Wednesday, July 11, 2018

FF14 Fan Fest Debacle

After having survived multiple ticket queues for San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), PAX Prime/West, PAX East, BlizzCon, and hotel camping for DragonCon and Anime Expo, the experience with this year's sale of passes to FFXIV Fan Festival was an experience I will never forget. And one I don't want to relive.

Whether it was the over-hype of this year's event, the limited tickets, the ticketing vendor - a lot of issues cropped up resulting in a number of disappointed fans. Much more so than BlizzCon. And BlizzCon has a crappy ticket system. Easily one of the worst I've dealt with. While I haven't been able to attend SDCC, their system is at least fair and, like PAX, once you are on the page to select tickets you are at least guaranteed a pass. BlizzCon is a free-for-all. It's all about getting in and hoping you can enter your information as quickly as possible. The debacle with Fan Festival has topped it.

FFXIV Fan Festival (Fan Fest) takes place in 3 locations around the globe, North America, Europe, and Japan, during 2017 and the early half of 2018. NA is the first stop taking place November 16-17 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fan Fest is a celebration of Final Fantasy XIV, and offers gamers a chance to see new developments in progress, meet fellow fans, play some games, buy merch, etc. The events in 2014 and 2016 drew sizeable numbers but ticket sales were always casual. People had a few days to purchase before they were sold out. I've heard mixed reviews about this event, but local friends were interested in going and I knew we would all have fun together. So I did what I always do. I planned. I camped. And I think I got passes? With all of the issues that occurred, I don't know for certain.

Something was different about this year's sale, and I don't think it had to do with the increased subscriber numbers.

Unlike other fan events, this one was meant to be limited to only FF14 subscribers. You needed have an active sub sometime between January and June of this year to receive a code. This code would allow you to buy a Fan Fest pass through ShowClix. Other large conventions like PAX have used this vendor. The code was a way to verify that you were a subscriber and held deter spammers/bots. Once you receive the code, you were expected to enter it on the day of ticket sales to get access to the queue, and during checkout to ensure you were a subscriber. Those who entered the queue first would get an initial crack at passes, with a maximum of 4 per purchaser. Entry into the payment system is in order of who was in line next.

And then the problems began.

Within minutes there were already posts that people were able to buy more than 4 passes, didn't need to provide a code, and were able to bypass the line entirely if they knew the direct link to checkout. At one point ShowClix temporarily disabled the code system to fix a technical issue. This allowed more people in with unrestricted access. Within 20 minutes, most of the tickets were gone and there were still a lot of people waiting in the queue. At 2:26pm I received the "sold out" message, and Square Enix confirmed just before 3 that all passes were sold.

When word began to spread about the abuse of pass purchases and people ordering without a code, the backlash was fast. A megathread with over 703 comments with people seeking passes started on Reddit and was closed within hours. Community Manager Bayhone eventually released a statement that all passes sold appear to be legitimate sales and no wrong-doing has been seen thus far. They did acknowledge an issue with ShowClix about the code being disables while they fixed a problem, but they did not stop sales when this happened. Right now the response from Square Enix is silence, and it is quite deafening.

With my situation, it was odd. I was in the process of having my payment confirmed when I was kicked back to the main screen. There were no error messages. No denial of payment. No pop ups. The page where you could select the number of tickets now read "sold out." The first thing I did was checked my e-mail, as I have my account sent to notify me of every purchase. There was a pending sale on tickets, and a few moments later I received an e-mail and a text message. But given all the issues surrounding this situation, I'm not 100% sure these passes are mine. I've asked ShowClix to respond with confirmation before I can do a happy dance that I made it through the madness with success. But it may be a while.

At this time it seems neither ShowClix or Square Enix are going to take fault for what happened. It was clear that demand was high. SE promoted the event more than they had in past years, to the point where friends of mine who have no interest in Final Fantasy knew that Fan Fest was coming up. SE did not anticipate the increase in interest.

Is there a solution to this? At this time, not really. SE is not going to cancel purchases. They are getting money whether or not 100 or 10,000 people show up. They also don't want to dismiss the legitimate purchase that were made by subscribers and start a firestorm over that. They can't add more passes without hitting fire code issues with the hotel. They also can't change venues to a larger location without breaking contracts and spending more money. Without knowing with 100% certainty that someone used a bot to buy passes, those tickets will not be cancelled. There will be no second wave of sales. The best SE can do now is apologize for the errors, do better next time, and get a bigger venue.

I for certain will not play this line game next time. It's bad enough with BlizzCon, but at least I know the stakes going into it. I know that are no guarantees and it's every gamer for themselves. Here, the rules continually changed. There was constant fluctuation to contend with. That's not my style.

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