The Final Fantasy XIV plugin debate has reached a grim reality

Square Enix must navigate this delicately.

Image via Square Enix

Final Fantasy XIV’s community is usually one of positivity and comradery, except when it comes to one key issue — the use of third party plugin tools. Since the relaunch of the game a decade ago, Game director Naoki Yoshida has had to clarify multiple times Square Enix’s stance on the use of plugins. While officially against the terms of service, the company has done little to enforce it unless there is a public situation with enough controversy.

Over time, players have collectively decided that the issue exists in a gray area. Entire sub sections of the community have shown their enjoyment of Final Fantasy XIV through creating appearance mods and quality-of-life additions that help with accessibility. However, every time the game sees a new Ultimate raid and race to world first competition, this elephant in the room rears its ugly head.

Addressing the Omega Protocol Ultimate controversy

Image via Square Enix

The Omega Protocol Ultimate victory was surrounded by controversy when the winning team was found to be using a zoom hack plugin to vastly increase each player’s view of the encounter arena. With a bird’s eye view, a lot of the mechanics became easier to resolve. Because the issue got so heated, Square Enix was forced to take action, stripping the players of their rewards and issuing bans on their accounts. While those affected showed remorse, they brought up the fact that it was well established that a lot of the other competing teams were using similar third party tools.

Some in the community have celebrated the news of these players being banned, but the issue now stands on a very wobbly knife’s edge. Calling for Square Enix to show this kind of enforcement on all third party plugins will have drastic ramifications. The reason Yoshida has yet to completely put the hammer down is because a change of this magnitude would likely involve the addition of anti-cheat software for Final Fantasy XIV, something almost no one wants to see happen.

Most popular plugins in the game are client-side, meaning Square Enix would have to scan players’ PCs in order to discover who is using add-ons. This is not only invasive, it is also an illogical task, and the company knows it. This is why Yoshida has danced around the issue for so long.

Alienating innocent plugin enthusiasts

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Banning the use of plugins might stop the drama and controversy surrounding a lot of the Ultimate raid competitions, but it would also alienate a large section of the community that just wants to enjoy the game casually. Players who utilize appearance mods have made it a favorite pastime to show them off on social media, complementing each other and taking pride in their creativity. These plugins don’t hurt anyone or affect other players in any way because only the player using them can see the changes. A character having luscious lips or a unique hairstyle isn’t a malicious way to cheat the masses or give any type of advantage.

Furthermore, some players with disabilities have taken to using third party tools to help the game become more accessible. While many agree that Square Enix has taken great strides in making sure the MMO has in-game settings to deal with a lot of issues, it still isn’t perfect by any means. For instance, players prone to migraines like to utilize graphical alteration plugins like GShade to help with bright animations or areas in the game that triggers negative health ailments. 

Approaching a solution to cheating via plugins

Image via Square Enix

Yoshida has admitted that there are a lot of things Square Enix can do to discourage the use of plugins without banning players. He has stated that the team is constantly looking into the most popular add-ons and making them a priority to add into the base game over time. Recently, the developers have added legacy camera options and debuff durations in the party list. Both of these additions stem from popular third party tools that improved quality-of-life for players.

There is a fine line to walk when addressing the issue of plugins. In order to satisfy the masses, the more accessible approach is to deal with the desire to cheat in competitive community events. An easy fix to achieve a positive outcome is to just have any teams competing for world first stream their gameplay live so that the fans can see that there are no cheat plugins being used. Only parties that adhere to these rules would be eligible for the world first title, and Square Enix wouldn’t have to worry about acknowledging the winners of Ultimate races on social media only to have to take action against them later. It’s a vetting process for malicious tactics that doesn’t involve alienating other sections of the community that don’t harm anyone with their plugin usage.

Related: The 5 best add-ons for Final Fantasy XIV

The issue of plugins is likely to continue for Final Fantasy XIV well into the future. This long-standing dilemma does have merit, but there is no sure way to address the subject without causing more destruction in its wake. This is a grim reality for the company to be in, but one that Square Enix will likely have to ride a fine line for as long as possible.