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GDC China: Square Enix's Tanaka Details Potential Fixes For Beleaguered MMO

In his keynote presentation at GDC China, Square Enix SVP Hiromichi Tanaka described steps the company is taking to make improvements to recently-launched MMO Final Fantasy XIV.
In his keynote presentation at GDC China, Square Enix SVP Hiromichi Tanaka described steps the company is taking to make improvements to its latest MMO. Things have not gone well for the latest launch from Final Fantasy house Square Enix. Its most recent MMO, Final Fantasy XIV, has gone through two 30-day-trial extensions. So far, users who bought the game at launch have gotten 90 free days of play instead of the expected 30. The company has extended the trial due to widespread complaints about the game from users -- as it rushes to patch the title so users can "be given the opportunity to experience these changes firsthand before deciding to fully commit to the game," the company said in a statement on its official site. Partnering With Shanda for Improvements In his GDC China Keynote in Shanghai, Tanaka said, "It's a pity, but we haven't reached the expectations of the players. And of course we are working on it." This portion of his speech, aimed at the show's Chinese attendees, centered on how the company's Chinese partner Shanda is offering feedback on the game which will help improve the game for all audiences. Shanda is evaluating the game (which has not yet launched in this territory) and gathering feedback which it is sending to Square Enix -- which the company, apparently, will use alongside from feedback from audiences in the West and Japan, where the game has already launched as a retail product. Said Tanaka, "We'll make every effort to increase the fun and quality of the game. The proposal from Shanda [takes into account] not only the requirements and feelings of Chinese players, but I think it's good feedback overall for global players. We can update this Chinese feedback into our global system. After the improvement process, we'll try to present this game to the Chinese players." Auction House Woes Meanwhile, Tanaka also addressed concerns players have with the game's user-to-user selling system, which was recently skewered in a Gamasutra feature and has drawn widespread complaints. "In a nutshell, the Market Ward system is broken," wrote feature author Simon Ludgate. Final Fantasy XI, the company's first MMO, which it first launched in Japan in 2002, pioneered the now-traditional auction house system. Said Tanaka, that system "encouraged interaction between different players. One of the benefits of the system was that it was cross-region, and though it was cross-region we had a communication assist system so players could communicate with each other 24 hours a day. However, because the information on prices was open and everyone knew the prices, it wouldn't cause any mistreatment of players." However, the company saw a downside -- since all players on all servers and in all regions knew the "right" prices for items, this increased deflation. This encouraged the developers to take a different tact with Final Fantasy XIV. While Tanaka says that the company was aware that the system, which has players hire NPCs to sell their goods, would create an "inconvenience" for players, the team chose this direction to "avoid some of the disadvantages of Final Fantasy XI's system; players can make some profit out of this deal." Unfortunately, this "inconvenience" means that players cannot search for a specific item easily and must engage with a huge number of NPCs. Tanaka's slide during his presentation said that this system was developed because it "makes it difficult for a single market rate to become established, providing the seller with more opportunity to turn a profit." However, the slide went on to imply that the company may completely backpedal on its new in-game selling system. "We wish to continue observing the current in game market trends before deciding which method, [auction house or NPC market], is better," it said. Tanaka added that "We can prepare new tools to improve searching."

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