Vague Patch Notes: When ex-World of Warcraft fans become Final Fantasy XIV partisans

Where does the need for a feud come from, and why?

Laser needles.

There is a certain stripe of Final Fantasy XIV fan that is exceedingly prevalent at this point, and that type is the rigid partisan… against World of Warcraft. You don’t have to look very far to find them. See a post about how WoW is somehow disappointing people once again, and there she is crowing loudly about how FFXIV is so much better. See a post about how FFXIV is doing something, and he’s in the comments explaining that WoW would never do something this positive. It’s not universal, but it is there, and I think it’s fueled a large portion of sentiment among WoW fans that FFXIV fandom as a whole has it out for their game.

If you’re actively involved in the fandom, of course, this is of course nonsense. Most long-term FFXIV players don’t actually care about WoW in any particular capacity beyond possibly being aware of Blizzard’s ongoing sexual harassment scandals, or if they do, they’re actively fans of WoW in the first place and want it to be good. Even Naoki Yoshida himself has said on multiple occasions that he doesn’t consider the two games to be at odds with one another. But I think it’s valuable to examine where this comes from because at its core this isn’t really a case of FFXIV fans vs. WoW fans. This is WoW fans vs. former WoW fans.

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I’m confining this particular topic to these two games because, well, these are the fandoms I’m part of. I don’t see this happening among Guild Wars 2 fans, for example, but it is eminently possible that the sentiment still bubbles along there under the surface. The root cause, however, is very similar.

What we’re seeing here is anger. And it’s anger that comes from an understandable place.

The overall design of WoW has indisputably changed significantly over the years, but one could argue fairly convincingly that the top-line vision for what WoW is supposed to change has not altered all that significantly. WoW is a game about raiding, where raids (herein defined as “large groups of players taking on structured group content” with no particular restrictions as to absolute group size) are the pinnacle of content and are meant as a point of pride and the apex of achievement. People who have not finished the latest and most difficult raid are meant to look up and envy those who have, people who are two tiers behind should look up and envy those who are one tier behind, and so on and so forth.

At the same time, there is a definite portion of WoW’s population that has, for various reasons, never agreed with this particular top-line vision and has not generally been a participant in same. It’s indisputable that the intent for the original version of the game was to make leveling easier and soloable so people could get to raiding more quickly (heck, there’s a reason that the first event server for WoW Classic specifically tuned up experience rates while making raids harder); raiding was the end of the path. But there were people who flocked to WoW who enjoyed the leveling process, the minimal social friction along the way, and the option to just play the game.

Ending some eternity, at least.

For a while, WoW‘s design embraced the reality of its diverse playerbase. I’ve said before that in many ways the game was an accidental hit: It was trying to make a game catering back to hardcore EverQuest raiders as the friendlier version of EverQuest with less busywork to get to The Fun Part, but it wound up with a lot of players who found the busywork to be The Fun Part. Through Wrath of the Lich King in particular, Blizzard did more and more to ensure that playing the game with a minimum of social friction was actually an expected playstyle thanks to a gradual softening of the barriers between the tiers of hierarchy.

This course has been reversed, and aggressively so, over the past several years of WoW. There has been a distinct and longstanding push back to the proper raiding hierarchy as the designers see it, where Mythic is the apex of achievement, Heroic is what everyone should be doing, Normal is for gearing up alts, and Raid Finder is basically an afterthought. We’ve gone through years of making PvP and even dungeons more like raids, more requiring of fixed social groups, less something you can just casually throw together as a DPS player on an idle Wednesday night.

If you are a WoW player who, at the end of the day, likes running dungeons through group finder and gearing up with a minimum of social friction, you have been subsisting on crumbs for a very long time. And into that field comes… FFXIV, which is more or less built upon that exact gameplay model you liked all along.

There’s a very large portion of players who have been longtime devoted WoW players that are suddenly looking across the pond and seeing that not only does FFXIV deliver the things that the previous game has largely abandoned but does so with aplomb and regularity. New dungeons are rolled out on a regular basis. Crafting is not only celebrated but a fixture in the game. Character customization is viewed as important, to the point that hairstyles are seen as a reward worthy of buying and selling.

If you want to just queue up for content and enjoy the game with a minimum of social friction, playing FFXIV is delivering more or less everything you want on a platter. And there comes that anger. You’ve been served crumbs for years in WoW, and now you see that you didn’t have to subsist on that. And now you’re angry at developers who effectively told you that their way of doing things was necessary for a functioning title, which was never true.

Sunset on original ideas.

My point here is not to position FFXIV as an indisputably better game here; it absolutely has several problems, frequently significant ones in a direct comparison to WoW. The lack of any class customization, while it has benefits, is also a distinct negative and means that any two players of the same job will be functionally identical. Although housing has the advantage of being present, it’s open-world and subject to strictly limited plots, making it inaccessible for a large number of players including newcomers. The game’s gearing systems, while not terribly complex, are also not well-explained within the game itself, and getting a new weapon requires running two different forms of content and three different forms of currency. I could go on. It’s not a perfect MMO.

But of course, the fact that you can get a weapon through that reliable and predictable method in and of itself is going to be a positive for many people. It might be complex and insufficiently explained, but the option is present. And that’s something you can’t say about WoW.

And thus you can kind of understand why some fans of the game might feel, justifiably, as if they’ve been left behind by the developers and the game as a whole. You can see the genesis of that anger and why it would, eventually, overwhelm to the point of becoming a vicious partisan in favor of your new game because at the end of the day these are former fans angry that they are not being heard.

Can anything be done? Of course. But a lot of that comes down to the developers over at WoW recognizing that this is a problem of their own creation and then actually comprehending and internalizing why gamers are so dissatisfied in the first place. Based on current evidence, I think we’re we’re at least a couple years away from seeing any real movement on that front.

But if I could speak a word to the people who are rabidly partisan in this fashion… well… maybe it’s all right to let it go. Yes, I understand where you’re coming from. But making this into a feud doesn’t make anyone look better. You don’t need to kick WoW fans in the shins to make the point about why it’s doing things wrong, and doing so is more likely to make others angry about the shin-kicking than produce any material changes.

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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