Here is a column topic that I am tired of writing about. But once again, it is necessary.
So Final Fantasy XIV had its first housing lottery on Saturday. It didn’t go great! There were some notable issues, bids not being recognized, winners not being actual winners, etc. These issues were not uniform; a lot of people did indeed get houses from the system, which should probably forecast a major point coming up later in this column. But a lot of people did run into these issues, enough that Yoshida said the team is working on the issue and isn’t not running the next lottery until it’s fixed.
Let’s put forth a basic principle here: FFXIV housing is a problem. This is not under debate. There are too few houses for how many people want them. The open-world system does not work and has not worked since the beginning, creating this problem from the start and having continued to cause this problem non-stop as the playerbase has expanded. An instanced housing system would be infinitely preferable.
All of the above is true. All of the above is also kind of irrelevant because all of the above has been true for years now. And absolutely none of it – not one bit – is something that has been contested by the developers or is somehow under debate there. Every single thing that the developers have done, start to finish, has and continues to be an attempt to fix a broken system that the developers know is a broken system.
“Well, then, the solution is easy. Replace the broken system.” Great idea! Why, exactly, do you think they haven’t done that yet? What’s stopping them? This has been something that’s been a problem with the game since housing opened. Housing has never worked right in this MMO. Housing has always had issues with expense and availability, right since day one, and while you could maybe argue that initially this was an idea that someone had that was some developer’s darling, that just doesn’t hold up any more.
Yes, we know nobody cares about neighborhoods or having neighbors or any of that. It is impossible for the developers to have not gotten the message at this point that the majority of players want instanced housing. We are far, far past the point when you could argue that somebody doesn’t know. I wrote an entire column about how the reality is at this point, we are in the space where the developers either can’t or won’t change the system… and “won’t” isn’t plausible.
That leaves “can’t.” Why can’t they? I don’t know. I don’t work on the game. But it is, literally, the only explanation that makes sense at this point.
Like, seriously, if the developers didn’t know that this was a problem, why would we have this lottery in the first place? Yes, the lottery had bugs and issues, major ones. It didn’t work properly. That’s specifically why they said, “We’re taking this down until we can identify the problem and make sure it won’t happen again.” The lottery is a project with a bunch of moving parts specifically to address the housing issues.
If it were simple or straightforward to just make instanced housing a thing, why would anyone have bothered with a lottery? Why would they keep trying to fix this? Why would there be housing limitations and efforts to optimize the servers to add more wards and all of this? Why, for the love of Ishgard, would all of these things be put in place specifically to address issues if the developers could just put out an instanced system that would render these issues wholly obsolete?
Adding to the fact is that the communication from the developers about these issues is not “you don’t understand the benefits of our current system.” It’s a set of apologies and attempts to do things better. Over and over. To fix issues, to address the problems, to make sure that we don’t have unpleasant housing rushes and so on. There’s no sense of “we know better than you do,” more a sense of “we know this sucks, we’re trying to make it suck less, please bear with us.”
I’ve speculated before that this is likely a holdover from 1.0. The team had to build a lot of the current game on the bones of 1.0, and that means some stuff just… can’t be changed. And while I imagine a lot of you playing now didn’t play 1.0, trust me when I say this is the sort of bad design decision that makes perfect sense for that version of the game.
Not because it’s good; quite the opposite.
Don’t get me wrong; none of this ameliorates the fact that housing is actually a big, glaring, ongoing problem that the game is having. The fact that the solutions are being repeatedly tried doesn’t alter the fact that those solutions are, uh… not actually solving the root problems. That’s kind of a big deal! As someone who actually didn’t get anything I was hoping for out of this lottery, I can entirely commiserate with being upset at things being broken or not working.
But if the developers didn’t care, they wouldn’t be working to fix it and ensure that it won’t happen again before they do the next round of the lottery. They wouldn’t be trying to get more housing servers and allow more space for everyone. This wouldn’t be an ongoing project; they’d have just left the whole thing behind a while ago as “eh, good enough.”
And that’s not what happened.
This would be, in all honesty, the axis upon which my personal reactions rotate. It’s not that I think housing availability in this game is good because it very clearly is not and has significant issues. But putting this into an oppositional or ignorant framing requires ignoring what is actually being done. It treats the matter as if this were a solved problem that the team simply isn’t bothering with, that there’s just an “instanced housing” switch somewhere no one has bothered to flip.
Doing so would, absolutely, be the fix that the game needs. But none of what we’ve seen indicates that the team behind the game doesn’t know this. For whatever reason, the team working on the game seems to be aware of the ideal solution and are not able to pursue that ideal solution. There are a lot of possible reasons for why that may be the case, but there’s simply too much evidence shooting down the idea that the developers don’t care or that the actual solution is easy to implement.
Why can this game not get this right? Well, the answer seems pretty obvious: because the developers are layering fixes on top of fixes on an area of the game that was built poorly, and tearing it all out and starting over would cause a ripple effect of new messes. I don’t know what issues those would be, whether it’s just too intensive in development or the game code breaks in uncomfortable ways when they start tinkering too much. Yet as I’ve said before about making MMORPGs work, that looks really complicated. I don’t know about you, but it looks hard to do.
Indeed, my biggest question is why the developers don’t say that. My suspicion is that if it is a 1.0 code base issue, it ties into cultural expectations about not speaking ill of your seniors; if it’s more recent than that, it runs afoul of the problem that you don’t want to say That One Guy turned out to have had a bad idea when That One Guy is still working on the game and has lots of other good ideas.
For that matter, there are other possibilities. Maybe the budget isn’t available for rebuilding this, however much the designers might want to. Maybe some of the solutions had to be shelved for computer parts availability, just like new servers. Maybe it’s not even a housing issue but the way the game’s instanced servers work; maybe instanced housing runs into issues when “remembering” your decoration placement.
If you don’t know why this system hasn’t been replaced with instanced housing yet, well, I agree with you. I don’t know why this keeps happening. I don’t know why the lottery system was so borked. I don’t know why the developers don’t implement an obvious solution that works in so many other MMOs. But if the solution were obvious and simple for FFXIV, it would just be implemented. If the obvious solution isn’t implemented, that implies it’s not actually simple after all.
Not that any of this fixes the fact that there was an issue where the lottery didn’t freakin’ work. That’s still bad. It’s just… that was bad, it should be fixed, and work is being done to fix it. Presenting it as opposition between players and developers isn’t accurate or productive.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, as mentioned, we’re doing the story beats of patch 6.1.
Also, for the record, I’ve obviously been writing about this problem for years now. We have several of those columns in the roundup down below, and we will probably have more. (You can certainly find even more if you search for old Massively columns, because yes, it’s been an issue for that long.)