Every so often you run across something that makes you want to slam your head against a wall out of sheer, unadulterated bafflement. “What were you thinking?” you want to scream. “Were you thinking?!” And so, as not just a writer about MMOs but also someone who is a part of the Final Fantasy XIV community for years now, I have to turn my attention to the absolutely nonsensical saga of these freaking billboards, which might be well worth reading even if you aren’t part of the community.how loving the community can be.
Secondly, it’s important to note that there is an update on the situation from club owner and instigator Revarious, which is far less… let’s say bombastic than the ill-advised public statements and actions that have led to countless community memes. No one has been banned as of July 6th, no legal action was claimed or threatened by Square-Enix, and the billboards in Texas have been taken down voluntarily after the renters paid about $160 in total for the two days they were up. Likewise, the planned California billboards were voluntarily canceled before they went live. This is good stuff to amplify because it’s important to base criticism and discussion around this (still very dumb) sequence of events upon facts and not speculation.
Now… let’s talk about why this was so foolish, even before you get to legal areas and things like that: Not everything is well-suited as a first impression of a game or a community.
I do not find the fact that FFXIV has an ERP (erotic roleplay) community even slightly cringeworthy. I don’t have any particular issue with people modding the game or using those modded assets for precisely that, nor do I think that the nightclub scene or even the ERP hookup scene is a problem. These are parts of the community and the game, and pretending otherwise is just wrong.
Heck, it’d be crazy for me to demonize the RP community in general because I’m part of it. And I know full well that it consists largely of perfectly normal people who just like roleplaying, full stop. Nor do people instantly become weird if they enjoy ERP; I’d say the majority of people into that are also into regular RP and are usually dedicated roleplayers who are perfectly normal.
At the same time? These are not parts of the game I discuss with my therapist because these things are, in fact, private. They are perfectly fine and not shameful in any way, but that does not mean that they are the sort of thing you want to put front-and-center in a discussion of the game and its community. It is possible for a game to have elements that are wholly acceptable and non-problematic in an abstract sense but are not things that you necessarily want to broadcast, and the ERP clubbing scene is definitely that.
You might argue that this wasn’t meant to be the primary focus of the event. But you can’t put it there as a tertiary function and then pretend it’s not going to eclipse everything else in terms of public perception. If you advertise your Discord and it has an NSFW section, that is what everyone is going to fixate on when you invite public scrutiny, fair or not. Recognizing this is just part of being in charge of messaging around your group.
So that was dumb to begin with. But it goes even further when you start bringing in the reality of RP, modding, and how Square-Enix has consistently treated this aspect of the community whether you think it’s fair or not.
FFXIV has long operated with a set of passive and widely accepted gentleman’s agreements when it comes to various behaviors. There are a lot of things that people use – outfit mods, DPS meters, posing programs – that are strictly against the TOS because the TOS is written broadly to make sure that it can catch any and all instances of cheating via third-party programs. The agreement, then, has long been that as long as people keep these things subtle and out of the public eye, Square-Enix is not going to come down hard on them because it doesn’t need to. The developers realize that this stuff isn’t game-breaking. Just don’t start nothing and there won’t be nothing, in other words.
Which makes it all the more headache-inducing when people come in and insist on starting something. And make no mistake, posting a billboard advertising modded outfits and poses in public qualifies as starting something, whether you want it to or not. As much as Revarious paints the decision to remove the billboards as being based on community sentiment, the damage is done, and I can’t imagine that a realization that these things could be legal nightmares played no part.
Square-Enix doesn’t have to sue anyone involved. The company is not under any sort of legal mandate to crack down on these people if it doesn’t want to, and if the final decision is to let it go, that’s perfectly legal and doesn’t place Square-Enix copyrights in any jeopardy. But considering the sheer brazen nature of the infringement, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone decided to do so. And the fact of the matter is that the company would be both in the right and justified in doing so. This is such a flagrant infraction that taking action against those responsible would make sense.
Moreover, the people who are part of the RP community and the modding community – people whose interest in the game extends to playing their characters with or without adult situations and who enjoy altering outfits and/or body details to fit their personal concept of their characters – are rightfully worried that Square-Enix is going to use this as a reason to crack down on the broader community. It makes sense, too. This is shining a big spotlight on these communities, and again, with a flagrant violation that sat up on a billboard for two days, it’s almost inevitable that some of the people who have that spotlight on them are going to turn out to be kind of gross in that degree of light.
The word that keeps sticking in my head is selfish. This is a selfish act. Not because of the cost, and not because of any suspicions about misappropriated funds, but because it tramples on the community in favor of a moment of fame. It was necessary for us to write about it and cover it, but at the same time it’s also giving these people exactly what they want, which is frustrating.
One of the saddest posts I saw on the whole thing talked about how for at least some of these Twitch DJs, FFXIV really doesn’t matter to them. If the community there collapses, they’ll just move on to the next one; FFXIV is just what they’re using right now for promotion. It’s not about the people for them, and it’s not about the community; it’s about building fame and followers using the easiest available tools. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s true of everyone (I don’t want to paint people with an overly broad brush), it’s true enough. It’s not wrong. It’s important to think about.
At the end of the day, this is a selfish, potentially destructive act that puts a lot of innocent players in danger for no reason other than chasing clout. So I don’t really find this funny, even with the memes. It’s why I don’t want to chase down the house for giggles or attend the event to crash it. And I think it speaks to a staggering amount of selfishness and poor impulse control on the part of people with more money than sense.
Also, what an ugly goddamn billboard design. Seriously, that is way too busy, what the hell.