty easy to make lots of level progress without dungeons or quests. Secondly, low-level content is irrelevant in WoW. Unlike in FFXIV, there was no level sync, so doing dungeons at level 15 was super difficult. Lastly, you can only play one class on each character in that game. If you’re a level 100 shaman, and you want to see what a wizard can do, you have to make a completely new, level 1 character. 

With that information, you would think leveling items would sell super well, and you’d be wrong. World of Warcraft players still never took significant advantage of the pay-to-progress option, and subsequent WoW expansions in the future have added more level jumps, with almost no detriment to the player base. On that note, the Chinese version of FFXIV, which released long after the US, EU, and JP versions, already has “jump potion”-like items in the Mog Station. Those barely sell as well. It may be accurate to assume these items won’t ruin 4.0 for us all.

Personally, I’m like “Whatevs. Ain’t my money.” Other people cheapening their own experiences won’t somehow invalidate the fun I had leveling, or the time I’ve put into being a good player over these last five thousand hours. The players who want to “git gud” and stick with the game will find that passion whether they grind out the levels or not. We’re a pretty inviting community so what’s wrong with a couple more sprouts? I mean, like, the game has $20 mounts…