Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
What do you want from housing?

Syl, who by the way stopped being a Raging Monkey and is now apparently a MMO Gypsy, is writing an excellent post about MMO housing. His key point is that housing in a MMORPG needs to be significant, that is have some sort of function. But while everybody is excited about player housing being shown in the Wildstar trailer, I still haven't found anybody who even had a concept of how to make player housing significant without causing trouble for other players.

In Ultima Online housing was significant. You needed your house to store your stuff, and you could use it to sell your crafted items to customers passing by. But because there were a lot less housing spots than players, and the location mattered a lot for the houses significance as sales spot, housing in UO was also a source of constant annoyance. Star Wars Galaxies did somewhat better, because it had much more territory, and thus sufficient space for everybody to build his house on. But in the long run I wouldn't say housing was a success in SWG, because people tend to leave MMORPGs sooner or later, and thus people found themselves in dying neighborhoods. When player houses are created in the open game world, they always negatively affect other players, either by "taking their spots", or by the negative effect of neglect on a neighborhood. This is also a typical problem in A Tale in the Desert, albeit less so because that game regularly resets.

Since then most games I've seen used instanced housing, or the LotRO hybrid of instanced neighborhoods. In EQ2 you could craft in your house. But I haven't seen any good social activity implemented for player housing in any game. There are more or less good systems to decorate, but most players would balk at the idea of inviting their friends over to show them how they decorated their virtual home. And even if they did, it isn't something you can do regularly as a group activity.

So I was wondering why everybody is always so excited about the idea of player housing. What exactly do you want to *do* with that house? Do you want your house in the open world, or do you want it instanced? And apart from solo crafting or the like, what *group* activity do you think MMO houses could be good for? What would make player housing significant for you?

My favorite implementation of player housing was in Uru: Myst Online. The player house was called your Relto, your island in the clouds.

Your Relto was the hub of all your traveling. You had a bookshelf containing fast travels to every other world (Age) in the game. When you get in trouble, you reappear in your relto. When you want to go somewhere else, you go home to relto, then go from there to somewhere else. That it was so central was one of it's main virtues.

Your relto changed slightly to reflect game progress, with indicators for passing milestones. There were also collectible/hidden extra customizations all throughout the game world that you could apply or turn off to personalize your relto. In a way, you could view expanding your relto as the entire game, with everything else just a means to do that. And it works really well. No first boss kill or legendary item has ever felt as amazingly joyful to me as when I first was able to bring rain into my relto.

About player housing in general, I think the main thing I do not want is such an emphasis on community or in-world locations. Every implementation of neighborhoods I've seen devolves into either a tolerated lack of meaning, or crass popularity contests to compete or get the most benefits.

It's something I've never really understood. When I build a house in minecraft or terraria or whatever, the fun part of it is that you have a house. Showing off your house to other people is entirely incidental. It's like inviting strangers in off the street so they can see what a big TV you have. Pointless and almost vulgar.
Housing is what gives you a sense of ownership in the world. It creates a sense of place. Otherwise, you are an itinerant, travelling the world, but always a tourist.

To work practically, housing needs to be uninstanced (otherwise the sense of place is eroded), and it needs to be possible to get back and forth from home easily. (UO's recall runes did this well.)

It is tough to get the right scarcity of housing (so the landscape is not cluttered like in SWG) and the right availability (so that getting a house is not almost impossible short of eBay).
I always liked the idea of having a guild house. The guild could gather portals to other realms, there could be places where you donate materials to build extra rooms and features, you could display guild trophies of accomplishment, have your guild bank there . . . lot's of ways for the guild to interact with each other without necessarily having to be online at the same time. It could also be used as a staging area for raids or guild activities.
My 1st MMO was SWG. In this game your house was both your bank and your auction house, plus you did your crafting in there too (assuming you didn't do it all in your PA Hall), so it was extremely functional. Even so, I never decorated my house, just randomly dropped stuff in a back room. An in-game friend loved to decorate, though, so I let her go nuts. The end result looked really nice -- she did a great job. But I never really looked at it -- I only went there to craft or drop items I wanted to keep.

EQ2 was next. I never bothered to upgrade past the basic inn room. Again, a decorator friend did one up for one of my characters, and it looked nice, but I honestly had no reason to go there other than to put items in my vendor crates. A couple of years ago my 10-yr old daughter wanted to decorate, so I bought a 3-room house for 1 character and let my daughter go nuts. And it looked fine when she took me on a tour of it and I've never once seen it since.

EVE had no housing until recently, and I'm one of the people who unchecks the box to see it.

Rift added housing recently. I've run the quests to get the house one 2 of my 5 characters, and even there it was literally "you've got the house, here are some starter items" which I randomly dropped and then left and I've never been back.

As I think you can tell from my anecdotes, housing means absolutely nothing to me and is in no way a feature that makes me consider an MMO as good or bad. I was perfectly fine in EQ2 without guild halls (though I admit they are frightfully convenient to have anymore), and I was fine in Rift with no housing. Just doesn't matter to me.
Building houses is like terraforming (being able to modify the terrain): it adds your personal touch and it makes you feel you're living in some kind of evolving/real world.

It adds a lot of depth to the virtual world, tink for example Second Life: its unique purpose is -indeed- building stuff and shaping the world.

This is why I always found extremely annoying the world of WoW: because it is all "fixed in place", you can't do anything but questing over and over.
I think many of the issues you describe, such as better and worse spots and dying neigbourhoods, are something one has to live with when asking for player housing in an MMO. UO is still preferable to me compared to instanced housing. it is part of 'social conflict' or competition that some people have more things or better things than others. it's also normal having to wait for something sometime, for example a house, or having to move again if the neighbourhood goes bad. this would be acceptable to me personally in a game.

I do like the decorative part of housing, but I agree with you that it's not enough. what do you do once the house is bought and fully furnished? there needs to be more than that.
and if the player base is willing to make some sacrifices, such as not having city banks, AHs or crafting everywhere, much significance could be restored to player homes and hubs. but it's a question of how much convenience one is willing to give up - although to be fair, much of it would simply be a switch of location, too. whether I hearthstone to the city or my home to do business comes down to the same. it just takes willingness for a new perspective, I guess.
In general I just HATE instanced stuff. It simply kills the entire sense of "virtual world". The new WoW farming game, for example, really does not appeal to me.
Ideally a house should be a visual diary of your play. "Remember that time we fought the Tarrasque?" "Sure, that lampstand is made from one of his horns." "Remember when we went to Naboo?" "Sure, Queen Amidala autographed that picture over there."

In addition they can be works of art, high points of player creativity and artistic ability.

I'm less wild about them being used for shops although I can see it being fun if implemented in a way which no one has done yet - non standard items that are hard to compare. So Roderick's Swords might be more expensive and more effective than Blades R Us but the exact stats are not revealed.
You can't have a house if you don't have a taxidermy kit.

If I remember correctly, UO priced it at 100,000 gold. So you could put trophies in your living room.

Now, 15 years later, we have WoW achievements that you can check on wow armory.
I am looking forward to housing.

I hope I never get to some of the Rift dimensions. Having never played it, I am still very hopeful for Wildstar.

Solo crafting & XP convenience, place to store stuff are just fine for me. It is nice that you be able to show others your place, even if it happens once or twice a year. I.e. knowing the option is there is different than wanting to use it every day.

Part of the appeal is that is explictly not on the level-grind, rep-grind, raid-grind progression rails/treadmill. Something to enjoy not grind.

Devs will kepp adding new items and abilities (and cash-shop devs especially.)

Open world housing seems a sort of archaic idea in a computer game. The whole idea of having to make the world bigger so there's enough empty spaces for people to build houses. It's a computer world, there can be more space within an area than the outside of it surrounds.

Do we really need sprawling neighborhoods as far as the eye can see? Is there any virtue to it other than to provide some sort of commute? Travel time to get where you're going? And then people want to just teleport to their individual house anyway, so even that doesn't matter.

I think people get caught up in the idea of having houses as playground buildings, instead of as building a home. A refuge, a place for your stuff, to retire and relax within.
Having housing replicate crafting,AH and banks/vendors has the obvious drawback that there will be far less players in the cities. Do you really want to sacrifice socialization on a MASSIVE MULTIPLAYER game?

It ultimately feels weird at best.
I never got it.

The solution for player housing: rent. Your rent gets deducted from your purse wether you log in or not. If you can't pay it, house gets trashed the spot recycled back to nature and/or given to another player.
I think games need to work on multiple levels for player housing.

1 - Home base. Instanced and available to just a player/guild.
2 - Public zonewith commercial interest. Limited availability so hotly contested.
The solution for player housing: rent. Your rent gets deducted from your purse wether you log in or not. If you can't pay it, house gets trashed the spot recycled back to nature and/or given to another player.

This is what LotRO did, until the QQing reached epic levels. And I can understand that: if housing is something engaging and where you put effort, it should not vanish so easily.

For me the ideal housing is instanced (to prevent endless slums) and the instances are rearranged so that "your instance" includes friends and people you grouped with. It's not like dynamic rearrangement of neighborhoods would be a technical problem....
I just had an idea: guilds have houses (non-instanced) but characters each get a room in their guild house. (There are common areas too of course.)

The main problem to solve would be the desire of some to make guilds of one, with a few passengers if the game forces them. So perhaps there would have to be a price, or perhaps a certain membership requirement would be in place before a guild could have a non-instanced house.

Just an idea. Has anyone implemented this (I remember CoV had an instanced guild house, but I don't remember rooms.)
Personally I think a phased zone could work (at least in my head).

Here's how it'd work:

1. Create a small zone in say northern stormwind for player housing and let the guilds buy a plot and build.

2. When a player walks into the zone he phases in and is able to see his plot and lets say 19 other random plots. the random plots would change each time the person phases into the zone. That way a player can walk around and explore other guilds' plots. If the character is un-guilded or he has a guild that doesn't yet have a plot...he just sees 20 random plots.

3. Maybe allow the guilds to form an official association with other guilds so that every time a player zones in the associated guild plots would be fixed (so lets say I zone in and my guild has 4 I'd see the same 5 plots every time I come in plus 15 random plots).

Oh yeah, and put the target dummies in the guild houses. No one socializes while they're smashing a button 1,000 times in quick succession anyway.
I see housing as an extension of my character -- amassing more stuff, showing off achievements, trophies, etc. It is very much a part of the virtual world. Even in pen & paper D&D, players were level up to acquire fiefs and henchmen. It only makes sense that we should be able to do it a virtual world as well.
Personally I liked best what EQ2 did with houses (I don't know, maybe it has changed since I played).

Basically you had a place that you could put stuff into *and* you also got trophies that you got as you completed game's quests (particularly heritage quests). You could put trophies in your house and enjoy your 'personal history' (this is where Rift fails IMO).

There was reason to go to your own house (I don't remember exactly, I think it had to do with selling stuff on AH).

There was reason to go into people's houses (again it had to do with buying things cheaper via AH) -- this way I got to see some nice places which I wouldn't otherwise.

Yes, houses were instanced, but at least I did get to see some of them "in the course of normal gameplay" -- because I wanted to save on AH fees.

And it also gave me some motivation to make my house 'nicer' -- because I knew some people may visit it if they bought my stuff via AH.
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