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Massively Overthinking: Contending with the MMO genre’s ‘wowfugee’ crisis

Massively Overthinking: Contending with the MMO genre’s ‘wowfugee’ crisis

Last week on the MOP Podcast, we read a letter from a listener named Megan who pointed us to a blog post on the The Eorzean Frontier called What do you mean this isn’t World of Warcraft?. There’s so much to unpack in this blog post, but the word that leaped out to all of us was the word “wowfugees.” As author Danny Smith wrote, Final Fantasy XIV has seen an influx of World of Warcraft refugees who are, shall we say, not acquainted with the customs of Eorzea – bringing Barrens chat culture and gearscore and hostile grouping interactions from a decaying Azeroth into the world of XIV, where such things are considered vulgar and unwelcome. Danny’s takeaway was so quintessentially XIV-community, too.

“Don’t let others change your own disposition,” he writes. “We just have to remember that while the standout volatile dickheads should be given a polite what-for, we should also maintain our own sense of community identity because there are also people who may have played a MMORPG for 15 years and are now dejected and looking for a new home, and this might be the right fit for some of them, and it’s far more important to make the good ones welcome than assume they are another one of these assholes just because they are a ‘wowfugee.’”

We addressed Megan’s questions on the ‘cast, but it seems like a hugegantic topic that deserves more input, and so here we are in Overthinking. I’ve asked our writers to chime in on the concept of “wowfugees” – whether we’ve seen the phenomenon in other MMOs, whether they think it’s a problem, and if so, how the heck we solve it.

Select.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I can’t speak for FFXIV, but damn near every single MMO I’ve ever played since 2004 when WoW launched has been filled with ex-WoW players, yes. But as I said on the ‘cast, I think that’s amplified now simply because nearly everyone who’s still playing core MMORPGs is likely to have played WoW in the past. If we’re most of us former WoW players, it just makes sense.

Of course, the word “refugee” has connotations of fleeing in some sort of desperate way, and I’m not sure that’s really the right term for the type of player Danny is describing – the type of uncouth bullies who bust into every MMO and try to bend the community to some other game’s social rules instead of blending in. I pity and welcome refugees, but I do not pity and welcome the kinds of folks who show up in spatial chat and do nothing but blabber about their ex, nor do I pity and welcome people who think the existing playerbase is doing it wrong if they’re not belittling each other and rushing content and measuring their epeen at every turn.

But then… I didn’t like those people when they were in WoW, either. And I could say the same thing about – for one example – EVE Online refugees in Star Citizen (there was drama about this exact topic a few years back when a certain EVE corp was angling for influence in CIG’s space opus). So I’m not entirely sure it’s a game-specific issue except in that some games attract and indulge certain archetypes of gamer. And that might be the archetype finally giving up on WoW now. In which case, I’m with Danny: The onus is on them to grow up and grow into their new virtual homes if they want to be welcomed, but if they do? The more the merrier, and it’s Blizzard’s loss. Just don’t forget that if you snub wowfugees just because of where they’ve come from, you’re no better than their worst examples.

Burn it, sure.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): From what interaction I’ve had of the Final Fantasy XIV community at any large scale, it absolutely is a different and generally self-policing beast from the behemoth… thing that the WoW community (perceptibly) is. So changing that perception is, in my view, something that could be seen less as a problem and more as a challenge worth meeting. Especially since the reward for surmounting that challenge is having more people play the game (see my reply to last week’s Overthinking about ambient sociability on why I find that a positive).

I think back to my refugee days when City of Heroes went dark and how much it sucked not finding a new place for my superpowered avatar The Midnight Kestrel to be, and I feel like there were more than a few other games that would have benefited greatly from having those players brought in and welcomed. I’d hate to be part of the reason someone else felt the way I did then.

So, how to solve it? Case-by-case basis. It’s extremely easy to stuff all of those eggs into one basket, but that ultimately would be a disservice to the well-adjusted folks trying to find a new forever digital world, especially since those who feel shunned would probably just turn around and bad mouth a game’s community right back. Steeling yourself for some Barrens chat-level bile is one thing, but making snap judgments about every wowfugee one crosses isn’t fair, and the one thing that the XIV community generally doesn’t seem to be to me is unfair. This pretty much plays hand-in-hand with Danny’s suggestion of XIV’s playerbase not losing its identity, and really should be par for the course of any MMO community. These things are better when there’s other people playing, after all.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): The thing about WoW expatriates is that almost everyone getting annoyed about them are themselves WoW expatriates. And there’s a reason for that.

While WoW has been running for a really long time, there was a period of time when it was so overwhelmingly popular that it formed far more subcultures within itself than I think anyone can really categorize. Depending on the treatment of those subcultures within the game, a lot of them have subsequently moved on to other games. And I think that forms the core of why people can be a bit reluctant around recent wowfugees, so to speak. If you’ve been out of the game as a whole for several years and you find someone who’s just coming over to Final Fantasy XIV this year, you can understandably be worried that what you’re going to be dealing with is a player who is, fundamentally, bringing the same gearscore elitism and unpleasant tendencies that you left to avoid.

There’s also the simple reality that any existing community has its own social mores and ways of operating. Even disregarding the basic mechanical differences that are there, there are certain behaviors that are more or less accepted and seen as standard in games like Star Wars: The Old Republic or RIFT while not being standard practice in WoW. There’s an element of trepidation there.

And perhaps most importantly, this is one of those times when people are particular aware of it because you have a lot of people on a break from the game without having left. There’s a vast difference between “I’m done with World of Warcraft” and “I’m not playing World of Warcraft right now because the current expansion is hot garbage.” The latter conjures visions of people who are going to jump back as soon as the expansion changes, rather than people really looking to move over, and thus they’re players less likely to put in the effort to actually learn new cultures and different ways of doing things.

Ultimately, I don’t think this is precisely a problem so much as a thing; not “thing bad” or “thing good,” but “thing exist.” If WoW has been your home for a long while, there’s going to be a bit of suspicion there if you’re leaving now when things are bad, but the welcoming communities are still full of people who are happy to show you their way of doing things and hopefully clarify what is and is not rude. Similarly, existing communities have an obligation to treat this not as a case of “oh, you’re one of those” and instead offer a chance for these people to learn what is and isn’t expected. It’s not unheard of for someone to turn “on a break” to “this is where I live forever now,” after all.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I saw WoWfugees back in 2011 when Star Wars: The Old Republic launched. In fact, many of the Darth Hater crowd were all players attempting to escape from World of Warcraft. At the same time, I knew a lot of people who had never played WoW but were major Star Wars or Star Wars Galaxies fans. With that crowd came a very different culture. Oftentimes, these cultures clashed, and sometimes, it was not pretty. I think my article from about a year ago shows what can happen when two opposing cultures collide.

The biggest thing that stood out to me in the Eorzean Frontier article that I believe places the wrong perspective on the whole thing when he wrote, “Don’t let others change your own disposition.” I’m not sure that we shouldn’t let others change us. I understand his intent when writing that. He means that we shouldn’t let the jerks from the other game get us down or turn us into jerks. But ultimately, I think we should listen to those coming from a game that’s lasted for so long. At first, when I would hop into other VOIP channels of raid groups from other games, I was put off because they believed in the things that I didn’t — like gear score and combat logging. But over time, I started to understand them and even adopted some of the things they used, and at the same time, they adopted some of the things I did.

Online communities aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong; they’re about shared experiences. When another person or group comes your way that hasn’t shared the same experience you have, it doesn’t make things worse. If handled well, your experience combines with their experience, and it becomes something greater and deeper than the two experiences on their own.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!