If there's one thing that hit me after the live letter this weekend, it's that the Final Fantasy XIV community is kind of a mess.
I've been working around this game since before it launched, and there have always been weird issues going on with the way the community has worked. Part of this is because the game's community has a weird sort of isolationist streak, as if the online installments of this particular series are the only online games in existence, but part of this is also a matter of dealing with a community team that reports to bosses who aren't speaking the same language as the US playerbase.
Community management is a two-way street, and this weekend's antics served to remind me of how many elements of this really need to be addressed. So let's talk about how both the players and the community team can improve our overall culture from both sides.
The community team: Improving the flow
I am super excited by the prospect of the Eternal Bond system rolling out. Seriously, for roleplaying purposes, this is something that I've been looking forward to since before it was even a known fact that the system would allow for same-gender bondings. And I'm really looking forward to finding out how it works on December 9th because that's when patch 2.45 comes out and we won't have the full translation of the Live Letter until some time after that. In other words, one of the big previews of this particular live letter has relied almost entirely on secondhand translations, which are about as accurate as you'd expect fan-assembled stuff to be.
Obviously, the lore and translation team is busy. But the fans who are playing the game want to know what's going on with our game of choice, and the fact that we have to wait this long just to find out what's in a community letter makes the entire Live Letter process feel something less than inclusive. Especially when we've seen team members onstage and translating letters as they happen before.
This isn't just a problem with Live Letters, though. Even if we accept the fact that there's always going to be information lag, there are a lot of interviews and information that come here over here via fan translation. While that would seem at a glance to support community involvement, the net effect is that it's unclear what's going on with the game and a lot of misinformation floats about based on half-understood Japanese.
Not to mention that there is still the feeling among a large portion of the non-Japanese playerbase that the Japanese players are the first and (often) only concern for the development team. That clearly isn't the case, but that image is going to take a lot of concentrated work to change.
A lot could be improved simply by improving the pace at which new information flows to the US. Translations need to be assigned a higher priority than they currently seem to receive; this goes for both first-party content and interviews found elsewhere. Yes, I realize that it's not really Square-Enix's job to translate Famitsu's coverage, but it directly affects worldwide information of the game. Give us something.
Having the Final Fantasy XIV fanfest tour start off in the US was a nice start, but there's still a gap in place. Narrowing it down would help a lot. But it's not the only side of the community that needs work...
The players: Getting perspective
I hate to tell you guys this, and by "hate" I of course mean that I don't hate it at all, but there are a lot of MMOs out there. Most of them have nothing to do with FFXIV. Some of them have been running for years. It's a shock, I know. If you want to take a moment, that's fine.
The reason I bring this up is that there seem to be no shortage of players posting on the Lodestone who have the perspective you'd expect to find from someone who had never played another title (other than perhaps Final Fantasy XI). This is not a good thing. It means that every single announcement is spot-checked against absolutely zero perspective, and it drags a lot of potentially useful discussions into the mud.
FFXIV is not the first game to have microtransactions or have microtransactions destroyed the life of these games. The fact that there is an option to pay more for weddings -- the very definition of a cosmetic buff -- is not even remotely unfair. Sure, there's a two-person mount, but the existing two-person mount also requires more money, since you get it only from the refer-a-friend program. This is hardly game-breaking.
It's also not the first game to decide that yes, people deserve access to endgame content and to see what's going on with the story. The idea of having Coil-level content split into a story mode received just as many enraged responses, and yet it's really a kind of foregone conclusion in the rest of the MMO world that more players should be granted access to the story content that pulses through the heart of the game.
The actual in-game community is generally pretty strong, but the forums become such a mess of shouting that nearly nothing of use or impact can get decided or communicated. It's the other side of the dev-plus-player equation, and left unchecked it leads to a state where community managers don't want to bridge the gap and players yell angrily about every single update coming down the pipe.
Obviously we can't do anything directly about the communication issue from the community team, but players as a whole are in control of our reactions to content. The forums do not have to be an endless war zone between people saying that everything is fine and those claiming that everything is broken. Let's get a bit of perspective, step back, and realize that the sky isn't falling... but it's still a good idea to check sometimes.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, I hope to have actually taken that Eternal Bond ceremony for a spin. We'll see.
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 other Monday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.