Final Fantasy XIV is having its best month ever.
Yesterday, Square Enix “sold out” of digital copies of Final Fantasy XIV prompting many to ask how could something ostensibly limitless like a digital code run out? Also, new character creation was briefly banned on all North American data centres. Last week, PCGamesN noted FF14 had its highest number of concurrent players on Steam at 47,000. Earlier this week, according to steamdb, the game broke that record amassing 58,000 concurrent players — a metric that doesn’t even account for players using FF14’s native launcher or console players.
Usually when an MMO like FF14 experiences growth like this, it’s tied to the release of an expansion or a patch of new content. FF14’s latest patch, “Death Unto Dawn” was released back in April. So why the hell are my queues 100+ players deep and Limsa Lominsa a thick, impenetrable tangle of Sprouts even more so than usual?
The answer is tied up in three things: a meme, a streamer, and FF14’s biggest competitor, World of Warcraft.
Perhaps the biggest explanation for Final Fantasy XIV’s sudden boom can be traced to Twitch streamer Asmongold. Asmongold is one of WoW’s most popular streamers, or was until on July 3rd, when he traded Azeroth for Eorzea. The move triggered a wave of fans following him around in-game to the combined chagrin and delight of FF14 regulars. The vod of his adventure as a Warrior of Light has since become one of his most popular clips ever earning 2.7 million views. Asmongold said he was committed to seeing FF14 through to its endgame to figure out if it’s worth “wasting your life” on.
Another explanation for FF14’s player bump might be found in World of Warcraft’s story. Back in June, Blizzard released Chains of Domination, WoW’s latest content patch. With it came the Sanctum of Domination raid — an endgame dungeon that confronted players with one of Shadowlands’ and WoW’s overall big-time baddies, Sylvannas Windrunner. The ending cinematic for that raid was a huge let down — an incomprehensible mess of a story that ended on a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until the next patch in the far flung future. When Blizzard released a video of the raid’s final cinematic on YouTube, the downvotes were more than three times that of the video’s upvotes.
This latest misstep seems to be a lot of players’ final straw, according to Polygon reporter and WoW expert Cass Marshall.
“Fans feel frustrated because they’re on a slow ride through a mystery town with little payoff or explanation,” they said. “The giant cosmic scope and Thanos-level villainy doesn’t help either. There’s stuff to like in Shadowlands, but it’s drowned out under the main plot.”
Though Blizzard boasted that Shadowlands is the fastest selling PC game of all time, there was a 5 million player dip in Blizzard’s monthly active users between Q1 of 2020 and Q1 of 2021. It’s not possible to determine if those were all WoW players or spread out between Blizzard’s other games like Hearthstone and Overwatch, but there does seem to be a general antipathy toward World of Warcraft that Final Fantasy is brilliantly equipped to capitalise on.
The final culprit in the Great Final Fantasy XIV Awakening is the relentless campaign to get new folks to play the game. If you’ve spent any time on social media there is a good chance you’ve come across some meme-ified version of this script:
“Did you know that this critically acclaimed MMORPG has a free trial to level 60 with unlimited playtime and includes the award-winning first expansion Heavensward?”
It is everywhere. In fact, when I asked Square Enix for comment, they didn’t provide player stats or offer reasons why they’re seeing a surge in server populations, a spokesperson merely quoted the meme back to me with a wry smiley emoji. (I also asked WoW PR if they had any comment on player dissatisfaction and they too said nothing, but offered me a code for free game time.)
Mayhaps then, the meme is doing its job.
Thanks for all the love you've shown Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers in the past few weeks ???? It means the world to us. Can't wait to celebrate another anniversary next year! ????
— FINAL FANTASY XIV (@FF_XIV_EN) July 5, 2021
It helps that Final Fantasy XIV is generally a damn fine MMO with a community that has a reputation for being the best MMOs have to offer. A cursory scroll through the FF14 Reddit has many threads welcoming new players, offering tips, and ex-WoW lifers gushing about the night and day difference. I myself am a reformed WoW player who’s had her entire world rocked by FF14’s engaging and effortless storytelling that doesn’t (yet) seem to rely too much on villian cosmic power creep.
For now, it seems it’s Final Fantasy’s Eorzea and we’re all just living in it. In April, Square Enix announced FF14 amassed 22 million registered players. That bonkers number is only going to grow when FF14’s newest expansion Endwalker releases on November 23.