The times, they are a’changin’.
Yesterday, something of a curious tweet from Kihra, the kind soul who manages and runs both WarcraftLogs and FFLogs, two sites that serve effectively the same purpose – taking logged combat data from raid fights in their respective games and parsing it to deliver metrics about the players in your run. It can tell you some useful data given the size of the dataset – the percentile ranking a player’s performance falls into, the raw DPS, healing, damage taken, and buff/debuff metrics, kill times, adherence to mechanics, and more.
The tweet, after all that preamble, delivered a simple but unexpected point – FFlogs has reached a point where it now required the same amount of server resources as WarcraftLogs.
This…was somewhat unexpected.
Right now, we are in the midst of a major world first race in WoW, in a raid dungeon just over 2 weeks old, with the top guilds still vying for the world first on Azshara and most guilds still playing doing their normal progression activity on Normal and Heroic, with logs being uploaded to break down performance – my guild uses WarcraftLogs to track our raid data.
Final Fantasy XIV, on the other hand, has the pug friendly normal mode of the Eden’s Gate raids out, which is not really intended to be a structured static group activity with parsing, and the only high-end content being the Shadowbringers launch extreme-mode primals, Titania and Innocence. While the EX primals welcome static groups to log and check performance (and are currently one of the few major accepted check-points for comparing job performance), there’s not much reason to believe that FFXIV, at present, would have a volume of logs even similar to WoW, much less matching it.
But yet, here we are, and even before the launch of Eden’s Gate Savage, FFXIV is now, on at least one site, matching WoW’s need for resources to process and present logged raiding data.
One of the things I briefly mentioned when talking about Shadowbringers, although in passing, is that Square Enix claims FFXIV to have 16 million players. How many of those are active accounts, unique players, currently playing, at level cap, etc – that is unknown, and so the figure isn’t worth a lot. The site MMO Population, an unknown entity to me short of being available readily via a Google search, indicates that they believe WoW currently has around 1.64 million active daily players, while FFXIV has 1.43 million. The disparity in players isn’t that large, and, depending on how often they collect this data, may not even include results for post-Shadowbringers launch or post-Eternal Palace, both events which may have caused some large shifts in player count – it does indicate it is for July 2019, and the information is based on an algorithm that extrapolates player count based on public data from the publisher coupled with Reddit subscriber counts for a game’s given subreddit – which does not account for all activity on a given game (both WoW and FFXIV have a “main” subreddit and several related subreddits for smaller topics within the game).
So, it’s not a great indicator of accurate subscriber counts, but it does touch on the number of highly engaged players in each community and attempts to anchor that to what little real data exists in the public eye. Let’s assume these numbers are correct and analyze based on them. Basically, we are staring down a difference in player count of barely over 200,000 between the two games. Given that, we need to then try and determine what percentage of players even touch raiding.
The numbers for WoW have fluctuated a lot, but generally, if you look at attempts to collect non-LFR metrics for the easiest boss in a given tier and the kill rate of that boss, it usually hovers between 20-30%. I know, this shocked me too. If we take the high assumption of 30%, and map that to 1.64 million players, we end up looking at 492,000-ish raiders. It’s a big number, but not really that large, and, considering how much focus is placed on developing the raid encounters in WoW, it feels like a lot of investment for little payoff (now, if we drilled into Mythic playerbase, we might find an even worse ROI!).
If we then assume that there is a similar number (not percentage) of raiding players in FFXIV, that would result in a higher, but not much higher, number of 34.4% of the playerbase raiding. Before we get to the actual meat of this post in rationalizing this outcome, let’s talk about why these numbers as related to Warcraft/FFLogs may not be accurate.
Firstly, not every raiding guild logs, on either side of the fence. Many Normal-only guilds are very casual and aren’t really parsing to find every event mapped to a timeline and chart. Many raiders in WoW are pick-up players only, and are unlikely to end up logging themselves or being logged as a result. Not every guild logs at higher levels, and many of the top end guilds likely do not log data for progression (at least not using a public tool and site like WarcraftLogs) because the timelines, buff timers and uptime stats are likely to reveal elements of their strategy that are under wraps during the tight progression race.
Likewise, on the FFXIV side, the vast majority of raiding activity is in the game’s normal modes, which are akin to LFR more than full-fledged difficulty raiding. Most of these players are not logging their attempts on raid roulettes or Eden’s Gate Normal, and many of them are not stepping into EX primals or Savage modes at all, much less logging that data. Even in progression static groups, logging is less common than in WoW as the mechanics of a fight tend to be fairly transparent, and what killed a given player is usually not a mystery, as bosses in FFXIV are programmed very much like JRPG single-player bosses – repeating loops of patterns with predictable incoming damage and movement requirements. As an example, the hardest of the current EX primals (in my opinion), Titania, has a fairly straightforward set of mechanics. Tanks can be killed by the tankbusters during the add phase, or by falling off the platform by not managing the tentacles phase and center knockback effect correctly. All players can die to poorly managed tethers, vines, the knockback, or the crimson flower falling AoEs. These happen at staggered, predictable intervals – not WoW-styled DBM warning “these abilities are off-cooldown” intervals, but rather in very fixed, static patterns.
Further compounding this, since the top difficulty progression content in FFXIV is for 8-player groups, each log represents a smaller portion of players, so if the number of logs is similar, the player count is likely lower for FFXIV in that sample.
Lastly, logging is also (under the strictest possible interpretation of the TOS) against the ToS of FFXIV, however, it is usually acceptable and won’t get you into trouble, so long as you don’t use parsed data to harass other players about poor performance.
Given these variables, we can hypothesize a few likely scenarios:
1. WoW still has the larger raid game, but it has grown to be more casual, with LFR mostly untracked as “raiding” by the community and many groups opting to not log to external tools, using DPS meters and in-game tools to monitor in the moment instead.
2. FFXIV has a larger high-end play community, at least when comparing the top-end as EX/Savage to Mythic. (this is, to my mind, probably true – EX/Savage are hard, but are much more akin to Heroic in WoW than Mythic given that the fights largely boil down to pattern recognition).
3. WoW’s playerbase and raiding playerbase have both declined over BfA, while FFXIV has hit a growth spurt on the back of the success of Shadowbringers. (this is probably also very true, given the increase in mainstream attention on FFXIV while most public raid data suggest Eternal Palace is seeing sharply reduced clears).
4. While in terms of just content releases, both games are relatively equal, with Eternal Palace being very close to the release of Shadowbringers content, FFXIV is likely seeing a bump as players compare performance of their jobs post-expansion revamp, where WoW players have known the overall shape of the landscape in BfA for nearly a full year).
Now, here is the thing – I do think all of these scenarios are true. WoW has, undeniably, lost a lot of players over the course of BfA, and we are far past the curiosity bump for first-month logins. The people we see currently are likely the game’s lifers, and are pretty much always going to be subscribed to the game, unless Blizzard really actively pisses them off or their in-game communities dry up – both of which are risks! Most WoW players don’t rely on logs, but will monitor in-game using tools like Recount, Skada, Details!, and others to keep an eye on their raiding performance.
As for 2, I do think this is also true – WoW’s Mythic raid scene has taken a huge hit over the years, and while even just two expansions ago, you might have heard of 10 or more major guilds going after Mythic kills while nearly every server had its own top-end guild, these days, it just isn’t the case. The world first race is basically down to 3-5 guilds at a time, and only a few servers now have their own Mythic progression guilds. Meanwhile, FFXIV has a relatively large number of players that chase EX and Savage kills. While the two activities aren’t a match in difficulty overall, it does make for an interesting comparison point. In the communities of both games, they are held up as equals – FFXIV players will routinely compare EX/Savage to Mythic, and vice-versa, although I think this is largely born of just not knowing or having experienced the content on both sides of the fence. FFXIV’s high-end content is more accessible, helped by the fact that you only need 8 players for a group. Still, though, this is a success for Square Enix – they can rest assured that design and development time put into EX/Savage is going to pay off and be seen by more players, where WoW has Mythic largely as an advertising mechanism (look at the challenge of our game that these hardcore players are working through!).
Now on to point 3, this one is undeniably true. WoW has lost players over the course of Battle for Azeroth, and you don’t have to look very hard to see whittled down guild numbers, smaller guild raiding rosters, and fewer active players. Blizzard is trying a lot to bring people back in and commit them to the game for the long term – 6 month subscription “deals,” standard use of their old free 3-day and week login passes, and more aggressive email marketing – every time something new is available in game, I get at least two emails from Blizzard (and I am about to opt-out). Meanwhile, FFXIV is riding a wave of positive coverage – by Metacritic scores, Shadowbringers is currently the highest rated game of 2019 on Playstation 4 and PC, beating out games like Resident Evil 2 Remake, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Apex Legends! Shadowbringers has consistently had login queues since early access, no matter how short they are now (the last three nights I’ve had to wait through a queue of 10-40 players). Given that the raid content this expansion in FFXIV is also an ode to prior FF games (with a strong sampling of my first fully beaten FF title, FFVIII), it has a lot of pull to bring people in, and more curiosity is pointed at it than at any other point in its history, save for maybe when 1.0 was shut down after its miserable launch.
But to return to logging now, let’s talk point 4. I think this makes a lot of sense. I don’t expect that there will be huge shifts in class and spec performance in WoW until 9.0. Blizzard has been at their worst with tuning this expansion, failing to act until specs shed players, and often, the tuning they have done has failed to meet expectations – expectations they have helped to set themselves, like by talking about the specs they would “fix” with 8.1. People aren’t really interested in logging to look at solo performance or to compile data to analyze how a spec is doing – the collective wisdom on that is already out there, and even if it is wrong or based on observer bias, it has collectively been decided. Shadowbringers, on the other hand, has brought a large amount of change to FFXIV, with the game’s first attempt at anything resembling pruning, and so players are logging a lot more to test their performance and compare against other jobs. Since in-game damage meters are far less common and require similar third-party software to FFlogs, many players might opt to just run FFlogs, do a handful of EX primal kills to farm totem drops for gear, and then upload that data and see where they fall.
Given all of that, then, it is time to return to my (admittedly) hyperbolic title and to analyze if the log sites both run by Kihra reaching parity with one-another means anything for the games.
I think…yes, and also no. There are facts underpinning this which cannot be denied – WoW is on a downtrend, FFXIV is riding an upswing, raid content in both games has never really been a strong majority activity, much less at the level of dedication at which point one begins logging data and tracking performance, and the current point in content cycle for both does lean more heavily towards the FFXIV audience wanting to log more actively.
There is no denying that WoW’s raiding scene is in a slump right now. Even as the world first race has huge viewer count through both a Method and Red Bull stream, those eyeballs aren’t converting into player interest. Most publicly available data suggests that there are fewer guilds than ever stepping into Eternal Palace at all, much less doing multiple bosses or pushing to progress. My server, as an example, has 26 guilds pushing progress in Eternal Palace, compared to 34 in Battle of Dazar’Alor, compared to 42 in Uldir, and compared to 55 in Antorus. We are nearing the point where progressing guilds have halved in just under a year! This doesn’t account for pug raids, which may very well be a viable mechanism for progression in the era of cross-server communities and raiding, but even if we assume that 1 in 5 raid groups doing content are pug raids progressing at a similar rate to guild groups, then that means that there are only, say, 33 groups doing Eternal Palace on my server (or with a portion of the pug audience from my server) while there would have been 53 for Uldir and even more for Antorus!
If I were Ion Hazzikostas right now, would I be concerned about this trend? Yes, absolutely. Raiding content, even if engaged by a minority of the community, is always held up as WoW’s strongest suit, and when player interest has dipped so low that even this strong element of the game has seen interest nearly cut in half over a single year – it is, without doubt, a problem. Is it a big problem? I suspect there could be quibbles on this point, but I think it is, yes. WoW has, even in its darkest hours, never really shed raiders to this degree. Raiders constitute one of the more aggressively engaged demographics in the game, even as raiding and the preparation going into it has gotten easier over time. During both Cataclysm and Warlords of Draenor, the game maintained a strong, healthy raiding community – and Warlords of Draenor’s last tier came during a major point of popularity for FFXIV, as Hellfire Citadel launched the same day as the excellent Heavensward expansion.
To see WoW’s raiding scene withering to this extent is troubling for the future of the game and demonstrates that Blizzard is going to have to try really hard to gain players back. They have never before faced a situation like this – where any of their MMO competitors have even been perceived as close to their quality or quantity of players, and yet, here we are. I won’t pretend this is anywhere near perfect analysis – it is based on data providers with weird methodologies that try to find a best-case assumption with public data, and the logging sites of course depend on players wanting to log, which is a different audience for each game. However, if even a few of these datapoints are close to accurate, then it paints a picture that I personally never expected to see – the end of WoW’s raid dominance.
Now, at this moment, that is still hyperbole. If we find a good way to add LFR players into the “raider” column for WoW, you’d likely see those numbers spike again. At the same time, however, the proper Shadowbringers Savage raid season begins next week, and I fully expect that we’ll see volume increase further for FFXIV as that raid season progresses. WoW, on the other hand? Eternal Palace is seeing more players week over week, or at least more players logging their guild’s progress with Wowprogress, but I can’t see that trend continuing on much. My server has a dry trade chat with few calls for recruitment, meaning that the current guild landscape is about as full as it will get.
But again, if I was Ion Hazzikostas, I’d have plenty of cause for concern, and plenty of reasons to make sure that the content in 8.2.5 and especially our next major tier likely in 8.3 absolutely hit it out of the park.