On December 14th Square Enix announced the price of land plots for the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn housing feature that will be implemented tomorrow with patch 2.1 “A Realm Awoken.” The prices have caused quite a stir within the community, as they’re so high that many players and Free Companies (the game’s equivalent of guilds) won’t be able to afford enjoying the feature for a long time, if at all, especially on the most populated legacy servers.
This open letter, addressed to the game’s Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida, is the first of a series you’ll see here on DualShockers, in which our writers will appeal to the developers of the games they care about asking for change, delivering suggestions or simply to give their opinion on a topic near to their hearts. The original version of this open letter was posted by the author yesterday on the official Final Fantasy XIV: a Realm Reborn forums.
Many of us expected a merry Starlight Celebration inside our new houses for which we waited for so long, maybe with seasonal decorations and the company of our friends to celebrate.
Unfortunately, going by what I’m seeing, the majority us will spend a sad Starlight Celebration out under the falling snow, homeless.
As a veteran MMORPG player since the times of Ultima Online (and quite a few MUDs before that) I’m perfectly aware of the value of countering inflation with large money sinks, and I fully understand the reasoning behind assigning high prices to a feature like housing, but in this case I believe someone went overboard, and not just by a little bit.
I’m sure you and the team have a lot of metrics to look at, and I’m sure you know that there’s a lot of gil spread across the servers, especially the legacy ones.
The problem is that all that gil is not distributed evenly across the population. It’s in the hands of few, and those few tend to be focused within very few free companies, many of which engage in not exactly savory activities like overpriced mercenary titan runs, taking even more gil from those that have less and hoarding it for themselves instead of being helpful with their fellow players free of charge.
At least from my ground level point of view (but do feel free to correct me with actual data, if you so wish), most of the actual population doesn’t even get near to having a very large amount of gil, even on legacy servers.
As a veteran of 1.0, first on Mysidia, then on Gungnir and now on Balmung, I have only 300,000 gil to my name, and while I don’t believe I represent anyone else, I also don’t believe that the vast majority of my server’s population has that much more than I do. Almost everyone I talked to doesn’t, and I talk to many. I’m aware this is not a valid statistic, but it’s the best I can come up with readily.
The current pricing of housing is simply mind boggling for someone with my virtual finances, and the prospect of joining forces with a free company doesn’t help much. Unless I join a giant one, the required contribution for even the smallest, less desirable house would still leave me penniless. I’d still have to join a Free company with at least 67 members and give up all my savings to be able to pay for it.
And this is another of the elements that maybe hasn’t been considered when setting the housing prices: many MMORPG players don’t like being part of large, sprawling guilds. Many like medium sized guilds with 20-30 close-knit members. Others like family-sized groups of 8-10 members, with which maybe they form a dungeon static party.
And this is the biggest problem, because looking beyond individuals, since this is a feature initially aimed at free companies, the prices announced today simply lock it away from the many small/medium-ish free companies, making it an exclusive of the big ones, and the few rich ones.
It basically keeps the most anticipated and publicized feature of patch 2.1 “A Realm Awoken” away from a very large part of the playerbase.
For players like me, that aren’t in a large/rich free company and that aren’t rich themselves (even because they like to help others for free instead of requiring a fee for helping fellow players out), the feature may very well not exist at all.
Considering how much anticipation was built over the months for housing, I’m sure you can understand how disappointing that is.
A further fact is that this won’t really make the super-rich much poorer in the long run. Why? They’re rich not just because the gil fell on their heads from a tree. They’re rich because they have acquired the means to be (or they’re willing to rip-off their fellow players), and those means will not go away even if they buy a super luxurious house. They’ll keep doing mercenary runs, selling crafted items at high prices, and using the means they have in order to make more money than everyone else, and the status quo will be preserved.
Then there’s the effect on the community, which is even worse.
To create a good MMORPG community, a game’s mechanics need to encourage players to help each other out. Someone’s shouting for Titan and you’re well equipped and experienced? You help him out and you take a “thank you” and a smile as your reward, and who knows, maybe even a new friend, which is the best aspect of MMORPGs. A friend is a bit under-equipped? You pull out your level 50 crafter class and you make some better for him.
These kind of inflated prices have the opposite effect, as they encourage players to put a price tag on everything in a mad scramble for the money necessary to enjoy one of the patch’s most anticipated features.
This means that we’ll see more jacked-up prices, more mercenaries asking for the whole savings to of recently capped players that want to beat Titan for their relic weapons, and more “pay me for this,” and “pay me for that.”
Ultimately there’ll be less helpful people out there, and those people that will decide to keep being helpful will be at a severe disadvantage, because they’ll stay out in the snow while the mercenaries party in their new houses.
This is not good for the community, and what’s not good for the community is not good for a community-based game like a MMORPG.
Personally, looking at the table with the prices released on the 14th, and comparing it with the situation I see on Balmung, I can only say that the numbers would be reasonable if a zero was sliced off them all, across the board (just like it was done to our savings from Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, mind you).
Two million for the smallest, least desirable plot of land seems to be a good entry level. It’ll still remove a lot of gil from the collective coffers of smaller companies (the same can be said for 400,000 gil in the poorer non-legacy servers), but will allow those that don’t have many members and an overabundance of gil to still be able to afford a little abode to call home and be happy with it.
Large/Rich companies will still have to spend a whopping 65 million gil for a large plot, and that’s no small money sink.
Another solution would be to keep the top-level prices as they are to take more gil from the super-rich, but slice the prices for the smaller plots in order to give smaller FCs an outlet. For instance, on Balmung, this would entail keeping the super-top-of-the-line plots at 312,500,000 gil, but take a zero off the small plots (with a minimum price of 2,000,000 gil), while slicing the price of medium plots in half to create an average level.
That would still hit the coffers of those that want VIP houses hard, but would help out those that have less, and require less, but would still like to enjoy one of the most anticipated features of the patch.
The result of a reduction of the prices made this way will not make the money sink much less effective. It’ll probably be MORE effective, because a money sink doesn’t work very well if only few can have their coffers drained.
Reduced prices at least for the smallest plots mean that the gil will still be drained away, but more people will be able to enjoy housing, and more people will be engaged with the game and stay subscribed. Even from a commercial point of view, keeping a feature that costed so much effort away from a large part of the game’s population is not a good idea.
Engagement is the key to subscriptions, and the current jacked-up prices are not engaging for most.
The more people enjoy your content, the more people will stay subscribed. Housing should be an accessible feature like it was in XI (and it’s not random that XI is the most profitable Final Fantasy of all times), because it is, in every MMORPG, a high-engagement feature.
This is why in most MMORPGs housing has a low entry level price and very high top level costs. By giving an entry level option you allow the vast majority of the population to enjoy a new, big and anticipated feature, and you raise their engagement level with the game, draining part of their in-game money in the process. By making the top level costs high, you enhance the money drain and give players something to work towards, enhancing their engagement level further and over time. By not providing the entry level, the feature becomes much less valuable and engaging for the player base as a whole and as a money sink as well.
Ultimately, Yoshida-san, you got us all very excited for this feature, and I hope you can realize that pulling that juicy carrot away now that we’re so near is a big downer for many.
Personally, you are one of the game developers in the industry that I most respect. I appreciated and appreciate massively the efforts you and your team have done to steer Final Fantasy XIV in the right direction. I’ve recommended (and I will still recommend) your game to countless friends, and I sang your praises as a video game writer, but I feel this situation is being handled in a way that will make housing ineffective both as an engagement factor and as an economy-balancing feature.
I hope you’ll manage to read this open letter and that you’ll consider the feedback I included in it.
All the best, and thank you,
Abriael Rosen, Paladin, Balmung Server.