Death of a Server - How Final Fantasy XIV's Server Restrictions are Killing a Community

There’s a lot of content to experience in Final Fantasy XIV. Having re-launched in mid-2013 under the tagline A Realm Reborn, FFXIV saw an almost phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes. What was once a disaster of a game turned into a critically acclaimed MMORPG, with a cohesive story, a fluid combat system, and a world that felt alive. Having recently celebrated its four-year anniversary, Final Fantasy XIV has accumulated countless fights to experience – from the quick Trials to the lengthier – and usually more challenging – Raids.

So why does Final Fantasy XIV - at least the Gilgamesh server - feel as if it’s dying?

Death of a Server

"I've been on Gilgamesh since beta and I'll tell you that after server lock the low levels zones have died far beyond what they once were. There's a stark difference between then and now. The lock was useful at the time, but it's past due to let it up. If people haven't transferred by now, I doubt a significant portion will in the near future. Meanwhile the server can certainly worsen in the near future while the devs wait for the playerbase on it to slowly die.”

One month before Stormblood released, FFXIV locked two North American servers down – Gilgamesh and Balmung – preventing new characters from being made, and existing characters from transferring over. At the time, this seemed like a very logical idea. Gilgamesh and Balmung were the two largest servers located in North America, and they were downright cannibalizing smaller servers. Gilgamesh specifically was the place to be – at least for end-game raiding. The Mateus server was considered dead. Faerie was the home of “hardcore casuals” – small groups of people that didn’t touch content such as end-game raids. Jenova, a server launched to commemorate the launch of FFXIV on the PS4 was dubbed “Failnova.” The disparity between high-population servers and low-pop ones was too great. No one ever even thought of a server such as Adamantoise – if you weren’t on Gilgamesh, Balmung, Leviathan, Excalibur, and maybe Behemoth (I say maybe as I don’t remember the state of Behemoth back during A Realm Reborn), then your experience would be vastly different compared to everyone else's. Clearly, something had to be done.

“I started on Diabolos, and Gilgamesh has always felt more like a real community to me. This is after spending 3 years on Diabolos.”

And initially, no one said this was a bad thing. A population re-balancing with incentives behind it was the next best thing they could have done compared to merging servers. However, it has been five months since Gilgamesh was locked down, and people are starting to question when this lock will be lifted.

Who Gives a Damn?

I reached out to Raye Aerinae, one of the people who has been more vocal than most to get Square Enix’s attention regarding this issue. Initially, our conversation first started about the server lock, and why this is important, why a server needs to be open, but it quickly morphed into something much more. We’ll talk about the much more later. For now, I posed a simple question – how is Gilgamesh actually “dying?”

The answer is not that simple. Normally, when you expect a server to die, you expect a drastically decreasing population, a stagnating economy, a lack of content being done. In the case of the Gilgamesh server, it fulfills two of the three criteria. The economy has crashed, and content is not being completed.

Obviously, I am not talking about raid content. Gilgamesh’s claim to fame was that it was THE raiding server, and it will forever hold that title. However, with the server lock, that is all it has. The open world is not present. Rhalgr’s Reach has a fraction of the people Idyllshire and Mor Dhona used to have. Kugane, the new city to explore and experience, is devoid of people save for a small crowd around a market board.

"I've been here since the server started and it had nothing to do with raiding, and everything to do with wanting to play an MMO on a server where it actually FEELS like an MMO."

Cactuar server - more lively than Gilgamesh, and not locked

This is what it means to say a server is dying. Activity numbers and population numbers mean nothing when the people that make up that population come back for a few days, do some new content, and then leave once again. No new players means no one to buy various items off the marketboard, leading to a plunging economy. Free Company recruitment has dropped off the face of the earth, with no new players coming in. No open-world content is being done, or takes forever to find a party for it.

“The server lock definitely made it where if you went outside of those areas for any specific reason? It was dead. No new players mean no one is doing old MSQ, or doing old fates. Everyone either does Palace of the Death [sic] (which is dead already due to the popularity of mass-botting PvP), or uses a jump potion and skips the low level areas entirely. FC recruitment has been beyond dead since server lock. FCs have stagnated and the big Free Companies have gotten refugees from other communities.” – Raye Aerinae

What about Balmung?

The other major server that ended up getting locked down is Balmung, and yet according to people on Balmung, the server lock has barely made a dent. Players on Balmung have said, “about 5% to 10% of my friends list is gone, and some Free Companies have left. It doesn’t matter.” Balmung, despite not taking in any new players, manages to dodge the problems Gilgamesh has. Balmung never set itself up to be THE raiding server, it never advertised itself as that nor did it get that reputation. Balmung has a strong roleplay community, and though open roleplay in chat is rare to see in the open world and in low level zones, roleplayers, and players of a different mentality keep Balmung alive. People play constantly – they don’t quit the game until the next content comes out, and to raiders, the problem of rewarding repeatable content is a common one.

“Literally everywhere you go, you will find people [on Balmung].”

Major raid tiers consisting of four bosses that are expected to last for six months is not sustainable to a playerbase that wants more. Content such as beast tribe daily quests, and 24-man raids are fantastic for a more casual playerbase, but it is simply not enough for people that consider themselves to be hardcore players on the bleeding edge of new content. When people get burnt out of doing that content – a sizable chunk of Gilgamesh’s playerbase leaves. And with no new players to join the server, with no way to recruit new players, people will simply play other games.

“It was Patch 4.0 release when they quit. Most of my friends circle came back to enjoy the expansion, but they also had new friends that wanted to start played too. When the expansion launched, they tried to figure out – ‘okay, how do we all play together?’ Not being able to share an FC or share Linkshells is really bad for the retention of said players. So instead of the veterans transferring and leaving all they built up together, they decided to all play another game – World of Warcraft.

Other Servers

Conversely, servers that have not been locked, and servers that have had their growth encouraged, are doing fantastically. Mateus, Cactuar, Goblin, and Coeurl are in solid spots, and Leviathan is the biggest unlocked server a player can transfer to.

“Friendly. Friendly is how I would describe [Mateus]. One of my fondest memories after transferring to Mateus (prior to it becoming popular) were server-wide events that didn’t exclude anyone. Prizes, rewards, no drama...” “…It was very much a small-town feel where everyone recognized everyone, if not then actually knowing them.”

And yet, five months later, Gilgamesh is still locked. While other communities grow, Gilgamesh stagnates and festers. There is no economy, there are no new players. It is one of the Top 3 largest North American servers, and thanks to being a community of raiders, and being locked, it manages to feel like a ghost town.

“Leviathan always feels like it’s constantly growing, despite being larger than Gilgamesh at this point. There’s always new faces appearing, new players coming to Final Fantasy. Fresh blood to purchase items on the market. If you want a high population server, you no longer go to Gilgamesh or Balmung – you go to Leviathan.”

The core of this problem is not that other servers get to experience population growth. The problem here is that servers are experiencing population growth at the cost of Gilgamesh’s community. I am personally glad to see Mateus rise to be a server of some renown, home to ex-Balmung players. Goblin, Coeurl, and Cactuar are all very healthy. Leviathan feels large and populated, like living in a city of people? That’s wonderful. Excellent! And yet, all of this comes not because Final Fantasy is doing well, but because Gilgamesh has been kneecapped by Square Enix.

People who state things such as “Hey, I was on a low-population server, now it’s time for Gilgamesh to be gutted like we were!” have it all wrong. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as the saying goes. Be good to each other, people. I am happy that other servers are flourishing. I am not happy my home is dying due to a lack of rewarding, repeatable content on Square Enix’s part, and a lack of new players due to a server lock. Additionally, players who used to play on Gilgamesh before the server lock kicked in and got back will find that Gilgamesh is simply not the same server it was before.

Player Retention, Lucky Bancho, and Closing Thoughts

Final Fantasy XIV, in its current state, is not sustainable. What was the largest, most-promoted expansion in FFXIV history, managed to fall flat within three months. Thousands of new and returning players tried out Stormblood, across PS4 and PC. And yet, somehow, FFXIV manages to continuously fail to “reel them in” for extended periods of time.

Gilgamesh is a server that, prior to the server lock, was gaining just about as many people as it was losing, if player census data was to be looked at. Balmung was steadily increasing. There is nothing wrong with having a few large servers and a few small servers. At this point in time, Gilgamesh is no longer a highly active server. It is no longer a populated server. With cross-server friends list, cross-server Party Finder, and soon cross-server chatrooms, there is little reason to stay on Gilgamesh, and yet Square Enix views the lock on Gilgamesh to be necessary all the same.

People like to latch onto Lucky Bancho's census as if the word of the census is law. It is data, not information. People who have not been a part of Gilgamesh can't claim that simply because Gilgamesh has roughly 16,000 players, it is a lively server, where everything is fine. Logging in once or twice a week to do weekly raids, and then leaving, does not make a server lively. Players do not interact with each other. In that sense, anyone can join a clique, and be done - and the experience would be identical between a low-population and a high-population server.

Gilgamesh did not start out as a massive server. It is not a hold over from FFXIV 1.0. It was a new server that launched with A Realm Reborn, and it grew due to a group of highly dedicated, friendly people, that loved to tackle some of the hardest content in the game. Now, a lack of new players means stagnating economy and social circles. For comparison - a lot of people said World of Warcraft was a dying game, yet it never truly died. With Legion, it's stronger than ever before. So why were people saying WoW is dying? - no new players meant increasing stagnation.

Additionally, players are leaving as soon as they hit 70, if they have no interest in doing raids or Extreme-mode Primals, meaning the amount of players goes even further down as no ne players are there to replace them.

It’s time to unlock Gilgamesh – and focus on content that will retain players for longer periods of time.

"Gilga has been bleeding out slowly since the server locked. I still stand by what I said. If our total population is behind other servers, those servers should also be locked or Gilga should be unlocked."

Thank you to all the people who made this article possible - many anonymous sources, and the Final Fantasy XIV Discord Community, "After Dark," led by Raye Aerinae.

Hey there! I'm Barclay-Kallistra, player of video games and piano. I first started playing MMOs with Vindictus, but now play FFXIV.

  • Timothy James Solomon

    i was on Gilgamesh Server and Free Transferred to Jenova, it was the fact when i came back everyone left so i did too. i loved the community of Gig so many nice and helpful people

  • Ian Franklin

    Everyone moved to Gilgamesh at the beginning of 3.0 because Alexander Gordias was too difficult, and Reddit popularized it as the "raid server". If you fill a server with nothing but people only interested in end-game content, yeah it's gonna be full of raid loggers. The community did this to themselves, and they have nobody else to blame.
    SE have given numerous incentives to server transfer. It's time to get off Gilgamesh and quit crying.

    • Or just unlock Gilga and remove the caps on players per server. Problem solved. Or just update the infrastructure to allow players to change servers like channels instead of paying for transfers. BDO has the infrastructure for this - why not FFXIV?

      • That is hella oversimplifying the way to "Solve" the problem. "Update the infrastructure" isn't as easy as flipping a switch and making it better. I agree the server infrastructure needs a rework, but I'm also not so blind to the actual issues of how to accomplish that that I think "Just unlock the servers" is a really good way of going about it either.

        • Games like Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert Online, Albion Online, etc manage to handle single servers per region just fine. It really is as easy as updating the infrastructure. Square Enix is either just too lazy or too stupid to do it. There's no reason to make excuses for a multi billion dollar company when they fail their customers.

      • Ian Franklin

        Black Desert has fewer active players on Steam than are on just Gilgamesh alone. Besides the logistic issues, and the spaghetti code Square Enix is still working on, the issue is not about whether they have the infrastructure. Square Enix wants to opt for encouraging a more even player distributing across all realms, because then they don't have to consider collapsing servers; collapsing servers looks really bad for any mmo. Why should they continue to let other servers hemorrhage players to Gilgamesh? We have cross world play anyway, and soon to be cross world friends. This article clearly articulates how a very large population server, Balmung, can still be successful when it's community is driven by a focus other than raiding. The problem with Gilgamesh is its community, and letting more people join isn't going to fix that.

        • How on earth do you figure BDO on steam has less users than Gilga alone? Steam shows concurrent users. I would wager bdo on steam has significantly more concurrent users at any given time than Gilgamesh. Concurrent, not active. That's online at once.

          Also my solution isn't collapsing servers. Keep all the servers and just let players change between them at will a la channels. Problem fixed. Tech already exists too, they just want to monetize it

        • Let me get this straight: you would rather SE not merge servers because it looks bad rather than have SE do what's best for their PAYING customers?

      • YouAreAClosetClopper

        That would cut into another source of income, because they know if you really wanted to play with friends on other servers or got discontented enough with your current server you would pay to change servers or pay for that max level/job item for a new character.

        Also that kind of infrastructure change is a big and costly deal. It's the kind of thing you have to have thought about early on and built that initially into the design. And by design I mean code and server, not user interface. I do agree with you about that idea though, they really should have did this initially.

        • Ian Franklin

          They've been offering free transfers off Gilgamesh (and Balmung) to low pop servers for months now. Also, there is cross server play, provided you're in the same data center, as well as cross server communications now to a degree. They've also outlined a cross server friend system as well. Players aren't "stuck" on Gilgamesh except in the sense they are dealing with the consequences of a problem they created themselves, and are too stubborn to leave it.

    • Samaan Landon Elias Hanania

      I just don't think this game caters to the end game raiding scene like WoW does. I recently came back and just seeing how insane people go over the housing system was an experience unlike anything I've witnessed in a mmo. THAT'S the market they are going for. People who invest in more than just beating the current raid tier. People who care about RP, making their character look awesome, and who are going to use the cash shop frequently. It sucks for Gilgamesh but a server that focuses on end game content is out of place in this game. I honestly see raids/extremes as another way to make your character awesome. And that's what I think SE is going for too. Maybe unlocking Gilgamesh will help but even if they did, it sounds like the damage has been done. I also think there is nothing wrong with other servers prospering due to a hard core raid community that could care less about the content SE does. I know Gilgamesh use to have a good RP scene. Knowing how hard core raiders tend to treat RPers, they were probably driven away. And are now happy on another server.

  • Ryan Romain

    The article is a bit of hot garbage. The game isn't dying. Maybe Gilgamesh needs to open up, I dont play there, but Balmung is doing fine and dandy.

    • The author didn't say the game was dying, but rather Gilgamesh's community was dying.

      • Ryan Romain

        He said the game was unsustainable, which is untrue.

        • In the current state that it is, I wholly believe FFXIV is unsustainable. The game as a whole is not dying, Gilgamesh's community is bleeding out, but FFXIV isn't going to be doing well in the future.

          Think of it this way - what were players doing back in Patch 2.2? EX Primals, weekly raids, and capping tomestones. 2.3? EX Primals, weekly raids, capping tomestones.

          Now you have Patch 4.1, and the game hasn't changed at all. You're still doing EX Primals (Shinryu, Lakshmi, Susano), Weekly raids, and capping tomestones. How much longer can players do this without change before getting bored?

          Content such as Palace of the Dead was a step in the right direction. Battle content that is repeatable, has good rewards, and can be done with friends for a good time. Diadem quickly died, though the concept was interesting, and the new Frontlines mode might bring some people back, but that remains to be seen. Whether or not Eureka turns into Diadem 3.0 also remains to be seen.

  • Silvergryphon

    Agreed, this... article if you want to call it that, is nothing more than clickbait.

  • Siryn

    In my opinion, Square Enix is making server population less and less of an issue with their increase on focusing on cross-server play. The raiders who rushed to Gilga when Gordias hit would not have had to do that if cross server parties existed at the time, so Gilga is a casualty of a faulty system in the past that has already been fixed for the future. It sucks, but there's not much else that Square can do. There's plenty of servers that have great communities, just like the OP was listing.

  • Kory Hill

    Arguments aside between the great internet war of Balmung vs Gilgamesh. The dying communities have nothing to do with the locks and more about the lack of content. We're at 4.1 and there is nothing in the game that can't be done in a few sittings, other than redoing the same content you've been doing for the past 20 weeks farming that capped token in order to get gear that you can technically get adequate gear from your local MB. What is there to do? You would think since they took que's from other mmo's they would catch on about how to keep a game fresh years after years... but you release rewash, reskins of the same content. Content lock new items behind RNG treasure maps that are a blatant waste of time, and give players kid's first attempt at what a robe should look like 1770 edition, "it's final fantasy" we swear! They have 13 series they can pluck more fanboy imagery from, and they lazy out and make an eastern expansion that no body asked for.... but even shoving aesthetics aside... rewashing content, reskinning gear, redoing the same yearly events... that's what is killing the game. Not just the locked servers.

    • Good points! I've been arguing for a long time that mmorpgs need more aspirational content, stuff they can work towards achieving which would keep players in the game longer, but too many companies are afraid of releasing content that's difficult. It doesn't even have to be combat content that's difficult. Can be crafting or something else too.

  • An agenda? Have you heard of the term "editorial"? Notice the URL labels this as an editorial. It's an opinion piece by the author.

  • MD2203

    Who cares? This is quite literally what happens in MMOs especially when you have people trying to transfer to said server all the time. When a server builds a rep like that people want in for easy clears and competent groups. This is a issue that will be fixed sooner or later however none the less how will opening the world fix the community exactly? "New low level players" won't fix it especially when a good bit of the others need to be filled or merged

    • Easy solution - just turn all existing servers into channels and let players switch between them at will. Problem solved. People can play on low pop channels if they want, others can switch to higher pop ones at will. Donezo. Easy.

      • TianlanSha

        I'm not well informed, but isn't it that each server has it's own content and each channel has the same content, but different players appear on each server?

        Meaning that regularly, the auction house has the same items throughout channels 1-10, but on different servers, each auction house has different items.

        I don't think it will be easy to synchronize all of these and make it into channels.

  • Great article, I was always baffled by SE's decision to 'lock' certain servers, but never thought through the consequences of such an action on the community of said server. Whatever purpose it served during the first few days of the expansion's launch is now over. There's NO good reason to choke a server for this long of any new blood.

    More broadly speaking, FF14 is in need of a round of server mergers -- not because it is 'dying' but because server technology gets better every year. Why fragment the playerbase if technology allows us greater intergration. We've already been seeing this in the form of cross-server friendslists/queues/etc. Its just the next logical step to go ahead and merge servers.

  • Sleuth

    Thanks Obama

    • DannyBhoy

      lol wtf. fool.