Final Fantasy XIV is suffering from success. There’s been a recent explosion in active users driving up queue times and flooding the FFXIV subreddit with daily threads complaining about said queue times. Square Enix is working on the problem but in the meantime, the latest patch, deployed during last night’s maintenance, will now log out players who have been idle for 30 minutes.
To the most seasoned of MMO players, this sounds like a reasonable response. People who are AFK (or away from keyboard) for an extended period of time are, by definition, not playing the game and thereby sucking away valuable bandwidth from players who want to experience all FFXIV has to offer. But, just as the veteran MMO players experiencing the game for the first time are figuring out, FFXIV is just built different. And kicking idle players, no matter how reasonable it is, actually deprives players, active participants and AFK-ers alike, of foundational FFXIV experiences.
Let me start by saying that yes, removing idlers after a period of time is fine. It is more important to me that players are able to access the game as easily as possible than it is for a bard to spend 12 hours playing freebird on the panpipes. With that out of the way, part of what makes FFXIV such a transformative MMO is that there is so much one can do and experience by literally doing nothing.
I think my first genuine surprise from Final Fantasy XIV—after the story, of course—came from its idling camera. I tabbed out to do something and came back to a screen that was no longer focused on my character but instead on a little cockatrice creature just chilling out on the grass. I waited a while and the scene changed to another player nearby who was fighting one of those cockatrices. The idling camera removes the UI so all I could see was this gunbreaker and their spells and abilities glowing around them. And though this player was locked in mortal combat with what amounts to a fat, angry chicken, it was still really cool to have the game utterly remove me from the equation and focus on other players as if to say, “Eorzea really is a living, breathing world and it continues without you. Here is what you are missing.”
Beyond even my personal circumstance, idling is an important game function that adds character and depth to the player experience. I logged in this morning to see a bard, perched on a stone fixture in Limsa Lominsa performing “Zelda’s Lullaby’’ in a continuous loop while another player performed the charm emote as though the two were roleplaying idol and devotee together. And that’s just one of the millions of examples of people making their servers a wild and wonderful place to be while AFK.
Take the Jades for example. Jades are members of a Free Company on the Famfrit server. They are all humans with the same model and the same glamour set up and can be found in Limsa Lominsa...just doing weird shit. Sometimes they dance, other times they perform, and some other times they just lay there. In a Reddit thread discussing the new patch notes, one of the first reactions was players discussing how the new rule might limit the Jades from doing whatever the hell it is they do.
The way Final Fantasy XIV is designed with its emotes, glamours, and performance actions—all things that can be done without continuous player input—lends itself to hilarious or even touching methods of expression. The flash mob of dark knights that stood vigil for hours after Berserk creator Kentaro Miura died, cannot happen with the new AFK rules.
AFK-ers, whether they’re performing bards, role-players masquerading as a tablecloth, or just folks like me using the sights and sounds of a breathtaking world as background noise, are just as important to their servers as players. They are the fixtures of their servers just like the congenial drunk is a fixture at your local bar. Yeah they do weird, sometimes disruptive shit (like inflate queue times), but if they were gone, your local watering hole (or your MMO) would be lesser for it.