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.
only breath and shadow