Final Fantasy XIV's Housing situation is (still) a depressing mess, and it deserves better

Final Fantasy XIV is my second home. For many players, their MMO of choice is the same. Whether they stick around - never really going away - or merely check in every now and then when a new update drops. In games where so many players congregate, where interactions with hundreds of other players is expected, it makes plenty of sense that those of us that grow an attachment to our virtual “homes” would want to leave our mark on them. Player Housing has been a big part of the genre for a very long time, and for that very reason – and it’s no big secret that Final Fantasy XIV’s system has been a bit of a mess for a very long time.

We all had hoped that the new Housing Lottery system would improve matters. While it’s undeniably a better system overall, however, now that the dust has started to settle I think it’s more than fair to admit what most players have already been thinking – FFXIV Housing is (still) a mess, and there is still a ton of work to be done before XIV’s system resembles anything close to a fair deal for its players.

Now, just to be clear – no, this isn’t just me coping about losing the lottery myself. I just recently won a personal plot in the Mists from the second round of the lottery. While I’m certainly happy that I won my dice roll, if anything the underlying feeling I’m having feels much more conflicted in the context of everything else surrounding the lottery. Most of that centers around some downright baffling changes that the dev team made to Housing as a system outside of the shift to the lottery system with Patch 6.1.

First, a primer for anyone that’s oblivious to how Housing works in Final Fantasy XIV. Previously, purchasing houses was based on a first-come-first-serve approach. Once a house was demolished - normally due to a player letting their sub lapse and neglecting to visit their residence for 45 days - after an undisclosed period of time the plot would once again be available for sale. During the time leading up to that moment, a placard would remain in front of the plot, and players would have to hope that they examined it as soon as said plot became available for purchase. Since there was never any indication when that shift would occur – ostensibly to discourage players from using bots to instantly buy up property the moment it was eligible for sale – players would be forced to constantly refresh the placard in the hopes of being the ones to purchase the land.

I don’t think I need to explain how counterproductive this system was for preventing bots. After all, the only other alternative was players standing in front of a placard for hours at a time, constantly clicking away in the hopes of being the lucky person to click it at just the right time to make the purchase. This, of course, also ignores the fact that for much of the last 2+ years of the game’s life, automatic housing demolition has been completely disabled due to both issues with COVID, as well as the congestion that the game faced at Endwalker’s launch. In practice, the market has been severely constrained for a very long time now, meaning that the number of players – and Free Companies – that wanted to purchase a home of their own had all been fighting for an increasingly small number of plots. This, of course, only further encouraged unhealthy and unethical habits in turn.

Patch 6.1’s lottery system was meant to improve things twofold; first, it came alongside the addition of a brand-new Housing District in the Empyreum, adding an additional 1,440 plots to each server in the game. Secondly, players could no longer purchase land directly – rather, land sales are now tied to a rolling lottery system, where any available plots will be listed for sale during a specific period, and anyone can put down the money to be added to a lottery for who ultimately is granted the land. Then after a grace period of several days to allow for players to login and check if they had won the plot, any still remaining housing plots would be once again be placed on the market. This would occur if either nobody had bid on the plot, or if the winner fails to accept their new land within the allotted time.

On paper, it’s a great system – as it means that regardless of the chances of getting a plot, players are no longer incentivized to camp a placard. Previously you would have to actively avoid engaging in other content if your goal was to get a house – now, it’s as simple as putting together the money, finding a plot you’d like to bid on, and then returning to it once the date rolled over into the claiming period to figure out if your number had won or lost the bid. The lottery system as it stands is about as perfect a replacement as anyone could’ve reasonably hoped for, regardless of the issues that had plagued it with its first run. However, it’s the issues that exist outside of the lottery system that continue to make Housing untenable for the average player (pardon the pun).

While Ishgard Housing brought with it 1440 new plots of land for every server, only 360 of these plots were available for private buyers; the other 1080 are currently only available for purchase by Free Companies. While the idea that Free Companies should have the upper-hand when purchasing land makes sense – expeditions, FC-wide buffs and the like all require the Free Company in question to own a house for themselves – in practice the demand was much, much higher for private housing plots. Almost every Free Company-only Ishgard Housing Ward on Leviathan, one of the largest North American servers, are mostly empty even now; while the Private Housing Wards are more-or-less completely full.

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To make matters worse, the changes to how Wards are handled was backported to every other Housing District in the game, so only 360 of each Housing District’s plots have a chance of being eligible for personal use outside of a Free Company. Unsurprisingly, any Free Companies that had their own houses stationed in a now Private Ward have been grandfathered in. While the same can be said for individuals with houses in Free Company wards, if they ever decide to make the jump over to another Housing District – much like many did with Ishgard Housing’s launch – if they win a plot, the maximum number of Personal Housing Plots in the game will actually decrease, as instead of leaving an open spot for another individual to purchase, only a Free Company will be able to bid on their old land.

It’s all a little complicated, but essentially, while everyone that already had a house is grandfathered in, so on paper everything is fair – in practice, it only exacerbates the glaring issues of supply and demand when it comes to Private Housing. While the devs have expressed that they have the power to change how each Ward is classified on a server-by-server basis, it remains to be seen what exactly they plan to do; are they planning to wait for a major patch to redistrict wards? If so, some players have already been abusing workarounds to start buying out multiple houses in a ward alongside some helping hands, and even with the current system that’s supposed to make everything an even playing field.

Perhaps when the number of servers are increased later this year there will be a chance for players to get their own house with much less hassle; but those of us with houses are more likely to already be rooted to our current servers, and many players that might have been trying to get a house for years likely feel the same. It doesn’t feel like a proper solution to tell players to hop over to an entirely new Data Center and abandon their Free Company just for a chance at a house, even if the upcoming Data Center travel means that they wouldn’t be abandoning their friends.

Let’s say that the new servers, in combination with adjustments to how Free Company wards and Private wards are redistricted, solve the issues with supply. At the end of the day it’s hard to imagine that I still wouldn’t have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth with how Housing is handled. Director Naoki Yoshida – Yoshi-P – has been on record that he explicitly does not want players to feel like they have to stay subbed, and that they should feel free to subscribe only for the content that matters to them. Housing in the current system is fundamentally opposed to this viewpoint, even if at this current moment automatic demolition is disabled.

Even if the issues of supply get fixed, that still leaves Housing as the only content in the game that forces you to stay subscribed and actively playing the game. Maybe it wouldn’t sting as much if supply wasn’t as much of an issue, but at the end of the day one has to ask exactly how many players stayed subscribed even though they didn’t want to play the game, or didn’t have the time to, just so they could ensure that their house would remain. How much money has Square Enix earned that can directly be attributed to Final Fantasy XIV homeowners that were essentially threatened to keep their subscription going after they’d exhausted months or years waiting for their chance to get a house? After trying so long to get one, how many players lost their house simply because they had to unsub for a few months?

I’m incredibly happy I’ve managed to get someplace I can truly call my own in Final Fantasy XIV, but for a game where so many players treat it as their second home – or maybe even their first – it’s hard to ignore how far the current Housing system still has to go. I applaud the dev team for all of the changes they’ve already made, but there’s still work to be done. Here’s hoping they’ll get there eventually; as it stands it’s the one major red mark on what might just be my favorite game of all time.

 

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