Controversial as the Final Fantasy 14 Fatigue System may be, it’s not hard to figure out why the executives at Square Enix think it’s a good idea. And on paper, the idea of limiting players to eight hours a week where they can earn experience normally doesn’t seem so crazy at first. For one, it would level the playing field between casual Final Fantasy fans who can only put in a few hours of game time a week, and hardcore MMO players who would otherwise be able to powerlevel their way to the endgame within a few months. It would help curb the influence of gold farmers that have always been so ubiquitous in MMO’s by limiting their ability to quickly access enemies that spit out a great deal of cash once defeated. And by lowering the leveling curve, players could enjoy every phase of the game equally, instead of trying to plow through the early content to get to high level instances and raids.
But when you take the time to think about it, is Final Fantasy 14‘s Fatigue System really going to make the game sell more subscriptions in the long run? The answer is, probably not.
The first problem is that September 31, 2001, the Final Fantasy 14 release date, is uncomfortably close to the release of several other highly anticipated MMO titles and expansions such as World of Warcraft‘s Cataclysm and Bioware’s first entry in the MMO genre, the Star Wars title The Old Republic. In market where there where no other new titles were coming out, experienced gamers looking for a new experience would be more likely to overlook the Fatigue System’s limit on their amount of gaming time if the game proved to be fun. But given the choice between eight hours of Final Fantasy 14 and unlimited hours of another well-made new MMO, these gamers will chose the latter 99 times out of 100.
The next problem also has to do with timing. Many gamers in the Final Fantasy fanbase who would normally be willing to put up with the Fatigue System out of brand loyalty may have recently become less apt to do so. Although Final Fantasy 13, which came out in March of 2010, sold well and received generally good reviews, many fans were dissatisfied with its highly linear story and lack of exploration until the game’s final chapters. With the taste of the last title still in their mouths, these gamers will likely see the Fatigue System as another unwelcome attempt by Square Enix to put their gaming experience onto a rigidly defined track.
The final problem with the Fatigue System is that is represents a fundamental misunderstanding of casual gamers. In trying to lure the market that made the Nintendo Wii a hit, Square Enix is ignoring that fact that most casual gamers are casual because of limited interest, not limited time. People who never before owned a gaming console, yet bought a Wii, did so to play games like Wii Fit or Wii Sports with their friend and family, not to play an MMO like Final Fantasy 14 online. Furthermore, what makes an MMO successful is its ability to start with a casual gamer who only wants to play a few hours and end with a one who wants to play as much as he or she can. So the result will be that, if Final Fantasy 14 really is fun to play, those gamers who started out casual will end up as frustrated as experienced players.
Now that the Fatigue System has received so much hype, it is unlikely that the Fatigue system will be removed from Final Fantasy 14 any time soon. But for its own sake., one can only hope that it will eventually be removed, and the sooner the better.