The story of Ultimate Fantasy XIV’s renegade do-gooders

Anna Clemens, who has been creating Ultimate Fantasy XIV plugins for 3 years, is an outlier among the many FFXIV modders I’ve talked with. She publishes beneath the identify ‘ascclemens,’ and she or he doesn’t make any effort to cover her full identify and get in touch with data. She’s additionally the one one of many MMORPG‘s modders that I spoke with who agreed to have her identify printed on this piece.

Mods in Ultimate Fantasy XIV are off-limits; something that isn’t baked into the PC recreation is technically towards the principles. On that matter, Clemens says that “every developer is somewhat worried, but I’m not too worried.” For an extended whereas, mods have existed in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” state – loads of gamers use them, and so long as you’re not bragging about it, you most likely received’t get in any hassle.

Builders occupy a barely totally different area. The seller has an even bigger goal on their again than the person. One of many extra standard hubs for gameplay-altering modifications is Dalamud, a plugin infrastructure that permits gamers to obtain a curated choice of tweaks. Clemens’ plugins are accessed by means of Dalamud.

I had the prospect to talk with one among Dalamud’s lead programmers (they requested anonymity, so I’ll simply name them DP). DP additionally works on the wildly standard customized launcher XIVLauncher, which permits PC gamers to save lots of their login data and facilitates the usage of Dalamud plugins. They’ve a barely extra fraught relationship with mod improvement. They’re a lot cagier about publicity, they usually say most modders are equally cautious of the limelight. Plugins have gotten lots of consideration with FFXIV’s current explosion in reputation, a results of the discharge of a serious growth coinciding with a worldwide pandemic.

DP says, “we basically rely on living a niche where nobody cares about us.” Catching the highlight is harmful; DP says they discourage streamers from utilizing plugins, not simply because gamers who’re caught modding are at risk of a ban, however as a result of it’s unsafe to depart a paper path pointing to Dalamud’s devs. They continue to be hopeful that SE will take cues from the plugins that gamers reply to, however they’re additionally conscious of the inherently tense relationship between the 2 events.

This nervousness isn’t simply current amongst plugin builders. I spoke to a trend modder (additionally nameless; we’ll name them FM) who voiced comparable issues. FM isn’t overly frightened about Sq. Enix, however they preserve what they describe as a “healthy amount of paranoia.” Vogue mods have been on the forefront of some controversy – FFXIV followers might keep in mind final 12 months’s notorious ‘billboard party’, an in-game rave marketed on an actual billboard. The occasion attracted controversy partly for actually promoting modded outfits on the billboard. FM says they haven’t felt the fallout from that incident, however additionally they actively keep away from mentioning their work to different FFXIV gamers, they usually say there’s all the time the looming risk of “a crusade against modders.”

Two animated people standing behind a desk wearing a yellow uniform with white shoulder ruffles

Sq. Enix isn’t the one anti-modding agent on the market, both. Loads of FFXIV’s fiercest followers have their very own doubts. The perspective in direction of third-party software program has all the time been bizarrely hostile – throughout my analysis for this piece, I got here throughout one FFXIV discussion board publish arguing that utilizing Discord for voice chat is technically dishonest – however it’s turn into particularly disagreeable lately. In January, a gaggle of Japanese gamers referred to as UNNAMED cleared a brand new high-difficulty raid with the help of gameplay-altering instruments, resulting in an infinite wave of backlash towards third-party software program. Ultimate Fantasy XIV’s director, Naoki ‘Yoshi-P’ Yoshida, issued an announcement condemning all mods and plugins, leaving mod builders in hotter water than ever.

So, if direct motion from FFXIV’s developer is a continuing fear, and there’s no cash to be made in a hobbyist’s area, why do modders preserve going? There are just a few causes, however, after all, all of them boil down to at least one factor: modders like altering the sport.

Clemens’ first full-fledged FFXIV plugin, launched in the summertime of 2020, is known as Peeping Tom. It’s a easy mod that permits gamers to view after they’re being focused by different gamers. Clemens designed Peeping Tom for private use, just because she was inquisitive about who was taking a look at her, however she says she enjoys seeing different folks get one thing out of her work. Clemens says her favorite plugin of hers is normally the latest one she’s labored on. After we spoke, that was Orange Steerage Tomestone, a plugin that provides the power to create messages on the bottom, a la Darkish Souls. In Clemens’ phrases, “It definitely helps that people actually get some joy out of using that one.” In true Souls trend, Orange Steerage Tomestone is normally used for pointless messages.

A man in a white turban and long white coat handing out a flier in a cobbled street

DP, in the meantime, describes themself as a tinkerer first and a gamer second. Their early forays into mod improvement occurred across the launch of FFXIV’s full-scale 2013 reboot, A Realm Reborn. This was a time when there weren’t many assets for FFXIV modders, and at a time when the sport was sorely missing in quality-of-life options. Their earlier mods had been for private use solely, and completely in single-player video games, so FFXIV posed an fascinating problem. Like Clemens, DP began off making issues for themselves, however Dalamud has turn into a bunch for plugins that make the sport extra foundationally accessible. As DP says, “we have a lot of users that rely on plugins to play the game in the first place as they are disadvantaged.”

FM began modding for their very own profit, too. They got here into FFXIV across the similar time as DP, they usually play principally male characters within the recreation. Their preliminary motive for trend modding got here from frustration on the restricted availability of trend mods for males, so that they set about making some. They’ve tailored different items for male characters, they’ve labored on unique items, they usually’ve even veered into reasonably NSFW modding, a area with its personal neighborhood controversies – FM says the one time they’ve seen Sq. Enix take motion towards a person, it was an NSFW modder who marketed their Twitter. They inform me that “Becoming a pure NSFW modder is something I do not want.”

Modding isn’t nearly altering the sport, although. It’s additionally about neighborhood. Kinship and camaraderie had been main factors of debate amongst all of the builders I spoke with. Each FM and DP began modding earlier than there was important mod assist, they usually each appear impressed by the way in which the neighborhood has grown over the past a number of years; FM says the assets accessible to new trend modders have made the pastime considerably extra accessible. Clemens seemingly confirms this – she hasn’t been part of the scene for so long as the opposite two modders I spoke with, however she says that she discovered XIVLauncher and Dalamud early in her modding journey, they usually had been worthwhile instruments.

Two people, a cat girl with red hair and a tall man with archery bows on their back standing together in white armour

The modding neighborhood appears content material to share data freely and playfully. Clemens shared a light-hearted custom amongst Dalamud plugin builders: when options from a plugin are carried out in an official FFXIV patch, or when Sq. Enix straight addresses points that plugins have already solved, plugin builders are awarded a “Certificate of Excellence.” When Sq. Enix acknowledged that it might be too resource-intensive to point out whether or not you had already collected an merchandise in that merchandise’s tooltip, Clemens acquired a Certificates of Excellence for her plugin, Good Reminiscence, which does precisely that.

A certificate of excellence from FFXIV Launcher credited to 'Anna'

Mod builders, unsurprisingly, additionally use lots of mods. Clemens tells me that she makes use of “nearly every plugin available,” and FM says that they make use of Dalamud plugins in addition to different trend mods. Animosity and competitors are overseas ideas right here. In spite of everything, everyone seems to be aiming for a similar purpose: a greater FFXIV.

The neighborhood informs lots of the choices made amongst modders. DP is liable for lots of the restrictions on what Dalamud will and won’t host. Clemens says that she trusts Dalamud’s laws, and that they’re a part of the rationale she feels so comfy about modding. Per DP, lots of these selections are made primarily based on the local weather of the broader FFXIV neighborhood. For DP, differentiating between a modification and a cheat is “a constant struggle,” however the line is drawn partly by “the general mood of the community.”

DP tells me that the dividing line has modified considerably because the modding and mod-using communities have grown. “When there are 50 people that use your tools, you don’t tend to think about this,” they are saying, “but we’ve gotten a lot more conservative with what we allow and help with.” As mods turn into an even bigger a part of the sport, and as DP’s mods turn into extra standard, the strain to get issues proper continues to mount.

A huge chicken-like creature wearing a cute bellboy hat stands next to its handler

The neighborhood is a double-edged sword for FFXIV. Take, for instance, GShade, an extremely standard beauty device designed to make the sport look higher. GShade is a fork of an identical device referred to as ReShade (with out getting too technical concerning the finer intricacies of GitHub repositories, you’ll be able to consider it as a mod of a mod). Notably, whereas ReShade is open supply, GShade shouldn’t be. Just lately, a modder referred to as ‘NotNite’ began messing round with various, open-source methods to put in GShade shaders. A couple of days later, gamers utilizing NotNite’s new strategies and instruments found that GShade would forcibly restart their computer systems with out warning.

GShade developer Marot Satil later confirmed in a Discord message to NotNite that the compelled restart was a deliberate response to NotNite’s tinkering. After a quick however explosive neighborhood response to the transfer, Satil seemingly took GShade off the web completely. I can’t remark too profoundly on the thought course of behind any of those strikes – neither Marot Satil nor NotNite responded to requests for remark – however it definitely looks as if a cut-and-dry instance of a usually comfy, nice neighborhood folding in on itself, a reminder of how unstable and petty hobbyist teams can turn into.

A cute flying fur hamster in a knight helmet with a purple balloon holds a small sword and shield

On the finish of the day, although, the intention behind modding is solely to make the sport extra fulfilling. There’s no different purpose to do it. The fallout that arises from battle between modders will be dramatic, however it’s a pure consequence of making an attempt to make one thing materially higher for as many individuals as doable. Is all this price it? I’m undecided. However for some people, it definitely is.

For some modders, making the sport “better” means making it extra accessible; FM makes use of XIVCombo, a plugin that maps repetitive combos to a single button, which helps with their consideration points and makes the sport extra instantly playable. For others, it simply means altering aesthetics; one Dalamud plugin replaces the FFXIV well being bar with a mechanically similar Kingdom Hearts well being meter. In DP’s phrases, “Generally, I think it helps that there is no profit or clout incentive at play for most devs I know/collaborate with, we really do just wanna make the game a bit better in a passion-y sort of way.”

Ardour, so far as I can inform, is the secret for Ultimate Fantasy XIV modders. Typically, that zeal explodes, resulting in community-wide chaos. Extra usually, although, it merely waxes and wanes – DP tells me that they’re planning on stepping away from modding, which has turn into extra worrying lately. However there are all the time gamers round who simply need a Ultimate Fantasy XIV that’s higher for them. DP says they’re not anxious about leaving the scene. The neighborhood’s gotten large enough that they now not really feel the necessity to act as a steward. “There are a lot of very capable and sane people now that I trust to steer these projects,” they are saying. So far as I can inform, FM and Clemens haven’t any intention of slowing down any time quickly.

Should you’re feeling impressed to get again into the sport, try our FFXIV lessons information, or our breakdown of the brand new Island Sanctuary, a hotly anticipated function added in patch 6.2.

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