PlayOnline is an online gaming service created by Square Co. (now Square Enix), and has been the launcher application and Internet service for many of the online PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 games the company publishes. Currently, the only game supported by the service is Final Fantasy XI. Games previously supported were Front Mission Online, Fantasy Earth: The Ring of Dominion, Tetra Master, and the Japanese releases of EverQuest II, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII and JongHoLo.
Opening of the PlayOnline service and viewer
PlayOnline was originally conceived as an all-in-one solution to house multiple types of game content. At the "Square Millennium" event in Japan on January 28, 2000, Square announced three Final Fantasy games, including Final Fantasy XI, to be released in the summer of 2001, and that Square had been working on an online portal called "PlayOnline" with Japanese telecom company NTT Communications, and would feature online games, chat, email, online comics, Internet browsing, online shopping, sports, and instant messaging. The service was first announced as costing 500 yen for monthly membership and a 1000 yen monthly user fee. Final Fantasy XI, then nicknamed "Final Fantasy Online", was the first game to use the online service. PlayOnline opened on June 6, 2000 to both Japanese and English speaking players with news about upcoming software titles, interviews, and wallpapers. Initial traffic to the site overwhelmed servers and players experienced slow or no connection. The sites merchandise included pieces from Parasite Eve, Vagrant Story, Chocobo Racing, Front Mission, Chrono Cross, and Final Fantasy. PlayOnline was seen as part of Sony's strategy to turn the PlayStation 2 into an Internet set-top box. Accordingly, Sony brought broadband equipment and a hard drive to the PlayStation 2. The quality of the browser was noted in its "clean" graphics, excellent page layouts, and "high quality sound". The browser was not a general purpose Internet tool, but only accessed Square content, such as news about Square products and a comic-strip walkthrough of Final Fantasy XI.
Service development and growth
In December 2001, Square Enix projected it would have 250,000 users by the end of 2001, and 400,000 by year end 2002: the service charged $10 per person, and thus needed 200,000 participants to break even. On January 7, 2004, Square Enix announced they had more than 500,000 registered users on the PlayOnline gaming service, and slightly under one million active players. In September 2004, Square Enix stated they have 1.2 million characters, with most players having two to three characters. In May 2005, Front Mission Online became the second game to utilize the service, retailing at 7,140 Yen and had a monthly subscription price of 1,344 Yen. In June 2009, a San Francisco, California resident sued Square Enix for "deceptive advertising, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment" from Final Fantasy XI, and a sought 5 million dollar settlement.
Security and outages
In February 2005, 800 players were banned from the card game Tetra Master and from Final Fantasy XI for monopolizing areas where high level items and monsters would spawn, making it impossible for other players to become stronger. In March 2009, Square Enix announced a new security system for players beginning April 6, 2009, involving a security token players could purchase for $9.99 and including an in-game bonus called a "Mog Satchel". On April 9, 2005, a distributed denial of service attack against PlayOnline's servers shut down Final Fantasy XI access for players in North America and Europe for three hours: the attack continued for over a week, leading Square Enix to involve law enforcement. At the time, Square Enix did not reveal if the Japanese server which hosted Front Mission Online, Fantasy Earth, and Japanese players of EverQuest II were affected.
During the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the servers had to be temporarily shut down, taking down Final Fantasy XIV, Final Fantasy XI, and PlayOnline games and services from March 13 to March 25. During the power shortage, air conditioning and lighting was reduced, and the subscription fees for Final Fantasy XI were waived for the month of April.
Service declines in use
In June 2009, Square Enix announced they had decided not to use PlayOnline for Final Fantasy XIV due to the marked decrease of content on the service. Instead, they would migrate to a new service that still allowed cross-platform gameplay, including the use of a universal Square Enix ID that would allow players to play from wherever they left off. In June 2011, Square Enix announced that they would merge the account management portion of the PlayOnline service into Square Enix accounts from July 2011 and culminate on August 31st, 2011. However, PlayOnline is still required in order to actually play Final Fantasy XI. Friend lists were also transferrable between Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV.
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