My impression is that the only people left seem to have huddled into small cliques and aren't interested in doing anything outside of the same two or three endgame activities
^ This ^ is the main problem with FFXI these days, and why whenever I or others come back, while we might make a few friends, its like there are barriers up that just won't ever come down - loyalties that lie so strongly in 'those that remain and have never left' and the 'routine' endgame activities... that it seems no one wants to do anything 'outside of the norm' for 'fun' anymore. I had a very hard time convincing even long-time friends that were on to do things out of the norm because 'they had Dynamis in an hour' or 'were waiting for 'so-and-so' to level that particular job.
I understand these loyalties, and am guilty of the same things myself - but it doesn't change the facts that never being able to break away from the 'routine', not even once-a-week, makes it near impossible to enjoy FFXI without bringing pre-existing friends into the game when you come back.
For example, if I were to play with my fiance - I could come back and enjoy it for a time again, just to have her company. But to go back alone (or to enter the game without a friend) these days is barely worth the effort. But then my loyalties would lie with her and if someone wanted to do endgame activities, or I wanted gear from said activities, something would have to give, since she'd be new and unable to participate. Bailing on one-group-for-another is something only the closest of friends or most distant people with no-friends on one side or the other can get away with consistently.
I guess its simply a problem of reaching a point where you want more out of the game than simply "gear"... things like good companionship and interesting day-to-day activities that don't feel overly-repetitious (hard to achieve in an MMO anyhow) - you hit a barrier. You have to decide if you want to get better at the game by droning through things you dont want to drone through, or be content with what you have and go do things that are fun with friends. Since these games are built towards gear upgrade/acquisition being the "ideal day to day goal" - its hard to break away from that desire (especially with feeling like a noob or actually 'wanting' to try newer endgame events and building a bad reputation by being under-geared etc) - you end up with a situation where the only time you can have a 'good deal of fun' with your companions is when 'everyone' needs upgrades at the same time from the same place and you get the joy out of overcoming an obstacle that grants desired rewards together. The problem is that this situation is rare, and gets more and more rare every day.
Sorry for the wall-o-text.