Ever since its re-release as A Realm Reborn, FINAL FANTASY XIV has managed to remain one of the most relevant MMOs in the market. It isn’t difficult to see it mentioned alongside World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls Online, and other huge titles. Such success could be associated to how it revitalized a failing title riddled with a poorly directed development process and several technical difficulties upon release, but there’s no denying that the community plays a big part in keeping the game alive.
Long-time MMO players should know that such communities tend to be extremely toxic at times. Tales of players stealing kills out of pure spite or harassing fellow adventurers just for the sake of it are not unheard of, nor are they difficult to find. Childish behavior is even more common in free-to-play games, which tend to be more accessible.
One thing FINAL FANTASY XIV players can attest to is that the game’s community is generally very welcoming. In my own time with the game, I’ve rarely seen anything close to FFXI private servers, or one unfortunate incident that happened to me in the now defunct RaiderZ. Approaching a stranger in Eorzea will often result in a friendly conversation and even when the player in question is one such “bad apple”, the repercussion of their deeds is hardly harmful when compared to other MMOs.
The love for the game is so strong that on December 30 and 31, 2016, a group of players organized and presented an event I never expected to see in a game: a theatrical production. An adaptation of FINAL FANTASY IX’s “I Want to be Your Canary”, their initiative attracted the attention of major news outlets as well as players from across several game worlds and data centers. Their popularity grew so much ever since we briefly reported the event back in November that upon arriving at the 28th plot of Lavender Beds, avatars would flicker on my screen as the game attempted to load as many as possible.
This group is known as A Stage Reborn (a common play on the game’s subtitle “A Realm Reborn”, often seen throughout the game), a band of players who come together in order to provide entertainment to the community. They gather on the server Diabolos and come from different Free Companies (FFXIV’s equivalent to guilds). This week I sat down with some of them to better understand their motivations and goals as well as discuss the game’s community.
Present were Wanderer Sabaku (Steve Pederzani, founder of ASR), Tsudin Everrest (Tristan Burcham, co-founder of the collective), Zaynava Kitanni (Kira Merrill, manager of the Free Company <<LION>> as well as Princess Cornelia in “I Want to be Your Canary”), Rayle Kyver (Garrett Melton, also a manager of <<LION>>), Daniel O’rourke (Daniel Ruta), Inferniolus Deatas (Mani Guerami), Ruruyo Ruyo, and Levi Talstag. The question was simple: What you think makes FFXIV’s community stand out from other MMOs?
Tsudin: A great aspect that appeals to me in the FINAL FANTASY XIV community is the lack of toxicity. There are a lot of MMOs with predominantly toxic player bases. I just recently started playing through Savage raids and have not encountered the stereotypical hateful group mentioned from other MMOs. I’m not saying such groups don’t exist [in FFXIV], but I’ve been fortunate enough not to come across them.
Rayle: I believe there are a couple of reasons why the FFXIV community is the way it is. There’s a wealth of activities besides raiding and PvP, which are the primary endgame contents for most other MMOs. Besides crafting and gathering, we have chocobo races and Triple Triad, which can be a huge timesink, and as Zaynava and I can attest, so can decorating houses. Thanks to this, there’s a lot less pressure to be good at the core of the game, the combat. There are people who don’t raid at all and just craft and decorate their homes, among other side activities. While doing these, there are more opportunities to socialize.
Inferniolus: Not to mention the role-playing communities among all that.
Daniel: It also helps that FINAL FANTASY XIV is part of a well-established franchise. The title alone brings fans from across the globe together.
Rayle: The other reason I think the community isn’t toxic is due to the lack of modding support in the game. I played World of Warcraft for a long time and did plenty of raiding. Mods were a requirement. Everyone needed damage, healing, and aggro meters as we needed to know exactly how well we were all doing. If you weren’t doing well, others would notice and say things. That fostered a very competitive and hostile environment where making your numbers come up as high as possible was all that mattered. That doesn’t happen in FFXIV and I think it has a huge impact.
Wanderer: The development team actually engages the community. In other MMOs I’ve played, the team would rarely interact with their users except for newsletters, customer service calls, etc. [Naoki] Yoshida and the FINAL FANTASY XIV team are quite good at engaging with the community and making this game more than a mere product. I think that helps contribute to its success as a platform that ultimately allows projects like [ASR] to happen.
Tsudin: “Trust me, you guys don’t want that.” [In reference to a World of Warcraft developer regarding vanilla servers]
Daniel: I’ve been a hardcore raider in FFXIV, WoW, Dark Age of Camelot, and EverQuest. Something FINAL FANTASY offers that others didn’t is the ability to pick it up at your own pace.
Zaynava: I think part of the reason why the community is so good is also due to really good Free Companies. Rayle and I run one called War of the Lions (LION) and we do a lot of activities to encourage socializing. On top of that, we have very strict tolerance policies regarding hate speech and bigotry. I’ve seen other FCs taking a similar approach and it really helps bring about a family atmosphere.
Levi: Well, I have tried WoW and The Elder Scroll Online and I felt lost in both. FINAL FANTASY XIV is the only one among these that I was able to follow through and meet people as well as ask questions and get actual answers. You can even start your own family with ease. It feels like home here on this server, too.
Tsudin: Following up on what Levi said, I’m actually very anti-social and tend to avoid people like the plague, one of the reasons why I never got into the endgame. Then one day I met some crazy guy [Wanderer] in the Gold Saucer and now I’m here being part of a roundtable with all sorts of people. This community really does have something special about it.
Ruruyo: My opinion may come across as a bit odd, but I think the reason is close yet not quite what Ray said. We have weekly caps on a lot of things, which leads people to pursue other activities such as crafting and acting. There was a similar community in Mabinogi, where everyone would pretty much sit around towns and chat.
Rayle: It’s also worth noting that Square Enix makes a genuine attempt at promoting a sense of community. A good example of that would be the Mentor system. These crowns you see by most of our names? They designate us as Mentors. Players must fulfill certain requirements in order to be considered a Mentor and once you achieve that status, partying with newcomers will bestow them an experience bonus. On top of that, Mentors can invite new players to the Novice Network, a chat channel specifically for veterans to help out novices by answering their questions and providing guidance. There’s even a Mentor Dungeon Roulette where Mentors have a chance at helping groups struggling with their dungeons.
Tsudin: The Mentor system has helped people, but I’m afraid it still suffers from people exploiting it due to the crown signifying them as “better”. There are authentic Mentors who want to help, but the system is not without its abuses.
Ruruyo: We really need a system to further encourage veterans to help newcomers. The intention of the Mentor system is too skewed as the only reward is the fuzzy feeling of helping others.
Rayle: These systems aren’t perfect, but they serve to show the sort of mindset Square Enix has regarding community and why there are things such as damage parsers. Or even when such mods are used, players aren’t allowed to criticize or belittle others based on the numbers. Square Enix doesn’t want FINAL FANTASY XIV filled with the same toxicity that’s so rampant in other MMOs.
The group’s existence and success have been a game changer not only for the community in general but also for the members. Being a part of the project has touched many of these people, shifting their perception of FINAL FANTASY XIV as well as their lives in some cases. While Steve Pederzani (Wanderer Sabaku) has been receiving a lot of attention due to his position on the board of directors, he reminded me that, “this is a joint community effort. A lot of players use to sometimes attribute credit for these events to me, but as you can see, it’s clearly a team/community effort both from the board and the people we serve.”
Moreover, besides explaining that “puppeteering” would be a more accurate analogy to what they do, Garrett Melton (Rayle Kyver) shared a story that wrapped up the meeting. “I told my parents what I was doing for ASR. […] My father then tells me I have a cousin named Alexander who plays the game and wanted to make a character on my server to get in touch with me.” He finished by saying “We’re kind of estranged from our distant relatives. […] So to find out a distant one, who I never even met or heard of, had heard of me through my efforts with ASR and wanted to meet me; it was a humbling moment.”
A Stage Reborn has three other plays planned, with “The Story of Maria & Draco”, based on the opera from FINAL FANTASY VI, being their latest endeavor. Those wishing to know more about the production process and seeking to be a part of it must refer to the group’s Discord channel. For further updates, be sure to check out their Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr accounts, as well as the official website.