If there's one way to describe the situation of Final Fantasy XIV's housing market this morning, it was a rat race. Within first 12 minutes of the game coming online from maintenance, all houses in the new Shirogane housing district on my server Excalibur were gone. Of course the issue was unlike previous housing releases since the chaos was spread across multiple housing areas such as Gridania, Limsa Lominsa, and Ul’dah. In these cases, it was new wards and new subdivisions for existing wards. In this particular case though all eyes were on the new Shirogane housing district. If there's anything hilarious about the whole situation was the utter insanity of the strength of that pier that everyone was standing on the night before. That peer probably hosted a majority of the server with one poor NPC having to fill in the request of thousands of adventurers in the minutes the server came online.
In all seriousness though, this housing rush kind of stunk for many free companies and players unable to login exactly at 6am EDT/3am PDT as some were at work, some still are having internet issues due to the last few hurricanes that slammed into the US, and/or some just had bad luck with the game failing to load properly due to the massive number of players attempting to log in. I found myself 1200+ in queue to log into Excalibur... I don't usually see that many in the queue trying to get into our server that often. This could be because we were all in Kugane trying to get into the housing districts but still that's insanity in on itself.
In a sense, this rat race comes down to who got through the door first and who's game didn't crap out. Of course there really isn't very many good ways to handle this kind of situation but the rat race method isn't at all great... in truth, it's kind the worst way to do it because it emphasis your connection to the game servers trying to beat anyone else. It also emphasizes underhanded methods of gaining the upper hand in the purchasing process as I discovered the night before that some players were resorting to using trade requests to kick others out of the purchasing window.
As for a possible alternative, maybe we could take a page from real life. In the real world we have something called a housing lottery in some cities. This allows first time owners or individuals trying to move a chance to buy or rent a house or apartment in a crowded city which can be difficult. It's not a perfect system but it does level some of the playing field that some communities are experiencing. In FFXIV, this would require some work on Square Enix's side to implement and the some good will on the player's side to be fair about things.
For FFXIV, FCs and individuals can sign up for a lottery for a small, medium or large plot. This forces the FC and/or individual to decide up front if they're okay with not getting the exact spot that they necessarily want but getting a house in general. Not all plots are great but they're not all terrible either. For some, just getting a home is all they’re after. The buy in for the lottery is the cost of the highest price plot for that particular size. They either enter as an individual buyer or a FC or both depending on the situation but they can only put their name in for one of the sizes as an FC and/or one size as an individual. Each FC is represented by only one person so that means each FC is represented once in the lottery.
For large plots, first time housing FCs are given a greater chance to be drawn (assuming they meet some specific criteria such as FC level, age of FC, etc.) over those moving. These FCs would all have a greater chance then an individual who could still be selected on the off chance that lady luck shines upon them. These weights can be adjusted for medium and maybe not present at all for small plots. To further diversify the population in the housing areas, small plots could be setup so that some wards have 1/2 to 3/4 of the houses available for individual buyers vs FCs.
The lottery system can be scheduled to begin at a specific date and with drawings every 6 hours if the last voucher issued was used, cancelled or expires. Once a lottery is drawn, that individual either representing an FC or the individual buyer are issued a voucher which they have up to X number of days to use. If the time allotted expires, they are removed from the drawing and the entry redrawn. The individual buyer or FC are assigned a ward and they can select from the plots still available for the size they applied for from either the main or subdivision. Once the plot is purchased, the game will draw the next lottery ticket during the next lottery window.
Once all plots are filled, the entries are refunded back as gil vouchers which can be used in future housing lotteries that come up or cashed for the gil amount for that class of ticket. Any individuals who bought a lower class plot then rank 1 are issued a voucher they can cash in for the difference.
These lotteries could occur the beginning of each month that plots are available. Vouchers from previous lotteries can be used in these as well as FCs and individual buyers attempting this the first time.
This system isn't perfect by any means. It’s possible to play the system but does require quite a bit of capital and a large amount of luck should it occur. One issues that I overhead while discussing the housing situation that morning with fellow FC members was that once FC took over an entire ward on one server by giving their members enough gil to buy up small plots. I don’t know if this happened with this particular housing release but it’s something that’s difficult to detect and almost unavoidable in any system. This would require the lottery be monitored by the game masters for any malicious activity. Of course, if they win the lottery, that's just random chance now playing a hand in selecting who gets to purchase a plot. I'm not sure this is better or worse than the rat race of everyone trying to log in, causing errors and massive slowdowns and panic attacks as individuals try to buy the plot they've been eyeing for the last several weeks.
Of course from the IT side of things, it's not as simple to just add more housing servers. Those housing servers are part of a massive system which means if you want to add more housing servers, it's possible they would also need to add more database servers, more cluster nodes, more routing switches, more power requirements, etc. On top of this all, this might even require a full re-architecture of some systems if they aren't design to scale out correctly. Adding more servers might not net you 7 more wards without being done properly, just added another server might only get you 2 more. That's a lot of overhead cost for very little gain if not done right. This is on top of having to deploy new game servers due to population limits being reached.
In a sense, I understand the struggles of having to figure out how to deal with the IT side of things but overall this could have been handled better. The question is what works better in this environment. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this kind of situation go bad. Just look at the first FFXIV Fanfest tickets. It’s kind of the same situation in a way. Of course in those cases, it’s a little simpler to add more servers to handle the traffic but it’s still going to be a bad time for some. Of course, last year’s was a bit better with access codes for blocks of tickets for existing subscribers being issued a chance to buy tickets but overall the same principles could be adjusted in applied. That's just my two gil on the whole situation. I went for the low hanging fruit in this whole mess and got an apartment in Shirogane.