Let’s just outright say it, World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG scene for over 15 years. It popularized the genre and every single MMO to proceed it tried to emulate the multiplayer space it masterfully created. While many subscription-based MMOs came and went, none had come close to toppling it from the number one spot. Final Fantasy XIV was one of those games that failed miserably at taking on the king at launch in 2010, tarnishing a long-storied franchise and devastating Square Enix’s financial outlook for the future. Most developers would have thrown in the towel, accepting defeat, and reallocating their assets into a new project. Square Enix, however, isn’t just any developer.
Time and time again, Final Fantasy XIV released expansions with high praise, with the latest release coming in 2017 with Stormblood. Since then, the landscape for MMORPGs have changed and the only major players remaining with exclusively subscription-based models are World of Warcraft and FFXIV. Both MMORPGs have coexisted over the years, without either necessarily gaining too much ground on the other. That is, until recently. With the launch of Battle for Azeroth there has been substantial amounts of content released from longtime players declaring they are migrating to FFXIV. These content creators often citing the dramatic changes to BFA turning them off to WoW, meanwhile, being warmly embraced by the notoriously friendly community of Final Fantasy XIV.
The discord fans have with WoW could not have come at a better time for FFXIV. With its new expansion Shadowbringers launching in mere days, the positivity expressed by former WoW players acts as free marketing for XIV’s launch campaign. Which Square Enix has clearly taken very seriously. The shift in mechanics in 5.0 (the patch iteration of the new expansion) have also been tailored to become more approachable to new players. In fact, I got a chance to dive into the new expansion at E3 this year, trying out changes made to classes and how they function in an actual trial in the new expansion.
This trial was part of a sort of a “rite of passage” for gamers at E3 and has been for years. Every year at E3, Square Enix hosts a Final Fantasy XIV booth where it debuts a trial/raid for players to complete. Players are expected to come up with their own teams of eight and are only given a certain window of time to clear the boss. The lucky few players who are able to complete this trial are awarded an exclusive shirt at E3 signifying their achievement. The boss known as Titania was this year’s challenge. After three attempts and many frustrating wipes in between, the team I assembled managed to beat her. We were the 13th team to do so at E3 2019.
This event may only seem noteworthy to E3 attendees, however, each element of FFXIV’s presence at E3 poetically parallelled FFXIV’s recent positioning to overcome the task to take down WoW as the number #1 MMORPG on the market. For instance, I had to tap into the wonderful community of FFXIV in order to find teammates at E3 who synergized well to clear Titania. This was no easy task as there, unfortunately, isn’t a real-life party finder. In addition, Shadowbringers had an insane presence in Downtown LA, with advertisements of the game plastered everywhere, from buses to high profile billboards. Heck, Square Enix had even given away hundreds, if not thousands, of Final Fantasy XIV bags to E3 attendees. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t been walking around with a gigantic FFXIV bag to carry their belongings in. Granted, the strict regulations on bags prevented most attendees from bringing their own, Square was smart to capitalize on this need as a marketing opportunity.
The subtle strokes to overcome the reigning king of MMOs isn’t so subtle anymore. Square Enix’s aggressive advertisement of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is a clear indication that the company will not settle for #2. The love FFXIV has received from fans has elevated game director Yoshi-P (Naoki Yoshida) to near rockstar levels and, evident of the response he received at Square Enix’s press conference, this momentum continues to grow. As early as next week, we could be looking at the largest population/subscriber increase in an MMO we haven’t seen since WoW hit the scene; and what a story that will be, easily becoming the biggest comeback story ever to be told in the world of gaming.