The following essay was originally posted on the Final Fantasy XIV forums, where it will probably be eaten alive.
Full disclosure: I played FFXI for seven years or so, starting in 2004. I love FFXIV, but for different reasons than I loved FFXI.
When I started playing FFXI, I was completely taken in by its graphics, its community, and even its timesinks. It taught me the ferry arrives in 15 minutes, you need to have food to go levelling, and be careful ninjaing past Valkurm Dunes goblins. I took it all without questioning it, because this was my world and I wanted to go on adventures in it. And when it came time to do Divine Might, I /shouted and rallied my friends until we were herding 18 cats, which to me was the bigger challenge than the actual boss fight itself.
I'm glad that I have those memories, and I think the world needs more sandbox (or sandbox-ish) games. FFXI and EVE Online are "niche" titles, but with surprisingly loyal players. And if FFXI's slowly shrinking while EVE's slowly growing, it's partly because FFXI's based on 10-year-old tech and went neglected for years.
I'm not sure it's possible to build into a game, by design, the kinds of emergent gameplay those two have to offer. I don't think you can queue up in the Duty Finder, for the kind of unforgettable experience that was my friends and me beating FFXI's Ultima with 10 seconds left on the timer. I don't think scripted, themepark games should replace sandbox ones, and I think it's sad that 1.0's fans and SWG's fans lost theirs (multiple times, in the case of SWG).
But I also think they're unfairly romanticized. And I think sandbox fans like me tend to gloss over their faults, and give other people the sense that we think we are better than "casual" gamers, which are really just "anyone not as invested in ___ game as I am."
I think we should stop doing that.
For every one who has glowing memories, there are a lot more who remember a bewildering and frustrating game. For every one who remembers discovering how to beat a tough boss fight, there are a hundred who looked it up on FFXIclopedia (or Erecia's guide, remember that?). Sometimes you want to do it yourself, but you want to be told how to do it. And sometimes, you just wish the darned ferry would get here already.
For every day I spent having awesome adventures, I probably spent ten getting my head handed to me in Valkurm, or running around doing tedious crap and waiting for JP midnight. We don't remember this stuff as well, but they're all that the people who quit remember, which is why FFXI and EVE both have so many haters. Not because the "casual" gamers weren't "hardcore" enough to "learn to play," but because the games disrespected their time and money investments, and failed to fulfill the promise of being an awesome Final Fantasy / Internet Spaceships adventure.
Who made that promise, and how they made it, we could probably argue about. But FFXI and EVE are simply not like the games next to them on the shelves, and someone who bought FFXI thinking it'd be like FFX would be in for a rude shock.
(Just got my FFX/X-2 preorder, BTW. It's gorgeous.)
FFXIV:ARR, I feel, fulfills that promise. Say what you want about it, it is a Final Fantasy game, complete with boss fight and ending sequence. It's just unique among FF games in that you can keep playing after you beat it, unlocking more jobs and teaming up to defeat superbosses, and the developers keep adding new features and storyline quests.
I think their "ideal player" is a core FF gamer, who's new to the MMO world. I think that's the person they design for. And while I sometimes miss not having stuff spelled out for me, I'm also not sure what the difference is between having to research crafting recipes and food stats on FFXIclopedia, and having the game's UI just tell me. Beyond the fact that one of those things makes me do the same work as FFXIV's devs, unpaid.
TL;DR Sandboxes are fun, but people aren't worse gamers than I am because they don't want to do unpaid dev work.