Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I promised a little light reading for the update...

So here's The Letter I wrote, with no one to really send it to, it seems.

It could be said Square-Enix doesn't care about me personally, but I wonder openly if Square-Enix cares about anything anymore. I'll get to some more comments in a bit, as I'll post an addendum to the blog here.

This was a letter in which I state what I believe to be necessary demands if Square-Enix doesn't want the game to continue to be the fraud it is now. I wrote it about six weeks ago, wanting to send it to top-level FFXI staff -- finding none who had any real contact info there.

So, you get it, as promised: Flame away. Some of my thoughts might have changed a little in the interim, but here it is... (No scribbles... :) )

There have been some changes in what I believe -- I'll get to those in a later post. Enjoy..


February 19, 2009

To all concerned parties at Square-Enix:

My name is Starcade, and I play (for now) on the Leviathan server of Final Fantasy XI. I really, really wish I were writing this letter under happier circumstances.

I am about as close to quitting Final Fantasy XI as I ever have been. In fact, about the only reason I am still playing is out of spite for a player-base that I, sadly, can only have real contempt for. They have rendered the entire game unfair, not fun, and not sustainable (even by your own tacit admission).

On January 22nd, you took the first real step toward dealing with what, unfortunately, has become an epidemic problem in Final Fantasy XI: The rampant end-game cheating and misconduct which has basically stunted the demographic growth of your game. You have, by my last reading, the same general level of players you had in 2005.

Final Fantasy XI does not appear to be growing with the times, and the main reason for this (in my honest opinion) is that the game has become, bluntly, corrupt and/or corrupted. I'm not exactly sure which (or both!), but it is clear that Square-Enix needs to address several real issues before very long, otherwise it would not be productive for any players to continue to play a game which Square-Enix now appears to see as obsolete.

First Point: The representation by banned players for the player-base and the game communities.

One of the most concerning aspects of the January 22nd bans is the number of high-level, prominent, and, bluntly, “famous” players which were impacted.

The message from Square-Enix must be clear here: Any conduct which results in the player being banned must nullify everything the player has done in and for Final Fantasy XI, since the character has been removed from the game, and, to my knowledge, it is illegal for the player to institute another account and restart. The player is being banned, not just the characters.

When I heard of one specific ban (though the concept I will apply is a general one, and I shall state it as such), I was spurred to write this letter. As you may well know, one of the banned players was Chinchilla from the “Pet Food Alpha” website and podcast.

It is my position, and should be Square-Enix' as well, that no former player, now banned, should have any place of representation whatsoever with respect to any game he or she was banned from.

Additionally, any podcast, website, program, club, linkshell, or other construct which has status with Square-Enix can not be allowed to have any banned former players in them. Failure to do so (and this is what I ask be done to Pet Food Alpha) strips all recognition between Square-Enix and the construct involved.

As of the writing of this letter, it appears as if Pet Food Alpha is a Community Site (I had, erroneously, believed they were, in fact, a Premier Site, when I made this request of Pet Food Alpha's remaining staff – which was largely mocked...). Any Community or Premier Site represents the game and the player communities. Hence, any Community or Premier Site which refuses to remove from their programming and site all banned players should immediately lose their status with Square-Enix, and all rights, privileges, and honors attached to that status.

Specifically, it has come to my attention that Pet Food Alpha's official position is that they do the website and podcast for themselves and that Chinchilla's friendship is an integral part of that goal. I believe this statement means they consider Chinchilla's presence on the podcast and website to be more important than the rules of the game, as well as it's credibility. Therefore, I am asking Square-Enix to remove Pet Food Alpha immediately as a Community Site, and strip all honors, privileges, and rights of that status from its hosts and other staff.

The sites you choose to list on your website as Community Sites and Premier Sites represent the game., and supposedly the players on it. Actions by the people on these Sites which result in their removal from the game should result in the immediate removal of those people from all representation of the game. If the construct fails to do this (and this should apply to all sites on the Community Page, not just PFA), then it should be removed as a representative of the game.

These players should be held to much higher standards. Else, there is no value in retaining such statuses at all. They become as much a fraud as the game either is becoming or already has become.

Point Two: Rampant End-Game Cheating and Possible Inconsistent Rulings

It is my position, especially given the recent bannings of several hundred of the most prominent players in the entirety of Final Fantasy XI, that enough has to be enough with respect to end-game misconduct and cheating.

It is time for Square-Enix to take several steps to this end:

First, a specialized branch of the Special Task Force needs to be created, with it's goal being the enforcement of the Terms of Service.

The STF has actually done a fairly decent job dealing with one specific type of violation: Trademark infringement through the real-life money trading (RMT) of gil, items, and characters. Frankly, I am surprised that legal actions (civil and criminal) are not being pursued.

The fundamental pretext behind the Special Task Force should be one very simple fact, bold-faced in the Terms of Service. The players own nothing in this game. It all belongs to Square-Enix. Hence, since Square-Enix has full ownership of the virtual property players rent in the game, any action taken to subvert the amount or legal manners in which the property can be gained, moved or exchanged must result in player removal and probable criminal or civil action for trademark infringement and, perhaps, even theft. (In that they are stealing it from you and using it for their own purposes.)

The fact is: Cheating at the end-game level is so rampant that it has debased the game to the point where many end-game situations are coming down to whose claim-bot is working the best, or which exploit is being used to gain items, victory, fame, gil, whatever... It is my belief that the top reason the game has become stagnant in growth the last three years (and, hence, why the game is no longer sustainable, long-term) is the rampant cheating going on in end-game, where the game can no longer be played fairly with any expectation of success.

I can not, in good conscience, recommend your game to any player looking to enter the world of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming at this time. I do not have faith that the player base is willing to abide by the Terms of Service at all. One discussion, just after the emergency maintenance which led to the January 22nd bannings, places the number of players in violation of the Terms of Service at at least half the entire Final Fantasy XI player base. By what I've been reading since, that even appears to be a low number.

The present set-up of the Special Task Force is wholly insufficient to deal with this, as has probably been evidenced by the fact that the Salvage-dupe exploit was being reported to your company and your game staff for 18 months, and it only appeared as if when someone finally blew the whistle outside the game (in a way which would disrupt the future in-flow of players, possibly) did Square-Enix take action against the exploit and the players involved.
It is time for Square-Enix to add a new branch to the Special Task Force, with its task being dealing with in-game misconduct separate from RMT. There's too much of that misconduct to be ignored.

Second, address the crisis of confidence which is strangling Final Fantasy XI.

There is a crisis of confidence which has cast a cloud over Final Fantasy XI and it's future.

Without stern actions to force the player base to abide by the Terms of Service, this game will not survive. If it has become policy to allow ToS violations, given that the removal of most violators would result in the economic end of Final Fantasy XI entirely, then, frankly, it's time to pull the plug. (More on that later.)

The players have no confidence in Square-Enix vis-a-vis Final Fantasy XI. Their conduct shows it. Some of the comments I've received, even doubly so. One person, responding to my blog and slamming my commentaries has even charged that Square-Enix and the GM's can manipulate the drop rates and items dropped at their own whim and for their own amusement:

(A poster named “Orinna” to my blog gave this to me several days ago...)

"Oh..and just another tid bit.. TELLING SE THEY ARE WRONG won't get you anywhere. Do me a favor.. make sure you send them your pol ID too.. hopefully they'll be annoyed by you so much that a cppl GM's will follow you around and make your life a living hell. I know that would make a lot of people who play this game a lot happier.. Maybe if you never get another drop, get agro constantly and die all the damn time.. you might learn to not fuck with the big guy who ALLOWS YOU ACCESS to that character that you've omg never done anything wrong on."

Understand what Orinna is implying (save the flamage, which I more than happily return):

Orinna is basically saying that your company can screw with the drop rates for no reason at all and, on top of that, for your entertainment and agendas. Who would want to play a game like that? Serious question.

There is no confidence, right now, between the player base and Square Enix (and, given what I've been reading in several media (and your recent financial disclosures), it sounds like that no-confidence is in BOTH directions). If you want another example, listen to the latest production from Limit Break Radio: A “Limit Breaking News” concerning the January 22nd bannings.

The better part of the last 45 minutes of the program was one simple message: Square-Enix has so little communication with the player community that there is no confidence, right now, in Square-Enix vis-a-vis Final Fantasy XI. Though I believe many of their hypotheses as to what would happen with communication are flawed, the fact is that it does not appear the players have any confidence in you.

This must be addressed if you desire Final Fantasy XI to have a future. (More on that statement in a little bit...)

Third, consistent and forceful enforcement of the rules and Terms of Service.

Generally speaking, it appears as if there is no standard of enforcement for violations of the rules.

I'll give you a number of examples: Third-party software usage is, to many end-game players, a necessity to even play the game. When the Hell are you guys going to ban Windower and force players to play with the proprietary Windowed Mode? When are you going after claim-bots, basically a “feature” of most highly sought-after Notorious Monsters?

And then there's the Allakazham article I saw linked to and essentially posted on your official site regarding the first Pandemonium Warden “defeat” at the hands of the Apathy linkshell of Remora.

I want an investigation (and have already sent such a request to the Special Task Force) under Article Q12652 of your Q&A section in your website, where you state that use of game mechanics outside the manners those game mechanics were intended for is a violation of the rules (under creation of an unfair game advantage), subjecting the parties to item, experience, gil lossage, up to bannage from the game.

Yes, I want the members of the Apathy linkshell of Remora involved in the “logging hate” fight with Pandemonium Warden sanctioned, up to and including banning them. I, personally, would like to see the involved members of Apathy banned from Final Fantasy XI.

Unless Square-Enix wants to tell me that there is another use to logging out of the game than leaving the game (either entirely or to switch characters), the strategy of logging out most of the players to avoid an attack which would end the fight in Pandemonium Warden's favor (the Astral Flow) is illegal, and, hence, all the items and fame they have received from their “victory” was as illegally gained as the Salvage duplicates.

Personally, this is where I do feel Square-Enix is badly wrong. Within about 10 days of the largest end-game banning in the history of the game, Square-Enix appears to have fully sanctioned, as legal AND legitimate (rather than the Kraken-Dark-Zerg'ers of the Absolute Virtue patch being just legal, but not legitimate), a strategy that, by its own policies, should be punishable with a ban.

Are you willing to enforce your Terms of Service? Can you enforce your Terms of Service?? If the answer to either or both of the questions is “no”, then shut the game down.

If Square-Enix wants to declare this win legal and legitimate, we need a listing – in the Terms of Service – as to what game mechanic uses are intended, and which are not. Where can we exploit, and where can't we?

On top of this, the January 22nd bannings are wholly unfounded and unfair if you do not add the Pandemonium Warden “defeaters” from Apathy to their number and sanction them for their conduct. They are little more than selective prosecution, and inconsistent with the allowance of the Pandemonium Warden “victory” declared afterward.

You are leaving the players with basically two questions: Which exploits, therefore, are allowed?

Which players, then, are allowed to use them? You are raising accusations of selective prosecution of exploits. You are raising the sceptre of certain players being allowed to get away with basically whatever they want, in that they have the “juice” or “stroke” (to use two American colloquialisms) to do so.

That places you at the point of a game which is nothing more than a sham, a fraud, and not worth playing or paying for. If you want this game to continue, you cannot let this happen.

But do you want this game to continue??

This gets to my final point, which was raised in a heated linkshell discussion by one of the participants in the Limit Break Radio round-table referenced above:

Last Point: Make a commitment to the future of Final Fantasy XI, or thank us for our service and end the game before the game further degrades and you lose interest in Rapture as well, as well as the rest of your company.

(This is to what I've referred to at least twice above that I would come back to.)

Sonomaa, of BluGartr, about 90 minutes into the program, raised an interesting question:
We know that the same people who are in charge of Final Fantasy XI are also in charge of getting off the ground Square-Enix' next MMO, Rapture. There have been a number of concerns (among which the use of the PS2) which lead some players to believe that Square-Enix may no longer really be interested in actually seeing Final Fantasy XI have a future. They believe you will continue to support the game, but only insofar as enough players put up with the game to allow it economic viability.

And then, as I'm writing this letter, we get the word that Rapture is essentially going to replace Final Fantasy XI, from your financial reports. (I know that the article essentially claims that you plan to replace FFXI only as the premiere MMO in your company. How, at that point, FFXI retains survivable, especially with a demonstrated 25% decrease in the income your company received year-to-year March-December (while the rest of your online division leaped 175%!) is beyond any sense of my comprehension.)

If that's what it's come to, I want my money back. (I won't get it, but that doesn't mean I can't say I wouldn't want it back.)

Seriously. The game has seriously degraded in the last 18 months. There are zones, now, which are patently unplayable (both infrastructure-wise and through player conduct), and the attitudes of (especially the American) players have gone completely berserk.

There's been much speculation that you really don't care about Final Fantasy XI, except as a profit-generating motive. How do you expect to keep the players you have (even if the only goal of keeping them around is to eventually sell them Rapture) if it's clear that Final Fantasy XI has no long-term future, no long-term prospects for growth, and, hence, will be eventually phased out? The only logical result of that is that the game goes to abject garbage and you lose any expectation that sane people will be around to play Rapture when you finally roll it out.

You'll lose both Final Fantasy XI and Rapture, at that point.

You're actually better off pulling the plug on FFXI now, in that scenario.

Square-Enix, you are running a sham game in Final Fantasy XI, at this point.

Again, for emphasis, Final Fantasy XI, through the conduct of it's player base and the lackadasical attitudes in your company vis-a-vis enforcement and communication, has become a sham game.

If steps to correct this are not taken, you're going to lose even more potential customers for Rapture than you already have. Most of the FFXI players I've read want no part of your new game. They have no confidence in your company, and you don't appear to have any confidence in them either.

If that's the only motivation which can get you to do anything, that's fine. You've made it clear that FFXI, at best, is brain-dead on life support.

In closing:

If Final Fantasy XI is any indication, I have less than zero interest in your future products, of any kind. I've been a Final Fantasy fan, fairly hardcore, since VII came out. But what I've seen done to the franchise by this purported “game” and a player base who doesn't care about anything but themselves sickens me.

I'll continue to play until I'm either banned for “conduct unbecoming FFXI” or the game ends. I don't want to leave the game to a player base that I believe mirrors real life in the contempt they show for anyone who isn't as “leet” as they are.

Do something about this player base, or continue to lose customers until neither FFXI nor Rapture are financially viable.

I thank you for your attention.

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