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.”
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.