Final Fantasy 14: The Video Game That Almost Solved the Housing Crisis

My family and I were both on the housing market in April. They had to sift through postings and make trips to empty open houses. That involved me sitting at their kitchen table with my computer, playing the online role-playing game Final Fantasy XIV by Square Enix Holdings Co.

In Final Fantasy XIV, as in a half-dozen other online games, players spend real money on virtual homes where they can entertain friends, plan battles, and have a good time. The extravagantly furnished houses have spawned the idea for Cribs and HGTV spinoffs set in a dream world. More significantly, players’ homes provide the glue that holds the virtual world together: a sense of community.

But despite having the means, the time, and the motivation to buy a house, my friends and I were unable to do it in the game. As with nearly every other online role-playing game, Final Fantasy XIV’s housing shortage lasted for years. To ensure that only the most established, wealthy, and politically connected participants acquired homes, the systems were set up on a first-come, first-served basis.

Raph Koster, the main designer of the MMORPG Ultima Online, told me, “Nobody who has run an online world has any illusions about a libertarian version of economics.”

In 2017, two affluent players purchased 28 properties on one single server, effectively buying up an entire neighborhood and drawing widespread attention to FFXIV’s housing problem. The game’s aristocracy might seal off the land, or house flippers could make a profit by allowing gamers to be grandfathered into luxurious homes in sought-after neighborhoods.

It was possible for someone to own an unlimited number of dwellings, even if most of them were never occupied. Apartments are also available in Final Fantasy XIV, however, they are far less attractive.

Final Fantasy 14
Final Fantasy 14

It’s not fascinating that games reflect real-world property disputes. It’s the fact that over the past two decades, practically every video game designer has independently come up with the same workaround for their housing crisis. Fair housing activists in the real world may recognize this idea, which entails making it illegal to stockpile or speculate on real estate.

Midway through April, the patch that would finally address Final Fantasy XIV’s housing problems was published. So, what was it that finally worked? More homes should be built first. An additional 3,640 domestic plots were added to each server, bringing the total to 7,200.

Developers also put limits on the number of properties each individual and each guild could own. However, the inclusion of vacant properties into the game was possibly the most significant adjustment. My friends and I got our magnificent new home in the medieval fantasy Empyreum area in a random housing lottery in which abandoned homes were razed and their plots were redistributed.

The producers of video games often claim that the social aspects of their creations are what ultimately draw players in.

“According to Oxford University professor of economic sociology and digital social research Vili Lehdonvirta, who has studied virtual worlds, “one very evident social consequence of land and property as a speculative asset is that neighborhoods will evolve into uninhabited storehouses of value.” For a community to function socially, it must have individuals residing there.”

If people can’t afford to live there, they won’t join, and the community’s culture will suffer. In 1993, this occurred in Ultima Online, a game based on free-market ideas.

Final Fantasy 14
Final Fantasy 14

According to Koster, “what we developed made homes affordable for the top 4.5 percent.” Soon after the release of Ultima Online, there was no longer any available land for construction. In-game characters with residences found monetary benefits that those without a dwelling did not have, such as the freedom to open their shops and companies. The prosperous and secure moved in, while the poor and homeless left.

The property problem in the virtual space station game Eve Online was resolved in a comparable method. In the game, the economist recommended increasing rents, which would lead to a “hot potato effect.” One observer, game designer and Henry George devotee Lars Doucet, found parallels between the strategy and the socialist economist’s views on the best way to utilize the land.

You’ll either sell the land or put something of great value on it, says Doucet, if you aren’t using it to its full potential. Creators of video games often include real-world mechanisms in their works to help gamers feel at home right away.

However, when these mechanisms cause friction in a video game, designers can make adjustments far more rapidly than they can in the real world, where the stakes are considerably higher. Lehdonvirta believes that there are areas where the group may improve upon its current performance. The virtual world’s economy has caught up and surpassed the real one. “The real world is much behind schedule.”

In Final Fantasy XIV, we’ve upgraded our abode with wooden accents and a fully stocked bar. This week, as we gathered in our front garden for a massive battle, a neighbor across the street shouted hello and invited us to join in. A while later, I went to her house and recorded the victory in her guestbook. C. D’Anastasio, Cecilia

What to play this weekend?

Now that I’ve started playing Overwatch 2, I feel like it’s 2016 all over again. Blizzard Entertainment’s follow-up to its popular hero shooter is now available for free. For better or worse, I played the original game for years, and in many respects, this sequel improves upon it. The sequel’s already impressive visual design is bolstered by the addition of more likable protagonists, more stunning environments, and refined mechanical tweaks that speed up and slow down encounters.