Vague Patch Notes: The self-made shadowboxing of MMO feuds

Carry that water.

There’s no actual feud between the development teams behind World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. The two teams have congratulated one another on successful expansion launches. They’ve exchanged good-natured jokes on social media. Naoki Yoshida has said before that he’d love to do a crossover event with Blizzard’s MMO. If there is any kind of top-level resentment, it’s certainly not expressed in public channels, and certainly those of us not in the development offices have ever seen any hint of it. Heck, it’s hard to picture a trace of it in the FFXIV team, which seems bound and determined to just make the best possible game and make its fans happy.

You might not know this from looking at the fandom, though. There is something of a cottage industry around WoW fandom sections of trying to dunk on FFXIV because of perceived sins like “being silly” or “being unrealistic” (both things we all know are inapplicable to WoW itself), and there’s a similar group of ex-WoW fans who are now with FFXIV and look at still enjoying or caring about WoW as the most vile of all conceivable sins. Where does this feud come from, then?

Well, I just spoiled it right there. But don’t worry, we’ll unpack it for a while just in case you missed it.

One thing that I don’t really want to go into in depth but kind of has to be addressed is the simple reality that human beings have a deep and abiding love for the idea of teams. There’s a lot to unpack there, including the idea that some people get too into the idea of “having a team” over “what the team is there for” and lose sight that some things are really about more than team affiliation… but the important point is that we want to identify our in group and our out group, and we tend to be much more inclined toward the former.

In and of itself, this isn’t exactly a problem. If you’re playing Lord of the Rings Online, for example, your “in” group is fellow LOTRO players. Your “out” group is… well, people not playing it. It’s easy to not see your group as anything but a minority, and you don’t really have anything else to pit yourself against as some kind of villain. Everything is fine, and you can be happy playing the game.

Well, in theory you can be happy. In practice… gosh, there is a lot to be unhappy about in the game lately, isn’t there? I’m not being facetious; we’ve been keeping tabs on all the ways in which Standing Stone has kind of flubbed the ball when it comes to LOTRO for a while now, and so there’s a definite discontent among its players.

It’s the sort of situation in which a villain would be really, really convenient to have, wouldn’t it? Someone you could point to as the reason why everything is not up to par. And that’s where we start to understand feuds.

Knife fight, baby.

From a professional standpoint and as someone who has been working in this industry for more than a decade now, of course, feuds absolutely happen. But they tend to be on a smaller scale, and they also tend to be the sort of thing that you don’t see manifest in explicit form. It’s considered just plain poor form. Your possible future peers are not people you want to be taking a swing at, for one thing, and you want to avoid being seen as punching down at a smaller outfit or even just taking a swing at someone else for no real reason. At the end of the day, these are quiet.

That means the feuds you usually see are those of fans. And those start to get vicious because they’re based on the stakes of seeing something going wrong with your in-group.

You’ll note that the framing of the above placed almost all of the feud as being based around WoW players. On the one hand, you have a bunch of current players who are taking aim at what seems like the current bugbear that Blizzard just can’t seem to beat like it usually does (and believe me, there’s a whole article about how that’s developed, if anyone wants to read it). On the other hand, you have a bunch of former players attacking that first group. You also have people who are perfectly happy playing one or the other being nudged into sides by other members of the in-group.

What causes it? Discontent with WoW. The people who are still playing the game right now are living in an ecosystem wherein harsh criticism of the game in question is met with backlash, and they have to criticize something because those MAUs keeping falling, fam. That has to be someone’s fault, and if it can’t be the game itself… well, here’s an obvious bugbear to blame for it.

And the former players? They’re the ones who got driven off either by those same criticisms and bad decisions or by toxic fans… and are now eager to push back against the former in group now that it’s the out group.

Sad elk in snow.

“Wait, so you’re saying that the fault is solely on the WoW team?” No, I’m saying that the fault is entirely unrelated to either game’s team. While the games are in competition in the abstract, in practice the teams for both have no beef with one another that’s visible in any public arena. I’m saying that it’s a lot easier to channel discontent outward rather than inward, especially when the player culture surrounding a game harshly punishes anyone who dissents from the majority opinion with criticism – and even more so when both sides have problems with that inspiring people to direct their critique outward rather than inward.

It can’t be that you recognize all the problems with WoW but are uncomfortable leaving the title for a newer game that has a different way of doing things and you’re not sure you can adapt; it has to be that FFXIV is a stupid game with bad players and no endgame content and too much focus on casuals.

It can’t be that WoW pushed you away with bad decisions and you’re now exuberant about a new title that also has its own problems with limited class customization and some pathing issues; it has to be that WoW is a bad game now and anyone who’s defending it or enjoying it must be purely malicious and actively against people enjoying themselves.

And it can’t be that there is a wildly different set of priorities that everyone brings into things and it’s possible to love something while still being critical of it, or that you can love a thing while no longer liking it very much because it’s been so consistently poorly handled for many years; it has to be a matter of team vs. team, us vs. them, good vs. bad in a framing that ensures you’re always on the “good” side. Because otherwise it would involve taking a step back and realizing that maybe these teams are self-selected and not automatically entitled to any sort of moral imperative, and the line separating one from the other rests more on actions than any inherent quality.

Yeah. MMO feuds. They’re silly, y’all.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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