Every week, I put 3 million of my hard-earned coins into an enterprise that I know will result in disappointment: the Eorzean housing lottery, where the odds have, so far, never been in my favor. Every week, I lose. I go collect my automatic refund, and then I have a little laugh at that well-known quote about the definition of insanity, which involves doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Nothing exemplifies this madness better than the ordeal of trying — and failing and trying again — to buy a house in Final Fantasy XIV, a game that leans into the comically opaque bureaucracy that surrounds modern home ownership while also serving as a sad, desperate scratch card.
Having a home base is a critical part of the RPG experience, and FFXIV is no different. But getting housing in Eorzea is a vastly different creature to the sort of ad-hoc settlements in Fallout or homesteads in Skyrim. Bureaucracy is an integral part of the game, and there’s a bleak sliver of humor in seeing it spring to life around the acquisition of a digital house in a fantasy world. But there’s an unhinged beauty in the way FFXIV embraces the formal order of administrative process and procedure, especially after I dutifully log in week after week to discover that I have, once again, lost a small plot to someone named Zaddy Holemilk.
The last time I went to look at a house that I lost, the owner had filled the yard with twinkling lights, graceful trees, and a cute patio set. I don’t care about building a cafe, and I don’t want to hold house parties. I’m a simple catgirl, and I just want a home.
I’m a simple catgirl, and I just want a home
One might wonder why you even need a house as the constantly adventuring Warrior of Light — everybody loves you, and there’s always a free inn room in every city. The answer is: why not? Housing in FFXIV is the main attraction for players interested in social roleplay and design projects. There’s a vast universe of furniture and decor options and finicky placement tricks that take time and practice to master. Houses serve as blank canvases to remodel into anything from modern mansions and themed cafes to nightclubs and bathhouses. Some players “hire” others to work at their restaurants and shops (yes, there are 18-plus roleplay venues and brothels); running a popular “business” can be a viable way of making in-game money through player tips. The residential neighborhoods in each main city have different vibes. For instance, Gridania has the flowery, Disney-like Lavender Beds, and Limsa Lominsa has The Mist, a serene beachside enclave that remains the white whale of my real estate dreams.
Houses, or rather their plots, come in three sizes: small, medium, and large, each more expensive than the last. There’s outdoor furniture and landscaping decor. Having a house also lets you put in a chocobo stable and amenities that mean you never have to leave if you don’t want to. Pulling up the residential district list at each city’s aetheryte shard will list which houses are open to visitors. Until patch 6.1, housing was a first-come, first-served system, where players had to squat in front of a potentially available house and wait for an invisible timer to run out. Needless to say, it was tough, and it was almost impossible for an average player to get a house. The lottery system was introduced to address this perceived housing crisis in Eorzea, and since that hasn’t exactly panned out — there’s still a huge demand and scant supply of available homes — game director Naoki Yoshida announced that they’ll be unrolling more housing wards in January. (Square Enix recently announced that it’s also reinstating automatic demolition, which means your house goes bye-bye if you don’t log in and enter your estate enough.)
For some, the evolution of housing culture in FFXIV has become intertwined with discussions about the potential shape of the metaverse, an oversold concept that continues to wilfully ignore the myriad ways in which people already live and work and perform online. Valve chief Gabe Newell, a fairly recent FFXIV convert, went viral earlier in the year for mentioning the game’s most popular aetheryte plaza in the same breath as every tech bro’s favorite fever dream. It’s not enough that FFXIV is already a functioning alternate universe for many players who inhabit its realms — it’s also become a tedious touchstone for general discussions about digital property, which theoretically shouldn’t suffer from the same scarcity problems as real-world housing markets.
I have, once again, lost a small plot to someone named Zaddy Holemilk
While the US housing market is an endless geyser of nightmares, the FFXIV housing situation actually has a little more in common with Singapore, which has a highly centralized and controlled public housing market. Last year, I bought a public housing flat with help from my late grandparents, every single government grant I was eligible for, and a painfully long mortgage. We don’t use a lottery system, but the current public housing model can often create a “lottery effect” where some first-time buyers resell their flats (after a fixed amount of time) for a much higher price; this means a bit more long-term planning for certain buyers with an eye toward investment. There’s also a long waitlist for new estates — friends who have signed up for new, built-to-order flats won’t be able to move in for at least five years thanks to pandemic-related construction and labor issues. The system is completely hostile to queer folks and non-traditional families. Ultimately, buying a public housing flat isn’t true ownership — it’s a 99-year lease from the government, which can stretch across a few generations until it goes back to the state.
Of course, FFXIV’s housing lottery isn’t subject to these restrictions — gil is gil, and the only thing that matters is landing the winning number. What it shares with Singapore’s public housing system is twofold. First, it wears the comforting veneer of a fair and open bureaucracy ready to help the eager homeowner — all you need is a pile of money. Second, it perpetuates a similar form of wish fulfillment at a curious time when so many discussions about technology project real-world hang-ups onto an intangible fantasy space where we shouldn’t have scarcity problems. I didn’t know I wanted a house in Eorzea until I learned that I could have a house in Eorzea, and now I can’t rest until I get a house in Eorzea. Will I get one? Probably not, but in all my years of MMOs and RPGs, I’ve never been quite so hooked on the idea of a digital house until now.
The idea of a house was one of the first ways that early computer users tried to translate their digital presence into something familiar and “real.” One of the first online “houses” was the early 1980s social gaming network called GameMaster, a shared digital mansion that ran on a subscription membership. It was decidedly primitive by today’s standards — visitors relied on written descriptions to get a feel of the place, which had 39 rooms spread across six floors. Members could play games in themed spaces, including backgammon, war games, and even a truck delivery game called Twelve Wheeler. They could browse through shared recipes in the kitchen or discuss photography in the darkroom; there were also conference rooms that members could reserve ahead of time and mailrooms with individual mailboxes. It was more than a house — it was a community.
“The mansion isn’t a house; it’s a philosophy. It’s intended to appeal to — and it does — people who understand where the world is going and are helping it get there,” said Paul Martin, one of GameMaster’s co-creators, in a 1981 interview with Softalk. Martin’s words today feel readily applicable to modern life and our hybrid existence both on- and offline, except without the singular, obsessive focus on ownership. Looking back at it today, GameMaster feels like an impossibly pure, idealized dream. Eventually, over the years, our collective fascination with exploring the idea of “home” on the computer grew into a whole subcategory of interior design programs that, in turn, influenced a slew of life sim games.
Maybe it’s the idea of a fixed home that appeals to me as someone who’s spent most of their life moving around. But a good chunk of my generation’s idea of “home” — at least those of us who grew up in an age of Geocities neighborhoods — is tied to the idea of establishing an online presence. If housing in FFXIV is a philosophy, it’s a philosophy that runs along the lines of private home ownership as wish fulfillment while inexplicably retaining mundane problems that we shouldn’t have to worry about after literally surviving the apocalypse in Endwalker. Looking back at the Doman reconstruction content in the Stormblood expansion, the Warrior of Light almost singlehandedly financed the reconstruction of a whole enclave for a war-torn community. It wouldn’t be impossible — especially now that my WoL is even stronger and richer and more well-connected than she was in Stormblood — to build a modest mansion for myself (no, the Island Sanctuary does not count as a house).
But scarcity breeds desire, and housing simply wouldn’t be as attractive if every player automatically got a house when they hit the level cap (if they ever implement this, which they won’t — but if they do, I will lose my mind). And so, FFXIV’s housing philosophy bends toward recreating the administrative structures and procedures that stand between us and the object of our desire while also enshrining the entire process in a curious mix of chance and order. As for what this philosophy is helping us toward, it’s not some glorified vision of the metaverse. It’s the warm, comforting bosom of private ownership that already defines most of modern life. In short, it’s not driving us toward anything new — it’s just kind of funny that Square Enix would choose to create a housing shortage in a fantasy world and even funnier that it’s become an ongoing player gripe as a “crisis.”
The fact remains that unlike GameMaster’s niche philosophy, which made sense in 1981 when actual houses were still affordable, FFXIV understands the universal appeal of having a place of one’s own to keep the lottery hot — after all, I could win the next one, and if not, the one after that or the one after that. We know the world is going to hell, and, god help me, I just want my video game house before we get there.