Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s community is better – and worse – than you think

    
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Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s community is better – and worse – than you think

If you are not actually playing Final Fantasy XIV, you probably have an impression of the community for this game being an amazing font of positive wonderfulness in which everyone is happy and all sorts of silly things are happening constantly. (Also, thanks for reading this column despite not playing the game.) If, on the other hand, you do play the game, you’re probably sighing at the thought of having to block and report the first person you see who decided to glamour on a red baseball cap because why do you people ruin everything.

Herein lies the great contradiction of any community: So much of it is based on your frame of reference.

The thing is that from my perspective, it’s easy to look at the whole thing and agree that the game definitely has a great community and also has some serious community problems that aren’t easy to address. It’s all about the frame of reference you’re using, and it’s super easy for someone’s frame to be primarily centered around this individual game… thus missing all the ways in which it is, legitimately, better than the average after all.

Let’s start with something that I think everyone is aware of but no one really thinks about in all that much depth: If you are not within a community, your evaluation of that community is naturally going to be less connected over time.

I say this because while there are definitely people whose frame of reference is limited to FFXIV, there are a lot of people who will be quick to point out that FFXIV is not their first ie only MMO and they have a clearer picture of what the overall MMO genre community looks like. And in the abstract, those of you saying that are completely right. Certainly you know more about the overall community than the mainstream reporter who thinks the genre has long started and stopped with Blizzard Entertainment, after all.

But most of us are not actually a part of the overarching community beyond the broad strokes. Even I can easily lose perspective on the larger community based on the particular games I play and focus on, and it’s to my benefit that my games encompass one title accepted for having a really good community and one… let’s be polite and say not seen that way.

So let’s start with the obvious: As good as the FFXIV community may look to outsiders, this is still a community that is replete with problems.

Override.

Elitism? Definitely a thing within the community. Unhelpful, selfish jerks who like to ruin other people’s playtime? Definitely. There are a whole lot of apologists for the Garlean Empire (fictional Japanese Imperial Nazis, in other words) mixed in among the apologists for actual real Nazis, there are some intensely toxic people in the community advocating for white supremacy, and so on.

And all of that is discounting the number of times that it’s turned out some community “leader” or another is a supercreep predator manipulating people out of the public eye. So far, so expected. If you have played MMOs, you have seen these things before and they’re awful.

Heck, when you put all of it out there, it sure sounds like this community is hot garbage and not worth caring about… until you put it in perspective. By volume, this stuff makes up way less of the community than you might expect given other MMOs and other communities.

We all know of games where some of the most toxic and nasty personalities out there are not only amplified but become de facto voices of the community as a whole. There’s at least one game out there where regressive nasties have kind of forever tainted the game itself, making it harder to talk about the game’s actual qualities in the wake of disgusting people chattering on with red baseball caps while cursing at you.

It’s not that these personalities don’t wind up hitting the FFXIV community; it’s that they tend to not be able to become intrinsically tied to the game as a whole. They tend to get pushed out or at least pushed to the margins of the community, not becoming the face of the title or the fans. Many of them are promptly drummed out altogether.

It’s not that the community never becomes a bit overzealous in its reaction to things; it’s that as a whole, the community seems to reserve that for at least responding to existing bad actors rather than just losing their minds at nothing. It’s not like the community always has the best relationship with the developers, but that the conflicts are generally framed with much more knowledge that people like Yoshida and Koji-Fox and Soken and Ishikawa and so on are people, not just named devices that make the game go.

For people who genuinely have not played other games with any intensity, all of this stuff is easy to miss. It’s easy not to see the ways in which the overall community attitude is so different, because you’re looking at it from a perspective where one game’s players think the developers made a bad call and the FFXIV community also thinks that the developers made a bad call, so how is stuff so different?

Front lines.

And the answer is that the response to the bad call is something like players saying “greed-only loot in alliance raids is a really bad decision,” not trying to get the developers fired. The development team listens and reverts it, and peace is maintained. This is not a feud between opposing forces, this is – at worst – a clash of philosophies undertaken by people who the community as a whole seems to recognize at the worst of times generally wants the game to be the best it can be.

That’s big. It’s different. And if your experience with all of this stuff has otherwise been confined to other MMOs, the FFXIV experience will feel wildly more refreshing and open by comparison. Or, just as surely, if you’re someone who covers a lot of MMOs and is accustomed to communities being worse than they are in this particular game, you’ll be intensely receptive to the overall community being more positive than you expect.

This isn’t to say that the problems aren’t there, or they don’t matter, or even that they’re not as big a deal as you think. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. The community is definitely imperfect and flawed in a lot of ways and the house cleaning that happens periodically is quite important. Rather, it’s to point out that the house cleaning just mentioned is a sign that the community is working well. The people who need to be unwelcome are being shunned from the community over time, and people are re-evaluating as time goes by.

It’s worse than outsiders might think. But if you’re on the inside, it can be easy to miss just how good it actually is.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, the final set of Ishgard restoration will have started up, so it’s a fine time to check in and see how things have gone during the first week of the final phase.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.

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draugris

I play FF14 in an on/off manor, usually when an expansion or major content update is around. I have never experienced behaviour described in that article (european datacenter), the opposite was the case, maybe i was lucky but i had really only good experiences. I play a tank job and i had people in dungeons encouraging me as a newbie to take my time look around, explore etc. Despite that this was not the most effective way to go. Such things never happened to me in any mmorpg else.

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MolleaFauss

Same here. The goof of FF14 is that the average is generally helpful or indifferent. There are those that in a lvl 40 dungeon will get in as a fully dressed 80 and be pissed off at you because you don’t know the mechanics (although you said “first time here” in chat as soon as the instance started). But they’re basically a minority and they won’t get their commendation.
Besides I’ve really developed a low tolerance when I see some idiot blabbering in chat: the ignore list is just a few clicks away, while gaming I’m really in a “no idiot” mood. It generally pays off.

Nephele
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Nephele

I’ve had an interesting relationship with MMO communities over the years.

I started MMOs in 1999, and my first real “community” experience was “Classic” EverQuest. Most of the relationships I formed there happened because players needed each other just to survive the content. Your guildmates were your constant companions. Your friends list was your lifeline when you needed anything. Because of that, the community, at least in those early days, was great. People who were jerks were usually quickly ostracized. However as the game aged, and became more and more about raiding, tribalism started to bring out more toxicity. As guilds became more and more competitive with each other, behavior that would have been unthinkable started to become normal.

I bounced through a lot of MMOs after EQ, and by the time I wound up in FFXIV, I found that even though I craved community – I didn’t actually need it anymore. I formed an FC in 2.1 after playing the game for a month or so. At first, it felt right – getting a group of friends together, doing content together, getting our first house… all of that was good. Over time and expansions, however, it became a group of strangers or at best a nice chat channel with people that you used to actually do things with but now only talked to. Somewhere along the way, people stopped caring about actually doing things together, outside of a few cliques or husband/wife teams. Duty Finder made it easier for everyone to simply just go do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and convenience won out over consideration for others in the FC. In the end, I handed over leadership to someone else, and then around 5.2 I just walked away completely. And honestly? I have been happier playing since then, even though I am completely solo and tagless these days, which is a complete 180 from how I played when I started all those years ago.

Compared to other MMOs, there are a lot of genuinely nice people in FFXIV. I meet some of them sometimes when running a roulette or something. I also feel that the game’s community is far more diverse in every way that matters and that is a huge strength. But at the same time, elitism and speedrun culture is a real problem. Because there are so many players who are just in it for the tombstone grind, the experience of new players is often degraded by the people who are supposedly queuing up to help them. Toxicity shows up semi-frequently in alliance raids and trials where the experienced people just assume that everyone else should know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing or that everyone else is just as jaded and overgeared as they are for the content. People who group up to do savage or ultimate content regularly often have this delusion that they are “hardcore” and that makes them better than every other player, to the point where they do genuinely silly things that can suck the fun out of the experience for people who just want to enjoy more challenging content.

So yeah – FFXIV has a good community, and it definitely has some problems. Some of those problems are just people being people, and others I think are really due to the lack of social drivers within the gameplay itself. The last time I actually made a new friend while playing FFXIV was in Eureka – because that was the last time anyone really took time to talk and socialize while still actively playing (and no, the conversations in the Diadem, while amusing sometimes, don’t really count all that much). Sure, I could probably go hang out in Limsa and talk to random strangers while dancing with a bunch of silly people in various costumes but… that’s just not me.

I have often wondered how FFXIV’s community would fare if it was transplanted to, say, a redone FFXI – where players really had to rely on friendships and social connections made in-game in order to succeed. Obviously, it is doubtful that would happen but it’s interesting to think about.

If you made it this far through the ramble, thanks for reading. The bottom line for me these days is this: I think that community is something that means far more when the game encourages players to be social and gives them reasons to make friends and get to know each other. I wish more games, including FFXIV, would do that.

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Techno Spice

I read this thing in its entirety and I have basically your exact experience (started gaming in 2o00 w/ EQ) and agree in its entirety. In low level dungeons in FF14 I ran into a lot of helpful people but once you start hitting 50 and the trial raids it goes to utter shit. I had to figure out how to do the custom finder to group up with 80s with their stats to carry me through story content and it really ruined the experience for me. If FF14’s big appeal is its storyline, what’s left when that gets ruined for people? Gameforge’s Tera actually handled this really well by providing solo-versions of the story content dungeons, where you feel like you’re actually the focus, the hero of the story again.

I myself have been a contributor to speedrun culture in some games. But really the problem comes down to *mechanics gameplay*. Fights that use highly specialized mechanics that you simply have to know how to counter in advance are really the problem. FF14 has terrible combat and these highly choreographed, strats-based encounters which are a problem in a lot of MMOs (cough cough WoW). Eventually MMOs will figure out how to make encounters that are not about bosses doing X move at Y health and you do Z to counter it, but encounters that are about you knowing how to play your class and the screen not being so busy that bosses can give appropriate tells and your job is to react. There’s a lot of games where you can walk into an encounter you’ve never seen and as long as you know how to dodge and not to stand in the fire you’ll probably do okay.

This is why I almost can’t go back to tab-target MMOs after playing action combat games. It’s like going from organic-feeling encounters to stiff, artificial, plastic ones.

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Jeremy Barnes

I’d say almost every time I’ve taken an extended break from FFXIV it’s been because I tend to pug most content and I’ve run into a string of groups where someone is incredibly angry that the pug, where no one talks or lays out any type of tips or strategy, doesn’t run like a well oiled machine.

I don’t know if it’s the nature of FFXIV itself or just a happenstance, but there seems to be a lot of people who are very angry that other people would dare join their pug group.

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Sorenthaz

From my experience on Crystal there’s definitely elitist types and no-lifers but it’s uncommon to run into the elitist a-hole types. I’ve more regularly encountered kind of the opposite, where more folks are friendly but people also have much more fragile bubbles to put it one way, I guess, and most folks kind of just converge into their little social circles and stay within their comfort zones.

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Steven Williams

I’ve had 10 years of amazing interaction with FFXIV’s community, but there have definitely been some moments sprinkled in there, like with any game community.

I remember one time a super-conservative men’s right activist named some iteration of Chad Thunder%$&# was openly advertising a discord and having really uncomfortable arguments with people in Limsa. We got into a bit of a spat. I had to report the guy.

That was probably the most legitimately toxic thing I’ve experienced in the last, like, few years. Mostly the bad experiences I’ve had were limited to DF and… passive-aggressive guild drama?

And over time those experiences seem to pile up, but in FFXIV I feel like I’ve ran into outright toxic assholes considerably, considerably way way less than every other MMORPG I’ve played over a long time.

I remember playing WoW and having more toxic interactions in two weeks than I had in all the years I accumulated in FFXIV at the time.

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Techno Spice

My experience with FF14 is if you’ve played since early you’re fine. But if you’re just getting into it and learning, you quickly get turned off. Combat feels stiff and slow compared to more modernized combat systems, story trials are ruined by speedrunning, and you’re too nervous about annoying everyone by admitting you’re a newbie, so you have no idea how to do anything and nobody’s going to volunteer that info.

Sixuality
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Sixuality

if you’re someone who covers a lot of MMOs and is accustomed to communities being worse than they are in this particular game, you’ll be intensely receptive to the overall community being more positive than you expect

This has definitely been my experience. I divide my time between a lot of MMOs so I’m not so deeply involved in FFXIV to be aware of community/forum drama. What I have encountered, in dungeons and trials especially, is friendly, easy going players who have reacted to my dumbest newbie mistakes (as a tank no less) only with polite (and extremely helpful) suggestions of what I could/should do differently. As someone who was quietly dreading the need to do classic Holy Trinity dungeon content in this game it’s a huge relief.

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Vincent Clark

Everyone has their own experience. I’ve been on the same EU server since the start (one of the most populous). There is no World/General Chat. Unless you are calling for a group for an A/S Rank or these days, the start of a Hunt train…World chat simply isn’t used. Side note: You will find gil spammers at times using World chat in the 3 core cities, but they eventually are silenced.

And that is a good thing. If you actually WANT to be a part of a community, you join one (an FC). There are so many tools available to assist people who are serious about doing so. So that is MY FF14 community, my FC (and the extended friends we’ve made along the way).

Youtube “creators” who post videos to attract clicks “Hardcore or Casual, Pick a Side!!” are not my community. Reddit is not my community. I can genuinely count on my one hand how many times I’ve run a dungeon or an alliance raid without my FC and witnessed anyone being a dick for whatever reason in party chat.

I’m not saying the community in FF14 is better than the one in LOTRO, STO, GW2 or WoW (all of which I’ve played off and on for years), it’s just that I’ve reached the age where I decide which parts of a gaming community I want to engage in and ignore the rest, it’s just background noise. In the end, if you actively look for “trouble” you are bound to find it anywhere. The question is, why are you looking in the first place?

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Ironwu

From my experience with playing FFXIV (certainly a superior MMO), it is 100% necessary to join a guild (Free Company) if one is going to be a long term player and expect to have any sort of fun with the social experience.

Simply put, the dungeon runs required to advance in the game are simply not fun with pugs unless you are of the frame of mind to go-go-go with abusive and intolerant folks (for the most part).

And like most mature MMOs, you really do not want to have the general chat channels enabled. It is much more satisfying to just be talking with associates that have all agreed to not be huge dicks.

So, yes. Astoundingly good MMO. Great community if you are actually IN a community. But outside of that? Not so much.

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Rndomuser

it is 100% necessary to join a guild (Free Company) if one is going to be a long term player and expect to have any sort of fun with the social experience

That is an incorrect generalization. I don’t play it anymore but when I used to play it, I played it on servers like Faerie, Jenova and Balmung. On all of them, especially Balmung, there was plenty of casual fun social interaction between players in capital cities or in dungeons or in PotD or even during general questing. It is absolutely NOT necessary to join FC for that. Especially if you are not interested in grinding endgame content after you’re done with the story content. This is also especially true for RP people on Balmung – you can walk up to most of them and interact with them without joining any FCs. And I can only count a couple of times I had bad experience in regular dungeons/trials/raids where there was impatient person who was abusive towards others in party chat.

Of course, on other servers and data centers this may be different, but on the ones I’ve played at – it is absolutely not necessary to join FC to have fun interaction with other players.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Pretty sure that’s not what he meant. If you’re not interested in speedrunning the last place you want to form groups is Duty Finder.

While there are some groups that will take it easy the very clear preference is to get it done ASAP to the point where certain players will mis-behave either via early pulling or pulling the tank via a combat ability into another pack of mobs.

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Rndomuser

Like I said above, I can only remember a couple of bad experiences running any dungeons with random people, VAST majority of them were always polite and pretty flexible. Sure, many times people were trying to rush the dungeons that roulettes provide (which is perfectly understandable if all people have done these dungeons many times already) but when others wanted to do them more slowly – the groups always adjusted, and I personally did not mind doing anything slower. This was on the servers that I’ve played on, the other servers may definitely have different experience.

In any case, making generalizations like “you need to join FC to have fun social experience” is incorrect because other people had plenty of fun without joining them.