Games

Square Enix on Third Party Software in Final Fantasy XIV; What this Drama is all About While Trying to offer Explanations and Context and The Part Where I lose Hope

ESTNN’s Lahftel breaks down all the facts surrounding the recent third party tool drama in FFXIV.


After the world first clear of Final Fantasy XIV content there is once again debate over the usage of third party software. Here are all the details:
(Also because we didn’t want to include screenshots of any controversy, drama or misinformation. Enjoy a selection of images of my character pondering over the meaning of life.)

Prefacing

Since this is still very much an ongoing issue, simple reporting on it won’t be sufficient. As of writing a lot of information floating around, and getting taken out of context. So we here at ESTNN are trying to find a middle ground instead. Only bringing you information that we could confirm, while trying to offer explanation to what and why it is happening from a hopefully neutral standpoint. And due to the ongoing issue of harassment, we will refrain from using any names or explicit references to those involved.

This also means that we won’t be using any sources, outside of official statements by Square Enix on the subject. Everything else alluded to here, can be found out with proper research. But we’d rather not link ominous reddit threads as credible sources.

Square Enix’s Relationship With Third Party Tools

Depending on how long you’ve been with Final Fantasy XIV, your stance on the ominous term ‘Third-Party Tools’ might be completely different. It’s nothing new that the communities relationship with them has always been complicated. And since XIV has been experiencing lots of growth in its player base since August of last year. There are now many new eyes on the subject, from very different backgrounds. Some with a quite frankly very misinformed view on the issue.

Contrary to popular belief, Square Enix’s stance on the usage of third-party tools has barely changed over the past 10 years. However, recently there have been moves for more strictly enforcement of those rules.

A laissez-faire approach

This far, the stance has always been that player’s should not use them. Any type of game altering third-party tools. But the definition for what is a third party tool has always been muddy, but for good reason. Something as simple as a voice chat or the driver of your mouse could technically be considered a third-party tool. And its one of the reasons why they’ve refrained from defining the term so far.

For Square Enix to define such ‘loud and clearly’ as has been asked from the community in the past. Would mean for them to check an infinite number of software, which is quite frankly impossible.

And thus far, Square Enix has made no effort to put systems in place, which would check the player client for any software that doesn’t belong. As a show of good will, but also with the myriad of issues that come from integrating anti-cheat and what could be considered as spyware. So without sufficient evidence via screenshots, video or chat logs. It would be hard for them to proof the usage of them.

But Square Enix has always been rather relaxed with enforcing these rules. Leading to the community to get this ‘don’t show, don’t tell’ understanding of the rule. Which is not correct. As soon as temper or interact with the game’s files outside of their intended purpose. You are liable for punishment, it has always been that way. It is however on Square Enix for not enforcing the rules as much as they should. Because so far, they felt that asking people to respect the licence agreement should be enough. And as long as those tools where not used for ill intend like gaining an advantage or for any reason be grounds for harassment. They did not care.

A male viera walks along a lonely coastline in Final Fantasy XIVMan.

Now Add Streaming into the Mix

Now with the advent of streaming, and Final Fantasy XIV’s content presence being larger than ever. This changes. For years, many of FFXIV’s content creators have been getting really cozy with the presumed ‘grey area’. And while Square Enix was happy to look the other way in most cases, it doesn’t mean they didn’t publicly break the rules. And a lot of the current drama surrounding the issue, could be summed up as: Streamer trying to make an argument, to get away with what they shouldn’t. Which is a take, not a wrong one. But not a right one either. And it is important for streamers and their audience to understand, that the rules apply somewhat differently to them.

While broadcasting or posting FFXIV content, you’re representing the game to some degree, if you like it or not. And it falls to you, as a content creator under the terms of service, not to misrepresent the game. It is part of the license agreement.

The banhammer falls

But there is also another side to this. Recently at least two streamers have been suspended from XIV mid streaming and in one case even from their streaming platform for using third-party software. (Mind you that rules of streaming platforms also fall into this.. but that’s a whole other thing that would blow this piece out of proportion.) And there have been organized harassment campaigns of public figures of the community to get them suspended. So far there is no confirmation of them having any success with that. But there have also been threats, attempted raids and doxxing. Which is tragically part for the course whenever this discourse comes up.

However, seeing audiences defending their streamers rights to break the terms of service. Either because they do it themselves or they have been getting away with it so far is not really a good position to take. If Square Enix receives mass reports of a person for breaking terms of service with evidence. And they find the evidence to be grounds of a suspension. Their hands are forced, because the rules apply to everyone the same. And if you chose to broadcast yourself breaking them, you put a target on your back.

Another take I’ve noticed is outrage merchants claiming those suspended as sacrificial lambs, because evil Square Enix is trying to make a point. Yes it is a little odd that they seem to take more drastic action now, after the world first race is over. But the events of the race, and we’ll get to that in a bit, probably sparked some internal debate on how to handle the situations. This does not mean we encourage readers to go out there and tell those affected they deserved it. But we want to reiterate that everyone affected by this, has known or should’ve known the risk that comes from showing third-party software in FFXIV in a public space.

The barren deserts of Thanalan in Final Fantasy XIVWhy live at all?

The Race to World First and the Drama it Sparked

As said by grander voices in the community, this is all just routine at this point. There is new high end content, someone clears it and they get accused of cheating. And I doubt anyone will actually deny that a lot of the high level teams competing are using third-party software for some case or another. And then come the misinformed opinions of what those tools do, accusations and memes that spiral out of control.

When the Epic of Alexander released, we had the world first team being accused of having private servers. Something director and producer Naoki Yoshida had recently stated it plainly impossible for anyone outside of Square Enix to do.

What changes this time around, is that normally Square Enix would come out and congratulate the top three teams on twitter. Which they refused to do this time. Now this sparked some conversation that Neverlands world first clear was illegitimate due to the usage of third party tools. But same as it was in previous races, anyone only slightly invested in this knows that most of the teams competing would make use of these third party tools in some way. The team at Square Enix probably observed the race this time with a different view on things, and so often sought the mistake with themselves.

That’s why we ask you to re-examine this quote from the statement in regards of third-party tools:

Because such races are unofficial, we usually limit our involvement to some comments after a number of teams have cleared the duty. By offering our congratulations via the official Twitter account and confirming time stamps, we want to recognize your achievements and contribute to community excitement. However, if our recognition encourages excessive competition and controversy to the extent that players resort to third-party tools, I regret to say we may have to reconsider making comments in the future.          -Director and Producer of Final Fantasy XIV Naoki Yoshida

This doesn’t mean clears of the most recent ultimate are not legit. It does mean that they feel like the drama that usually follows the race on them. The glory that comes for the first few clears of an Ultimate is restricted to a one section of the FFXIV community. However if they shout the results out on official channels. There are alot more eyes of different sections of the community on it. Who will see this as an endorsement of the breaking the service agreement and we’re back to where we started.

A male Viera sits in the Sea of Clouds in Final Fantasy XIVWhere does the wind come from?

The Thin Line Between QoL Improvements and Third Party Tools

Now what this whole topic also sparked is an enlarge debate within the community on what is okay and what isn’t in terms of third-party tools. The simple answer is none of them. Of course the meme will always be that voice chat and whatever are also third-party tools but we believe there is a very clear line here. But since this topic has many layers, definition gets muddled on purpose a lot and there is a bunch of bias out there. Lets try to dissect the argument a little and get on even grounds.

First we will need to define what third-party tool assistance is and how it’s different from a quality of life improvement. Since both of them are to a degree about increasing the readability of the game. Final Fantasy XIV is a game that can be very overwhelming at times if you don’t give it your full attention. You could argue that execution of commands under pressure, while also being attentive to your surroundings is what makes the core of the experience.

Now, and I want to clarify that we are not endorsing any kind of modifications to your game files, but we want you to understand why this argument exists. And what should 100% constitute as an unfair advantage.

Quality of Life Improvements

A quality of life (QoL) improvement is something that simply spares you trouble. Be it not having to make an extra click in a menu, or visibility of data that is usually available but tucked away in a menu. Such as your current ping for example. As it is now, XIV only displays how much data packages are send and how many is received. It we where to change these number into a more readable ping. That would be a QoL improvement.

Other stuff like adjustable font sizes, larger numbers on your hotbar also falls into the category. But despite what high profile players might say, XIV’s UI is by no means bad. There are just certain compromises being made for the sake of readability in an effort not to overwhelm the player. Something like a ‘Pro-Mode’ that displays more detailed data for those who want it should be a solution.

Those are nice ideas on paper for sure, but now we also have to consider it from a game design standpoint. More options are always good, no one will ever deny that. But in designing these elements for a game, you have to consider a lot more than just ‘Oh this is nice to have’. Does having these extra numbers bigger on your screen impact gameplay enough to warrant them being there in the first place? Here is where opinion’s will often split, since different players have different priorities. And the game designer has to find middle ground here and make that decision.

The best way you can go about this, is writing suggestions on the forum or in the game. Get others to do so or start a discussion to get eyes on this. While the XIV team is often very hamstringed when it comes to development. They are usually very good about implementing such changes, if they deem them necessary to the overall experience. It just takes a while because game making is, despite popular believe, kinda hard.

A male viera sits at an aetheryte in Final Fantasy XIVMan…

An Attempt to Define Third-Party tool Assistance

Again, this is gonna be a kind of topic that will split the spirits regardless of how reasonable you might be. Everyone draws the line somewhere else, but quite frankly dragging words like accessibility into the argument doesn’t make it any better. But we also don’t want to sound smug and tell you to ‘just deal with it’.

Third-Party tool assistance would be anything that would take away the element of human error. Messing up is not a great feeling, everyone can relate to that. But in order to play consistently in FFXIV you need to adapt and learn from your mistakes. First of all we need to dispel the notion that these tools play the game for you. In most cases they don’t. You still need to play the game and execute commands. But the line you should be drawing, is at the point where a tool decreases the possibility of human error.

For example, there is a tool that will shout out mechanics and if properly set up also tell you where to go. A call out bot. It’s not the same as a human calling out the same things viva voice chat. Said bot will always tell you 100% what it was set up to tell you. A player can always mess up, as much as failure is frustrating. You have to admit, that for the sake of playing more consistently you are giving yourself an advantage.

Same goes for tools that simplify your inputs. Be it automatically detecting if you have to attack multiple enemies or just one and What your optimal rotation is at a given point. It also goes for visibility of certain mechanics. Yes, I know someone will bring up Nael from UCoB now and it is a wack mechanic. BUT that is how the fight is designed, and its not impossible to clear it without and third-party tool assistance. Its not a single mechanic among thousands that now suddenly excuses the use of such tools for the sake of readability.

In Argument of Accessibility

Now in this discussion you will always see and hear the word accessibility being thrown around. Which is a very reasonable discussion that we need to have. Varying degrees of color-blindness, deafness, impairment of limbs and many more. There’s a lot of ground cover here, which probably takes someone much more informed subject to give it the treatment it deserves. And while there have been many advancements by plenty of developers as of late. We are far from a satisfying solution.

Accessibility is always a good thing, no one will ever say otherwise. And its dreadful that it will always be far from perfect. But you will see the term accessibly being thrown around as an argument in sake of breaking the terms of service for a good reason. Which always turns into a mess, and for some reason is also argued by people who aren’t effected by disabilities to defend their position. Lots of people will think this is an argument in good faith, and I don’t doubt their intentions either. But what you should be doing, is advocate for the cause to the developers and get them fix it.

Instead of defending temporary solutions, that are meant to be temporary solutions and not a permanent fix for the issue. Spread awareness instead. And most importantly, don’t use other’s disabilities or lot in life to excuse yourself for your wrong doings.

A male viera sits at Terminus in Final Fantasy XIVDo I.. actually like trains?

Here is Where I Start Starring Into the Abyss

Partisan behavior is bad. Having a healthy discussion and arguments about any topic is always good. It’s also always good to acknowledge someone else’s opinion and try to find equal grounds with them. Even when its about using technically illegal little programs for a Japanese online game. But the almost kindergarten like behaviour we’ve are able to observe time and time again, Is when I realize ‘Man, I really love Final Fantasy XIV. But I’d wish I could play with those RMT bots instead. They seem a lot more reasonable.’

It should not be a debate, that people should follow the rules they accepted when making their accounts. You should not make any excuses on behalf of your chosen internet celebrity and or manufacture outrage. As a content creator, you should take responsibility for your actions. Like breaking the terms of service on stream. Instead to circle this into a debate about QoL improvements and accessibly issues, to deflect from what and why it is happening. Advocate for the changes you’d like to see instead. We’ve seen a lot of content creators do this already. And maybe use those little QoL improvements off stream until then.

But this also doesn’t mean that having a hate boner for content creators or making uninformed statements in a discussion you’re clearly out of your element in is a good thing either. We should all be better about this. And I’m not saying it because Yoshi-P’s wild ride pays my bills either. But I simply can not fathom how often Square Enix has to come out and say ‘please don’t use third-party software of any kind that disagrees with the terms of service’. Only to have a good chunk of people go ‘Uh they didn’t specify X.. so I guess its alright haha’ and then act all up and arms the moment someone gets suspended.

I think its pretty clear that they don’t want to ban any of you. But instead of thinking about how far you could push the rules. Maybe you should consider taking more precautions if you’re pushing them. Think what about isn’t allowed and not what you could get away with.

All Images are courtesy of Square Enix

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