Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s forced grouping serves an important purpose

    
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Teamwork.

It’s not exactly a secret, but just in case you didn’t know this, Final Fantasy XIV has dungeons that are absolutely necessary to progress through the game’s main story. They are not optional. It is structured in such a way that you will need to queue up for these dungeons in order to advance the story rather than these dungeons being optional in any way, shape, or form. Every so often, I see someone posting about this as if it’s some sort of bait-and-switch that the game pulls on its players halfway through.

There’s a lot to be said about this, but I’m not going to point out that you can easily queue for this content without having to worry about manually assembling a group (although you can), or that the game’s leveling roulette structure ensures that people are always doing these dungeons (but it does), or that the dungeons are structured to avoid problems like you’d find with some other story-heavy dungeons in games (but they are). Instead, I’m going to take a somewhat contrarian approach and point out that it serves an important purpose by telling you, directly, whether you’re going to want to keep playing the game.

See, FFXIV has dungeons as one of the big parts of the game. You can queue for them. The queue system is functional and pretty much one of the cornerstones of the game. The game’s dungeon design is one of its main selling points. And the designers expect you to do so because it is a central part of the game.

Learning the delicate dance of mechanics involved in dungeons is a core part of the game’s overall design. You don’t just start from zero and then get up to the endgame content wherein you’re expected to predict how numerous different mechanics work before you’ve seen them. Delubrum Reginae will literally kill you if you get hit by two mechanics, and you’re expected to be able to clear that without copious deaths because, well, you learned how all of this stuff worked over the prior levels.

To be fair, this one is optional.

By putting this front and center, the game isn’t offering you an unfair roadblock. It’s offering you a fair and ultimately straightforward bit of content that it expects you to work through. You may not necessarily want to play through a dungeon, but if you’re not going to like it now, you’re not going to like it at all in the next several dozen points when that becomes mandatory. Why not tell you that this is expected right up front?

And before you make the obvious rejoinder that there are lots of people who would be more inclined to play the game without it, consider something for a moment: How often do games intend you to do these things without making them cornerstones?

I can count on one hand the number of MMOs that don’t expect you to group up on the regular for content; that’s pretty normal. To use the obvious example, World of Warcraft certainly expects you to be forming groups and taking on dungeons with other players. It’s the main way you’re expected to gear up in the current expansion, even. But one of the recurring complaints about expansions like Legion were the fact that after you could skip basically every dungeon leading up to that point, suddenly the game expected you to do all of these dungeons as a core part of the game’s storyline.

That’s not unfair because the designers didn’t expect you to be doing this beforehand. It’s just a shock to the system because up until that point, it hadn’t actually been mandated in the same way. You can’t make all of this content tacitly optional and then expect it to suddenly be mandatory content without experiencing some friction.

FFXIV doesn’t let you get away with thinking that this is optional content. When you hit level 15, it is made clear that from the combat side of the game, you are expected to queue up for things. You don’t need to take part in every daily queue available to you (I certainly don’t), but that is a core part of the game moving forward.

And if you’re going to be very upset about doing that once, then maybe the game isn’t a good fit for how you want to play.

Yes, you kind of need to.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to the game but dungeons, of course. There’s a lot more. It is perfectly valid for you to do exactly as much dungeoneering as you need to finish the story and spend the rest of your time crafting and dominating the markets, and you’ll still have advancement options along the way. But the dungeon expectations are still there. It’s not a separate or optional part of the game. This is a game wherein you need to finish Story A to see Story B, and you’re going to need to run some dungeons to get there.

If you don’t like that, that’s all right. But it means that rather than getting to the top level and finding yourself frustrated that you have nothing to do, the game makes it clear how it’s going to work at level 15. It begins as it means to go on, and it’s not going to pretend otherwise. And if that’s going to be a sticking point, it’s nicer to find that out really early rather than much, much later.

Some people would prefer not to do dungeons, and you know, there are a lot of games that expect you to do them but will never actually mandate you to do them (or will provide a solo option through all of them, which is a positive option; Trusts provide that in Shadowbringers, and I wish that the technical issues slowing that down as rolling back through the earlier parts of the game weren’t in place). Some people are happy to do them, and the idea that it’s some kind of roadblock in a game with queueing options and a population that still does dungeons on the regular will never even ping to those people.

But as I see it, it’s actually a positive mark for the game. The title tells you right up front what it is, how it wants you to play, and what sort of content is going to be expected on the regular. That’s not a problem; that’s a sign of good game design. You don’t get upset at Bloodborne for starting you out with little actual direction and hard combat that will kill you if you screw up; that’s what you signed up for. It’s just delivering what it promised.

And if you’re playing FFXIV, you signed up for at least a little dungeon delving. If you’d prefer not to sign up for that, well, we’ll all miss you, but at least it’s not pulling that on you when you’re at the level cap and wondering why the game suddenly stopped accommodating your playstyle.

Feedback, as always, is welcome to either eliot@massivelyop.com or in the comments down below. Next week, I’d like to talk a little bit more about Endwalker in the sense of what we know from little interview tidbits and what we still know we don’t know.

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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Jo Watt

I’m not sure if some ppl understand MMO means Massively Multiplayer Online. Multiplayer, again Multiplayer. Not SPO Single Player Online.

Now some games do great jobs of letting you wander off into the sunset as a solo player and do things. But the general overall concept is to have you participate in multiplayer content.

I’m perfectly fine with games bringing the raid limits down to smaller groups since most people tend to have at least 6-8 people they can gather regularly or tbh even having adjustable dungeons so 3 ppl can run them. But I don’t think any form of MMO should be completely soloable up to high end gear and content.

That being said… I also do not think the story of an MMO should force players into dungeon finders just to progress it. That lockout poses really bad issues on dps on top of stopping your story (in this case you being the chosen one with your group of npc friends by your side but now you need to grab some “nobodies” to come help you) it just doesn’t make any sense. IMO the dungeons would be better as side stories that tie into the main story in which you have some random people accompany you.

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elenie

I mean, sure it’s more “honest” but why not make more players happy by making MSQ dungeons optional / completable with NPCs a la trust system? I have had a great time in Shadowbringers so far because the game lets me complete the MSQ dungeons with NPCs I already know and like, which I vastly prefer (it makes a lot of sense that they’d come help the WoL, no?). Even completing dungeons with friends means I don’t get to go at my own pace.
IMO FFXIV would be even better for reducing focus on combat content and offering even more of a choice what people want to be doing. It’s already got so much to offer in that respect that the forced grouping feels really out of place to me. I’m never gonna do group content at end game and it’s already in no way required so why insist on this in the MSQ?

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P C

I started playing FFXIV because it was my brother’s favorite game, and he was trying to recruit others in order to have people to play with regularly. So from the beginning I was playing in order to play with other people.

I didn’t know about mandatory dungeons until I got to one, and the surprise wasn’t pleasant. Most of my available playtime was late at night after I got off of work, and I could only play for an hour or so unless I wanted to be dragging the next day. I had leveled a DPS class, and just waiting in the queue took most of my playtime. Even if I decided to stay up late and lose sleep I was at the mercy of other players. A couple of people drop out halfway through and I’m back to square one.

In spite of the fact that I liked many things about the game, wanted to keep playing, and was just trying to progress so I could play with other people, the mandatory dungeons still ended up putting me off, and I ended up quitting.

In other games that have a more flexible approach to multiplayer (such as Guild Wars 2) I actually spend most of my time playing with others, including complete strangers. But I’m not shut out of the game if I can’t find anyone to play with at the moment.

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Annie Monus

For my part, I feel it’s misleading to assume that players dislike or don’t belong in an MMO scenario if they dislike the state of the forced group content in FFXIV. I have been playing MMOs for a long time, and I have always enjoyed doing so. I am not a fan of the culture surrounding the duty finder, however, and I feel that it does add a bit of dissonance into the storytelling of the game.

My husband and I are avid MMO players, but we don’t fall under the achievers category from Bartle’s taxonomy of player types, which seems to be predominantly what MMO culture has moved toward. He’s an explorer/socializer, and I am a socializer/achiever. The culture surrounding the duty finder negates our fully enjoying the dungeons as they are. With everyone trying to rush through, pull big, and do the most dps within 15 – 20 minutes, it’s just not that fun. We love running these dungeons with full groups when we can, but if we are leveling, it becomes harder to do that since no one wants to run Sastasha or Thousand Maws.;)

Then there’s the dissonance aspect. It always felt odd to me for Minfilia or whoever to tell me to gather a group of friends to fight this foe when there are perfectly good Scions right there. -shrug-

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Danny Smith

I’ve always found it so damn odd so many people that play modern mmos complain about “forced group content” when that is literally what an mmo is. Single player games exist. Theres your content where you aren’t forced to interact with people. Problem solved, roll credits.

But it isn’t of course. Theres a lot of people that see mmos as this odd kind of “i am playing a single player game, but i want instant messenger to be bundled in with it to talk to others”. So it doesn’t even seem to be some kind of social anxiety thing in that regard. Just this weird “i want to pay rent to a multiplayer videogame to avoid other players as much as humanly possible while watching number get bigger and purple to drop to activate the gacha neurone”.

It reminds me of when WoW classic launched and there were people getting genuinely pissy at the audacity of quests in the open world you had to group for because the enemy mob was too strong to fight alone and you had to work together with others. Like some sort of rpg thats also online and multiplayer, perhaps massively even. The idea that there were things you needed to work together with others to complete genuinely upset them. In an mmorpg.

Theres probably lots of reasons for it on a person to person basis but in general i think so many games fight for our time and regular attention while trying to streamline it down to a constant trickle of habit forming dopamine release rewards that people have been sort of conditioned into this mindset of “This is MY game and you cattle exist to facilitate MY experience, why the fuck would i do anything for you? i only have so much time and i need to chase MY rewards” and other players exist purely as background noise for what is basically nothing more than a time vacuum wearing a mask pretending its something it hasn’t been for years at that point.

If the idea of “i have to group up with others?!?” is a serious issue then probably just a sign you don’t actually like mmos. You just want single player games with more dynamic npcs and post launch content. At that point may as well play mobile games its the same basic experience of dealing with others on the periphery while hoping for that big money drop that tells your brain to jazm that feelgood juice that always feels a little less good each time.

and without all those horrible other people being something you have to deal with.

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Utakata

“I’ve always found it so damn odd so many people that play modern mmos complain about “forced group content” when that is literally what an mmo is”

No it isn’t. As this has been widely debunked here a number of times. MMO’s are place where you can choose to group with others or not, by the nature of it being a multiplayer. The only reason we’re forced to group in MMO’s is at the full direction of the developers. So there’s nothing “literally” about it, outside the opinions of players who insist without evidence that it’s otherwise.

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jealouspirate

There’s nothing that makes your definition of MMO any more valid than his. Some form of “forced” or exclusive group content exists in every single major MMO I can think of. It’s a defining aspect of the genre, at least for the traditional tab-target, hotbar, holy trinity MMO.

Saying the only reason people are forced to group is because developers make it that way is just stating a tautology. Developers make the entire game. There’s no combat in Animal Crossing because Nintendo forced it. There’s no peaceful option in God of War because Sony forced it, and so on.

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Utakata

So you are claiming because every single MMO has forced group content, implies an MMO would cease being an MMO if it doesn’t? I am not asking this out of an opinion or “tautology”, rather as an actual mechanic. Meaning if WoW decided was to remove all mandatory group content over night in the example, we would somehow wake up to a single player RPG in the morning by your conclusion…

…I am pretty sure that would never happen if Blizz ever decided to do that. As we will still be able to log on that game along with our friends and guildies like we done every other day and play together with other players. And thus, it can only reasonably be concluded that forced group content is squarely a decision that is in the court of the developers and not a must have mechanic. Which makes it clearly irrelevant if all MMO’s have force group content regardless. Therefor, myth busted.

And sure, you can marginalize fact of the matter so it’s equated to the opinion till the cows come home, but it does not change the reality of the matter. That is, the Earth is round, pigs don’t fly, *rump lost the election and MMO’s don’t need forced grouping to be MMO’s. /shrug

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Daniel Allan

I started and quit ffxiv for this reason many times.. it’s not so much the forced grouping as it is the
do a couple of quests
wait an hour for a dungeon
do a couple of quests
wait an hour for a raid.

if you want to enforce doing dungeons/raids then the queues need to be reasonable, and there not.

If I have an hour to play a day during the week.. waiting for forced content just does not work.

If I had started when everyone else did maybe it would have been different, but why I didn’t is a different story.
Nor do I know enough people to form a group to start and level the content with

I forget my highest level 39 or maybe 49.. next quest another forced group, even if I wanted to go back to would be to sit in a queue and now with a class I don’t know how to play (samurai and raids to kill the sky whale thingy, it’s been a year or so since I last quit so can’t recall exact details.)

I’ve tried playing the game since release, have a legacy account and rejoined multiple times but its always the same issue, and it’s a shame I have heard the story is quite good.

They could fix it.. set a say 15 mins timer, once it goes past you can choose to get the rest filled with npc’s, they already have a system like this in place for npc’s doing dungeons from my understanding, they wouldn’t do as good, but better than wasting another 45+ mins
Yes it is a little less social might even encourage botting.. although just make the option only open to people who have the campaign quest if that was a concern

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Vincent Clark

They can’t just simply “fix it”. It’s taken them years of developing the AI (first with Squadrons and now Trusts) to make running a dungeon with NPCs truly viable. To say that they can easily go back and rework each individual dungeon in the game (which they would have to do, it’s not a simple copy and paste) to be compatible with the unique NPC AI is just craziness.

It also needs to be said that besides the Daily Roulette system, this game goes out of it’s way to make sure that people making their way through older content aren’t waiting in queues forever. Current end-game relic grind progress is directly linked with ARR, HW and SB raids and dungeons. The recurring Moogle event gives larger rewards (tokens) for doing ARR and HW dungeons and raids.

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Bereman99

Might I ask what the language settings are for your Duty Finder, and at what time you’ve generally tried to queue?

Both of those, depending on the server you’re on, can have a significant impact on getting into content in a timely manner, particularly as a DPS.

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Vincent Clark

In regards to the topic of this article…when I see someone imply that SE is pro exclusion, anti diversity, not accepting of others and immoral (sigh) it makes me want to switch off the internet forever. Seriously, folks–get some perspective. At the end of the day we are talking about a video game meant for entertainment. Stop projecting.

axemtitanium
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axemtitanium

Yeah something about this topic in particular always seems to draw the crazies out of the woodwork to shout on their soapboxes. That guy who said group content is *immoral* gave me a good laugh and then a smh.

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Phubarrh

It’s a lovely game and I’m playing through it (again) now, but the stress of being required to run the dungeons does more to drive me away than any other element.

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Utakata

I will say up front, I am not supporter of forced grouping under any circumstances….to put it mildly. However, if the game is going to do that, then FF XIV has shown the most non-offensive way of doing so out side of scaling instances.

It’s also fair to say though, players who balk at dungeons in something as non-offensive as FF XIV, is usually little to do with need or want to go full on pro-solo. Rather the shitty experiences they had with dungeons in other games. Mostly at the behest of other shitty players (ie. toxic, abusive, etc…). That’s something that needs to be more acknowledged and addressed more than the need of accommodating playstyles here, IMO. Or this would likely be less of an issue than folks are lead to think, I’ll wager.

creationguru
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creationguru

I appreciate this view and agree that when a game is upfront about what it is all about it allows you to set your expectations. All games are not designed for every person and I feel if an MMO was 100% solo-able then its not really a MMO anymore it becomes a more MMO adjacent game like Destiny in that yea there are other people and I can ignore them but at the same time is a lobby game and not active world.

I can see people that just want to live in an MMO and I would to but generally only find that is a sandbox type game and I am ok with that. Until MMOs become living virtual world again this will not change.