In the days of Final Fantasy XI: Online (FFXI) meeting new people was a breeze. EVERYTHING in the game required you to sit there for, at least, thirty minutes gathering a group at one of the game’s “hub” cities. After the tedious gathering process, the group would then spend hours of either grinding enemies for experience points or bashing their heads against the same story mission or boss battle until succeeding (most of the time). This process would very quickly sift out who you liked and who you didn’t care much about, and friendships sprouted often. Players would start growing their Friend List and even recruit or start building their own Linkshells (FFIX’s term for guild). For a game that could be painful to play at times, the community that grew from it was amazing.
Now, fast-forward to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FFXIV) and the story is much different. Most of the content presented by the main storyline is done solo. Literally, players are not allowed to enter certain Duties (as they are called) if they are in a party. Then, all of the dungeons spread throughout the game, both optional and required, are powered by the game’s “Duty Finder”. This system allows you to queue up for a dungeon or trial both solo or with a group. It works really well and eases both the time and effort that it would take to manually form parties. The catch: it forms parties using players across the entire data center (all the servers in a region). This means that the people you meet during these instances are usually not going to be from your same world (server) and you will probably never see them again after the Duty is completed. The game drives this point further by not allowing you to add players from other servers to your Friend List. So, even if you wanted to continue chatting with the players you meet, the game does not provide a way to do so.
So, we land at a daunting problem: how do you build a moderately sized Free Company (guild) in FFXIV when opportunities to meet players in the field and have friendships honed in the midst of combat are just not present? Most of the time, from what I have seen, Free Companies will watch for new players coming into the starting cities and recruit directly. Other times, they will post recruitment notices through the games “Party Finder” feature; a tool with the purpose of manually gathering players to complete events but also the only way in the game to advertise anything server wide. Both of these methods have the same flaw: you are literally banking your recruitment on strangers. They could turn out to be great additions to your group or terrible parasites of humanity. Only time can tell.
To circumvent this issue, I have tried brainstorming different ideas and none have really felt worth pursuing. Most involve coming up with events advertised through Party Finder in order to gauge participant’s skills and personality. Big problem: there are not that many events doable in the game’s open world. And most Trial Duties (Boss fights) that would help gauge both skill and dedication are relegated to the higher levels. Guess what? Most players at the higher levels are usually already part of a Free Company! So, most players that do not have a Free Company are low level newcomers and there a not many early level things to do to gauge their skills. Then, most high level players that could be better tested usually are already part of a Free Company! This is awesome! <— sarcasm
On this note, I have considered creating a Party Finder with the purpose of running the initial 3-6 dungeons; only welcoming sprouts (new players) or players without a Free Company. How would this be any better than recruiting blind off the street? From unskilled players, we might be able to gauge patience, learning and listening skills. From more skilled players, I guess we could gauge their actual skill level and how well they take direction. I am not convinced though. Also, if our recruiting intents are even remotely obvious, participants are just going to put on their best face and not really show who they really are which defeats the purpose of the event.
So, on to the best option I have been able to concoct: use Party Finder to queue up for current content instead of the Duty Finder (across servers queue). Experienced players would be drawn to it, at least for novelty’s sake. Most of them will probably already have a Free Company but we might stumble upon a few gems that do not. Worst case scenario, we get opportunities to meet more players on our actual server and gather a few good acquaintances.
That made me think of another feature the game has for group communication and setup besides Free Companies: the Linkshell. Identical to FFXI’s Linkshells, these are mainly customizable chat channels that you can invite players to. Using these might be a good alternative to building a larger group of fellow players without anyone having to abandon their current Free Company. It would enable us to recruit from the large population of experienced players that already have Free Companies. Even though Free Companies are the games obvious approach to a guild, I have heard several accounts of Linkshells still being the “go to” option for larger guild groups; leaving Free Companies as a staple for smaller, more family-like groups. Combined with the idea of using Party Finder to gather groups for current dungeons, adding a Linkshell to our Free Company just might work.
In the year and a half that I have been playing FFXIV, I only have added about 4 people to my Friend List that are not already friends or family. And, beyond a few random encounters here and there, I don’t really communicate with any of them. Everyone is always running instanced content where I cannot easily reach them with a direct message.
In conclusion, the fact that I spent an article brainstorming ways to meet fellow players, form long term friendships and gather up a working guild, points to the problem at hand. Where friendships and groups happened naturally in FFXI, players have to actually go out of their way in FFXIV in hopes to attain similar levels of human connection. FFXI is considered to have a ton of flaws when judged as a Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game (MMORPG) but the fact is that it still did a lot of things right. Whether or not this was an accident, we will never know. The matter that remains is whether or not I, with my small band of family and friends, will be able to gather a moderately sized and successful guild in FFXIV. Our goal has always been thirty players. Enough to commission three 8-man raid groups and do 24-man content “guild only”, with some benchers and backups.
Then again, is the FFXIV community thirsting for the same thing we are or are we just chasing a long lost ghost from a lost era? More and more it seems that the game is riddled with small groups that just keep to themselves. And, more often than not, players engage in “emoting” (making their characters do actions like wave, dance and laugh) interactions without ever sharing a single word. The game is already anonymous enough, not having game hosted voice support. Are people really that shy they will not even type a few words of text? Maybe we are fossils of an era long lost, wanting to relive a little of those times where the chat channels were always running loud. Whether one day I would participate actively in the conversations; maybe sharing some party horror story. Or, some of those days where I spent my time fishing in-game and just quietly reading the Linkshell chat as if listening to a radio talk-show to pass the time. People breathe life into games like these and, no matter how wonderful the graphics are in FFXIV’s world, Vana’diel (FFXI) felt so much more alive. So much more vivid.
I love FFXIV. I truly do. I think I just want to make it better. And the only aspect I feel I am currently missing are the people: their companionship, their diversity, their skills, their stories, maybe even a little bit of their drama. Who knows? Where I have a ton of stories from my 8 years playing FFXI, I don’t feel a have a single one from my year and a half playing FFXIV. And this is certainly not a great trend.