The crux of the “games as art” argument is that both are subjective to interpretation. And as much as there is shitty art, there are shitty games…so let’s no belabour the point too much.
Jewel over at Healing the Masses has a neat post about her qualms with the forced narrative in FF14. While I understand the complaint, I think it’s one of FF14’s main benefits. Here’s the logic.
Let’s say you’re a new player and you want to play with your friends who have been there for some time. In nearly every other MMOs, you jump in, level up what needs to be done (or get carried, or buy a character) and in a week or so, you’re in the expansion territory. FF14 takes a completely different approach. From 1-50, you must complete the following quests to progress. It’s not optional, you simply won’t gain other skills, jobs or be able to access other dungeons/content. These are major gates. And that’s just what launched with 2.0. Once you hit level 50, you need to complete the majority of these quests in order to access Heavensward. Jewel’s point that many of these quests have you running around the world is accurate – some of these quests can take 5 minutes or require you to clear an entire dungeon.
There are two options here. Either you look at that mountain of quests and say screw it, or you climb that mountain and meet the other folk who did the same. This is a massive content wall, something that pushes away every 3-monther from giving it a shot.
WoW decided to open the floodgates to everyone. Within 2 weeks of the WoD expansion, if you had never played you could have seen all the mandatory content from start to finish. And when LFR came out, you could have cleared each wing out in a day. A month or 2 in, and everything is done. And then you lose 3m subscribers. What was the record for hitting level 100? Under 4 hours I think?
Wildstar took the crazy* approach of attunement but only at max level. The original skill level required to attune was quite high but you could reach 50 by mostly face rolling, with some exceptions. They’ve modified it since, but it’s such a massive departure from the rest of the game it throws people for a loop. If there were more people playing this would be less of an issue but at current server pops, it’s a real challenge to complete.
FF14’s optimal leveling path is dungeon runs and group content. The LFD system actually works pretty well since every single dungeon you have unlocked is available. At 49 I was running a level 15 dungeon, and I scaled to its level. That means that nearly all the content, in nearly all the zones, is relevant at nearly all levels. Plus, forced grouping makes your social presence important. This also means that people are going to quit at various parts of the leveling game, rather than reach the end and go away. It’s a very interesting approach to “gaming glue”.
Which sort of begs the question, are you playing an MMO for the game for the people, for the mechanics, or for the game as a whole? The 3 examples above fit into those categories.
As a final remark, I’m at 49.5 now on my White Mage. I’m looking at that list of quests left to do and it seems like quite a task. But the content is fun, the people are fun and it scratches a heck of an itch.