Let’s start with a simple sentiment that I think absolutely everyone can get behind. However solid the underlying mechanics for decorating houses may be, Final Fantasy XIV’s housing is a damn mess. It’s open-world with a bunch of added restrictions that manage to feel like it also inherits the worst parts of instanced housing with limited availability. The only people who are happy with it are the people who have houses they want and are somehow so devoid of empathy that they can’t think about anyone else’s difficulties.
First and foremost, I want to make it clear that we know what the solution actually is. We’ve always known. Instanced housing is the solution. The way that the game’s whole “ward” system is set up is never going to match demand, and even the stopgap of apartments doesn’t change the fact that what we really need is something closer to how Black Desert or New World handles houses. Or, you know, just forget the exterior altogether and imitate how Final Fantasy XI had your instanced Mog House you could decorate (and eventually invite people to visit). What could be simpler as a concept?
However, that’s not what has happened. This means that we have now soundly moved out of the realm of not knowing what to do and come to a different conclusion. Either the design team can’t go to instanced housing or simply won’t. And I have a feeling it’s closer to the former… but first, I want to be a little clearer about “can’t.”
Square-Enix is not a small company. It might be smaller than you think (compare the company’s value to a lot of Western publishers and you might be surprised), but this is a company that has consistently made money and can pump out some pretty huge titles with major clout. And I think that’s worth noting, in part because Square-Enix is a company that almost seems to celebrate taking risks.
Let’s face it, FFXIV wasn’t an assured hit when it was first announced, just like how every entry in the company’s marquee franchise had been more and more the product of a given director’s unique vision and design sensibilities. When it flopped badly, there was also no real reason to expect that putting Naoki Yoshida in charge would salvage it, and that was already a big swing for the fences. And it worked. The game is definitely a hit now. It makes good money.
Does it make enough money for the housing issue to be fixable, though? Because that’s actually a very different potential issue.
MMOs take time to develop. FFXIV was not being rebuilt completely from the ground up when Yoshida took over development, but there was a lot of work being done from top to bottom. However, that went hand-in-hand with the fact that some things weren’t being rebuilt, either due to the time the team had for building stuff or a simple need to not spend forever on this project. We know that there is legacy code sitting around in the game, and it does us no good to pretend that isn’t the case.
Is housing one of those systems? We can’t know for certain. But I think there’s a fair amount of evidence pointing in that direction, starting with the fact that Yoshida made statements over time indicating something else was in the works.
For example, when housing first rolled out, we were assured that if you didn’t like the housing rush, you didn’t need to worry because personal housing would be very different. It was not; in fact, it was exactly the same. But that alone seems to indicate that some more instanced solution was in the works before being abandoned. Why? We can only guess.
For another, the current wards are separate from other housing areas. You still have an entrance to Lily Hills in Gridania that players can’t access. There’s a weird gate to one side of Ul’dah. There are lots of little indications that there are residential sections in the main cities exist separate from where players can explore, things that do not exist in Kugane or Ishgard… but there are similar implications in the Crystarium and Eulmore.
Some of this is no doubt verisimilitude. But to me, a lot of this reeks of originally wanting free companies to have public houses and players to have private houses on a different system. And… something didn’t work with the game’s servers.
Does that fix the problems with housing? Not in the least. But it’s here that we start to address the split between “can’t” and “won’t.” Can’t doesn’t imply that it is an impossible task, but that it would take so much time, money, and effort to rewrite the game’s code to allow this more instanced housing that the developers have decided it’s not a worthwhile solution.
Whereas won’t implies that the decision is mostly based on “eh, people are happy with things as they are.”
And we can pretty well rule out won’t simply by what the team actually seems to be doing. Not only are there more servers planned for the various data centers to accommodate more housing, the last batch of wards was added through optimizing the existing servers. The development efforts are clearly focused on trying to give everyone more access to houses, just by… adding more houses. More and more houses, larger and larger volume, hoping that eventually the game reaches a parity wherein everyone who wants a house can buy a house, even if you can’t always get the size you want.
To me, that doesn’t seem like the behavior of a development team who thinks the housing system is perfectly fine. It seems more like a team who knows full well that the housing system sucks badly, but the obvious solutions aren’t available due to the demands of linear time. So they’re falling back on what can be done to mitigate the problem, even while they know it falls short.
Am I certain of that? Not in the slightest. But it seems weird to think that Yoshida would suddenly pick this as the hill wherein he decided that players think they want something that he’s certain they don’t, so to speak. This means we’re unfortunately stuck with a system that is far less than it should be… and we have to hope that at least when the next MMO in the series is unveiled, it takes a much more common-sense approach to housing.
That’s not to say that the game couldn’t handle its existing housing problems better. But that’s a story for another time. For now, feel free to leave comments down in the assigned section below or send ’em along to firstname.lastname@example.org; next week, I want to keep the irate train rolling with a short list of absolute red lines that the game has thankfully avoided thus far.