Great Write-Up On The FFXIV “XP Threshold/Fatigue” System

Kudos to Cindy, over at MMOvoices, for directing me to this. Super-kudos to Suzaku, at Eorzapedia, for writing this up!

News of Final Fantasy XIV’s fatigue system has hit the web recently, causing a firestorm of controversy.  Translation issues and mass speculation served to light a fire in the community, and a vocal segment is demanding the system be removed.  Such demands, however, stem from not thinking the system through.

When designing an MMO, one of the things that needs to go in is some sort of limit on the possible progression of players.  Developers need to control the rate at which players can approach the endgame, and other milestones along the way.  Usually this is done with an Experience Point (XP) curve.

An XP curve is really nothing more than a time sink.  Developers decide how long they want certain segments of the game to take–how long they want certain level ranges to last, and ultimately how long it should take players to reach endgame.  They then balance the amount of XP it is possible to gain in a given time frame with the amount required to move beyond a certain a certain point, or level up.

XP gain may give the illusion of progression but that’s all it is–an illusion.  Gaining XP is not progressing a character.  It does not impart any new strengths or abilities by itself.  Levels are the real progression.  Levels provide increased statistics and new abilities.

In reality, a game is designed and played from level to level, not from one experience point to the next.  Being level 57 with 8000 XP towards level 58 doesn’t let you do level 58 content any more than being level 57 worth 0 XP towards level 58 does.  Being level 58 lets you do level 58 content.  The XP required to get from level 57 to level 58 is merely a time sink.  You spend enough time grinding it out, and you get to be level 58.

Experience point income is balanced against the total XP required for a level up in such a way as to have players spending a certain amount of time between level ups.  This is true in any MMO, and Final Fantasy XIV is no different.Courtesy of http://www.cotch.net/images/graphs.svg

However, FFXIV puts a spin on the system.  The developers for FFXIV are looking at it from the perspective that levels are the progression, not XP.  XP is certainly not useless, but it is merely a means to an end.  They also, like all developers, have in mind a rate at which they want players to reach certain level milestones.

For most MMOs, with a purely XP-based system, if the developers decide that levels should be gained at the rate of 1 per week, players have to grind away all week, making no real character progress, until they get that 1 level at the end of the week.  THAT is the progress–regardless of whatever number is in the XP box, it is the 1 level that ultimately matters.  And if you can’t grind away all week, you don’t get it.  If it takes you three times as long to rack up the necessary game time, you get no progress on your character at all for three weeks.

The fatigue system is also a time sink, but functions a bit differently.  It still works off of the concept that players should only attain a certain amount of progression per week, but it doles out that progression more quickly up front.  This has two important effects.  First, it means that even those who cannot play 6-8 hours a day every day can make some progress.  Not as much overall, but some.  Second, it means that after the week’s progression on one class has been reached, players are free to mess around with others–a level of freedom and diversification that most games don’t have.

Make no mistake; if SE decides that you should only gain 3 levels in a class per week, then that is all you will gain.  Without fatigue–with a basic XP system–all your play time in that week would be devoted to a single class as XP requirements increase to compensate, and wanting to level something else would mean sacrificing progression in that one class.

With the fatigue system, instead of sacrificing XP time to do things that don’t involve leveling your main class, you get to have all the XP you’d normally get for the week anyway, and then focus on other aspects of the game.  Want to level another class? Go do it.  Want to quest? Sure.  How about crafting? Also an option.  Or maybe you just want to explore.  In other MMOs, all of these activities come at the cost of XP.  That is not the case here.  And if you really want to grind away at one class well, you can hop on it at the beginning of the week, and still have time to hit it again later in the week after surplus has cleared from not leveling it.  Bonus!

Final Fantasy XIV was designed with a certain philosophy.  The fatigue system is part of enacting that philosophy.  It is no more limiting than a standard XP system, as progression is balanced around it.  It offers more freedom than conventional systems, simply by allowing for different allocations of play time with no penalty.  Can it stand some tweaking and balancing?  Probably.  But doing away with it entirely will cause a progression re-balance what will completely undermine any kind of horizontal character development, as well as force unnecessary choices between whether to XP a main class, or do anything else.  And the ultimate gain on main class progression will be no different.

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~ by James Taylor on August 28, 2010.

9 Responses to “Great Write-Up On The FFXIV “XP Threshold/Fatigue” System”

  1. Misses the point completely, and the practice should be opposed at the very least on principle. Imagine a Street Fighter where Ryu can’t throw a fireball after a few hours (Capcom says so hardcore players can’t get too far ahead of casual players). How about paying monthly for cable or satellite TV, but after a certain amount of hours a week it starts getting fuzzy till you can’t watch at all? How about internet service that gets slower and slower till it meets it’s threshold and stops, and your ISP tells you, “It’s good, it gives you the option of doing something else!”?

    There’s no real choice, you’re being told what you can and can’t do… and this is a service you’re paying for.

    Second, this will limit casual players, the same players it’s supposed to help. Why? Because the hardcore are still going to reach endgame first, and both casual and new players will now be limited in how quick they can catch up.

    Besides, as someone else put it: take out the fatigue system, and hardcores can be hardcore and casuals can be casual. Leave it in, and the hardcores can’t be hardcore and the casuals can be casual. What’s the point of making a concerted effort to alienate one group when both can be reasonably happy?

    I can’t help but wonder if this is just to pad subscriptions by forcing players to play longer, and maybe buy themselves more time to finish up an endgame experience they haven’t completed.

  2. That type of knee-jerk reaction makes me think you’re missing the point of it, along with the majority of the forum-nerd-ragers.

    “I can’t help but wonder if this is just to pad subscriptions by forcing players to play longer, and maybe buy themselves more time to finish up an endgame experience they haven’t completed.”

    When an MMO dev wants to pad subscription and extend timesinks all they have to do is turn it into a grind by tweaking all the xp numbers up. This is exactly what SE is NOT doing. The fatigue system is an alternate way of dealing with the normal XP curve you see in MMOs.

    This system is in to encourage multi-classing and crafting. God forbid people have to ENJOY their time leveling rather than rushing for the level cap. And hate to break it to those who want to rush to the level cap, but SE has already said their is no end-game right now besides the leves – so I don’t understand what the rush is in the first place, even if this system was removed entirely and replaced with an unforgiving XP curve.

    Bottom line: wait till you see it in action. People are jumping to conclusions when they haven’t even seen it functioning. I’m guessing it’s harder to reach the threshold than people are making it out to be. I also highly think SE will buff the threshold up some in Open Beta once they get some stats and feedback from it.

  3. Who’s knee-jerk if you’re dismissing me as a “nerd rager”? I don’t think I threw any implied insults at you or the author, but if I did I do apologize if it came off that way. :)

    As I’ve said elsewhere, but it fits into the bottom line thing: “We can debate the merits of the system ad nauseam, but the bottom line is the simplest of solutions is to remove the system, and essentially everybody will be reasonably content.”

    I don’t think you can reasonably argue that isn’t the simplest solution, and it would at this point please the most people.

  4. None taken, my friend. And I did not mean to group you as *one* of the “nerd ragers.” I guess the “along with” wasn’t very clear in the statement :P

    I agree they could make a lot of people happy by removing it, but from what they make it sound like, the game has been built from the ground up with this system in mind. I think the last paragraph of the above editorial puts it best:

    “Final Fantasy XIV was designed with a certain philosophy. The fatigue system is part of enacting that philosophy. It is no more limiting than a standard XP system, as progression is balanced around it. It offers more freedom than conventional systems, simply by allowing for different allocations of play time with no penalty. Can it stand some tweaking and balancing? Probably. But doing away with it entirely will cause a progression re-balance what will completely undermine any kind of horizontal character development, as well as force unnecessary choices between whether to XP a main class, or do anything else. And the ultimate gain on main class progression will be no different.”

    I will play FFXIV with or without the fatigue system. I would be kind of annoyed if they removed it, honestly though – but I’m stubborn and I sometimes wish devs had the tenacity to be as stubborn and me. I hated when Blizzard gave into all the forum whining about the “real ID on forums” fiasco. Alas, it is not good business to piss off the customers. :P

    I’m still optimistic about the system. I just want to test it out and see for myself. I *really* think people will have forgotten all about it 2 months from now – either by it being nerfed, removed, or whatever. The only reason it was as big a deal as it was, is because of sites leaking inaccurate speculation before SE could official explain it.

  5. Cool, been loitering around some of the various forums, and the trolls on both sides typically dominate any sort of serious discussion, so this is a nice change. I’m genuinely not understanding the rationale behind the system or the support it seems to have garned, so I appreciate the response!

    I still don’t agree that it’s the same as a regular EXP system. The article you posted operates on the assumption that developers of a grind based system target the maximum amount of physically possible EXP a player can gain in a set time as the basis for their level intervals, but that seems unlikely. The above says, “you get to have all the XP you’d normally get for the week,” but that’s certainly not an entire week’s worth of EXP equivalent to if you had played 24-7 like someone operating a RMT. Therefore we can safely say you are not getting the max possible within the fatigue system.

    We can then rule out the thought that we’re able to obtain the same maximum as we could under a grind based system, so how much are we getting? The amount we’d “normally get for the week.” What we could “normally” get in a week would wildly vary from person to person from almost nothing to insane amounts just short of RMT levels, so you’re rather more likely receiving an “average” based around what they’d assume a normal player would attain, which could indeed hinder hardcore players.

    My biggest problem is that it limits choice. Some people LIKE to focus on a single class and master it to it’s fullest; I’ve played MMOs since some of the early text-based ones in the 90s, that’s been my preferred way to do it, I’ve never had an interest in horizontal character development. But the choice was there: I had friends who would go for the lateral advancement, I could go for the verticle, and everyone was happy: a simple solution. Capcom could limit you to an hour per character per week in Street Fighter IV, forcing you to try out Crimson Viper instead of always playing Dan, but, dang it, if I want to play as Dan nonstop, why not let me? Why is that so wrong?

    I’m not alone in liking to focus on a single class, as a sizeable chunk of the fanbase seems to enjoy it as well as evidenced through some of the backlash. If I can only play my desired class fifteen hours a week and the rest doesn’t interest me, why should I stick with XIV? I could stay with XI (where I’ve been playing the same class since I started, and I’m still tweaking gear, hunting for relics, ranking up in various expansions, and adjusting stats), or go back to PSU, or hit up any number of other MMOs that allow that freedom, and that would be a subscription SE would lose that they could’ve easily held on to.

    I’d still say the safe bet is to can the system entirely, as having read SE’s official explanations and various articles in support of it I’m still strongly opposed to the idea, but I also think you’re on to something regarding people forgetting about it a few months from now. My honest guess is that it’ll be nerfed to the point where it might as well not be there (or darn close to it), thus allowing the “hardcore” to mostly play it as such while still allow SE to save face by not removing it.

    I can almost promise you it’ll be removed somewhere in it’s lifespan regardless, kinda like when SE finally gave up on XI and handed everyone all the EXP they could ever want through Abyssea, heehee.

    I’ll admit we won’t know exactly how the system feels until it releases. Right now the disagreement is just on paper, most of us haven’t gotten a chance to experience it, and with it being tweaked over the next few weeks we won’t have a clear idea exactly how it feels until launch day. Both sides of the argument are relying heavily on assumptions either way, eh?

    As far as being stubborn goes, obviously I sympathize with ya there, heheh. I’m still crossing my fingers for XIV, not one of those people canceling pre-orders by any means, I’m still excited for it if a bit wary, and I’ll definitely try it before I making any final conclusions!

  6. Nice response! I enjoy a 1to1 discussion of this with some actual intelligence involved (which is all but missing from the forum threads on this matter). I’ve all but stopped reading FFXIVcore forums.

    You are right with all your points and I get where you’re coming from. I think I might just defend it and give it the benefit more than others as the last MMO I seriously played was WoW for the last few months where I would average 50+ hours a week most weeks. That got me burnt out, to say the least. I’m ready to play a little more casually (I say that, but I’ll still play a TON..I can’t help it), so if a system is there to *encourage* that and help me stay caught up with the masses – I’m all for it. If I was coming into FFXIV with the same mindset I have developed from playing WoW on and off the last 5 years – where I have all but turned it into a min/max, number-crunch, job of a game – I TOO would be up in arms about the XP threshold thing. Except, I’m going into FFXIV entirely ready to smell the roses and enjoy the little things.

    And yeah, actually *no one* has even tested the proper fatigue system as they mentioned it wasn’t even working correctly in beta phase 3, since the xp numbers were tweaked with to make leveling quicker off lower level mobs. So, again, we’ll really just have to see how it plays out. I still think, either way, it’s personally not a deal breaker for me.

    And for you, or the others who say they DON’T WANT to focus on more than one “sphere” of FFXIV (classes, crafting, gathering) – I would almost say this may not be the game for you all. It sounds harsh, but sometimes it’s easy to separate what you WANT a game to be from what it IS – reviewers often have this problem when reviewing games and not reviewing it for what it IS, but instead what it ISN’T. I personally love how they encourage mixing and matching Disciple abilities as it reminds me of the glory days of Star Wars Galaxy when you could build your character however you wanted, following whichever profession skill trees you wanted.

    Let me know what server you choose in Open Beta :) I’ll probably be rolling on Kefka with my LS, as long as there still is the Kefka server in OB/launch.

  7. Honestly, despite my complaints with the system on paper, I recognize that is just *on paper* and it may be a non-issue when all is said and done. XIV may not be the game for me if it’s based so heavily in lateral progression, but I really, truly hope I enjoy it, because I really do love XI and want more!

    And I’ll definitely let ya know what server! I gotta see first where all my XI cronies are heading too, I don’t think there’s anything set in stone yet… figures the open beta was delayed, I’m really itching to hop on and get this puppy started!

  8. Yeah, I was bummed about the Open Beta delay. If I had to guess, it will only be a matter of days still.

  9. …wow….
    um, I might add to mention the free mmorpg Atlantica and see how the lateral progression system works. That is of course for those who are curious as to the sucess capabilities of such a system.

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