Beyond Azeroth: A Journey into Final Fantasy XIV

For anyone who keeps tabs on the “WoW Twitter” buzz, it is no secret that our community has seen a recent spike of interest in Final Fantasy 14 (FFXIV), an MMORPG by the company Square Enix.

Whether due to the recent Activision Blizzard lawsuits or the state of the current Shadowlands game systems, comparisons between WoW and FFXIV have become a hot topic. In fact, Echo Esports recently hosted an exciting, live three-day event for Eden’s Gate.

Some of our staff members have joined our fellow WoW players in FFXIV and discovered some interesting comparisons. Today, we explore how the FFXIV game systems offer unique, intentional tools that create memorable experiences among its players. My name is Sessa, and I am here to guide you through an examination of how these systems influence positive behavior among its player base. Then, we dive into FFXIV first-hand as we join Alyssa in a narrative of her journey as a FFXIV “sprout”.

What can WoW learn from FFXIV? Let’s take an inside look!

Table of Contents

Becoming a “Sprout”

Like almost every other jaded World of Warcraft player, I recently started playing FFXIV. And just like every other jaded World of Warcraft player, I’m here to tell you that its community is one of the most welcoming and inclusive gaming environments I’ve ever been in (sometimes unnervingly so).

After learning some of the systems interwoven into every element of the game, I realized that this was not a fluke, or even a result of “nicer” people playing FFXIV. Instead, Square Enix has incorporated specific game systems that not only reward players for acting in a certain way, but also instill long-term habits of being respectful and positive when interacting with other players.

In FFXIV, all new adventurers get a little icon, affectionately known as a “sprout”. Players retain their status as a sprout for the first 168 hours of gameplay and until they finish the main questline of the story up to a predefined point.

My first reaction to learning this was utter shock. As a long-time WoW player (and gamer in general), I immediately pictured a target on my back in any group content. I had flashbacks racing through my mind of being ridiculed for pulling too slowly as a new tank and exasperated veterans insulting me for not knowing boss mechanics.

I spent my first few dungeons steeled to ignore anything negative said to me in party chat or whispers but those moments never came. Instead, other party members made comments about how confusing a certain dungeon was their first time, gave me tips on boss abilities, and even had the occasional good-natured chat. I knew I was slowing my party down, I knew that I was getting lost, clicking the wrong things, and why were they being so dang nice about it?

Rewards for Playing with Newbies

As it turns out, the developers at Square Enix have already thought of how nerve-wracking it can be to be a new player doing group content for the first time and considered how to make that experience just a little bit better. In FFXIV all party members are alerted at the start of any group content that it’s someone’s first time completing it and the entire party gets a huge bonus to XP and rewards just for being in the same party as them.

New players are guided to group content periodically as part of their Main Quest Line and most of the story is told through in-game cinematics, even within the dungeons or instances themselves. This means that for anyone who is not completing it for the first time, they need to wait for any new players to finish watching their cut scene for the first time.

Despite the surprising length of these cinematics (some approached the 2-minute mark), I’ve never had a single party race ahead without me or complain about the wait. Most people either quietly waited for me to be done before continuing to pull, or even commented about how much fun it was to watch a specific cinematic their first time through. By “compensating” other group members for their time, Square Enix has given new players the opportunity to experience the story at a slower pace without fear of frustrating or inconveniencing their party.

Psychology 101 - Why Rewards Matter

The inclusion of a reward system for grouping with new players might seem like a small, almost inconsequential system, but when it comes to “training” a community to act a certain way, it can actually make a huge difference.

Habit formation has been studied endlessly both as part of general human psychology and as part of game development theory, but the core of it remains the same. Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit” explains it best here:

“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”

In fact, the developers at Square Enix have reward psychology down to a science:

  • They give the group a cue that at least one of their players has never done the instance before.
  • This primes the players that they need to go into a routine of explaining certain mechanics or taking things a bit slower due to mandatory cutscenes.
  • Finally, there is the additional reward at the end of the instance, reinforcing that the potential extra time and effort spent as a result of the new player was well worth it for the group.

While it follows a very simple, almost common-sensical approach, the continuous reinforcement of this loop makes the community associate playing with newer players as a positive experience. In longer, reward-heavy content, people even get visibly excited in chat when they see that it is someone’s first time as it means they will get this bonus as well. Instead of relying on the community’s goodwill and patience to welcome new players, Square put in a system that heavily rewards veterans for being part of a new player’s first experiences with the game.

Moderation Policy

It would be disingenuous to speak about FFXIV’s new player experience without mentioning Square Enix’s aggressive moderation system. It has been the subject of much controversy, especially when compared to WoW’s overall “lax” approach to moderating player interactions. Some people love it and others hate it, but no matter what side of the fence you sit on, we can agree that it protects new players from feeling shamed or ridiculed in group content.

Their extensive policy covers everything from outright harassment all the way down to “offensive expression” which is explained in the image below:

Read more about the moderation rules for FFXIV here

In fact, popular WoW streamer Asmongold made a foray into FFXIV. Upon his arrival, Square Enix actually sold out of FFXIV—a feat that is unheard of in modern MMORPGs. However, with his presence in FFXIV, some toxicity ensued as he became a target of mass stream-sniping. Square Enix swiftly banned the trolls who harassed him, demonstrating care towards maintaining a healthy gaming environment. Furthermore, Square Enix spent several weeks upgrading their servers to accommodate the sudden influx of new players.

Ultimately, it could be argued that people aren’t toxic towards new players in FFXIV because...they just aren’t allowed to be. While that might be the case initially, Square’s constant feedback loop of “be nice to people and nice things will happen to you in return” does work exceptionally well to guide the community in behaving in a more welcoming and peaceful manner to new players. At the core of any MMO, new adventurers looking to start their journey are one of the biggest indicators of success and game health and, in FFXIV, they are treated like it.

Comparison to WoW's New Player Systems

Now more than ever, World of Warcraft is an extremely intimidating game to learn for a new player. With 15 years of content, a huge community of experienced players, and layers upon layers of systems all interacting with each other, it’s a huge undertaking to even consider embarking on a game of this scale.

When comparing my slow, welcoming, and cinematic-heavy dungeon experience in FFXIV with the breakneck speed runs of leveling dungeons in WoW that have veterans in heirloom gear chain pulling without care for the rest of their group, it’s clear which experience lends itself to a more encouraging entry point for a new player.

Despite a few half-hearted attempts at making things more accessible like the Mentor System or the leveling squish (which was mostly geared towards making things better for existing players leveling alts), Blizzard has yet to really hit the mark in influencing the community to welcome in new players in the same way FFXIV has.

Now that we’ve outlined some of the logic behind Square Enix’s game systems in FFXIV, we will go on a journey of becoming an FFXIV Sprout!

Journey of a FFXIV Sprout - A Narrative

By Alyssaleanaxo

My first night in Eorzea felt like a movie scene from “Confessions of a Shopaholic.”

Cowmasutra, my good friend and fellow FFXIV “WoW-refugee”, wanted my first night in FFXIV to be an evening I would never forget. Excited and a little perplexed, I logged into my character and eagerly awaited for the night’s festivities to unfold.

As I zone into New Gridania and make my way out of the city, Cowmasutra informs me that my “Uber is arriving.” As I look up into a star-studded sky, a large shadow casts over me and Cow’s friend in a Regalia Type-G swiftly lands in front of me. “Get in, we’re going to Limsa Lominsa.” Without hesitation, I hop in the car and I’m whisked away to a bustling city by the sea.

Once we arrive in the city of Limsa Lominsa, I’m greeted by my Free Company (FC), which is similar to a WoW guild. I am given 500k gil (in-game gold), and am taught how to use the Market Board (the Auction House) to shop for a cute outfit for a special group photo.

My first night playing FFXIV was glamorous and full of roleplaying (RP), which is a highly intricate and fleshed out gameplay activity in the game. It was a pleasantly unconventional experience in comparison to my first time playing WoW. As a sprout in FFXIV, I felt the same rush of excitement and eagerness to log in every day like I did when I was new to WoW, but I was even more intrigued and immersed.

As I logged on daily to level my character and play through the Main Scenario Quests (MSQ), I found myself comparing the leveling in FFXIV to WoW. The most notable difference is that FFXIV has a linear story and, no matter when you start playing, you are met with the same leveling experience as someone who played years before you. In WoW, this isn’t the case. Leveling isn’t linear and everyone has a different journey because of the systems in place for level-based progression. I found FFXIV’s MSQ-based progression more enjoyable because it gave me a sense of omnipresent relevancy where nothing felt like a “grind”.

Another refreshing and welcoming change of pace in FFXIV is the variety of RP, mini-games (the Manderville Gold Saucer), engaging side quests, and the ability to play any “job” (like role/class/spec in WoW) on your character. Not having to lock your character to only one job and limited professions makes FFXIV feel fluid and less restrictive than WoW. Overall, this significant difference gives FFXIV players a sense of “What do I want to do?” upon logging on, vs. “What do I have to do? ”, which is an all too common sentiment in WoW.

Meme courtesy of r/Asmongold

At any time during my MSQ, I could easily take a break from it and pass the time at the Gold Saucer, people-watch at Limsa Lominsa, play music in the city (since I’m a Bard!), hunt for glamour (transmog) on the Market Board, level other jobs (professions or other classes/specs), or partake in the various RP activities.

Taking a break from MSQ for a seaside photoshoot

One of the most notable RP encounters has been with my FC. Every weekend, our FC house hosts a club night (with a live DJ streaming on Twitch) called The Lagoon. Some of the FC members “work” during club nights, serving as a greeter, bouncer (at the VIP section), bartender (food and beverage can be ordered at the bar), DJ, and dancer (ERP optional). During lockdown for COVID, these FFXIV club nights were a way for people all over the world to come together, socialize, listen to music, dance, and bond.

Dancing at The Lagoon during Cowmasutra’s DJ set

Delving deeper into the FFXIV RP scene, I had the esteemed opportunity of attending my first-ever FFXIV Ceremony of Eternal Bonding (wedding). Invitations were sent to each guest via in-game mail and I was thrilled to be one of them! Entirely unique to FFXIV is the ability to purchase various wedding packages for real money from the (entirely optional) online store. These tiered wedding plans bring a whole other level of unique customization and realism to this special occasion. Like for any wedding, I made sure I had a special glamour for the big day:

The FFXIV wedding invitation has set day and time, so in true wedding fashion, I arrived early at Sanctum of the Twelve to be present for the bride and groom’s arrival.

Wedding guests fashionably lined the aisle

Once the bride and groom arrived, all invited guests presented their invitations to the NPC to be let into the chapel. At this point, scripted RP would begin, as well as numerous cutscenes. Once I zoned into the chapel, I found my seat at the aisle and eagerly waited for the ceremony to begin.

The bride and groom walking down the aisle:

Gosu, the groom, sharing his vows with his wife at the ceremony:

The entire ceremony from start to finish was about 30 minutes long and it was the most endearing and most romantic thing I had ever been a part of in a video game. Each guest even received a lovely wedding favor: two adorable in-game minions (like vanity pets)! It was truly a magical and memorable experience that I’ll never forget.

Since attending this wedding, I’ve progressed in my MSQ, completed Stormblood, and graduated from my “Sprout” icon. I’ve also introduced a handful of friends to the game, majority of them “WoW refugees,” (a common nickname for WoW players who swapped over to FFXIV during the summer, with Asmongold’s foray into this game serving as the catalyst) and spent more time achievement hunting, farming old trials (raids) for mounts, and buying and selling on the Market Board to make some quick gil.

In just over two months of casual gameplay and going at my own pace, I was able to amass enough of a fortune to buy an apartment (yes, there is player housing!) at the coveted Lavender Beds. Between my Shadowbringers MSQ, my desire to level up both the Carpenter and Botany jobs (to furnish my new home), attending weekly club nights, and playing with friends, I can’t imagine a moment where I get bored or feel like the game is too much of a grind. After all, Shadowbringers is still a mystery, max level has yet to be attained, and my dream apartment remains but a blueprint in my mind. WoW refugee or not, FFXIV has captured my heart unlike any other MMO before it, and I’ve never been so happy and excited to log into a game since my first time playing WoW 14 years ago.

Key Takeaways: What WoW Can Learn from FFXIV

Despite both being MMORPGs, WoW and FFXIV have taken very different approaches in the type of content they give their players, as well as the way they manage their communities. While we (nor anyone else) would never want either game to become a carbon copy of the other, there are some lessons to be learned from Square Enix’s approach that could greatly benefit Blizzard when it comes to the overall player experience.

In recent expansions, Blizzard has implemented more and more complex systems that layer over each other and lead to complex gearing, build, and combat decisions (or at the very least lead to keeping theorycrafters busy). However, this has been at the detriment of integrating systems that promote community, positive social interactions, and moments of wonder within the beautiful worlds and areas they create. New content is reduced to a combination of daily and weekly “chores” that players tick off their to-do list while ignoring the other players around them.

There has been an overwhelming sense in WoW that the developers are guiding you to play the game in exactly the way it was intended to be played. While this helps prevent player exploits or unintended negative experiences, it also limits the expression, freedom, and ultimately a sense of community that used to be synonymous with the game. Additions like sharding and the ever-increasing faction imbalance serve to exasperate these issues. By taking a leaf out of Square’s book, we hope Blizzard will focus on features in coming patches and expansions that support the social, community, and guild elements of a player’s experience and not just optimize for their time spent in combat.

We both treasure all of the experiences and friends we’ve made in Azeroth, but we have also become enamored with the experiences of FFXIV. It is evident that the developers at Square Enix take pride in offering their players endless opportunities to explore the world, socialize, and play in whichever way brings them the most joy.

We hope you enjoyed this slight disruption in our regularly scheduled programming and we’ll be back with some more WoW content very soon!

Do you play FFXIV? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter!


About the Authors

Sessa currently mains a Protection Paladin (get your jokes in now, it’s okay, I’ve heard them all before) and is a moderator for the Hammer of Wrath Paladin Class Discord. She also writes Mythic+ Dungeon guides for TankNotes and likes to unwind by finding new ways to frustrate her group with “experiments” when running keys.

Alyssa is the Social Media Manager and Graphic Designer for Raider.IO. She is also a freelance graphic designer, and is most known for her YouTube thumbnails and stream art for WoW content creators. Alyssa is the founder of her cute and cozy community called the Bunny Squad and a Twitch multi-mod extraordinaire. She loves streaming her graphic design on Twitch, and making memes and friends on Twitter.