Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Better Community Through Natural Selection

It is becoming common wisdom that FFXIV has a better community than WoW. I'm not really sure how true that is. But I did have an interesting experience yesterday that is causing me to wonder, and connect the dots with other common complaints about FFXIV.

Ravana Primal Experience

A guildmate was at the Ravana primal 8-man fight. I play a tank, so queues are instant for me, and I had beaten the fight earlier. I grouped up with my guildmate and we queued up. We got into an instance where everyone except me and the other tank were new. The other tank seemed relatively hardcore. He took charge, gave quick instructions, and went in first. And we wiped.

Ravana has a add phase. The adds summon swords and need to be killed before they finish summoning. If they summon two swords, the group can survive Ravana's next special. But if they summon three or more sword, the group will wipe.

We get three swords on the first, second, and third attempt. The other tank reiterates the importance of killing the adds. On the fourth attempt, we get four swords. You could almost hear the tank's disbelief coming through the chat. I felt sure that this run would explode into acrimony and finger-pointing at the DPS for not pulling their weight.

Instead, the other tank took a deep breath, and assigned one healer to switch to DPS during the add phase, while the other healer concentrated on keeping the tank up. It worked well, and the fifth attempt would have been a kill except one healer got knocked off the edge and the other healer just couldn't keep up with the damage by himself.

The sixth attempt went smoothly, and we downed Ravana.

I realized that I've been conditioned by other MMOs to assume that automatic random groups will crumble when significant adversity is met. It still happens in FFXIV, but it seems more likely that the group will attempt to work through the issues.

Heavensward Accessibility Controversy

To flip topics for a second, there is a somewhat-common complaint about Heavensward. It's not actually coming from current players of FFXIV but from some lapsed or potential players. You see, you can't jump into Heavensward right away. You have to go through the entire 2.0-2.5 storyline, and all the associated trials and dungeons. A lot of people who were potentially interested in the expansion balk at that requirement

The current playerbase, by and large, is firmly on SE's side here. The story is important. Working through the content doesn't take that long. SE constantly sends higher-level players back to old instances, so that keeps the queues moving. Besides, if you haven't done the content yet, it's still new to you.

But there's no denying that the story requirement is a barrier to entry. For example, WoW dealt with this in the last expansion by giving out a free level 90, so you could jump straight into Warlords of Draenor.

Natural Selection of Players

To connect the two topics, consider the most common reasons people try FFXIV and then stop playing. The initial questing is slow, with lots of errand-running. Actually the entire game is filled with errand-running from one NPC to another. Combat is slower than normal, with the 2.5s GCD making it much more languid than the faster paced combat in other games.

Perhaps this slowness at the start of the game acts as a filter on would-be players. The impatient are quickly weeded out, so the the players which remain are more patient than average. A form of natural selection. And a playerbase of patient players is more likely to be considered a "better community" than one which is impatient, as my Ravana experience demonstrates.

The story requirement in Heavensward acts as a similar filter. Players who are too impatient to work through the older content don't sign up for the expansion.

There are arguably other filters in place. PvP is a minor thing, so the Killer archetype is discouraged. It's a subscription game, so players tend to be older and more dedicated. Progression mechanics seem to be aimed at the steady player, who works on new classes or relic weapon or gear "grinds" at a steady pace.

Perhaps the "better community" of FFXIV is a result of "survival of the fittest". Where the players most suited to the FFXIV environment are the type of players who create that "better community".

Meanwhile, games like WoW have chosen the other path, of catering to the impatient. Perhaps that is why their communities seem to be getting worse, because their players are more impatient than average (or at least, more impatient than the FFXIV average).

I should also mention that SE has introduced mechanics for community building. Things like commendations, or the massive XP/reward bonus you get when someone in your group has never done the instance before. It is an open question as to how much these mechanics contribute to the better community. They certainly don't hurt, though.

Of course, there is a price for this natural selection. Players drop the game because it is too slow or too inconvenient. That reduces the potential audience for the game. By not including a shortcut to Heavensward, SE is giving up on potential players. Maybe the community created by the remaining players makes up for that. But maybe if SE made the shortcut, had made the early experience more interesting, FFXIV would be a 10 million subscriber game.


  1. I've certainly seen folks...well, not going to say rage because it was nowhere near the kind of vitriol I've seen in LFR or PUGs in WoW, but I've seen folks who've been rather impatient before in FFXIV, especially in higher level content at the end of the previous expansion.

    I hit level 60 last night and ran the first 60 dungeon, and wow, they don't pull the punches on difficulty there, which is super fun. We actually wiped like 4 times on the final boss, but we were all figuring out the mechanics so folks were jovial, supportive, and aware of their own mistakes. It was like progressing with my own guildmates, but with randos. Had a very similar experience with the second trial as well. (Avoiding saying names in case of spoilers :P)

    Overall, it's been an extremely pleasant experience.

    You may be on to something about the design of the game itself attracting a certain type of player, along with Squeenix's gamification of being nice to earn commendations. It'd be interesting to see if another MMO could catch this "good attitude" lightning in a bottle.

    1. "Attracting" a certain kind of player is the nice way of putting it. However, I would say that FFXIV is actively "repelling" a certain kind of player. Those aren't the same thing, and "repelling" is a lot more controversial, since it implies a negative judgement of a player.

      In some respects, I see the people complaining that they aren't going to buy Heavensward because they have to do 2.0-2.5, and I think, "Good riddance, the game is better off without whiners like you." Is that really a fair or good thing to think, though?

  2. In other words, the community is as good as it needs to be to complete the content.

    If the content is completable by drooling idiots, than it will be full of drooling idiots and normal people who behave as drooling idiots (for example playing while not paying attention). After all, why bother being more than a drooling idiot if you get the reward for only drooling.

    1. No, this really doesn't have anything to do with difficulty. The early game of FFXIV--where people drop out--is very easy. It's even easier than WoW's early game. (I understand if you find that notion hard to comprehend.) It's just a lot slower and even more ... boring.

      The filter isn't on difficulty and skill, the filter is on patience and maybe deferring gratification.

  3. Interesting ideas on why it does seem to be overall a "nicer" community. I hadn't really connected the dots like you did.

    My own Ravana and Sohm Al 1st times were last night. Ravana we were fine on the add phase, it was later when we had trouble. Healers were competent, but not "awesome" and since it was the 1st time for most of us we weren't always sure where and when to move, so we didn't help by avoiding as much damage as we could either,. They ended up focusing on keeping themselves and the tanks up and maybe 1 dps, if we were down, and eventually LB3 came available and they did a full rez on everyone, so that was a big help. Eventually though with Ravanna at 3%health everyone went down except the 2 tanks (and a dragoon had popped LB2 just prior to this to get him down that far). I thought for sure it was going to be a wipe, but they pulled it out and we got him on the 1st try as a result. Skin of our teeth, btu a win's a win!

    Sohm Al dungeon was actually quite easy by comparison. Of course, my DF group had an experienced tank and healer, so... that helped a lot. But they were still patient, didn't run ahead and pull all the things, and explained each boss before going in, and I wish I'd had 2 commendations to give at the end instead of only 1.

    1. Nice! I'm really surprised that you managed to get through the add phase though and yet have so much trouble with the last phase. The key is to avoid standing in front of the boss and away from the unfenced edge. Basically form a triangle around him with each tank at one point, and the rest of the raid at the other point.

    2. I think that was the problem -- the 2nd tank didn't know where to stand, so the whole group got hit and went splat.

  4. Sounds sensible. I always felt like SWTOR had something similar (though probably less pronounced) going on with the voiced cut scenes, even if they allow you to skip them.

    1. Perhaps that's true, but note that SWTOR is going in the opposite direction with the new expansion. Streamlined class stories, automatically starting at 60, etc.

      Also consider the implementation of 12x. If SWTOR wanted to go in this direction, they would have locked 12x behind getting a Republic or Imperial to max level. SWTOR is perfectly happy to cater to the impatient, so long as the impatient pays them.

    2. Oh, I absolutely agree that they are moving away from it and are increasingly trying to cater to the impatient. But at launch I definitely enjoyed the feeling of the game feeling slower.

  5. As someone who is still just 40, and a tank, most dungeon experiences are me learning every encounter, generally with people who have already been in the dungeon. Only one time has anyone dropped from a run, and even that wasn't much drama, they just left and were quickly replaced and the instance was finished.

    "But maybe if SE made the shortcut, had made the early experience more interesting, FFXIV would be a 10 million subscriber game."

    Remember that one bad apple in a game has the potential to turn away ten good ones, so if you remove those barriers that keep the 'WoW kiddies' out, you allow them to ruin the game for everyone else. Personally I'm thankful the barriers exist, and I think from a financial standpoint SE is better off as well; they draw in people who stick around long-term, and who bring other quality people in as well.

    1. I'm just pointing out the counterfactual. Neither of us knows which is true. We know which one we "want" to be true, but that might not be reality.

      Consider League of Legends. It's known for the poor quality of the community, but it is the most popular MOBA out there. In fact, it's entirely possible that the larger the community, the worse-behaved it is.

    2. "it's entirely possible that the larger the community, the worse-behaved it is."

      100% agree here, IDT and all that.

      But look at LoL and how much time Riot spends on cleaning up the community; clearly they aren't just doing that to be nice, so the fewer asshats you have around, the more money you make. (I think its also important to keep in mind that a MOBA community is always going to be a lot more aggressive than a PvE MMO community, but even LoL at upper ranked play is better than the average WoW pug group)

  6. Hello! I liked your article and I think you bring up some interesting points. The way FFXIV content is introduced to the player does provide a sort of "barrier for entry" into newer and expansion content, but I don't feel that's a bad thing considering it does weed out impatient players like you said and you do get to enjoy a great story. Giving increased rewards to everyone for new players in dungeons and the commendation system also helps cultivate the type of community that FFXIV is notable for. Sure, I get the occasional jerk or two in the duty finder, but most of my dungeon run experiences go fairly well especially with the newer players.

    Personally, I love new players! Especially the ones that queue solo into a dungeon or trial for the first time and announce that they're new. I think back to when I was experiencing this content for the first time, and luckily I had friends to help me with stuff but they're queuing solo so they may be a bit nervous. It's a great feeling to guide someone through their first run, explain the mechanics if they would like you to, and make their experience a really awesome one! Being positive and polite, even to random people you meet in the Duty Finder, really does go a long way to building FFXIV's reputation as a fun game with a friendly community willing to be helpful and welcoming! Surprisingly, I've met quite a few new friends from my server Balmung through the Duty Finder, but I really do think that Square-Enix should come up with a cross-server friends list, chat functionality, and party system because it sucks to meet someone cool and that you'll never see again.

    My rule of thumb is I always like to start a dungeon run with a "Hello!" and end with a "Take care!" Even if your party says nothing and performs your jobs well, this little interaction has the potential to really make someone's day.

    1. Yes, that's very true. I also say "Hi" and "Thanks for the run". I do find that if you have groups who do the same, the run overall is better.

      As for the new player bonus, yesterday I was in a random, and was rather disappointed when it didn't show up.

  7. That's an interesting theory. It would sort of make sense explaining the MMOs I play.

    In LOTRO, the community is very friendly, they're constantly giving free stuff away in world chat. The game is pretty much deserted (at least on my small server) and leveling takes long - I guess it's only the really grind resistant people that are left.

    In SWTOR, general chat is something you want to hide and people will even ask your for money to craft things when you're providing the materials.

    So the conclusion would be that slow games generally leave behind a larger portion of players that want to invest in their game and thus behaves socially.

    1. I think that LOTRO demonstrates the problem with this path. LOTRO's community simply wasn't large enough to sustain the game, and it had to go F2P. And even that looks like it will end poorly for them.

      People may complain about the community in poor-community games, But many of those games have a lot more players and are ultimately financially viable. If you can't pay the bills, it doesn't really matter that your community was awesome.