Massively Overthinking: Contending with the MMO genre’s ‘wowfugee’ crisis

    
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Last week on the MOP Podcast, we read a letter from a listener named Megan who pointed us to a blog post on the The Eorzean Frontier called What do you mean this isn’t World of Warcraft?. There’s so much to unpack in this blog post, but the word that leaped out to all of us was the word “wowfugees.” As author Danny Smith wrote, Final Fantasy XIV has seen an influx of World of Warcraft refugees who are, shall we say, not acquainted with the customs of Eorzea – bringing Barrens chat culture and gearscore and hostile grouping interactions from a decaying Azeroth into the world of XIV, where such things are considered vulgar and unwelcome. Danny’s takeaway was so quintessentially XIV-community, too.

“Don’t let others change your own disposition,” he writes. “We just have to remember that while the standout volatile dickheads should be given a polite what-for, we should also maintain our own sense of community identity because there are also people who may have played a MMORPG for 15 years and are now dejected and looking for a new home, and this might be the right fit for some of them, and it’s far more important to make the good ones welcome than assume they are another one of these assholes just because they are a ‘wowfugee.'”

We addressed Megan’s questions on the ‘cast, but it seems like a hugegantic topic that deserves more input, and so here we are in Overthinking. I’ve asked our writers to chime in on the concept of “wowfugees” – whether we’ve seen the phenomenon in other MMOs, whether they think it’s a problem, and if so, how the heck we solve it.

Select.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I can’t speak for FFXIV, but damn near every single MMO I’ve ever played since 2004 when WoW launched has been filled with ex-WoW players, yes. I am one too. But as I said on the ‘cast, I think that’s amplified now simply because nearly everyone who’s still playing core MMORPGs is likely to have played WoW in the past. If we’re most of us former WoW players, it just makes sense.

Of course, the word “refugee” has connotations of fleeing in some sort of desperate way, and I’m not sure that’s really the right term for the type of player Danny is describing – the uncouth folks who bust into every MMO and try to bend the community to some other game’s social rules instead of blending in. (I don’t think that’s the majority of ex-WoW players, either!) So I pity and welcome refugees, but I do not pity and welcome the kinds of folks who show up in spatial chat and do nothing but blabber about their ex, nor do I pity and welcome people who think the existing playerbase is doing it wrong if they’re not belittling each other and rushing content and measuring their epeen at every turn.

But then… I didn’t like those people when they were in WoW, either. And I could say the same thing about – for one example – EVE Online refugees in Star Citizen (there was drama about this exact topic a few years back when a certain EVE corp was angling for influence in CIG’s space opus). So I’m not entirely sure it’s a game-specific issue except in that some games attract and indulge certain archetypes of gamer. And that might be the archetype finally giving up on WoW now. In which case, I’m with Danny: The onus is on them to grow up and grow into their new virtual homes if they want to be welcomed, but if they do, then awesome, the more the merrier, and it’s Blizzard’s loss. Just don’t forget that if you snub wowfugees just because of where they’ve come from, you’re no better than their worst examples.

Burn it, sure.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): From what interaction I’ve had of the Final Fantasy XIV community at any large scale, it absolutely is a different and generally self-policing beast from the behemoth… thing that the WoW community (perceptibly) is. So changing that perception is, in my view, something that could be seen less as a problem and more as a challenge worth meeting. Especially since the reward for surmounting that challenge is having more people play the game (see my reply to last week’s Overthinking about ambient sociability on why I find that a positive).

I think back to my refugee days when City of Heroes went dark and how much it sucked not finding a new place for my superpowered avatar The Midnight Kestrel to be, and I feel like there were more than a few other games that would have benefited greatly from having those players brought in and welcomed. I’d hate to be part of the reason someone else felt the way I did then.

So, how to solve it? Case-by-case basis. It’s extremely easy to stuff all of those eggs into one basket, but that ultimately would be a disservice to the well-adjusted folks trying to find a new forever digital world, especially since those who feel shunned would probably just turn around and bad mouth a game’s community right back. Steeling yourself for some Barrens chat-level bile is one thing, but making snap judgments about every wowfugee one crosses isn’t fair, and the one thing that the XIV community generally doesn’t seem to be to me is unfair. This pretty much plays hand-in-hand with Danny’s suggestion of XIV’s playerbase not losing its identity, and really should be par for the course of any MMO community. These things are better when there’s other people playing, after all.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): The thing about WoW expatriates is that almost everyone getting annoyed about them are themselves WoW expatriates. And there’s a reason for that.

While WoW has been running for a really long time, there was a period of time when it was so overwhelmingly popular that it formed far more subcultures within itself than I think anyone can really categorize. Depending on the treatment of those subcultures within the game, a lot of them have subsequently moved on to other games. And I think that forms the core of why people can be a bit reluctant around recent wowfugees, so to speak. If you’ve been out of the game as a whole for several years and you find someone who’s just coming over to Final Fantasy XIV this year, you can understandably be worried that what you’re going to be dealing with is a player who is, fundamentally, bringing the same gearscore elitism and unpleasant tendencies that you left to avoid.

There’s also the simple reality that any existing community has its own social mores and ways of operating. Even disregarding the basic mechanical differences that are there, there are certain behaviors that are more or less accepted and seen as standard in games like Star Wars: The Old Republic or RIFT while not being standard practice in WoW. There’s an element of trepidation there.

And perhaps most importantly, this is one of those times when people are particular aware of it because you have a lot of people on a break from the game without having left. There’s a vast difference between “I’m done with World of Warcraft” and “I’m not playing World of Warcraft right now because the current expansion is hot garbage.” The latter conjures visions of people who are going to jump back as soon as the expansion changes, rather than people really looking to move over, and thus they’re players less likely to put in the effort to actually learn new cultures and different ways of doing things.

Ultimately, I don’t think this is precisely a problem so much as a thing; not “thing bad” or “thing good,” but “thing exist.” If WoW has been your home for a long while, there’s going to be a bit of suspicion there if you’re leaving now when things are bad, but the welcoming communities are still full of people who are happy to show you their way of doing things and hopefully clarify what is and is not rude. Similarly, existing communities have an obligation to treat this not as a case of “oh, you’re one of those” and instead offer a chance for these people to learn what is and isn’t expected. It’s not unheard of for someone to turn “on a break” to “this is where I live forever now,” after all.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I saw WoWfugees back in 2011 when Star Wars: The Old Republic launched. In fact, many of the Darth Hater crowd were all players attempting to escape from World of Warcraft. At the same time, I knew a lot of people who had never played WoW but were major Star Wars or Star Wars Galaxies fans. With that crowd came a very different culture. Oftentimes, these cultures clashed, and sometimes, it was not pretty. I think my article from about a year ago shows what can happen when two opposing cultures collide.

The biggest thing that stood out to me in the Eorzean Frontier article that I believe places the wrong perspective on the whole thing when he wrote, “Don’t let others change your own disposition.” I’m not sure that we shouldn’t let others change us. I understand his intent when writing that. He means that we shouldn’t let the jerks from the other game get us down or turn us into jerks. But ultimately, I think we should listen to those coming from a game that’s lasted for so long. At first, when I would hop into other VOIP channels of raid groups from other games, I was put off because they believed in the things that I didn’t — like gear score and combat logging. But over time, I started to understand them and even adopted some of the things they used, and at the same time, they adopted some of the things I did.

Online communities aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong; they’re about shared experiences. When another person or group comes your way that hasn’t shared the same experience you have, it doesn’t make things worse. If handled well, your experience combines with their experience, and it becomes something greater and deeper than the two experiences on their own.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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Arsin Halfmoon

I must have a thicker skin than I thought because pretty much the norm in FFXIV has been what the writer described. I just adjusted/ nimb to it I guess lol

Its a vertical progression pve system with raids and a ton of dungeon grinding. Of course people are going to be like that. Even if a person never played wow, with that mindset, yeah theyre going to act the same.

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ichi sakari

no need to hate someone because you’ve labelled them

give people a chance to be themselves, you’ll find enough to not like about each one specifically

and occasionally make a friend or learn something or grow or whatever

(does my avatar make my elf-butt look stigmatized?)

baddog.jpg
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Cinaminson

I dunno, I’ve had a much worse time with people in FFXIV than I ever did in WoW. And that isn’t recent, that was back in ARR.

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Matt Comstock

Agreed. Deal with the jerks on an individual basis, rather than judging a whole group on the bad conduct of a few a-holes. I’ve always had a great distaste for vitriolic players and gaming communities. However, mixed within those pools of vitriol are always examples of people who are civil and courteous.

As others have noted, or at least insinuated, the problem is not really “wowfugees,” it’s the person behind the avatar– who spew their poison no matter where they come from or where they land. Now, changing that underlying problem is where the real work lies. And in virtual worlds of literal anonymity… I’m not sure it is a problem that can ever be resolved. Those of us who are civil and courteous can only do our best to educate those vitriolic vagabonds on how to engage in proper and acceptable social conduct, and stand up for the victims of their poor conduct (without sinking to their lows).

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Paragon Lost

And then before that we were refugees from text based online rpgs aka the precursor of mmorpgs. Come on people, stop trying to come up with new ways to be outraged. Players have to come from some where.

Alyn
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Alyn

It’s complicated, I assure you. I’m still a guild leader on Uldum/Antonidas server. However I am so damned tired and fed up with the Mythic + and Raid pay to play carries from a few guilds that are monopolizing on the fact that they have somewhat mastered “min-maxing” and the “movement hoe down”.

Thus I am taking a break. I still log on to run a few things with guildies, but basically raiding has soured. Guild Wars 2 has taken my fancy and yeah I’m actively recruiting my close long-time guild friends. It is difficult for them to make the leap as WoW is basically all they know-

I long for something that brightens the horizon. I am not going to hold my breath as well all know these past several months the BIG corps. have somewhat shown their true intent with their companies. Even at GW 2. Makes me feel morose and dark inside.

I leave all of you fine folk with these words;

“If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.”
― Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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styopa

As with so many MMO issues that imitate larger contexts IRL, I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a fascinating substrata here of community definition and social contracts, that community’s definition of “the other”, perceived interlopers with habits and cultures with which the community is uncomfortable, and issues of rejection/acceptance.

We have what amounts to a generally polite, parochial little neighborhood with what amounts to a boatload of newcomers landing on the shore who have developed entirely different cultures of interaction, and some of the natives are getting the vapours over their uncouth manners.

Then intersect THAT with broader cultural currents of open mindedness, inclusion, and tolerance that many of the residents of this ghetto (would likely) claim to idealize and you have a savory, fascinating stew of human behaviors.

Damn, I wish I was a 30 year younger Anthropology / Behavioral Psych grad student looking for dissertation material.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

*scratches head* Been playing FFXIV for several months now. Even before the refugee phenomenon I’ve seen toxicity, speedrunners, and people concerned with gearscore.

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styopa

I think that’s the point.
I too am a WoW refugee, sort of, having spent 8 years playing WoW intensively, several years in the wilderness of trying to find another game to get into, and finally landing in FFXIV since about Aug/Sept.
To me it was immediately clear that FFXIV had a different feel. Not to say that there weren’t the toxic speedrunners for example, but that the broad culture of FFXIV seemed to be more encouraging, more patient, a little less intense (at least at the levels I play). I’d say it’s not terribly unlike the first couple years of Vanilla WoW, actually. I honestly didn’t really ‘believe’ it was as good as it seemed.

But having gone back to wow for free months now and again, the difference TODAY in tone and culture is striking.
And I agree, even in my short stint in Eorzea I’ve seen the neighborhood start to change. Not significantly, but noticeably.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

As Bree points out, every MMO out there has always had, and probably always will have, for the foreseeable future, a significant number of players who at some point in the past also played WoW.

That’s inevitable just because the MMO market as a whole is only so big, and WoW has been so widely played for so long, there is hardly anyone left who is a devoted MMO fan and who never played it.

What’s different now, unlike in the recent past, is that other major MMOs now are absorbing large numbers of people who only ever played WoW and never have played any other MMO.

That is a result of the mass exodus that has been driven by the total failure of BFA as an expansion, and the deeper, much more troubling decay of the culture and development ethos within Blizzard that made it an industry darling for so long.

I agree that every major game is seeing this to some extent, and it is a real problem for communities to absorb players who are not just conditioned to think that every game and every community works like the only one they’ve ever known, but also to deal with them at a time when many are bitter and jaded and feeling like everything they hold dear has been ripped away, and when they’re desperately searching for something to fill the void (or something they think can be molded to fit what they miss).

Of course, communities in other games have loved them in some cases because they were very much not WoW, even if they aped it in some respects. If your community grows because it gains new players who have left WoW and never return, then it’s a win, but that growth should not come at the cost of giving up what made the community in your game great (and not at all like WoW) just to placate them.

That said, there are lots of nice people who only ever have played WoW and who know perfectly well that other games are different; and those folks may welcome a change of scenery and culture and find it refreshing. There also are lots of people who just played WoW as one among many other games; that doesn’t mean they automatically assume every game has to be WoW or it’s doing it wrong.

Better to deal with people on their own terms and withhold judgment until you see how they actually are, than to shun or condemn them just because they once played a particular game.

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IronSalamander8 .

I started with EQ1 and then played CoH before trying WoW. WoW’s community back then was a cesspool. I hated the community so much I didn’t play it much until just before BC. Moving from Bloodhoof which was a terrible server for community to Shadow Council was a massive improvement and there are bad, toxic, nasty players all over but none in any game, not even SWTOR’s “I know the lore better than you!” crowd was as bad as WoW at its worst. I loved having a ?? flagged human paladin jumping on my bobber to try to force me to flag while fishing or when my friend’s 12 year old daughter was being harassed by high level flagged alliance when she was trying to get her lowbie quests done or the NE that used to hide in large corpses so when people looted them they would be forced flagged when they accidentally clicked on the hidden flagged NE and not the mob they just killed. Good times *eyeroll*

FF14 has a pretty decent community on the 2 servers I’ve played, I’ve only ran into one bad group in an open raid and after we all bailed and got a new group it went fast and easy.

No community is toxic free, and WoW seemed a lot better on the RP servers than the PvE servers, but WoW at its worst is far worse than any MMORPG I’ve played and I’ve played a lot. WoT was worse, but that kind of game attracts toxicity as I hear LoL is worse but I’ve never played that thing.