The fundamental truth of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games is that they all have a life-span. Whether that life-span is determined by the developer choosing to end service for the game, or the slow heat-death of the universe as the player base dwindles, all MMO’s have their days numbered from the time they launch. Final Fantasy XIV is now 7 years old, or 10 depending how you look at it. It’s become reasonable to start thinking about how much gas is left in the tank for this aging classic. So let’s take a look.
A brief history
Final Fantasy XIV launched in September of 2010 to great anticipation, excitement, and ultimate disappointment. The game went over like a lead balloon, with scores of players demanding refunds, reviews in the tank, and a playerbase that abandoned ship quickly. Rightfully so, too. The game that launched, now what we call 1.0, was a disaster. It was unfinished, borderline unplayable, and certainly not any fun.
New leadership on the dev team assumed control shortly after in the form of Naoki Yoshida. His team began a massive overhaul and redesign of the game. The game shut down in 2012, and relaunched in August of 2013 as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This time, the game launched to pretty wide-spread praise and it has become one of the all time feel good stories in gaming. Three expansions later and the game is going stronger than ever.
But even by Yoshida’s own admission, we are coming to the end of the story. The tale that began in the re-launch is drawing close to its conclusion. We’re running perilously short of Ascians, we’ve attained god-like power, the war with the Garleans is set to come to a head very soon. There’s not much more delaying they can do.
A look at their contemporaries
To get an idea of what Final Fantasy XIV has left in the tank, let’s take a look at some of their contemporaries. While there are a ton of MMO’s out there, I’m going to focus on three that I feel have relevance to FFXIV.
World of Warcraft – Ah yes, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is another story of an MMO that just refuses to fade into obscurity. What are they on now? Their 103rd expansion? World of Warcraft has certainly seen its share of ups and downs. Pandaria, Cataclysm, Draenor… for sure some hits and misses. But at the end of the day, the game has a large playerbase invested in the story and has created a massive network of guilds and friends that are unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.
Final Fantasy XI – I would be remiss not to include FFXIV’s predecessor on here since IT’S STILL GOING. At 18 years old, Final Fantasy XI is still running on a subscription model. The development team is basically three part time staff, an intern, the DoorDash delivery guy, and a deranged hermit who lives in the server room. However, new content continues to come out for the game, albeit dramatically scaled down from its golden age. Like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI subsists on a dedicated player-base that has forged close friendships.
EVE Online – I know, I could have picked a lot of other MMOs. But EVE Online has something that the other games on this list doesn’t have. I truly believe EVE Online subsists on the sunken cost fallacy. The game is so unforgiving, so complex, so brutal to figure out and understand that when you finally have it figured out, you’re unwilling to leave. Like Thanos, the cost of getting up to speed in EVE was everything and we can’t turn back now. As long as CCP Games doesn’t screw it up, we’ll continue to hear about Goonswarm for ages to come.
So what does it mean for Final Fantasy XIV?
What we can take from contemporaries is that there is a critical mass in MMOs. Once you’ve achieved a certain level of success, your hardcore player-base will sustain you at survivable levels for eons to come. As the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded says, “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.” And truly, Final Fantasy XIV has easily surpassed this threshold. The game will indeed function effectively forever. Note that when I say effectively forever, I mean to say that when it finally does die out, it will do so unnoticed.
But I don’t want to talk about the game in its FFXI, barely scraping by phase. I want to figure out how long the game will be running as it is now. With relatively healthy player-bases, and fresh content coming into the game. And to prolong that phase of its life will require it to have something that none of the other MMO’s I talked about has. And fortunately for Square-Enix, it does.
What makes FFXIV unique?
MMO’s are generally built around one consistent idea. Large groups of players band together to save the world. But typically, MMO’s are not built around the player’s character. We generally play nameless, faceless, wandering heroes. We show up to help the heroes of the story and while we do save the day, we are seldom lauded as the savior of the realm. Final Fantasy XIV takes a fundamentally different approach.
Utilizing gorgeous character design, insane (for an MMO) customization options for hair, clothes, markings, and features, and even more dialogue choices as of late, Square Enix has succeeded in helping players identify with their characters. Rather than the wandering mystery hero, each and every one of us feels like our character is the Warrior of Light (and Darkness). It’s a difficult balancing act to walk, and one I was highly critical of for much of my career. Rather than focus on players being able to put big numbers on the screen, their tactic of making us genuinely care for our characters might end up paying off in spades.
So from that perspective, they can go as long as they keep putting out new content. I said earlier that we are coming to the end of the story that began in 2.0. I think they have two more expansions left in that story. One completing the story with the Ascians, and one completing the story with the Garleans. After that, if they want to keep going, they’ll need a brand new story and villains. And there-in lies the problem. We’re already seeing the Dragonball Z effect. We are already incredibly powerful. What could rise up and push us even further without feeling forced and contrived?
Final Fantasy XIV’s last great trick may be to accept old-age with grace. If Naoki Yoshida has the guts, and the sway at Square-Enix, to say “no, the Warrior of Light’s story is done.” then he’ll be a legend. Every great movie, book, TV series, and video game leaves the consumer wanting more. And if Final Fantasy XIV completes after two more expansions and leaves us all wanting more, it’ll be lauded as one of the all time great gaming experiences.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting the game should shut down. Square-Enix has sewn the seeds of a money making machine and they deserve to reap that harvest. Players have become incredibly invested in their characters and the friendships and companies they have formed. And even without fresh updates to the story, the game will continue to flourish for a long time. Overall, I think we have about 5 more years of FFXIV as it is now and probably another 5 years after that of it slowly winding down. So if you’re worried it’s too late to journey into the land of Eorzea, I’d say you still have time.
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Lead Image courtesy of Square Enix