Over the years following its successful rebirth, Final Fantasy 14 has turned its adventurers into more than just battle-hardened brawlers destined to beat up all kinds of godlike baddies. Its numerous and ever-expanding features allow players to take up many different vocations: from official roles like fishing and crafting, to fun side projects like gardening, entertainment, and even interior design. Now comically referred to as “the true endgame” and a constant focus of discussion across FF14 forums, I sat down with two of the most prominent members of the MMO’s housing community to talk about how they went from standout designers to community pillars.
Alice Pham has played a big role in growing the FF14 housing community over the last few years. Referred to as “one of the vets” and a “pioneer of commission-based interior decorating” by the designers her work has inspired, Alice has not only elevated the housing community but managed to make a little real-world money selling her keen eye for detail, too.
“I had no experience in interior/exterior design before I started playing FF14 or any MMOs in general…” she said. Though she did mention a prior interest in the housing systems of games like The Sims and The Elder Scrolls Online. “When I finished decorating my first house for a friend of mine who commissioned me, he suggested I showcase it on Reddit. Back then, housing in the North American community was not as popular or prominent as Japan’s housing community so I did not expect much at first.”
That’s what Pham thought, anyway. Then her design hit the front page.
Despite it being a relatively unknown proposition at the time, Pham followed her friend’s advice. Her initial post mentioned she was open to commissions. The subtle hint worked.
“From then on I had several requests from people to decorate their houses for a fee,” Pham explained.
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Not all of the FF14 community liked the idea of paying someone else to decorate their homes, though. It’s the kind of argument you can find in any creative field. It was only compounded by the fact that this took place entirely inside a digital space, where art creative labor can seem even more ephemeral.
“I don’t see it as much different than hiring an interior decorator in real life,” Pham said. And rightfully so. She provided her talents, taste, knowledge, and time to create homes that reflected her client’s own personality — a place they could relax in without worrying about things like color coordination. They could hire her eye, and they did.
Even at the height of her business, Pham never made staggering amounts of money essentially flipping digital houses. That wasn’t the point. She gave her clientele the option of paying in either in-game currency (gil) or real-world cash — whichever was easier and more affordable for them.
Her most expensive rate was about 40 million gil in FF14, or $50 in real-life, for a large in-game house. Although Pham’s life outside the game meant commissions sometimes took weeks at a time to complete. But with her work inspiring others, and her eventually being “flooded with so many requests,” she was eventually able to refer excess work over to promising up-and-comers, giving them the opportunity to grow their own portfolios and share in her success.
Pham’s knowledge would ultimately play a big role in the end result of a build. Final Fantasy 14’s housing system can produce some shockingly realistic results, but only for those who know how to manipulate its archaic limitations — like using specific items to carefully glitch others into spots they wouldn’t otherwise fit. Alice’s teachings in message boards like the Hydaelyn Housing Facebook group have, over time, brought these staple tricks to the legions of pupils willing to learn the craft. It’s just one part of the designer’s bible that’s at the very heart of the incredible HGXIV podcast.
Putting the Pieces Together
Ashen Bride, a player Pham noted as her own personal favorite and one of the founding presenters of the podcast, set the show up in March 2019. It was meant as a way to talk shop with other creatives. Now on their 24th show, the hosts spend hours demonstrating complicated techniques, fun furniture hacks, and explain things like lighting while offering the housing community a totally new platform to showcase its work.
“… there’s some websites for furniture information,” Bride explained, “but not a lot of guides or ways to create popular and needed furniture items beyond what single creators might show their blog.”
The game’s official catalog of furniture grows with every patch. These days, however, Bride still likes to play Dr. Frankenstein. Players regularly mash up existing items in glitchy ways that wouldn’t be obvious to the untrained eye. These juxtaposed objects create the illusion of something new, like a sink shoved into a chair to make a toilet, or two walls and a shelf positioned to look like a fridge.
More recently, another member of the housing community managed to mimic a fancy PC gaming set-up by splicing six imitation windows and a lantern together. The end result created a curved monitor for their desk. The artificial light included in FF14’s windows created that sharp, eye-searing glow we’re all too familiar with.
But beyond aggravating placements, designers like Bride face another big hurdle: object limits.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I panic once I start to see the item count rise and I’m not even close to being finished with a build,” she said. The limit has increased over time, but outside of loosening the game’s object placement rules to eliminate the need for glitching, a greater increase remains one of the most common requests from designers looking to flex their creative muscles.
The Virtual Land Grab
A veteran of FF14’s second coming — the A Realm Reborn reboot in 2013 — Bride didn’t always care about such things. Much like Pham, she initially had little interest in what many lovingly refer to as its true endgame content.
“I would visit my Free Company house and would jump around,” she explained. “It honestly never registered to me the scope of work that went into [decorating].”
At the time, player housing was mostly reserved for guilds whose members would all pitch in for the expensive (and extremely limited) land deeds. There wasn’t much to do with them, either. Many merely stood as costly hangout spots and trophy rooms — monuments to groups that were rich and lucky enough to get them.
Bride went on to say that, when they first started playing, it was basically impossible to even get in-game housing, much less play around with it. It‘s still pretty tough for a single player on any server to get own their own home in Final Fantasy 14. It wasn’t until the game’s second paid expansion, Stormblood, in 2017 that she managed to get one. She remembers the exact location, too.
“I decided I’d just retire on the quiet server of Famfrit, when suddenly I saw my first house,” Bride said “It was Mist, ward 8 plot 8. I had just enough gil so I bought it and I guess I got hooked!”
She then shared a divisive tale of how a player once ran through the door of her new home and bolted when they realized its owner was home. Figuring they just came in to have an innocent look around, the mysterious intruder would later join Bride’s guild after watching her rise to stardom over time. As it turned out, the lonely little Lalafell intruder was the previous owner of the house and came to see what had become of their former home.
Stepping Back from the Canvas
Taking control of that estate (effectively getting her own canvas to work with) was all it took to set Bride off on a road that would ultimately change FF14 housing community for the better.
“I can’t draw, I’m not artistic,” she opined. “I have no professional background. I don’t sew or knit or anything. Housing is just something that clicks in my brain.”
Brides’ background closely mirrors how the Final Fantasy 14 housing system roped Pham into the field. Neither of them had any prior experience with interior decorating in the real world. Bride just began sharing her builds on Tumblr to moderate success. It wasn’t until she joined Twitter, just months before the founding of HGXIV, that her popularity became apparent.
Recounting her troubled first steps, Bride explained how her first commission was a big net loss. Her second didn’t like the work, refused to pay, and sent her off with some Wind Crystals (common, nearly worthless in-game items) instead. At the height of her service days, Ashen charged much lower prices by today’s standards — around 12-14 million gil for a large build. She even bought the furniture used in the job with the same small stack of in-game cash.
“I liked providing my own furniture… I imagined I’d feel guilty tacking on a final price when I wouldn’t be sure if the owner even liked the build.”
But her rise to FF14 celebrity and the growing complexity of the system soon led Bride to close her commissions. She wanted to focus on HGXIV and “personal projects” instead. She bowed out of providing a service people still ask of her today, but has gone on to share her passion and knowledge with the rest of the community with her podcast team.
Bride and her co-hosts got a real sense of their rapid rise during a recent charity stream. The team set out to raise a modest $200 for the Best Friends Animal Society, a few days after Christmas. Ultimately, the group managed to raise close to quadruple that amount.
“It was so shocking but heartening to see the outpouring of support,” she added. The event was so well-received that viewers began requesting it become a yearly tradition. That’s a tall order for a stream that has yet to celebrate its first anniversary.
The Next Creation
Now what have these two FF14 figureheads, who had no studied knowledge of interior design prior to their rise to fame, done with their newfound talent? Besides applying her own teachings and keen eye for color in her own home, Pham has begun to study interior design outside of the game — through books and popular YouTube videos. She specifically recommends Simon Brake’s Interior Design: The Best Beginner’s Guide For Newbies as a great resource for new designers, both in and out of the MMO, to learn the fundamentals. Besides networking with other designers in chat channels, she also says it’s important to build a portfolio on a site like Tumblr or Carrd. Then creators can show off their completed works on Twitter (where both the Western and Eastern housing communities tend to overlap).
Both Pham and Bride may have hopped out of the commission game for now, but they’ve undeniably left the FF14 housing community in a stronger place than they found it. The reach of their passion and creativity has inspired hundreds, if not thousands of players try their hand at interior design. At a time when the young are struggling to leave their real childhood homes, this kind of virtual cottage decoration can be a catharsis and practice for opportunities yet to come.
Both designers still share their personal projects on places like Twitter, too. They continue to be admins on social platforms like the Fashion Decoration Discord server and the Hydaelyn Housing Facebook groups.
The Final Fantasy 14 housing system has come under fire for a multitude of reasons over the years. That will probably continue over the game’s entire lifecycle. Yet these two icons of the craft have helped countless players make the absolute most of a feature that continues to teeter on the edge of being one of the game’s best, and most completely unnecessary features. They’ve helped grow one heck of a community in the process, too.