A week into Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker (opens in new tab)'s launch, fans are still waiting in long queue times to join a server and finally get to play.
Players trying to log in and see everything new in Endwalker are waiting in the menus, unable to play the game for hours. Periodically, the login servers will overload and cause errors, kicking them to the back of the line. The worst among them is error 2002 (opens in new tab), which indicates high traffic and an absurd amount of players trying to get in.
"I can't see the number 2002 without crying now," Nyanners (opens in new tab), a popular Twitch streamer and VTuber told me.
Despite the hours-long waits and frustrating disconnects, Final Fantasy 14 players remain diligent. Nobody who made it through an MMO with over 100 hours of story (more if you want to be caught up to Endwalker) would give up so easily. Persistence and excitement over an expansion that promises to conclude a narrative that started in 2013 has kept these players logging back in every day.
"The story has been heartwrenching, exciting, and has me absolutely captivated at every turn. I've been loving it. It's the culmination of a story that's been going on for years, and we've all been so eager for it. That's part of why it's so heartbreaking that the long queues are keeping us from enjoying it," Silver (opens in new tab), who is also a well-known Twitch streamer and VTuber (who also shares a Free Company, or clan, with Nyanners), said.
It's a problem that everyone is experiencing right now. The protracted queue times have been immortalized in keychain form (opens in new tab) and in all sorts of memes (opens in new tab) across social media (opens in new tab). The horrors of the numbers won't go away for a while.
"So far the game has been fantastic and the story has me on the edge of my seat for the big resolution, but I do think the login queue issues are maybe the worst of the expansion launches," Snuffy, another popular Twitch streamer and VTuber (the third in the Nyanners and Silver Final Fantasy 14 trio), told me.
Shoutout to the UPS guy who delivered my Endwalker Box LMAO pic.twitter.com/UGyOipVpT9December 8, 2021
"Before, in releases such as Stormblood, the community had the joke of 'Raubahn Extreme' because the NPC named Raubahn prevented you from moving forward through the story due to the game's Duty mechanic being highly demanded and crashing," she said. "Players started forming lines and such to create a haphazard solution, but with Endwalker, you can't even get into the game to enjoy any part of it due to the queues, which is unfortunate."
The pain of fame
Everyone could have predicted that this would happen. Final Fantasy 14 had an explosive summer, seeing a massive influx of players old and new stepping into Eorzea. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home, rival MMO World of Warcraft's inability to entertain its playerbase along with the scandal surrounding the vile workplace conditions at Activision Blizzard (opens in new tab), and the ever-welcoming community behind the eight-year old MMO were all reasons for this. In July, the game hit a record high of 47,542 concurrent players on Steam (not counting those playing via Square Enix's own launcher or on consoles), and recently, at the cusp of Endwalker's launch, it more than doubled that peak at 95,150 simultaneous players (opens in new tab).
With that many people online, things usually start to break. New World (opens in new tab), Amazon's first MMO, stumbled over a slew of problems when it came out in September: including its own long queue times (opens in new tab), money duplication exploits (opens in new tab), and performance issues. Endwalker made it through launch week without any egregious problems, except for the fact that you can't make new characters until the server populations simmer down. But if anyone would argue that not being able to create your new bunny boy is a problem that eclipses all others, it would be Final Fantasy 14 players.
Without serious bugs or glitches to yell about, Final Fantasy 14 players have instead argued about prismatic grapes (opens in new tab). That's largely because Square Enix and the game's producer Naoki Yoshida have been transparent about the ongoing issues in the lead up to and after the expansion's debut. The ongoing semiconductor shortages and the pandemic's grip on overseas travel from Japan have stalled the developer's ability to set up new servers that might address this issue. For now, the developer has explained why each of the errors can happen (opens in new tab) while you try to log in, and has promised active players seven days of free play time as an apology (opens in new tab).
Anyone who has been deep into games like World of Warcraft have witnessed what it's like to wade through launch day woes. Queue times and disconnections are practically tradition for MMO players at this point. It's common to hop into a new release and have to try to find out which one of your friends are online and which ones are 2,000 players away from showing up.
"I've been through every single launch of both World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14, so I can compare the two, and they are both equally aggravating for their own reasons," Mawile, a Final Fantasy 14 veteran, told me.
"With World of Warcraft you can at least attempt to get back in quicker and easier, you don't have to reopen the launcher and retype everything over and over, and losing your place in the queue very rarely happened. It was once you were inside that things would get hairy and you could be tossed out. World of Warcraft suffered from insane DDOS attacks as well during their launches, which certainly didn't help. Final Fantasy 14 has been far more stable once you enter, but entering has been a massive pain in the ass."
Ticket to the moon
Many players told me they're logging into the game as early as possible in the day to avoid long lines, even if they're not ready to play yet.
"[The queue times] ramped up pretty fast and eventually I saw it go over 6,000 players when I tried to log back in the [day after early access] at like 1 pm ET," Nyanners said. "I think the longest I waited was five hours, it was pain. I learned my lesson and just started logging in as early in the day as possible."
For those of us who can't babysit the game all day, the problem is even worse.
"By the time I get off work, so are thousands and thousands of other people, and I guess we all want to play the same videogame," Natalie Watson, who is a producer at indie outfit Half Mermaid, said. "The most frustrating part of it is how waiting in queue actually eats up a majority of my 'game time' on weeknights. But again, I've sort of just accepted that this is the way things will be for the foreseeable future."
Watson, like me, had to find an efficient way to combine time at work with time in queue.
"A couple times, I've queued early, so that by the time I get off work, I'm out of queue and ready to play," she said.
But once you get in, you have a second job to do. If you're inactive for 30 minutes, the game will log you out to make room for other players. So many people, including myself, have spent the week periodically tabbing into the game to move three feet and tab back out to avoid the boot. It's become a reflex even when the game is not running for me. And I can't help from feeling guilty for being the person that moves a few steps every few minutes to keep other hungry players from taking my place.
People playing outside of peak hours or on servers outside their own regions, the wait times haven't been as bad.
"My queues have been reasonable and I've only had errors if I've tried to log back in at night," says Adrian, another dedicated Final Fantasy 14 player who lives in Europe and plays on NA servers, which have been hit with the worst queue times. "It's probably the only time playing with higher ping and later than most people's peak time has been a benefit."
Adrian couldn't estimate how long their waits were by traditional measurements of time. They said they watched the new Jojo's Bizarre Adventure season while in queue and based the wait times on that.
"I reached a point where I was measuring my queue waits in episode counts. The longest I've had to wait is two," they said.
Let me in
Expansion release days are sort of a rite of passage for MMO players, especially if they're new. It's a battle between the servers and the players, and often nobody wins. Given the long tail of MMOs, disastrous launches tend to dissolve into nostalgic memories as the years pass. It's this understanding of the time commitment that MMOs demand that keeps a lot of Final Fantasy 14 players optimistic despite the queues.
Everyone just wants to be in Final Fantasy 14's world with their friends. They just want to see how it all ends—for now (opens in new tab). As we get further away from Endwalker's launch day, the queue times will hopefully begin to smooth out. And even if they don't for a while, you can count on Final Fantasy 14 players to be there, in line, desperately trying to join everyone back in Eorzea.