Hey, have you heard about the critically acclaimed MMO with a free trial including the first expansion, totaling over 100 hours of gameplay?
I’m sorry, I had to.
Anyways, let’s start this new week off a bit spicy, shall we? A lot…a lot… of prominent WoW content creators are trying out Final Fantasy XIV lately. This isn’t altogether a new trend – some of the big and prominent FFXIV creators were WoW players prior to FFXIV, like Zepla and MrHappy – but a lot of the names coming over now are shocking to some extent, because they are all names that are defined by their content creation centered on World of Warcraft. Bellular, Preach, Quazii, and, may God have mercy on all the FFXIV players, Asmongold, just to name a few of the ship-jumpers. To illustrate, I did a search on YouTube for “wow tries ffxiv” and here’s a quick taste of a very large and expansive set of videos:
I think there’s a lot of armchair analysis we can do here, though, because I don’t necessarily find it interesting that gamers are trying other games they might not have played before, at least not on the surface. However, what I do find interesting and worthy of discussion is why it is happening now, what is driving it, and how that speaks to trends in the actual WoW community as well as to the inroads Square Enix has made over the last two years.
Part One: Content Creators Are A Business
This one needs to be looked at first, because I think it is the most relevant to the direct question of why these people are playing FFXIV now. Making content for YouTube, Twitch, a blog, or a podcast is a business – you cannot sustain forward momentum if you have nothing to discuss. Here’s the hard thing to say as a WoW player – there isn’t anything to discuss right now, not really. We’ve had longer content draughts, it is true, but there is a sort of commonality that those prior draughts had that is broken here – each of those large stretches before had an expansion on the other end, with multiple zones, 6+ new dungeons, a new raid, new systems, and more. In the 11 months of WoW 8.3, we had Shadowlands on the horizon, alongside a series of smaller tweaks to the live game.
Right now, we have a content patch on the horizon, and the first of the expansion. The content base is so much smaller comparatively, so the hype is lessened as a result. There’s a new zone, a new dungeon, a new raid, and a small bit of content around all of that, content that is rapidly changing states on the PTR. The first patch point matters here too, because the first patch of an expansion is rarely transformative, but instead evolutionary. BfA’s 8.1 added a new ring of Azerite traits alongside a single raid, a small handful of quests, and…that’s about it. Legion’s 7.1 had a new dungeon, a micro-raid, and the continuation of Suramar questing. The precedent set in recent years is simple enough to understand – x.1 patches in WoW are rarely exciting or big shifts in content or design paradigm.
And it might sound dismissive to say there’s nothing to discuss about WoW right now, but I mean, really think about it. Every type of player I know is basically hanging on a thread right now. If you love Mythic Plus, you’ve probably done your KSM achievement and are watching the available groups start to dry up as people start withdrawing for the start of summer and the end of the patch, expecting that date announcement any day now. If you love raiding, you’ve probably done your max difficulty to the end – most Mythic-focused guilds are done with Cutting Edge, and the remaining few just got a nerf to Denathrius to smooth things out slightly. My guild, Heroic-focused as we are, has been done with Heroic Sire since March, AotC in-hand and most players moving to new goals or taking a break. PvPers have their rating and gear and most high-end players are likely just grinding out a few matches a week to keep their rating for titles at the end of the season, while more casual PvPers haven’t had any new power combos due to system or balance changes since March. If you play casually, the Covenant campaign was fully completable back in February and Renown could be capped as of mid-March, with all the rewards that entails. Alt-leveling has likely been complete for most players for a while, and so that leaves…what, exactly?
You might then be tempted to say, “well now, what about PTR coverage?” and that is true to a point, but at the same time, this PTR cycle has been volatile and sort of difficult to decipher. A lot of the things that are being tested have been iterated on for months, and the newest additions like the Season 2 Mythic Plus affix were pretty easy to comprehend, while some things have felt very ephemeral and thus not worth learning about until the clearly final versions are implemented. I would have interesting things to say about the Shards of Domination gearing system for raiders, but I barely understand it and even after trying it on PTR, that effort actually contradicted things I had read! Blizzard’s Mythic Scoring seems to be rankling everyone, first the more chill audience like myself because having to run both a Tyrannical and Fortified +15 for KSM seems really dumb and restrictive, and the tryhards because it seems like, based on a loose interpretation of the scoring system, you could theoretically not time your runs for KSM and, provided you complete the runs, still get the achievement because of the way the rating seems to maybe work – which seems like a thing that, if true and I could find an actual verifiable source for it, would be likely to be changed.
So basically, we’ve been talking about 9.1 for almost 4 months now, and most of the features and elements of it are iterations of earlier designs that we’ve watched on PTR. The live game hasn’t changed in any real substantial way since November 2020, with the exception of small balance tweaks and Valor. I even have this struggle when writing about the game – what new perspectives can I offer? I shared my stories about doing KSM for the first time, about getting into Mythic Plus, about breaking that boundary for invites to 15s with the more judgy elements of my guild, and I wrote pretty extensively about how Heroic Sire had been a hell of a challenge to overcome and also been something that was pretty fulfilling in the end. I’ve talked about world quests, alt leveling, healing, DPSing, tanking, and even talked at length about 9.1 content and what my hopes and fears were for that. I personally have been feeling a lack of stuff to discuss, and there’s not much else besides this sort of real life analysis of the business of WoW and what the hell has happened here.
That means right now, the only new thing in WoW to discuss that hasn’t been well-trodden already…is TBC Classic. And hey, that content has been discussed to death over a decade ago! There’s been a little bit of room for folks to discuss things like the uptake for TBC Classic, how the experience is different from Vanilla Classic in how launch went, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of people haven’t had the same level of enthusiasm in discussing TBC Classic when compared to how saturated the blogosphere and content creator environments were for Vanilla Classic back in 2019. I think that’s fairly straightforward, from my perspective – WoW Classic was novel in 2019, a long-fought-for victory of the community that loved it, and it was also the period in the game both oldest and with low uptake among current players of the game, low enough that it was both a nostalgia-rimmed trip into the past and a curiosity item for newer players, while TBC Classic kind of…doesn’t have as much of that? It also had a staggered launch of sorts, because the ability to play Blood Elves and Draenei back in mid-May, prior to the official launch, meant that there were really two waves of hype for it, where Vanilla Classic built on a single rising tide of hype – name reservations to final wave beta tests to actual launch where all that built up pressure was released at once.
If my actual business is talking about WoW, right now, it fucking sucks. If I was dedicated solely to being a WoW blog, I’d probably be super checked out right now, not even writing this. In the case of these content creators, however, they make money doing this, actual living money and not “might pay for WordPress Premium by the end of the year if I’m lucky” money. So not talking isn’t an option.
FFXIV is an MMO, and migration from WoW to it is not uncommon, thus making it ideal if you are a WoW creator trying to fill a slump in content!
Lastly, though, there is a sort of two-hit combo to FFXIV that makes it more worth discussing if your business is game discussion. FFXIV has announced a record high of registered accounts that dwarfs WoW’s highest peak sub number, and while those two are not equivalent data points, they are easy to conflate, but also speak to a growing interest in FFXIV that is no longer easy to ignore. At the same time, attempts at public data collection (realm surveys, Raider.IO player counts, etc) seem to indicate that, for perhaps the first time ever, FFXIV has more active players than WoW. All of this is inconclusive and sort of difficult to validate, but there are enough outwardly visible trends that support the idea that talking about FFXIV is viable as a business model and may actually bring in more viewers and support than the same for WoW. Again, I want to stress that some of these data point are false equivocations and others are just best guesses on public data, but the tide seems to be turning against WoW – a topic I intend to give room to breathe in a separate post.
Part Two: Player Reception
Outside of the content creators, I think it is worth a moment’s thought for the fan community of both games. Something I have heard jokingly said often is “no one hates WoW more than WoW players” and I think there is something to that. However, WoW has always had a strong presence with new content on the horizon and a hype cycle that builds and builds perpetually, such that even when the game is doing poorly overall, it never has a prolonged slump. BfA had a hugely successful launch and players kept coming back for more over the patch cycle. My guild actually gained players in 8.3 without recruiting, because people returned to the game during COVID, despite how 8.3 actually…was.
I say that now because we need to drop a stunning statistic – in the last eighteen months, even counting 9.0.5 as a content patch, WoW has dropped…3 updates. If we just count major content patches, that number is two releases in eighteen months. If we go back to the 18 months prior to that, there were five content patches. I’ve only counted the expansion pre-patch and not the actual expansion going live in these numbers, but even then, it goes to 3-4 in the last 18 months and 6 in the 18 months before that. Yikes.
WoW lives on players being excited for new things, but the problem of the last year and change has been that we’ve had much larger gaps between new releases such that excitement is naturally tamped down. 8.3 hype had to live on from release in January 2020 until mid-October 2020, and that was with the benefit of an expansion in the wings. We’ve had 9.0 content since November 2020 and even now, 7 months later, we still don’t even have a date for 9.1! What in the actual fuck is that?!
I have enjoyed Shadowlands, and I think once 9.1 comes out, I’ll continue enjoying it, but I took the last several days off of WoW, spending 5 minutes keeping up with guild chat in-game and 10 minutes running circles in Oribos on PTR, and then I spent most of the rest of my time playing other games, watching videos, writing for a project outside of this blog, and I haven’t missed WoW. Not at all. I’ve kept up with PTR stuff, so I wouldn’t say I’ve completely blocked the game out or anything, but I’ve definitely taken a step back, and it has been really nice – which is not a great thing for Blizzard! It is hard for me to have goals in mind for 9.0 at this point, because I’ve stretched to reach new ones and at the same time any new goal I set has an, as of now, illusory ticking clock before the new patch might possibly come out and invalidate it!
In FFXIV, meanwhile, let’s do the same comparisons. Counting only major content patches with actual new stuff to do (so x.1-5 and x.x5 patches), the last 18 months have seen…8 patches. The prior 18 months to that have seen…9 patches. FFXIV has been riding a wave of steady content releases and even in the COVID era, they dropped the count by a single patch – that is great dedication to the game and reflects quite well on the team. If you’re an FFXIV fan, you’ve had a consistent base of content to be excited by, and the team has way more reveal events and moments to build excitement because of how they handle content unveilings – each of the major patches gets two live letters, with a third usually for the x.x5 patch, and then in both of these windows combined there would have been 3 in-person Fan Fest events for Shadowbringers, the Endwalker reveal livestream, the digital Fan Fest 2021, and then press tour for Shadowbringers, alongside a job action trailer and the benchmark release. That is a staggeringly large amount of touch points compared to Blizzard in that same window, who would have had two in-person Blizzcons, one Blizzconline, and a few Q&A livestreams…let’s count…looks like about 8 streamed events in all 36 months, as far as I can tell from counting off of Blizzard’s WoW Twitch page. That’s not awful, but it also pales in comparison to FFXIV, which easily doubles the number of livestreamed events not counting Fan Fest or Blizzcon/line.
I know which playerbase is more energized and excited right now, and if you’re reading this, you probably do too. Outside of small pockets of hype for WoW, FFXIV just has way more going for it right now, with a major expansion only 5 months away, ongoing content support including an upcoming minor patch that will remove most loot limits for current content, letting players start to gear up excessively in preparation for the content to come in Endwalker, and in the early fall, we should start getting more Endwalker news, including a job action trailer and the PC benchmark, which always smuggles in content we’ll be seeing without spoilers, somehow – so I expect to see new job actions rendered live on my PC, performed on new hunt targets, dungeon bosses, and trial enemies (I sure hope Anima is in the benchmark!).
If we look at these content creators as gamers and players first and foremost, there’s a point now where WoW’s hype has been declining and FFXIV’s has been rising, and even if you think FFXIV isn’t for you based on appearance, this moment in WoW is probably the most opportune to look at other games. Right now, in the MMO space, FFXIV is the de-facto “other game.” Sure, there’s Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, Neverwinter, EQ 1 and 2, and a raft of new releases coming out in the next few months, but FFXIV looms large in the space as the game sucking up the most oxygen right now. A lot of my guildies are trying FFXIV, or trying it again, or resuming playing it. My Fan Fest Hades shirt from FFXIV gets the kind of knowing nods and double-takes I used to get for WoW shirts, while my BfA Anduin/Sylvanas showdown shirt rarely gets a second look. If I were a boring and dumb political writer, I could say that FFXIV is winning “the shirt primary” which is a joke that maybe 1 person reading this will ever chuckle at, besides me, who is the real target for that one.
But all this together paints a troubling picture for WoW – there’s just little reason to be excited about it as a player right now, which means there’s less content to make about it, which means there’s less money to be had, which means that if you’re a content creator, you’re playing FFXIV and comparing and contrasting it with WoW, and so far, a lot of the impressions are very favorable. I heard that Bellular might be a convert (haven’t watched his video) and Quazii, only a fraction of the way through the free trial, plunked down for the full purchase of the game up to Shadowbringers because he was enjoying it so much.
That leads me to a couple smaller points I want to make to close out today.
Part Three: FFXIV’s Impenetrability Has Been Broken
FFXIV has, for much of its life, had a set of preconceived notions about it that made it difficult to pick up for those looking in from the outside. It’s a game for loser weebs – look at the cat ladies, weird suits, and stylistic sensibilities! It’s a game that is too difficult to get into – look at the wall of quests just to get to the current content, the “horrible hundred” of post-patch ARR, and how many different things I need to go find unlock quests for! It’s just a slower version of WoW – what’s so different about it besides the longer global cooldown and stat naming?
Over time, all of these have dropped. In reverse order – the game has never just been slow WoW, but instead has been its own thing with combos, a vastly different style to both healing and tanking, and a larger variety of DPS jobs that serve different functions, with a very different way of looking at group composition and progression. From Heavensward forward, it has even tweaked this formula with oGCD weaving, more complex rotations than WoW with much larger openers to learn and understand, and tweaks like Job Gauges adding to the uniqueness of the game. The 5.3 new player experience revamp has streamlined and made the ARR questing in particular much better, although some of the changes do suck a little soul out of the original experience. Lastly, is FFXIV a game for weebs? I mean, kind of, yeah – but I like that it has a stylistic sensibility that is more broad and interesting. My tank set on my character in FFXIV is a summer skirt, bikini top, and straw hat – and that’s cool and fun. The localization team keeps the spirit of the game intact while layering on these fun in-jokes that add layers to the game and make it, well, more of a game.
The game has addressed a lot of core complaints about being too different, too difficult, and too weird to get into. As the game has grown larger, the perception has also changed – it would be easy to write off the game in early ARR as “slow WoW for weebs” but as the playerbase has grown to (possibly) usurp WoW’s spot on the MMO throne, it is a lot harder to say the game is a niche product for a specific minority audience now and be taken seriously. Thusly, a lot of people who would have been inclined to pass on the game now have to reconsider and think about if their position against the game was a reasonable conclusion to arrive at. I wouldn’t fault anyone who’d played the game for deciding it wasn’t their cup of tea – that is perfectly understandable. But I would say that if you haven’t tried it and you like WoW, it is worth trying just to see – and the expanded free trial makes that effort much easier than before.
Part Four: WoW Will Still Be There and the Content Will Be Fresher
The hype cycle of WoW is brutal on the community and game in some ways, because nothing ever gets room to breathe. When new content comes out, it gets a couple of weeks tops before some new thing is on PTR, in beta, or being announced. Even if you’re trying to dodge PTR spoilers and the like, you’ve probably been bopped by one or more, whether it’s sloppy spoiler tagging and titling on Wowhead or someone in your guild Discord posting a screenshot or starting a chat about the story, you almost certainly have heard a ton of 9.1 news by now, including actively spoiling content.
In this post, I might have put forward the illusion that WoW is on death’s door, but sorry, especially to the MassivelyOP editorial team, that isn’t the case. WoW will trudge on for a lot longer than most of us would reasonably expect, and while it seems fairly dire right now (and kind of is, in some ways), the game isn’t anywhere near death. In fact, I think it might actually end up being really nice that so many content creators are off in FFXIV now. Why? Simply this – every video, podcast, post, and topic they discuss that isn’t 9.1 means that when the content launches and they do resume discussing it (because let’s be real, they are all coming back with the patch) is going to be newer, fresher, and less vigililantly followed. If you cover WoW as a profession, that means reading patch notes on a weekly basis as the PTR ping-pongs changes back and forth, changing and reverting, changing and tweaking until the new content is, to Blizzard’s satisfaction, just right. Part of what kills the game’s excitement is that we discuss so much of that, because it all happens publicly and we have an army of people that talk about it, both professionally and personally. If we have a month, or even just two weeks where people are discussing another game altogether, well, that means there’s a bigger slate of fresh WoW content waiting on the other side, and less following the minutiae of the design from start to finish.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a pedant at heart and I love obsessing over the tiny little changes and tweaks that Blizzard makes, but sometimes, it means hating the game a little more than it deserves, because you get mad or excited about things that don’t end up happening, which is kind of not great! If we all take that time away from the game, it means there’s more to dig into, more completed content worth getting worked up over in whatever direction is appropriate.
Part Five: The Poor, Poor Final Fantasy XIV Community
I want to stake my spiciest claim here – I think that the fawning praise of the FFXIV community is often overblown. It is better than most MMOs, sure – and it deserves plaudits for that. However, the community has a lot of toxic elements as-is, and that needs to be said before this next statement.
WoW content creator communities are poised to be exceptionally toxic. If any of them say anything negative about FFXIV, the followers trying the game will do the same and it will be a shitshow as the strong personalities of the seedy underbelly of FFXIV butt heads with the most awful WoW community members. I say this mostly in reference to Asmongold, whose community is full of the most vile, toxic, godawful people in gaming, spurred on by the often toxic and shitty things done by their hero himself, who then denies that any toxicity was intended or meant and claims he fails to see how it could possibly be toxic to other players. (The most recent example – telling his acolytes to /spit on anyone in TBC Classic with the Deluxe edition mount, and then saying it was solely against Blizzard, who aren’t even the target of the action…) Bellular sometimes can be a little edgy, but not awful, and Preach comes with the same kind of slight edginess, coupled with the sort-of elitist Mythic raider mindset. The only creator who I would wholeheartedly advocate for on the recent converts is Quazii, who makes great content and seems like a cool dude.
So I kind of fear what playing FFXIV is going to be like in Endwalker, because some percentage of these converts are coming and staying, and while Asmongold’s audience may not like the game (nor will Asmon himself in all likelihood, as the game is definitely very different to his tastes for combat gameplay), some number of them will stay, and they are likely to spur a new wave of GCBTW posts (that is a rabbit hole you can fall down if you have an unvarnished view of the FFXIV community, because it is enlightening).
On the flipside, the worst elements of the FFXIV community, who infamously bullied Scottzone out of the game for a tepid take on raiding in FFXIV with death threats and brigading, are likely rubbing their hands together in glee. However, I don’t think they’ll find much traction – I only know Scottzone because his story is a cautionary tale to a content creator my size about how fucking awful elements of the FFXIV fanbase can truly be, while the ones I’ve mentioned here are substantially larger and probably get far less flak that filters up to them. All of them save for Asmongold seem well-adjusted enough, and while I give Asmongold the personality shit, I do think that Zack, the person, is probably savvy enough to not read any bizarre comments. At the same time, Asmongold’s stream just gets too much interaction for any lone wolf FFXIV fans to gain the attention they might want, and I’m sure if we tallied up the number of death threats and hate mails sent by fans of the creators mentioned in this post, all of them would be Asmon fans, in my estimation!
In Closing – Interesting Times in MMO Land
I wanted to evaluate this topic because it feels like Blizzard is sort of caught flat-footed right now and their stronghold in MMOs is starting to finally give way, and as a WoW fan that also likes FFXIV, I think this is a good thing in some ways. I would like WoW to be better, and I think that it getting knocked on its ass would be a net benefit to facilitating that. As I’ve discussed before, I do think that COVID is a valid reason for some manner of delays, but WoW has been so beset by them that it loses validity and points to larger problems.
This summer is the most interesting time for it to happen, too. FFXIV is building on strength as the game pushes to Endwalker, other MMOs are gaining steam, with Neverwinter completing a major systems update, a new expansion coming soon for Guild Wars 2 with a major livestream unveiling next month, and a slate of new releases including Amazon’s The Lost Ark, among others. I don’t think WoW is going to die in a sudden manner, and certainly not this soon, but this is maybe the first time ever where I wouldn’t immediately laugh at the question “will WoW die?” As a portent of issues, I think these content creators jumping ship is symbolic of a thing that is happening in the larger community, and if I were Blizzard, that would make me want to be more communicative and forthcoming with details. But, Blizzard’s gonna Blizzard, and as of this writing, we’re still waiting on a patch 9.1 release date while even Diablo II Resurrected has one.
Interesting, interesting times in the MMO space, and as COVID impacts begin to abate, things will only get more interesting.