Some of that was inevitable after the game's launch, but two of the biggest gathering points for the community have been hit hard recently. FFXIVCore closed its doors, and Gamer Escape is now asking for subscriptions and donations to help keep the site running. (GE covers general gaming as well, but the focus has always been on Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV.) At a point when fansites should be getting more vibrant in preparation for launch, they're dwindling.
So what happened? And for that matter, why is it so important for us to have fansites for the community? The answer to the former is pretty obvious, but the answer to the latter is a bit more involved, and it's worth discussing because I'm firmly of the mind that we need fansites, several of them.
I don't feel the need to talk about FFXIV's launch again, and to be honest, I don't think it's relevant. When that happened, some sites dropped off the radar, and that was inevitable. Other sites kept going, like FFXIVCore and Eorzeapedia (which would go on to form the basis for Gamer Escape). Except now those sites are increasingly floundering, and part of the reason is that Square-Enix started getting its act together.
For a long time, the Final Fantasy XI community had taken up the task of filling in the blanks left by Square's design. The game offered players no access to a central forum, so forums sprang up. There are no useful in-game timers, so timers are brought up. The most egregious example is the windowing programs that forced FFXI to allow players to change windows without crashing the game altogether, which is a can of worms I'm not going to examine in depth today.
The point is that FFXIV's community largely banded together and got started doing the same thing. And when the game's launch went poorly, the sites stuck it out. But things got dicey once Square got the message and started lining up with the times.
FFXIV will be using an all-new version of the Lodestone that promises to have greatly expanded functionality. There are official forums with a great community team. There's a direct feed between developers and players, and efforts are being made to bridge the language gap as much as possible. There's stuff in place to fix almost every issue that fansites were originally created to address. This leaves the fansites to stare and mumble.
It's not a case of Square being nasty, really; bringing the community together under one roof is a reasonable thing to do, a way to grow the game, a smart idea, all of that. But it does put fansites in an odd position, one not helped by the sheer difficulty of covering a game that's been in testing for the past several months, something I've wrestled with myself.
The difference, of course, is that I do a lot of things at Massively not related to FFXIV. Fansites do not have the same privilege, and they just wind up losing viewership and necessary funding in the process.
Some of you, I'm sure, see this as more of a result of how the times they are a-changin'. But I think there are certain things that fansites provide that you just can't get anywhere else. That includes within this column, and the core comes down to this: Fansites are not a labor of money; they're labors of love.
I am absolutely thrilled at how many people read my articles. I love seeing the comments, even if I don't respond to all of them, and it's a pleasure for me to write the best articles on FFXIV I can. That having been said, I am not going to learn Japanese to translate bits of information from Famitsu. But fansites can have people who do that, who love the game so much that the effort is almost incidental.
Fansites can also cover every aspect of a game, however minute. There are things that just don't make for a news story or a weekly column that still deserve a mention, which fansites excel at. They can provide a steady stream of updates and go silent when needed.
Perhaps most importantly, they give games and communities a way to spread outward. The fact is that there's one overall community in FFXIV, but there are a lot of smaller sub-communities. There's the roleplaying community, the high-end dungeon community, the crafting community, the PvP community in the future. These communities need places to congregate just as surely as the overall community needs a place to be heard.
In other words, fansites are the voice of small parts of the community, parts that might have different wishes from the aggregate. I don't pretend to be the voice of the community as a whole; longtime readers know my preferences, which do not match those of everyone in the community. Part of why I try to keep up on fansites is to remind myself of what other people think of the game, what elements I might not like that are considered important by others.
We need fansites to exist. And the fact that this is a rough time for them means that we, as fans, need to give them some love. Whitelist the ads on your favorite fansites. Support them through donations if you can. Do whatever is within your power to support the fan communities of FFXIV, lest the relaunch come out to an empty field.
Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to email@example.com, as always. Next week, yes, I will actually be writing up my final thoughts about the first two beta phases.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.