Frustration over Final Fantasy XIV's housing shortage has come to a head after two players angered a lot of others by buying up 28 homes in the land-strapped massively multiplayer online game. Now, players are questioning whether virtual housing is an equal right or a privilege meant for the rich and over-dedicated.
The two players bought their homes in a formerly vacant corner of the game, a server called Mateus, where they could pursue dual ambitions of opulence and privacy. Their critics say they have hoarded land from dozens of FFXIV citizens, who feel they deserve a chance at housing. That criticism has gotten ugly as players hotly debate whether their elitism -- or desire for mass amounts of property -- has any place in a game where everybody pays the same fee.
Martyr Igeyorhm and Seraph Altima
"Given we both came to Mateus for the quiet, it's distinctly uncomfortable to have others come in and insult us," one of the bulk home-owners, a player who goes by the name Martyr Igeyorhm, told me during a tour of their two-occupant neighbourhood today. "We've had to report people for harassment a few times." Her housing partner Seraph Altima agreed, adding, "I think it's wrong that people ignore the work and just see themselves being deprived."
FFXIV has had housing drama as long as it's had houses. When producer Naoki Yoshida introduced housing to FFXIV in 2011, he emphasised fair land distribution. But in the intervening years, housing has become a contentious topic in the game as speculators and thick-pocketed players monopolized property on big servers. Other times, players didn't even use the houses they buy; it's just a status symbol.
About 2,500 houses are available for each of FFXIV's servers, which on average host over twice that amount of players. Houses aren't a necessity in FFXIV, but owning one means having your own space to invite new raiding friends, host parties and, most importantly, decorate. Players paste ornate wallpaper to their walls, fill rooms with carved wood chests and candles and decorate with garlands and gold trimming.
They cost several million gil, unfurnished, which converts to more than $20. Fur rugs, wall-to-wall bookshelves, portraits and hot tubs garnish the homes of more thick-pocketed players who choose to sink their resources in home decor. Smaller apartments remain available too, but without the grandeur of a garden or street entrance (and on some servers, houses are still available.)
Out of this design frenzy, an FFXIV adaptation of Cribs has even emerged. A year ago, it featured the player Seraph Altima and her "sanctuary," complete with a lush garden, an attended full bar and stone partitions.
The reporter's alternate account in Altima and Igeyorhm's home
Altima had carved out sanctuaries on two of FFXIV's most populous servers. There, not even apartments, the less sought-after housing option, remain on the market. Publisher Square Enix has been adding more plots to keep up with demand, and will add more in the future, but right now, there's not enough to go around.
Over email, a Square Enix representative told Kotaku that players are only able to purchase one house per character. But because both individual players and Free Companies -- FFXIV's guilds -- can own property, players break that mandate a lot.
Last year, Altima fled the game's more populous servers and established her new home on the quaint Mateus. At that point, it was one of the only servers with a wealth of land. She and Igeyorhm claimed 28 plots and thought they'd have that space to themselves. Likely, their land avarice wouldn't have become a problem if thousands of refugees hadn't recently fled booked-up servers searching for fresh housing frontiers.
Square Enix started offering free server transfers prior to FFXIV's June Stormblood expansion, so players who wanted to avoid the influx of returning fans could game in peace. Mateus, which was unofficially designated a new role-playing server and was still a pristine (and cheap) housing frontier, was quickly full of home-scouters.
Eventually, the housing options in that server filled up, too. When incoming transfers realised that they could no longer purchase plots on Mateus, of all places, and noticed that two players owned a plush 28 plots, accusations of greed and unfeeling avarice spread. Over Facebook and Reddit, hundreds of players had angry words for the alleged gentrifiers who felt "entitled" to own all that property when so many recent transfers (and players still saving up) never had a chance to carve out a home on Mateus.
Altima and Igeyorhm's underground library
Altima estimates that their 28 homes, the majority of an entire ward, cost around 150 million gil. If they had bought that gil, it'd have cost $375. On FFXIV this morning, Igeyorhm described themselves as "omnicrafters," or players who "make all of our own items and sell other items for profit." (To save a few bucks, most of their decor was made using FFXIV's crafting system, too.) It took a lot of time. And she doesn't feel sorry for players who put in less effort, or got to Mateus later along with the crowds.
On a now-viral Tumblr post in response to public outcry, Altima wrote, "Many people feel entitled to own a house. They feel that even knowing there are only 2,160 plots (soon to be 2,880) on any given server, they can and should be allowed to go at their own pace and have free access to any content they like, including housing. They want a house of their own, but they don't want to accept that lots of other people want it badly enough to work harder for it than they did."
"Good lord," a Redditor wrote. "People who aren't rich enough to afford houses just aren't TRYING hard enough? Not wanting neighbours putting up 'ugly' Paissa houses in 'MY neighbourhood?' It's like the most stereotypical rich snob attitude I've ever seen, except it's apparently REAL (other than being in a video game)." Another described their actions as "selfishness because this person wanted to make a bastion of single-player content in a multiplayer game."
Altima and Igeyorhm's cake shop
I met Altima and Igeyorhm at the entrance of Goblet Ward 12 on FFXIV's Mateus server. There, they fielded my questions while we toured through their saccharine two-floor cake shop, picture-perfect schoolyard, sombre church to the FFXIV deity Zodiark and many, many gardens. Igeyorhm excitedly pointed out ice crystal formations and bubbling fountains between dives into hand-designed underground libraries and the like. I asked whether home construction was something she pursued in other games.
"Not really," she said. "A lot of people like to ask us, 'Why not play the Sims?' Because we do so much other stuff!" Igyorhm said that, after her husband died, she hasn't decorated much in real life. A few months later, she met Altima, and together they have spent an estimated thousand hours curating their 28 plots.
Neither thinks they're really depriving other players of housing opportunities. They blame Square Enix for not accommodating players' passion for home-ownership -- at least with houses. Although more cramped apartments are available on some servers and more housing will be added soon, the problem is more of philosophy than accessibility: Are players entitled to property in FFXIV -- any more than they're entitled to raiding mounts or veteran rewards? Is it the richer players, or the ones with more free time to grind out crafting exp, who are more entitled to take up space?
Altima and Igeyorhm's schoolhouse
I asked Altima and Igeyorhm whether they'd give up any one of their plots for a new transfer desperate for a home. They paused. "These are our memories. Our precious time spent together," Igeyorhm said.
Of course, some players still think they should be able to get those houses. "Not everyone needs everything in-game," counters Altima. She argues that she's not depriving anyone of housing; the plots were empty for years before they took them. "For example, not everyone deserves the Savage raiding mounts if they don't do Alexander."