Why Seek Spoilers – The Effect of Datamining

Last night, I went on a little expedition online. I knew that FFXIV had datamining, but that its role was pretty constrained because the game’s data is often not in the wild until release as-is and because the element of surprise and a spoiler-free experience is something that the community likes, generally speaking.

But it does exist, and after some reading of the FFXIVDiscussion subreddit at the recommendation of a reader comment (I’d seen it before but hadn’t gone through too many posts there), I was referred to how datamined information is shared from the game. Curious enough (and sure there wouldn’t be meaningful spoilers there), I joined up with the Discord of a prominent dataminer for FFXIV and checked things out. I’m not going to link it, and I’m also not going to post spoilers here, but it was interesting – the Endwalker benchmark contains a fairly thorough set of data that is used partially, but not fully, in the benchmark. You can see whole zones as built for the benchmark, and while they change over time due to the way that FFXIV’s zones handle lighting data (that was explained by the dataminer!) and are thus not representative of final look but rather just of layout. On top of that was a lot of new ability animations, which are used in the benchmark but could be pulled out by spell ID in the files and played back in a more visible and focused view. There’s also an entire dungeon in the files, and oh man I saw some things and I’m very excited and totally not going to spoil it.

But it was interesting, because outside of times like benchmark releases, datamining is sprinting ahead a few days, maybe a week or two, in order to see things you’re about to see in-game already. It was interesting to me, however, because of that thought.

I’ve been playing WoW since 2005, and I’ve been reading datamining eagerly since 2008. I used to spend a not-insubstantial period of my work day with an active MMO-Champion tab, and then Wowhead when they sort-of won the datamining wars. WoW, of course, releases far more public builds through the PTR system, and so datamining is much more popular there, where it can spoil content literally months in advance and even track the development of content including changes. Over time, the WoW team has had wildly varying public answers about datamining. Back in the day, it didn’t seem to really bother them, and honestly, why would it? The game was in ascendancy during the time in Wrath of the Lich King where datamining was becoming everpresent. Since then, however, the team’s stance has largely gone another direction, looking at datamining, clucking their tongues, and asking “what’s to be done about this?” We’ve seen more data encrypted in PTR files to stymie efforts from the community – models which have ID data that often tell us who or what they are but not the actual model, cinematics that can have runtime detected but no actual content, and various other things designed to throw us off the trail.

One thing that has been constant is that most players I know, even those wanting a “pure” experience, tend to read about datamining. Most of us are very well informed about what is coming with a new patch before the launch date ever even approaches – before the recent Patch 9.1 launched, I’d seen all of Korthia, done a big chunk of the story quests, and was generally pretty well prepared for what came with the patch. I’d seen multiple tuning passes of the Tormented seasonal M+ affix, and I’d watched a few raid fights, mostly Guardian of the First Ones and Kel’Thuzad, just to see how they played. I also watched some heroic Sylvanas testing, which looked like a shitshow.

Meanwhile, the FFXIV community seems quite averse to datamining. Not necessarily opposed, but it definitely feels sort of quarantined off on its own. Getting linked in to the Discord with the goods felt like making an illicit drug deal or something similar – the link was posted with little fanfare and even the tone of the comments was brief, direct, and almost curt. The Discord is setup in a fascinating way, but one that makes sense for how it works – no one but the dataminer is allowed to post anything, and the only thing you can do upon joining is look at his posts and hit Discord reacts on them. It felt like the obscured parking lot out back of a movie handoff scene, and while I’m perhaps being a little generous via metaphor here, the difference is stark. WoW datamining is a business – Wowhead as an entity has remained a viable and valuable media property based largely on the sharing of World of Warcraft datamining. FFXIV datamining is Fight Club – the post from which I found my way to that Discord had a comment suggesting that the dataminer had been banned from the game, and it was this sort-of bizarre thing.

Now, the two games’ differing communities and modes of play go a long way to explain this – WoW is gameplay focused more than anything, so story spoilers are a price you can pay to learn what new ability tuning you’ll get for your preferred spec, how the raid loot will be itemized, and what the general gameplay flow of the new content will be. FFXIV is story-focused for the vast majority of players, even for a lot of those who then go on to make their primary gameplay Ultimate raids – so it is clear how datamining, particularly if it has spoilers, could be damning to that experience. A big part of the fun of FFXIV is contained in those little moments of shock – the reveal of the secret final zones in Heavensward and Shadowbringers, seeing the dungeons for the first time, seeing what ridiculous setting the final MSQ trial occurs in, and more moments like that. WoW players get value out of similar things – both communities are full of players with varying goals and interests – but I think that what most WoW players find value in is complimentary with datamining while FFXIV’s general value proposition is contradictory with datamining.

So last night was my inner WoW player winning out – “there’s datamining? Where? Can I see it?” and then looking at 3 zone reveals, 1 dungeon reveal, a handful of ability clips, and some gear – going “that’s cool” except for the dungeon which had me geeking out huge for…reasons…and then that was it. The last post of Endwalker datamining from the benchmark was in July. I don’t expect much more, although he teased that more was there and would be shared over the journey to Endwalker.

And I mean, if I’m being frank, here’s my thing personally on spoilers (which I believe I have yet to share, even almost 700 posts deep into this blog): they’re fine and I don’t think seeking them is bad or that staying “pure” is either, and the only thing I think one can do wrong with spoilers is to not respect someone else’s preference for them. I’ve read plot synopses for whole games, movies, and TV shows before ever actually playing/watching them, and I think the key thing for me and where my opinion and outlook on them comes in is this – if the media handles execution well, then a spoiler functionally does nothing. Like sure, knowing the ending of a major story hook can feel bad, but the art is in the performance and how the script and the technical work underpinning it is brought to life by the performers and artists who make it actually happen. The actual Cliff’s Notes of it is the barest minimum of detail in the media itself – so much more weight, emotion, and intrigue is conveyed by the fully-finished art.

So yeah, I found some FFXIV datamining, and I’m probably going to stay in that Discord and check things out as new, fresh data is extracted from the mines, because knowing what the Reaper AF weapon looks like doesn’t really affect my experience for Endwalker. When story spoilers, dialogue, etc starts leaking, that might be the moment I mute the Discord, because at my heart, I am still that core FFXIV player when I engage with that game – I don’t want to spoil my experience especially since I am fully free to play it on no-life mode when it launches in 80 days for Early Access – but the artwork and visual kit of new zones done in flyby isn’t really hurting me, and in fact, it has made me voraciously hungry for Endwalker.

WoW datamining can usually do the same, albeit from a different perspective…but the story spoilers at least prepare me for the constant disappointment.

This is the last day of the main challenge of Blaugust 2021. With this post, I mark 35 posts in total for the challenge, pushing me past the target of 31, hooray! For the rest of the week, I’m going to have some analysis posts mixed in with the normal denouement week Blaugust posting theme of “Lessons Learned” – breaking down the things I noticed and felt as I progressed through the challenge of writing 31 posts in 31 days. If you’re new here from Blaugust, I hope you enjoyed it enough to stick around – I’m not a daily post warrior most of the year but aim for around 3 pretty good posts a week most of the time. For those who normally read me and stuck around through a deluge of different topics (moreso than usual) and the constant volume of notifications, thank you! My immediate next post is likely to be a Blaugust breakdown and then we’ll go from there – I’m due to be gone for my wedding anniversary most of the next week, although some car troubles might derail that, sadly.

And who knows, maybe I’ll write up the datamining I saw on the FFXIV side.

Actually, probably not.

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