I love making my characters look pretty. I also love taking screenshots of my characters. I especially do this in customisation-heavy games where there are a tonne of different looks available, which means RPGs of any kind are particularly good screenshot fodder. Final Fantasy XIV, however, has to be the one online game that offers some of the best screenshot tools I’ve ever seen in the games I’ve played. It’s great, and not just because it gives me a practical second game to play. It’s pretty darned good for the community, too.
Online games garner a particular benefit that single player games only experience to a lesser extent; they already have an online community. The benefits of taking screenshots are more immediate when you’re in a setting that already has any number of people brought together into a community – which in the case of online games tends to come in the form of forums.
It’s curious, then, that many online games don’t necessarily offer tools for their players to use in order to take screenshots. True and right enough, screenshots don’t make a fundamental difference in why a game necessarily sells, but they do ultimately make a difference. Screenshots fulfil the same role that YouTube videos or Twitch streams do, in that they generate discussion. Good screenshots in particular might wind up passed around the community and eventually appear outside of the game’s specific community in other areas online, in turn generating interest. There are blogs that gain hundreds of followers by posting decently taken and well-edited screenshots, and not all of those people play the game themselves.
I’d know this: I run a Guild Wars 2 sideblog on Tumblr that’s standing over 800 followers. Even if we assume that of this number, 100 are dead blogs, and 50 of them are actually 25 people following from two different accounts altogether, that still leaves 650 people looking at the content I generate (of which most are screenshots taken either by myself or other GW2 players.) I know for a stone cold fact that not all of these people play that game.
But the content is good, and when content is good, people will come.
So, why do I highlight Final Fantasy XIV in particular as a good game for screenshots? Well frankly, it’s because Square Enix seem to have realised themselves that enabling their community to take the best screenshots they can take without needing editing software works highly in their favour. It also plays into the fact that, with MMORPGs in particular, we like to look at our characters. Square Enix kills two birds with one stone.
There are two “cameras” in the game that both use the same fundamental toolset for players: the “Idle Camera” and the “Group Pose” camera. As you may very well have figured, the Idle Camera kicks in when you idle in the game; it picks various scenes by focusing on different NPCs or enemies near to you and simply idles the camera on them for a small period before switching to the next NPC, enemy or player. The Group Pose camera effectively takes a “snapshot” of any entities in the area and what emotes they were doing at the time, and then allows you to play in an almost “instanced” sandbox. You can change the focus of the camera by clicking on different entities (players, pets, mounts, NPCs or enemies,) change the angle the camera is facing on the vertical axis and roll the camera to the right or left, and you can move your camera around and assign up to three sources of artificial light – each with limited brightness and colour options.
It isn’t much and yet at the same time, it is a smorgasbord of options. I haven’t even detailed the various screen effects or status effects you can apply, after all, and you can also freeze entities in the middle of actions (either one target at a time or all at once) for a really easy to customise screenshot. You can control whether creatures look at your camera or not, too. It’s, frankly, wonderful.
Why does any of this matter? Does it make you more or less likely to play the game?
Well not necessarily. But by giving their players both a way to admire their characters, a way to interact with their friends and take all sorts of screenshots from goofy to downright gorgeous, Square Enix thrust open the floodgates of creativity. They don’t just let their players take nice screenshots and share them, but they invite them to. Because at the end of the day, every good screenshot of their game is free press.
Fundamentally, there’s never a reason to focus on making these kind of tools for your players. It’s probably incredibly hard if not impossible to outright say whether or not putting in that development time and effort actually rewards you in terms of new players. And yet, it is free advertisement for Square Enix’s game – and they don’t even have to make any more effort on their part. People are happy to advertise for them, because taking screenshots isn’t just easy, but it’s fun. Screenshot contests gain a whole new level of meaning because unlike most – where you have to find a good place, do an emote a hundred times and take seventy screenshots hoping one of them was good – here you can find a place, do your emote once and then use the Group Pose tool to perfect your screenshot down to the very frame.
Do I expect developers to start considering this in their games? No, not remotely.
But I will praise the ones who do, because I really do believe that these developers have done something incredibly smart, while at the very same time giving me something especially fun to do. I love taking screenshots in Final Fantasy XIV. It’s actually one of my favourite things to do in the entire game.
You might have guessed.