By Davis Freeberg
Over the course of my life, I’ve been lucky enough to live through the evolution of the video game industry. I’ve gone from the rudimentary graphics of the Commodore 64 to the powerful functionality of the Xbox 360 and it’s been a pretty amazing journey. During this time, I’ve gone through several console upgrades and have always gladly spent my money in order to get access to the latest technology. Almost every upgrade has been exponentially better then the previous console and as a consumer I’ve benefited tremendously from video games moving from the fringe to the mainstream with just one exception. The only “upgrade” that I ever regretted was when I sold my PS2 in order to buy the first Xbox. At the time, Microsoft was behind in the console war and they committed a lot of capital to promoting their new box. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I managed to get sucked into the hype and gave up my new PS2 in order to be right on the cutting edge of video game technology.
At first I was actually pretty happy with my exchange. At the time, the graphics were very impressive and having access to Xbox live really changed the dynamics of how you play video games. It wasn’t until I went to buy my two favorite games that I learned the Xbox fatal flaw. The best games were locked up in exclusivity agreements with Sony. Somehow Microsoft had failed to secure the licensing rights to the Grand Theft Auto and the Final Fantasy franchises.
This was pretty upsetting to me because GTA 2 and Final Fantasy IX were two of my favorite games. I figured that Microsoft would end up at least releasing a couple of decent knockoffs, but the only good role-playing game for the Xbox ended up being Fable and even that fell far short of my expectations for an RPG.
Because of their problems securing games, I decided that the second time around, I wouldn’t fall for the hype and would wait for the PS3 to come out before my next upgrade cycle. I was pretty convinced that I’d be waiting one more year before my next upgrade until I saw that Microsoft had somehow convinced Squaresoft to cross license the game on their platform. As soon as I heard this news everything changed for me and Microsoft’s support of the Final Fantasy franchise ended up being the critical reason behind my choosing the Xbox 360 over the PS3.
When the Xbox 360 came out I was so eager to upgrade that I paid a scalper on Ebay just so that I could have the console before Christmas. I also started tracking the release date for Final Fantasy XI and waited eagerly for the game to come out. Unfortunately, there were a few delays with the game and every time I saw the release date pushed further out, it became increasingly frustrating after having waited so long. Finally, Microsoft settled on the release date of April 18th for the game and I quickly pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.com.
The closer it got to the 18th, the more excited I became about the game and when Amazon erroneously sent me an email telling me it had shipped a week early, I got really excited. When the game didn’t arrived I contacted Amazon and they told me that not only did the game not ship early, but that I’d have to wait until April 21st before their vendor would ship it and then 5 more days for it to arrive in the mail. Having already waited five years for the game, I couldn’t wait any longer and cancelled my order in lieu of buying it in a retail store on the day of the release.
On the 18th, I called Best Buy to see if they got their shipment of the game and they told me that the game had been delayed yet again for two weeks and that I needed to check back in May for the game. This didn’t seem right to me because the Xbox website still showed April 18th as the release date, so I immediately went into panic mode and started calling, EB games, Circuit City, Toy’s R Us, Wherehouse Music, Sears & Gamestop for the game. Each retailer gave me different information about the release information for the game and it wasn’t until I called Gamestop that they told me that the 18th wasn’t really the release date for the game, but rather the shipment date that Microsoft sends the game to retailers. This seemed a little deceptive to me because there was no way that consumers could actually play the game on the 18th. You would never say that the release date for a hot movie was the 18th and then have no theaters show the film, but apparently it’s Ok to say that a release date is the 18th, even though consumers can’t even buy or play the game.
At the very least it would have been nice for there to be better communication with the retail stores. If Best Buy would have told me that the real release date was the 19th, I would have been bothered by it, but wouldn’t have been frustrated. Instead I heard answers ranging from EB games telling me that it should have shipped on the 16th to Amazon telling me that it didn’t ship until the 21st. If it wasn’t for Gamestop’s amazing customer service, I would never have known that the 19th was the real launch date for the game.
Having waited this long for the Final Fantasy franchise you can imagine my anticipation when I finally got my hands on the game on Wednesday the 19th. As I put the disc into my Xbox 360 my hands were trembling with excitement over what I assumed would be a digital masterpiece. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be this easy. Despite having an actual disc of the game, I was forced to install a really crappy SquareEnix program called PlayOnline. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t just go through Xbox Live instead, but it took me about 45 minutes to get the program installed and to register for it. With PlayOnline finally set up I was finally ready to do mortal battle with enemies of Vana’diel, but unfortunately, before I could play the game, I was notified that I would now have to actually install Final Fantasy XI onto my hard drive and play it from there. The installation process was tremendously slow and took over an hour and a half to complete, but with both SquareEnix’s program installed and Final Fantasy installed I figured I was finally ready to play the game.
This was when I discovered something very disturbing. Despite having just spent $60 to buy the game, 3 hours trying to get the game installed and years waiting for this moment, I was now told that I had to pay a $12.95 monthly fee plus $1 per character if I wanted to play the game. Now I’m not opposed to paying monthly fees to play video games. In fact I’ve used Gamefly before and really like not having to pay a big up front charge just to try something. I’m also not opposed to paying up front charges to get games that I know I will play over and over again despite how old the game gets, but this was clearly a case where Microsoft was double dipping and charging consumers both types of fees without disclosing this prior to the upfront purchase.
As a consumer, I feel deceived by Microsoft and think that they are using false advertising to promote the game. I never would have spent the up front money in order to buy the game if I knew that it was going to cost me more then $200 to play the game for the next 12 months. Even worse was that I found out after purchasing the game that there was no resale value to the game because only one license is granted to each disc. No where on Amazon’s website is this monthly fee disclosed and nowhere on the box does it tell consumers that they’ll have to pay $14 per month on top of the $60 to play the game.
The game did have a sticker attached indicating a free month of service in very small print, but this is more then a little misleading and I interpeted this to mean an extra month of Xbox Live wa
s included in the purchase price. As it turns out, not only do you have to pay SquareEnix $14 per month, but you also need to pay Microsoft over $4 per month for the Xbox Live subscription as well.
These fees are simply unacceptable to me and the fact that Microsoft makes you go through such a lengthy registration process makes it difficult to balk at the monthly fee when it’s finally disclosed. Had they properly disclosed the cost upfront, I would have saved myself the frustration of waiting and installing the game only to find out the true cost of playing Final Fantasy XI. Furthermore, most game stores have a policy of not giving rebates for opened games and once you install the game, you can’t resell it on Ebay because it contains a special one time use access code that is tied to the registration of the game. As a consumer you are faced with the choice of eating the $60 up front cost or agreeing to pay SquareEnix extortion fees of $14 per month on top of what I already pay Microsoft to get online.
Figuring I was out the $60 already, I bit the bullet and agreed to the ongoing charges, just so that I could try out the game for one month to see if the hype was worth it. It was at that point that I found out that Xbox needed yet another “update” before I would even be allowed to play the game. This update took an additional 2 hours to install and even after the update was completed. SquareEnix failed to honor the Content ID key that I had purchased. I would have called SquareEnix directly, but they disconnected their customer service lines prior to bringing the game online, so I had no choice but to wait until the next day in order to finally experience Final Fantasy on the Xbox 360.
After having played the game, I will tell you that it isn’t even worth the $60 up front to experience the game. The graphics are impressive, but the game play is terrible and interacting online is a real pain because you have to spell out what you want to say letter by letter on a virtual keyboard. Had not Microsoft and SquareEnix engaged in this deceptive advertising, I would have saved myself the trouble of spending the $60 up front and the five hours of my life that it took to get the game installed on my machine. Why Microsoft couldn’t just sell me a downloadable version of the game with the monthly fee only is beyond me, but if this is Peter Moore’s vision of cinematic gaming then I want nothing to do with the Xbox 360. It was hard enough to acquire the game to begin with, but to see extra charges disclosed only after 3 hours into the installation charges is just plain wrong. I expect more out of Microsoft am very disappointed that the company did not embrace a Final Fantasy solution for casual gamers who just want to pop the game in once a month and spend a couple of hours playing. Now I know that Microsoft needed Final Fantasy in order to gain market share in Japan, but the price they paid was far too steep and screwing your customers will only end up backfiring on them.
Freeberg Update – After looking at the back of the box, it does say that there is a monthly fee required, so I apologize for misinterpeting what the sticker meant. I don’t think that this is false advertising, but I still maintain that this is deceptive advertising however, because they don’t disclose the true cost of the game until after the initial purchase. Also, I want to clarify that I don’t blame Microsoft solely for the lack of disclosure. I blame SquareEnix more then anyone, but I put a lot of trust into Microsoft and because they are a recipient of the up front cost, I think that they have an ethical obligation to disclose what the true cost of the game is, before a consumer makes the up front purchase. Maybe it’s not fair to hold Microsoft to a higher standard then other companies, but as a leader in the video game industry I expect more. I’d also like to clarify that the cost of the game is really $50, but with tax it’s almost $60. I did not include tax in $13.95 charge though.
Update #2 – It turns out that in Canada and in the UK online retailers are properly disclosing the actual cost of the monthly service charge. What’s strange about this is that Best Buy seems to feel that they can’t rip off Canadians, but it’s alright to fleece American consumers. It’s also worth noting that Amazon.com has done the responsible thng and has put up a product Wiki on their site disclosing the monthly service charge.