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Final Fantasy XIV's huge fishing community make their own fun with spreadsheets and bootleg aquariums

And they're doing it in incredible style

Fishers getting ready to go out Ocean Fishing in Final Fantasy XIV
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Square Enix

On paper, Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t do a very good job of encouraging fishing. FFXIV’s lead director and producer Naoki Yoshida — known as Yoshi P — wanted to create something that was "fun, but relaxing”, and there aren’t a lot of material rewards for the time you put in. You can sell the fish or break them down into other materials, but really the only reason to fish is for the sake of fishing itself.

And yet today Final Fantasy XIV is home to a close knit fishing community of over 27,000 people. This single shared interest has spun off into many different directions, including fishing as a competitive journey, the process of building a space for the hobby itself, and even a kind of metagame. But the main thread tying these all together is the love for fishing, and the community’s central hub is actually located outside of the game - in a Discord server called Fisherman’s Horizon, lovingly nicknamed Fishcord.

I’m no master angler though, and that’s how I found myself talking to Sarath Ras, a fisherman who’s completed FFXIV’s entire fishing log, and earned the in-game title Saint Of The Firmament through a server-wide fishing contest. You were only required to come in the top twelve to get the title. Ras was first.

“Completing the fishing log, so catching everything at least once, can take a few months to get 99% of the way,” Ras tells me. That last 1% consists mostly of waiting for select windows that rare fish appear in, usually determined by criteria like the in-game time, the in-game weather, what buffs your character has, and what fish you’ve caught recently. It’s important to note that doing all of this correctly only gives you a chance to catch the fish; the rest is luck. The last step is the most crucial: getting annoyed when they don’t bite.

A group of players Ocean Fishing in Final Fantasy XIV
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Square Enix

The strategies involved do get complex when it comes to Ocean Fishing though. Every two real-world hours, a fifteen minute window opens where players can register to go fishing on an auto-piloted boat. Normally, you have to do this alongside 23 other players and it’s meant to be just a bit of fun. But fishing with a bunch of strangers makes hunting for the rare fish that are exclusive to Ocean Fishing incredibly difficult, because there’s so many variables you need to micromanage to get these rare fish to appear in the first place.

So what’s the solution? “People try to isolate boats and get them to themselves in order to control for those variables,” Ras says. If you queue as soon as the window opens, you’re very likely to get put into a group with 23 other people. But if you wait till the end of the 15 minutes, and rush to get in at the last second, you’ll be put on an empty boat. Of course, there’s usually multiple people all trying to do this at the same time and, more often than not, they end up getting thrown together. Another method involves changing your language in FFXIV’s Duty Finder — the game’s matchmaking system — to, ironically, avoid other players.

On the other hand, The Eorzean Aquariums exist for the exact opposite purpose. They’re a not-for-profit player-run venue that catalogues every fish available in the game, putting them into uniquely themed exhibits inspired by FFXIV’s world. The Aquarium has gained enough popularity that they’ve even had to expand, so there’s now a unique Aquarium available on each of the North American, European and Oceanic data centres, all run by their own dedicated teams of volunteers.

“I wanted a place that fishers could come, hang out, get advice, get gear and bait. Really, a proper 'fishing guild' in a way.”

I spoke to the Aquarium’s founder, who goes by Fruity Snacks, to learn more about it. “I wanted a place that fishers could come, hang out, get advice, get gear and bait,” Fruity explains. “Really, a proper 'fishing guild' in a way.” The idea first came together in Fishcord, but resonated with enough people that the Eorzean Aquariums have their own dedicated subcommunity now, as well as their own Discord server with over 700 members. “I like to think that, even though it’s not really a 'fisher’s guild' now, it still could be seen as one for players,” Fruity says.

The Eorzean Aquarium runs community events across all three data centres. There have been Pride events, scavenger hunts, and plenty of parties. As the Oceanic Aquarium’s lead Kyrie told me, their work was even recognised by the game’s own developers; The Aquarium featured on Mr Foxclon's Neighbourhood, an official Square Enix streamed show hosted by FFXIV’s Global Community Producer, Toshio “Foxclon” Murouchi.

Building an aquarium in FFXIV isn’t easy though, particularly because the game doesn’t really let you do it. The aquariums were instead built using the player-owned houses available through the Free Company system (similar to guilds). In FFXIV you can display fish in houses using fish tank furniture units, which, inconveniently for me writing this, the game calls aquariums. But houses have a finite limit of how many of these aquariums can be placed. The largest size house — a mansion — can only fit ten aquarium units.

To get around the limitation, Fruity explains to me, they used private rooms. A Free Company house lets every member of the guild have their own little room to customise, so Fruity and a team of volunteers made a bunch of alternate accounts to claim these rooms for their own purposes; each private room lets you place four fish tanks. Each room has been ornately designed into an exhibit, though the private rooms system means you can only access them via a pop up menu that transports you to whichever one you selected. It's a teensy bit janky but I love it. It gives the Aquariums this wonderful creative energy, and every step reminds you that this whole experience was brought together by players.

An aquarium exhibit featuring a rock waterfall in the North American Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV
The guest book for the North American Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV
R: a display in the North American Eorzean Aquarium; L: a page from said aquarium's guest book | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Square Enix

Cataloguing fish is one thing but figuring out how to catch them is another. Fish are periodically added to FFXIV in waves, but very little information about how to catch them is given outright. In fact, the details are so obscured that the fishing community calls the process of finding this information “discovery”, and as Fruity says, “discovery is probably one of the best parts of every update”. He put me in touch with Tyo’to Tayuun, the key organiser behind discovery.

Tyo’to makes clear that while he could be considered the “manager” of discovery, his role is mainly in maintaining the spreadsheets used to track the whole effort. At the start of every fishing update, Tyo’to creates a spreadsheet for recording the conditions required to catch the newly added rare fish, including what time the fish were caught, what bait was used, what the weather was like, and so on. It’s a bit like solving a Sudoku puzzle but on a giant scale — you eliminate what doesn’t work till you can logically deduce the answer.

Prior to patch 6.4 released in May of this year, “it was possible to datamine whether or not a fish had a time or weather condition. You couldn’t tell what those were, but there was a flag for if they had them at all,” Tyo’to tells me. “Starting in 6.4, that’s not possible anymore.” So, on the first day of discovery, “people just go fishing”. There aren’t any restrictions placed initially because a fish could have absolutely any condition required to catch it, and, as you can imagine, Tyo’to doesn’t want people “to start narrowing things down immediately when nothing has been tried”. Tyo’to also uses this period to look at what sort of conditions are throwing out interesting results in order to plan for the next day.

A large tank aquarium exhibit in the European Eorzean Aquarium in Final Fantasy XIV
An exhibit in the European Eorzean Aquarium | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Square Enix

Tyo’to then starts sending out specific windows of time for players to test. Because people across the world volunteer their own free time for the discovery process, that free time is different for everyone. Tyo’to notes that this is hugely beneficial as “it's entirely possible to fish in a viable window and not get a bite,” so having multiple people cover the same conditions helps speed the entire process up. “We can almost never be 100% confident about a fish’s conditions,” Tyo’to admits - but in the months between patches the collected data gets tested further to increase its accuracy.

Towards the end of my conversation with Tyo’to, he mentions that since FFXIV doesn’t ask much from its players in the form of daily tasks, they may also be incentivised to create their own fun. That comes through vividly in the fishing community. Everybody I spoke to couldn't have been more enthusiastic to share their hobby with me, and while I may remain a casual fisher, it’s nice to know I’m surrounded by an incredibly passionate group.

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