More games than ever have live service features attached to them. This can be great for a few years when the game is at its most popular. Online games let you join other communities and play with new people, creating exciting cooperative experiences.
But what happens when they go offline? All of that collective time spent in a video game disappears, with the game becoming unplayable for future generations. This problem is something the Final Fantasy XI team is thinking about a lot lately — and they may have come up with a brilliant solution.
Before FFXI’s release, the Final Fantasy franchise was synonymous with high-quality single-player RPG narratives. FFXI was a massive departure from the status quo as it decided to make a Final Fantasy game that was an MMO, creating a communal experience for players. While Final Fantasy XIV gets a lot of praise for its incredible world and stories, it would not have existed without FFXI’s success. That was more than two decades ago.
Yet FFXI is still alive and kicking. While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 versions are no longer supported, the game has a large community on PC. The game had a myriad of celebrations for its 20th anniversary in 2022 and according to the game’s producer Yoji Fujito, the recently downsized development team plans on supporting the game for the foreseeable future. Even though there are no plans to end online service for the game at the moment, the game’s end is still something the team is discussing.
In an interview with Famitsu, Fujito said that “My personal goal is to keep FFXI in some form. I absolutely don’t want FFXI to come to an end someday and leave nothing but memories. My ultimate ideal is to aim to maintain FFXI as a title, even if it is in the form of a different game.”
The idea that Fujito is suggesting is that after online service is shut down FFXI could continue in the form of a standalone single-player title. This would take plenty of work on the development team’s part to make a game designed for online play with other people feel natural for solo players. Yet much of the groundwork has already been laid in the game, with several features designed to help players make their way through the game’s main quest with the aid of computer companions. It is an unconventional answer, but one that could work to keep FFXI from dying.
The prevalence of live-service and always-online games in the past decade has led to a new problem for preservation. Many of these titles become completely unplayable. One of the worst examples of this is Babylon’s Fall, which was shut down in just under a year after abysmal sales and negative reviews. Not only was the game’s online service shut down, but the game was also pulled from digital storefronts and brick-and-mortar stores straight up trashing physical copies. In one year, Babylon’s fall disappeared and will never be accessible again.
Babylon’s Fall may not have been a good game, and therefore the game’s loss can seem relatively inconsequential. But more popular and influential games have already been lost, like the original Destiny and Overwatch, which both kicked the bucket to make way for sequels.
FFXI’s acknowledgment of this problem is the first step for the team to consider how to avoid resigning over two decades of important gaming history to the grave. If we don’t want more games to vanish when they become unprofitable, then more teams need to come up with similar solutions.