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.