|These dudes are -so- surprised that people actually still talk about FF14.|
(Yes, I am proud of that alliteration, sue me.)
So, it's been running the internet rounds lately and even though I've shown basically zero interest in FF14 (for good reason; It is after all, er, 'supposed' to be a subscription based game and we all know my feelings on that subject, and I'm sure we all kind of know my general feelings for FF games in general) the latest news -is- fairly interesting. In that the way they are trying to fix FF14 is hilariously ham-fisted with every bit of the Squeenix arrogance we've come to lo-.....resp-.....expect. Basically, the plan is to continue with their complete redesign of the game from now to the newly announced "Holiday 2012" window for the PS3 version of the game, which isn't that bad, right? Game really needs redesigned, which has been shown several times over; and it's doing well, since the common consensus is that the game is a lot different than it was at release, and for the better.
"But" and you knew there was going to be a but, they're, uhh, charging for it. I know, big surprise, a Subscription based MMO that's been free-to-play (basically a Beta since it's release) is actually going to start charging like they planned. It's obviously going to start, y'know, next year when the game's been redesigned, right? Nah. When then? Next month. Because, y'know, this is a good idea, right? Anyways, I'm sure there's some way this could all be twisted around to harken a similarity between this situation and the Minecraft situation, i.e. people paying to participate in a Beta, but there's one very crucial fact missing from that argument's logic. People buying Minecraft were -informed- it was a Beta, whereas people who bought Final Fantasy XIV before it became an internet pariah of games were under the impression that it was, well, a game, as in a finished product on par with Squeenix's own previous foray into MMOs. In the sense that an MMO can be shipped as a finished product, yet still grow over time through regular updates and Expansion Packs.
This is going to be one of those times where I say "I don't like it, but I understand" yet continue to insist that it is, perhaps, not the wisest choice. Obviously, FFXIV until now has mostly been a giant hole that Squeenix employees roll wheelbarrows of money up to and dump, sometimes jumping in after, so they really need to start making some of this money back. But turning the whole game over to a different payment type in the middle of a complete upheaval and overhaul of the entirety of the game is alienating, in a word. You can imagine just how many people who are currently playing the game now will simply say "Nope!" when Squeenix comes around with their hands out for the first subscription fee and just decide to stop playing the game.
What I would suggest, with my very limited perusal of Final Fantasy XI, is that they take the structure there into account for Final Fantasy XIV. I'm not too up on the knowledge of MMOs, but I'm pretty sure that you get X amount of Character Slots (something like 3? I imagine) per account. However, FFXI is different in that you simply pay for your account, and then you have a "Character Fee" which I'm going to assume is for every character you make beyond your first one. So rather than turn the whole game over at once, I would suggest easing people into it. People bought the game, that entitles them to one character, but if you want a second, third, etc. starting next month it's going to cost you. While true that you're going to get people perfectly content to play your game completely free of charge by keeping only one character and being happy with it in this interim period, if you charge (a discounted rate for now, obviously) for extra characters, you -will- get people who will pay it and be happy to do so, since they just appreciate having that freedom.
Of course, the odd second (sometimes third) character fee won't be enough to do it alone, so you have to really think about this for a moment. Take a look at all the free-to-play MMOs (and dare I suggest Facebook/Social Networking games) and wonder to yourself how they can stay afloat until someone very plainly tells you that people will pay for stupid things. If anyone aims to tell me that Squeenix only intended to have people pay actual money strictly for the sub/character fees, I'd just laugh in their face. Of -course- there's going to be "Freemium" stuff, so just...throw that in already. By letting your players have one 'free' character (for now), you'll have people running around, willingly playing your game and might even see fit to buy some unnecessary things. We're not all immune to the siren song of flashy, shiny objects you know, so the right ones for the right price will do quite well in bringing in that much more coin. (I will state for the record here that I have no idea if FFXIV currently has 'buy with real money' things, so this could be a bit, er...off-base? Can't think of the word.)
So here you are, as Squeenix, a year down the line. You've been making money from people buying additional characters and paying an 'upkeep' on them (I didn't explain it well, but I was thinking a second character would be about half what the sub is -going- to be, then every character after that a buck or two, following FFXI), people buying superfluous objects in the game with real money, and, most importantly, people playing the game through all the revamping and rebuilding in this past year, because they've not been hit with a mandatory subscription fee yet. But it's time. You really need to start charging everybody (and, in the case of people with their extra characters) because you're about to get a new breed of players (PS3 people) that you need to impress enough with a free trial so they'll sign on after. This is when you say "Hey, starting January 2013" since the game, for PS3 is releasing in "Holiday 2012" barring delays "We're going to start charging full subscription fees to Final Fantasy XIV while also offering a 30-day free trial.
You simply have to hope that the goodwill you've generated thus far will create positive spin for your game (presuming it's actually good) will bring in players while you enter the 'next' phase which is the general post-release support the game should have been having this entire year ala Every Other MMO Known to Man Except APB. There's -also- the option of charging a discounted rate for the first year for players who've been playing before December 2011, but I doubt Squeenix would take that, and, in some ways, I can't really defend that course of action since you'll still alienate "Loyal" players, which will likely, in the long run, lower your expected revenue and goodwill.
I might just be blowing smoke; after all, my exposure to MMOs is admittedly less than great, but in my head the best way to run an MMO is to, first, make people want to play it and second, whittle away at the mental barrier of entry. This is, in essence, why MMOs started offering Free Trials for MMOs that still have to be purchased before you could pay them to play it. Just by putting out a product that people want to play, people will buy it, and as they say, first impressions are the most important thing. A first impression is always going to be more favorable to somebody who isn't paying for the privilege of playing a game they just bought. The goal is that after the 30 days you've given them for free, they'll like it so much that they're fine with paying for it from then on. Before buying the game, that $10-15/month would be seen as "dinner" or "Coffee for a week" or something else, but after this time of enjoying your game, they're divorced from the initial money used to buy the game and thus rarely comes into the equation.
Still, I think my mindset is enough to generate enough positive word of mouth and interest (again, provided your product is good) that you'll be able to turn a profit. And then you have paid expansion packs to look forward to, which the majority of your players will buy into, thus sending that much more money your way. As it stands, their decision now may not cost them in the long run, but....I have a feeling it will, since FFXIV's problem now is more "This game is perceived as a bad game" than "This game is actually a bad game", hence the need for real PR. I guess we'll just see how that all works out for them, though!