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Final Fantasy XIV’s Third Party Tools Are A Double-Edged Sword That Prove The Game Is Unbalanced

If you’re a Final Fantasy 14 player, you've likely heard about the recent third-party tool discourse. Sure, console players might not fully understand or care as it doesn’t affect them, but the community has become quite divided in the past week. So what’s the beef?

Square Enix recently clamped down on players using third-party tools, dishing out suspensions to those found using them, and bans for any repeat offenders. This might seem like a no-brainer, after all, everyone knows that using hacks and mods to give yourself an unfair advantage over other players is a no-no, yet it’s not quite as straightforward as it seems.

Arguably, many players feel as though Square Enix has fostered the idea of a grey area when it comes to its stance of “the use of third-party tools is strictly prohibited”, as it often overlooked players who used tools that didn’t affect the gameplay of others, provided that players weren’t shouting from the rooftops about using them. As a result, players have felt quite comfortable using certain tools, such as parsers or UI modifiers to adapt the information being displayed to suit their needs.

Herein lies much of the problem – in the recent affirmation of its policy on third-party tools, Square Enix detailed some examples of which tools were prohibited, including “Modification of the UI to display additional information”. Now while you might be inclined to point out that using any third-party tool is against the Terms of Service, and therefore there should be no debate here, it’s not as if the grey area no longer exists, many players feel it’s just that Square Enix has suddenly moved the goalposts. Notably, there was no mention of shaders in the list, one of the most popular FF14 third-party tools used, nor does it seem that players using shaders have been targeted since the crackdown.

One of the third-party tools you’ll see being mentioned a lot recently is ACT (Advanced Combat Tracker). It’s a parser that records the information of your party during duties with the aim of allowing players to analyze and better understand the game. People will often use this information to create plugins that provide things such as DPS meters, or visual/audio callouts for certain mechanics, to name just a couple of examples.

A large number of players use ACT for self-improvement, identifying where they can best improve as a player and team. In a game that often uses DPS check mechanics in raids, it’s understandable why people would want to see how well they’re actually performing so they can adapt as needed. There’s a whole sub-community dedicated to the competitive side of trying to be the very best they can be, and tools like ACT are invaluable to them in achieving this.

The most common complaint about ACT, other than the fact it’s a third-party tool, of course, is that some players use it as evidence to belittle or harass other party members for low damage output. Unfortunately, we’re always going to have toxic players in our midst, but has the recent wave of bans helped to reduce toxicity in the community? Arguably not.

You might not have as many players berating others about damage output as often, but now we have a witch hunt on our hands. People are scouring through FF14 streams for any signs of third-party tools and reporting as many players as they can find. As a result, we’re seeing a large number of players getting pulled from the game mid-stream and handed suspensions. I doubt Square Enix was aiming to encourage this sort of behaviour, but nonetheless, its recent clarification on third-party tools has created vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to weed out any ToS breakers on Square Enix’s behalf.

When it comes to third-party tools, you’ll get a lot of players talking about balance, expressing that these tools give players who use them an unfair advantage, especially given console players can’t benefit from them. But you also have those who explain that these tools rebalance the game for them to put them on a level playing field with others. For example, some players use third-party tools to improve accessibility, such as changing colours of markers or adding audio cues to help with visual impairment. So it seems at this point, it’s a lose-lose situation whichever way Square Enix leans.

Understandably, Square Enix can’t just allow third-party tools because of the players who do use them to get an unfair advantage, but bringing out the ban hammer en masse is currently alienating a large portion of its player base that rely on tools to make the game playable. The fact players are turning to these tools for quality of life improvements, or in some cases, very much needed accessibility options, makes it clear that there’s a community need currently going unanswered in the native game.

This is something that Square Enix has acknowledged in its most recent post on third-party tools. It has promised to review the most prominent tools in order to enhance the game’s functionality so that players won’t need to rely on third-party programs, though understandably this will take time to achieve.

I can’t help but feel like a lot of the recent drama could have been avoided if Square Enix had waited to tighten its stance on third-party tools until after it had begun implementing some of these features in-game. But presumably, it couldn’t afford to wait that long. Who knows how long it will take to receive the features players desperately want or need, and it seems as though Square Enix’s actions are in response to the recent increase in cheating that has gone hand-in-hand with the surge of popularity for PvP.

Square Enix has emphasised that it is impossible for it to discover which programs players are running on their PC. Naturally, when players cheat in-game by using bots or spoofing to another location, it’s an obvious tell, but other than when players out themselves on streams or explicitly mention it in-game, you wouldn’t notice when people are using most third-party tools.

While I don’t believe there is a perfect solution that is immediately available to all right now, it’s disappointing to see the community fracturing over recent events. Third-party tools are against the ToS, but I do wish people would put down the pitchforks and leave enforcing the ToS to Square Enix. If you see someone clearly cheating in-game, if someone is harassing you about your damage output that they can see from a parser, etc, you should absolutely report them. But do we really need to go out of our way to hunt down others on streaming platforms? Probably not.

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