When Final Fantasy XIV launched in September 2010, it drew a backlash from its userbase the likes of which haven’t been seen since Sony Online Entertainment implemented the Combat Upgrade and New Game Enhancements in Star Wars Galaxies back in 2005. For an MMO, it was one of the most disappointing releases of 2010. The development team was “reshuffled” and a fair amount of people were fired. Naoki Yoshida was put in charge and Square Enix would later come out to state that Final Fantasy XIV had done a fair amount of damage to the brand name.
But despite this, Square Enix refused to give up. Rather than shut the game down, Square threw years of precedent into the garbage and did what none of us could have seen coming: They opened up and started listening to their players. Instead of laying off staff, Square expanded the Final Fantasy XIV team to accommodate the larger work load. Instead of expecting players to pay each month for a broken game, they suspended subscriptions for over a year, and even delayed the Playstation 3 release until (estimated) a 2012 release. Since September 2010, Final Fantasy XIV has gone under update after update to implement what players were asking for, and remove what they had never wanted.
Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 is set to release at some point in late 2012/early 2013, and until then players will be asked to start paying a reduced subscription rate in January 2012. 2.0 is said to be a major overhaul of the game, so much so that Square feels confident in basing the release of the Playstation 3 version around it. If Square can find success in the years and millions of dollars they spent reviving this game from the ground up, well it puts them above certain other developers who simply hit the kill switch when accounting didn’t report the numbers they were hoping for.
Runner Up: Trion, Rift
If anyone needs to be commended for the most aggressive marketing campaign of the year, it is Trion with Rift. I hate to use the phrase “shoving it down our throats,” but since Rift got past the initial “our servers are crippled because we didn’t expect this much success,” the company has gone on to throw everything but the kitchen sink at potential customers, only prior to throwing the actual kitchen sink. For the fact that Rift has been with us less than a year, the game has gone on sale more often than most multi-year MMOs. Rift ads can be seen anywhere an MMO website can be found, and for a while potential and past players were invited on a regular basis to come back for a few days and play for free.
In the end, however, I had to give the award to Square Enix. An aggressive marketing plan is great, but even if you hate Square Enix, Final Fantasy, MMOs, or any combination of the three, you can’t ignore the sheer dedication it takes to spend the time and money that Square is to fix what they wholly admit was a result of their arrogance. You can argue that the game should have never shipped as it did in the first place, but it did. It happened, and this is how Square is fixing it.
Stay tuned for a new award every day throughout the end of December.