If there were a Farmers’ Almanac for MMORPGs, it would have warned Final Fantasy XIV players of a long, hot summer this year. “Content drought’s here again,” we say, shading our eyes as we look wistfully into the sunset of the final major patch for Shadowbringers.
This expansion brought some of the best writing and gameplay I’ve seen so far in the game’s lifetime, so seeing it end is even more bittersweet than the expansions that came before. Much of the playerbase is eagerly awaiting Endwalker, the next expansion that’s scheduled to launch in November. The big question is: what do we do until then?
I’ve been an avid player since FFXIV’s 2.0 reboot in 2013. FFXIV, like many MMORPGs, releases new content on a reliable schedule that players can attune their watches to. Once every approximately two years, an expansion drops. It includes a new plot, new areas, new jobs, and new fancy clothes you can spend half your money on to dress your character up. There’s a race to the new raised level cap, then a shiny set of new raiding gear waiting at the end to empty the other half of your wallet.
Throughout the lifecycle of an expansion, there is a series of big content patches that add new features and raid tiers, the bread and butter PVE endgame for many players. Eventually the final patch draws the curtain on the expansion and drops a few cliffhangers, and then players are left to their own devices till the cycle starts again.
Some pragmatic players unsubscribe from the game until the next patch hits. Presumably, they go put their time and money toward either other games or maybe, I don’t know, something more productive…? I can only guess at their mysterious and arcane motivations. Others continue to raid in post-endgame content called “Ultimate” raids, which are designed for hardcore raiders to bang their heads against indefinitely, and which I avoid for my own good.
Then there are the rest of us. The ones who don’t have content to occupy us, but can never leave.
As I work on getting my last few jobs to the level cap, I wonder how most people play this game. “I’m probably normal, actually,” I reflect as my friend Chris and I queue up for our 25th run that day through a dungeon that will add a small amount of undetectable light to a weapon 30 levels under ours. Shoutout to Chris, by the way, for suggesting that we do the hundred-hour grind to get the shiny relic weapons from every expansion (my original title for this article’s draft was “Help, I’m Being Held Prisoner in FFXIV’s Content Drought”).
But the endless grind of relic weapons is still a dev-sanctioned activity — they’re put into the game near the end of expansion cycles specifically to give players something to do while they wait. Where it gets really interesting is the emergent stuff players are doing to keep themselves occupied — activities with no guardrails that weren’t designed by the devs.
FFXIV’s roleplaying community is fairly well-known, and certain contingents of it have been reported on before. I’m more than happy to admit I’m a roleplayer, though of a different kind than is usually featured in articles. My personal flavor involves playing a cranky lizard girl who runs a high-end restaurant, complete with live music, storytelling, and cooks who complain in the kitchen every time someone orders the risotto.
Even if you’re not the roleplaying type, there are frequent community events held within FFXIV. I help lead an organization of about thirty people who put on monthly events and concerts. Last year, we put on a full-blown in-game version of The Nutcracker. We’re far from the only ones; there are fully-developed virtual theatre companies across most of the game’s data centers that put on mind-blowingly complex in-game shows produced by dozens of people.
There are also venues and events that aren’t limited to roleplaying, and are instead just places for people to come together and hang out. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of taking part in a truly unique event: an RP/PVP blend event on the Wolves’ Den Pier, an open PVP area. We provided several hours of boss battle music while players duked it out, some in-character and some not, battling for prizes that included “Best Adversary” and “Best Story.”
These kinds of events are happening all the time, but they somehow have more meaning in the times between content drops. As less invested players fall away, the rest of us huddle together, strengthening the connections in the community that remains.
If you’re the kind of person who’s out of raids to do but doesn’t want to put FFXIV down for the next three months, I’d like to offer a humble suggestion. Drag yourself over to that oft-derided “Other” section of the Party Finder and see whether there are any concerts going on. Join a community Discord and scratch your head at the screenshots channel, wondering how someone replicated a Trader Joe’s so precisely inside an apartment with a 100-item limit. Create an outfit that looks just like John Cena’s and hang out in Limsa Lominsa playing his theme song on the trumpet.
I especially recommend it since this content drought feels more unique than others. The community is seeing an influx of new players coming in at a downtime for the game — many who saw one of their favorite streamers playing and decided to check it out. I’d offer the same advice to them: FFXIV has a rich community of players who are constantly finding new and interesting ways to bring the game world to life. At a time when many of us are spending more time inside than usual, it’s a truly special place with an enormous amount of potential.
As for me, you can find me on the Primal data center, sitting on my pile of shiny sticks and high-quality crafted pizza as I patiently wait to go to the moon.