On paper, Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t do a very good job of encouraging hunting. FFXIV’s director and lead producer Naoki Yoshida – known as Yoshi P – wanted to create something that was “fun but relaxing”, and where there weren’t a lot of material rewards for the time spent. You can sell the fish or break it into other materials, but the only reason for fishing is the fishing itself.

However, today Final Fantasy XIV is home to a tight-knit hunting community of over 27,000 people. This shared interest has split into many different directions, including fishing as a competitive journey, the process of building a space for the hobby itself, and even a type of polygamy. But the main thread that ties it all together is a love of fishing, and the central hub of the community actually lies outside of the game — in a Discord server called Fisherman’s Horizon, aka Fishcord’s Love.

However, I’m not a skilled hunter, and so I found myself talking to Sarath Ras, a hunter who completed the entire hunting log in FFXIV, earning the in-game title of Saint Of The Firmament through a server-wide hunting competition. You were only required to come in the top twelve to claim the title. Ras was the first.

“Completing a hunting log, that is, catching everything at least once, can take a few months to get 99% of the way,” Lee Rass tells me. The final 1% mostly consists of waiting for specific windows in which rare fish appear, which is usually determined by criteria like in-game time, in-game weather, what improvements your character has, and what fish you’ve recently caught. It is important to note that doing all of this right gives you a chance to catch fish; The rest is luck. The last step is the most important: discomfort when he doesn’t bite.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Square Enix

The strategies involved get complicated when it comes to ocean fishing. Every two hours in the real world, a fifteen-minute window opens where players can sign up to go fishing on a robotically steered boat. Normally, you have to do this alongside 23 other players, and it should be a bit of fun. But fishing with a group of strangers makes catching rare fish exclusive to Ocean Fishing very difficult, because there are too many variables that need to be managed in detail for these rare fish to appear in the first place.

So what is the solution? “People are trying to isolate the boats and get them to themselves in order to control those variables,” Ras says. If you stand in line as soon as the window opens, you will very likely be placed in a group of 23 other people. But if you wait until the end of the 15 minutes, and rush to board at the last second, you will be put on an empty boat. Of course, there are usually several people trying to do this at the same time, and more often than not, they end up grouping together. Another method involves changing your language in FFXIV’s Duty Finder – the matchmaking system – to avoid other players, ironically.

Eorzean aquariums, on the other hand, exist for the exact opposite purpose. It’s a non-profit, player-run place that catalogs all the fish available in the game, and places them in uniquely themed galleries inspired by the world of FFXIV. The aquarium has gained enough popularity that it has had to expand, so there is now a unique aquarium available in every data center in North America, Europe, and Oceania, all run by dedicated teams of volunteers.

“I wanted a place where anglers could come, hang out, get tips, get gear and bait. Really, ‘fishing guild’ is appropriate in a way.”

I spoke to the Aquarium’s founder, who goes by Fruity Snacks, to learn more about him. “I wanted a place where anglers could come, hang out, get tips, get gear and bait,” Frutti explains. “Really, ‘hunting guild’ is somehow appropriate.” The idea first came about in Fishcord, but it resonated with enough people that Eorzean Aquariums now has its own dedicated sub-community, as well as its own Discord server with over 700 members. “I like to think that even though it’s not really a ‘hunter’s guild’ now, it can still be considered a players’ guild,” Frutti says.

Eorzean Aquarium runs community events across its three data centres. There were Pride events, scavenger hunts, and lots of parties. As Oceanic Aquarium leader Kyrie told me, their work has been recognized by the game developers; The aquarium is featured in Mr Foxclon’s Neighbourhood, an official show streamed via Square Enix hosted by Global Community Producer for FFXIV, Toshio “Foxclon” Murouchi.

Building an aquarium in FFXIV is not easy, especially since the game doesn’t let you do it. Aquariums are instead built using player-owned houses available through the Free Company system (similar to Guilds). In FFXIV, you can display fish in homes using modular aquarium furniture, which, inconveniently for me as I write this, the game calls aquariums. But homes have a limited limit on the number of these aquariums that can be placed. The largest house – the mansion – can only accommodate ten aquarium units.

To get around this limitation, Frutti explained to me, they used private rooms. A free Company House allows each guild member to have their own little space to customize, so Fruity and a team of volunteers have created a set of alternate accounts to claim these rooms for their own purposes; Each private room allows you to place four fish tanks. Each room is ornately designed to become a gallery, although the private room system means you can only access them via a pop-up menu that takes you to the room you’ve selected. It’s very small but I love it. It gives aquariums this wonderful creative energy, and every step reminds you that this entire experience was put together by the players.

Aquarium exhibit featuring a rock waterfall in the North American Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV

Guest book for the North American Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV

R: Display at the North American Eorzean Aquarium; L: A page from the aforementioned aquarium’s visitors’ book | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Square Enix

Cataloging fish is one thing, but knowing how to catch them is another. Fish are periodically added to FFXIV in waves, but very little information is provided on how to catch them directly. In fact, the details are so vague that the hunting community calls the process of finding this information “discovery,” and as Frutti says, “discovery is probably one of the best parts of every update.” He put me in touch with Tyo’to Tayuun, the main organizer behind the discovery.

Teuto explains that although he could be considered a “manager” of discovery, his role is primarily to maintain the spreadsheets used to track the entire effort. At the beginning of each fishing update, Tyo’to creates a spreadsheet to record the conditions required to catch the newly added rare fish, including when the fish was caught, the bait used, what the weather was like, and so on. It’s a bit like solving a Sudoku puzzle but on a larger scale – you remove what doesn’t work so you can logically deduce the answer.

Before update 6.4 was released in May of this year, “it was possible to tell whether or not a fish had a time or weather condition. “You couldn’t tell what those things were, but there was a marker indicating whether they had them or not.” “Starting with version 6.4, this is not possible anymore,” Teuto told me. “So, on the first day of discovery, ‘people go fishing.’ No restrictions were put in place at first because the fish could have any condition required to catch it.” As you can imagine, Tyo’to doesn’t want people to “start narrowing things down right away when nothing has been tried.” Tyo’to also uses this period to consider what kind of circumstances lead to interesting outcomes in order to plan the day the next.

A large tank aquarium exhibit at the European Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV

Exhibition at the European Orsinian Aquarium | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Square Enix

Tyo’to then begins sending players specific time slots to test. Since people all over the world volunteer their free time for the process of discovery, this free time varies from person to person. Teuto points out that this is extremely useful because “it’s entirely possible to fish in a viable window and not get a bite,” so having multiple people covering the same conditions helps speed up the whole process. “We can never be 100% confident about fish conditions,” Teuto admits, but in the months between patches, the data collected is further tested to increase its accuracy.

At the end of my conversation with Tyo’to, he mentioned that since FFXIV doesn’t ask much of its players in the form of daily quests, they might as well be incentivized to create their own fun. This is clearly evident in the hunting community. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been beyond excited to share their hobby with me, and while I may still be a casual angler, it’s nice to know that I’m surrounded by an incredibly passionate group.

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