Escaping The Long Shadow – Player Housing

The history of player housing in MMOs is pretty interesting.  One could even start further back with player-owned zones in MUDs and what not.  Yet, as one of the oldest bulletpoint features there seems to be no collective standard on what player housing should entail.  It gets even rockier in the fact that the biggest MMO of all does not even have player housing, leading to the possibility that there are millions of MMO players trained to care less about owning a piece of real estate.  Yet, there is hope.  The two biggest MMO beacons on the horizon, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, are both bringing player housing back as a bulletpoint feature, but each in their own dramatic way.

The farthest I want to go back is Ultima Online, which gave players the ability to build houses in the persistent world.  This, of course, caused problems, for players and walruses, because land was in limited supply.  Still, player housing became a full-fledged feature in the early days of MMOs, and it largely stuck in sandbox-style MMOs, such as A Tale in the Desert, Darkfall, and EVE Online.

The other route was to give player housing to everybody in the form of instanced areas.  This double-edged sword allowed players to have a convenient home that no one else would see (unless they were invited).  This is the favored route of the so-called themepark-style MMOs, such as Everquest 2 and Wizard 101.  Lord of the Rings Online tried to marry the two by creating neighborhood instances anybody could visit with a few dozen player-owned houses each.  It was hoped that they would become social hubs, but they are largely ghost towns instead.  Guild Wars went an extremely minimalistic route by having guild halls originally, which were not really customizable, but it now has a 3-D personal achievement center in the form of the Hall of Monuments. 

Either way, the games that offer player housing gave players something of their own.  A virtual piece of the world they practically lived in.  Most player housing systems gave a large degree of customization where players could add all sorts of props and trophies.  There were also a few benefits to having player housing such as more ways to warp around the world, increased storage, and even personal crafting stations.  All-in-all it seems like a positive addition to any MMO; so why doesn’t World of Warcraft want it?

Well, I don’t know, and for this post it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is Blizzard has not added it after years of life with suggestions and demands remaining constant for what was generally assumed to be a standard MMO feature.  I would have guessed that this creates a long shadow.  I mean, it’s pretty cool to tack something on that has already been done in other MMOs, but why take time and energy to innovate when it appears that millions of players could care less about player housing.

Well thankfully ArenaNet and BioWare do care.

Guild Wars 2 re-shapes player housing in to a personalized city block that reflects the player’s action and choices in game.  Choose to spare a bad guy’s life; he might quit his life of evil and set up shop as a baker in my personal area.  Beat the story one way, and the queen might make a gold statue of me.  Beat, the story another way, and I might have a dragon’s head hanging over my house.  These are broad brushstrokes, and ArenaNet has not yet released details on how detailed a player can be in shaping the personal area.

Star Wars: The Old Republic will also provide player housing in the form of a personalized spaceship.  Each spaceship will be based on character class, and can be customized throughout.  The spaceship will have importance in that it will be the means by which players cross the galaxy.  There is no word on space combat or exploration, as of yet, but at the very least the player housing will be a focal point for the game.

And, I think that’s the opportunity World of Warcraft may have missed, ignored, or decided it was too hard to incorporate in to their game: making player housing important.  It’s one thing to tack on player housing as an aside, much like Lord of the Rings Online, and provide some sort of world customization minigame.  It’s another wholly different thing to give the player housing importance beyond a place of storage and picture hangings.  I think that is how ArenaNet and BioWare escaped the long shadow of player housing in MMOs, and I hope it redirects the course of the feature for all future MMOs.

–Ravious
only breath and shadow

18 thoughts on “Escaping The Long Shadow – Player Housing”

  1. Important is the key word here. I think Blizzard looked at some of the failed or pointless housing systems and decided it was not worth it, while (for them) it was deemed technically impossible to do housing ‘right’. (One glance at their failed effort with WG should explain why non-instanced housing would not work in WoW).

    That and, lets face it, its easier to reskin a pony and sell it for $25 than to come up with something as complex as housing, although I’m sure they could sell a whole truckload of fluff furniture and other ‘epic’ items for $10-$50 ‘micro’ transactions.

  2. I don’t know that WG failed, in broad terms. It’s very popular on a lot of servers. It’s been a source of major technical headaches, but that’s different.

    1. The goal of WG was to bring impact open-world PvP to WoW to mimic WAR’s RvR. It’s now a glorified instanced battleground. It failed, with some people buying the BS excuse Blizzard tossed out that something like WG is technically impossible, despite the fact that EVE does things 10x bigger with half the issues.

  3. From the posts I recall seeing from CMs on the WoW forums, Blizzard’s opinion is that player housing is not actually a feature that many people care about, and they don’t believe that implementing it would be a worthwhile effort. Basically, they see the playerbase that loves housing as a vocal minority.

  4. The reason why player housing is a bust in most MMORPGs is the same reason player-created missions in City of Heroes is a bust, why nearly all instanced PvP is a bust, and why a majority of questing feels empty–it doesn’t have a real and lasting impact on the persistent game world.

    As soon as you instance an area, or follow the logic of “everyone gets a house,” or “everyone completes this quest,” or “everyone is the hero,” or “everyone is a Starfleet Captain,” you ruin it. Nobody goes to the LOTRO neighborhoods because they exist separate from the game world, and thus, the game itself. They are add-ons that have little to no effect on what you spend most of your time doing.

    Player housing will remain useless, boring, and uninteresting until someone comes along and stops thinking in these stupid terms of “everyone gets x.” These features need to be a part of the game. You should be able to walk outside of a major hub city and located another player’s house. You should able to purchase an apartment, of which there are a finite amount, in a city.

    ArenaNet and Bioware aren’t doing anything new, and they certainly won’t make player housing interesting.

  5. I’m not sure why you see the Guild Wars II and SWTOR housing as some sort of second coming. It doesn’t sound that much different from the LOTR housing. It’s still just a personal ‘doll-house’ instance for players to mess around with. Nothing innovative here.

    1. Uhh sure, and no upcoming FPS is innovative ever because it’s an FPS…

      If they make the “doll-house” a focus of the game like I said, whether in a personal story or as a transit means that separates it from a mere toy.

      1. I still don’t see much of a distinction though. LotRO’s housing “tells a personal story” about the trophies you accumulated. Sure GW2 might have more and more varied details in that, and could be a lot better, but it’s a matter of degree, not principal. And your house is also your mount… that’s neat, cuz you’re looking at your dollhouse more often, but not much of a revolution unless it’s actually involved in gameplay (and not just a map-travel-screen).

        Good points about the past of MMO housing… not much here about the future tho.

        1. In the broadest sense it’s the same ends, but wholly different means. Yet, in LOTRO everybody can have exactly the same story told through their player housing, in GW2 the choices made will affect the outcome of the home instance. So, I think it is a matter of principal because it will feel more personal. YMMV, of course. ;)

  6. With player housing you give players a sense of real ownership in their virtual world. It’s also a very cohesive mechanic that works very well with other mechanics. Suddenly professions can become useful as items can be crafted and sold to put in player houses. It also can expand the notion of loot as interesting objects can be dropped from mobs — not just items like the Shiny Cardboard Tube of Death.

    The problem as to why Blizzard doesn’t seem to want is that the upper echelon of male dominated lead devs simply isn’t interested personally in guild housing. Personal preferences go a long way in determining what devs will spend the time working on at Blizzard. It’s hard to imagine tough guys like Alex “Furor” Afrasiabi caring about player housing.

    Yet when the devs are personally excited about experimenting with various failed iterations of PVP as in Tom Chilton then somehow they can justify it.

    Yet they trot out the oft quoted excuse that it would be “too hard” to implement player housing properly. I don’t buy it. One of the biggest video game companies in the world with all of their talent can’t find a way to deliver player housing is implausible.

    If Blizzard can give players their own private character select screen *and* let players enter their own private instance of any dungeon in Azeroth then surely they could created instanced personal houses in all of the major cities.

    At one point Jeff Kaplan said about WoW before he left the team: “Player housing has the potential to take WoW to the next level…”

    Heck if Zynga can give players their own tiny patch of land in FarmVille then why can’t Blizzard?

  7. It’s not just player housing that is needed, it is player controlled neighborhoods that are needed.

    If a game incorporates housing as a means for the players to directly influence the gaming world, that is what most players want. The questing/grinding gets them things/levels/powers but they know it won’t influence the game world at all. Things like Auction Houses help give people a sense of directable outcome in the marketplace.

    A player city run by the players/guilds/housing where cities compete with each other. Each city could set prices on items, some would become known for excelling in the manufacturing of a certain product line, some will offer lower prices against their competiting cities, etc. Decisions made by the city’s inhabiting players would determine the survivalbility of that city’s future in-game.

    This would also increase the intrigue factor as individuals/groups would infiltrate the various cities’ inner political structure to gain individual power/wealth. The possibilities are almost endless.

    The original Star Wars Galaxies tried to realize this and it was a limited success. Then NGE and the rest was history.

    TQQdles™,

    Dolnor Numbwit
    Eternal Test Newbie

  8. I think the problem is that housing is a lot of work for very little practical use. Most housing is just storage, a small private meeting place, and a place to display vanity items. It’s possible to reduce this into a menu or instance without needing to reproduce a real life housing district or let players put them all over the map.

    It’s probably even better to do so. A bank can be accessed in every city, but to have your storage be your house means you need to go to that one location. Even using teleport home and summons makes it inconvienient. Considering how many hours a player puts into a game, convienience probaly trumps immersion in this.

  9. That kinda sums up my position on it. When it comes to concrete terms, what do you really want it for? What does it really add to the game beyond ‘Woo! I got a house!’ It becomes like owning a really big vanity pet that no one else is going to see.

    It’s a nice idea as long as you don’t look at it too much because there’s so rarely any substance to it. Unless the game is built around your ‘house’, it’s a construct that actually helps to make the game seem more deserted and in fact detracts from the social element of an MMO because it begs the question ‘Why can’t I do this from my house?’

    It’s an idea that tends to attract a small vocal following because the people who like to talk about games tend to be especially fond of it while the vast unwashed tend to prefer the more game-y aspects of things.

  10. I could never afford a house in the limited time I played LotRO, despite being level 30 and getting a quest at 15 to buy one. That pretty much sums up how I feel about that player housing system…

    EQ2, on the other hand, was good. I didn’t play that game very long, but all of my characters could easily afford houses, could make their own furnishings, and hang trophies and heritage items inside. It was very well done and added a good mini-game type of layer to the game as a whole. Plus the guild halls were also well done, providing travel options and preferred banking, merchant, and crafthall locations as a perk. There are some crazy things you can add/build to them as well. That’s a pretty good system.

    Can’t wait to see what ArenaNet comes up with for GW2 though.

  11. While it was great fun having a house in oldschool SWG, I only had that house because my friends had played for much longer than I had, and they were both wealthy in-game. The two gents bought me a big house and filled it up with stuff, and it was nice to have a little place of my own in-game. But have I missed that experience in my years of WoW? Not really. Sure, having a bigger (and more customizable) bank would be awesome for this digital hoarder, but I never found myself in need of a home for any reason.

    As far as guild housing goes, though, I think it would be great fun. I always felt that introducing an instanced guild home would make for some crazy guild parties. ;)

  12. It could be interesting to have an instanced guild neighborhood where each guild member could own a house and there was a guild hall much like a town hall. The guild could customize the hall and neighborhood, and each member could customize their house.

    It could create feeling of community; guild members could wander around and see other members’ homes. It could be more of a social location where wandering around you might bump into someone at any given time as they traveled to or from their house. Block parties/BBQ?

    Guild members could set up shops and sell craftables. If the guild got good at a particular type of item it could attract other players. Non-guild players would want an invite to visit the guild neighborhood market with a guild member escort…

    Maybe guild run shops like a bank or an armory?

    Perhaps apartments or an inn for the less decorative/sentimental?

  13. The only game with player owned housing and cities was Wurm online.

    In that game you can construct your house in any possible way you want. Raise a hill in a lake to built it there? no problem. All the cities there were player owned, built, ruled and protected.

    And if you see the graphics or the engine of that game, I’m suprised other games can’t.

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