As an avid fan of Final Fantasy 14, I regularly log in in the evenings and on weekends to play the game. But recently I noticed a trend in logging in; Queues. It’s not uncommon to have a short wait that resolves almost instantly, but this time the line was over 300 players. It took ten minutes to just get into the game – and all I wanted to do was poke around the southern front of Bojzan looking for an extremely shiny weapon. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn turns eight. So why are more players signing up now than ever to play the hit MMORPG?
Let’s take a look at some of the statistics. Final Fantasy 14 keeps breaking its Steam records for concurrent players. At the time of writing, it just broke another simultaneous record of over 67,019 players. But that’s just a behind the curtain on the current Final Fantasy 14 player count. Many people still play the game on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and another native PC launcher that is much more difficult to follow with public information.
What is unusual, however, is that the developers make a statement about the growth explosion and apologize for the recent phenomenon from Naoki Yoshida, director of the game. On the game’s official blog, he described the immediate steps for Final Fantasy 14 to take to tackle this unprecedented surge in popularity. Steps have been taken to reduce queue times immediately, and a server upgrade originally intended for the release of the latest expansion, Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker, has already begun rolling out. But why is it all happening?
More than just a meme
With the release of Patch 5.3 for Final Fantasy 14 last year, the game’s free trial was expanded to include the award-winning Heavensward expansion, which now allows players to play the game up to level 60 (with some restrictions). This includes access to all of the classes included in A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, and the abundance of content outside of the main story quests that you can experience as well.
Over the past year or so, this has become a meme for die-hard advocates to use to convince their friends to play the game, and it works. Why? Because Final Fantasy 14 isn’t just about doing hardcore raids with your friends – there is also a wealth of side content that can be completed outside of combat. Things like crafting or collecting to make your own equipment or preparing food to keep you buffed are all activities that take time away from the main dramatic quests of the story, but also create a stronger sense of the in-game culture. For example, some players are intent on just playing craftsmen and focus on creating the most powerful gear to equip them and their friends. Preparing the required materials takes a long time, but they are still legitimate ways to enjoy the game.
Aside from that, Final Fantasy 14’s developers have also taken steps to streamline A Realm Reborn by leaving out a significant number of main story quests that previously served primarily as padding to give newer players a more cohesive and faster game in their first game Experience to offer a journey through the world of Eorzea. This all builds on the fantastic Heavensward expansion and all of its related content, which contains some of the best stories Final Fantasy 14 has to offer. That strong mix within the free trial, which allows players to experience the heights of the game in Heavensward, and speed things up in the now shaky and aged A Realm Reborn, means they can get to the better parts of the game faster than ever .
In addition, there is the raid content and alternative classes within the game. Unlike World of Warcraft, you don’t have to start an alternate character if you want to play a different class, and the game encourages this by giving you increased EXP while leveling an alternate class as well. Over the past year we’ve seen some accounts “maximize” a free trial, level every class possible, and equip them with the best possible gear and items. With no commitment or subscription, these players can experience some of the best Final Fantasy 14 offerings and potentially play for thousands of hours without running out of in-game things.
A wealth of content
Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is now eight years old and is a source of the content. Special mention should be made of the guest authors who enrich the world of Eorzea with their own unique lenses. These were lovingly designed with appearances by some bonafide JRPG rock stars in the form of the raid series “Return to Ivalice” in Stormblood, written by Yasumi Matsuno, and the storyline “Save the Queen – The Blades of Gunnhildr” in Shadowbringers. Most recently, the team also worked with Drakengard and Nier director Yoko Taro on the raid series “Yorha: Dark Apocalypse”, which also contributes to the official Nier canon.
All of this in addition to the main story, which grew stronger with each expansion. But there are other things that players can immerse themselves in as well. Noteworthy are the “Ultimate” raids, for those looking for a challenge. It can take up to 100 hours for players to progress with a team and present the toughest challenges in Final Fantasy 14. So if you want to play more difficult content, you are never at a loss for things.
Outside of combat and story, there are, as already mentioned, not only player accommodation but also things like hand or land classes. Some people in the game open up their houses to be used as roleplayers’ gathering places or clubs. There is an abundance of things to do, and this list just keeps growing as each new expansion comes out. As a player who’s been in the game for two years, I still haven’t touched any major instances like Eureka, where you can get special equipment and mounts, or the deep dungeon Heaven on High. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get a feel for the game and make the most of it, you can easily lose weeks just cutting trees if you feel like it.
A flood of streamers
If we take a look at the past year for Final Fantasy 14 on Twitch, we saw a significant jump in early July, thanks to streamers like Asmongold, RichWCampbell, CohhCarnage, and others who shifted their focus from World of Warcraft and beginning their travels in the world of Eorzea. This was received with some trepidation by the Final Fantasy 14 community, as many feared that the influence of some of these streamers could create a more toxic culture in Final Fantasy 14.
The effects of this are yet to be seen in Final Fantasy 14 itself, apart from minor incidents like a streamer leveling up his character and then diving into a difficult heist without understanding how to actually play the game. However, the bigger streamers like Asmongold and RichWCampbell take the time to play through the game organically and seem to enjoy the experience along the way
Many of these new streamers were disappointed with the latest patch for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, which led Asmongold, by far the most popular streamer in World of Warcraft, to give the game a try after repeatedly declining it in the past.
Regardless, the game has grown in popularity on Twitch. According to Sullygnome, a website often used to track metrics on the streaming service, the average viewership of Final Fantasy 14 has increased 377%, with over 435% in maximum viewers and a 33% increase in the number of channels who have favourited the game play game itself when measured over the past 30 days. This correlates well with the wait times many gamers experienced during this period, which means the impact of these streamers cannot be underestimated given this recent surge in popularity.
In fact, this has spawned a lot of memes. Specifically one from RichWCampbell, who uninstalls World of Warcraft live on stream while a Lalafell player character dances in the background. This wave of World of Warcraft expats, now dubbed “Uninstallafell”, has led the charge of introducing Square-Enix’s successful MMORPG to a new audience of potential gamers.
An open and humble team
Due to the disastrous start of the original Final Fantasy 14, the team behind A Realm Reborn have always been very open and honest with fans about the state of the game, its development, and more. At the recent Fanfest, we saw composer Masayoshi Soken unveil his fight against cancer as the pandemic progressed, with director Naoki Yoshida crying. Most recently, the team’s response to queues was quickly and comprehensively described due to the game’s recent popularity, followed by an apology that some players might not dance around towns or go AFK as often. This kind of open culture creates a loyal community and fan base. With the release of Endwalker just around the corner, we’ve seen all of these factors add up to a 160% increase in pre-orders compared to the last expansion, with plans to invest more in servers and data centers to accommodate Final Fantasy’s rapidly growing population 14 manage players.
The story of Final Fantasy 14 just got a little stranger, but the rapidly growing player base of over 22 million registered players is just another strength of Square Enix, which has now firmly moved the game out of disaster and into a number of well-respected expansions and is considered one of the most popular MMORPGs today.