Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Claiming a spot

I was reading with interest Bhagpuss' journal of his experience with Everquest Next Landmark. For example he wrote: "Under the pitiless desert sun I built something that vaguely resembled the first level of a mock-medieval multistory car park. I built it out of dirt. When I logged back in later both my eyesore and my claim had vanished, the former healed by the land, the latter, presumably, lost to a bug. My attempt to reclaim the same spot was firmly rebuffed and I couldn't find anywhere else so that was that.". I'm not too much bothered by the fact that EQNL has bugs, that is to expected at this state of the game. I do however find the idea that he couldn't find a spot to claim to build something problematic.

If you don't count LPMUDs, my first MMORPG was Ultima Online. I don't remember the details, but at some point on the server I was playing on, claiming spots for houses was enabled at a specific time. I logged out my character on a flat ice plane full of walruses. When I logged back on the next day, I was in the middle of a city, with walruses in the streets. There was no spot to be found for my house. I searched for a housing spot for a full two weeks, and then bought a house on EBay, because claiming a spot by myself was clearly impossible.

Another game I remembered when reading Bhagpuss' story is A Tale in the Desert. I think Bhagpuss would love that one, because it already does a lot of what EQNL is trying to do. The big advantage of ATITD is that the land is huge. There is enough land for everybody. But of course some spots are better than others, and certain areas do become crowded. And then you observe something over time: Everybody who plays the game wants to claim a spot in the world. But not everybody wants to maintain that spot for a prolonged period of time. Thus over time you get accumulations of abandoned buildings. In ATITD, where players can make game rules by organizing a vote, every single incarnation of the game had some laws made enabling players to destroy abandoned buildings so as to liberate good spots for building.

ATITD and other games with housing, like Star Wars Galaxies, also taught me another thing about MMORPG housing: Of a 24-hour day, a typical player only plays 2 to 4 hours. And of those hours spent in the game, he only spends a small fraction in his house, because most of the adventure is elsewhere. So even if you built a house surrounded by houses of active other players, you rarely meet your neighbors. Virtual cities appear less lived in than real cities, because we don't spend 24 hours a day in the virtual world, and don't spend 12 hours a day at our virtual homes.

A MMORPG that wants to offer a great player housing experience will have to wrestle with all of those problems: It will need to offer enough space to build on for everybody who wants to build a house. It will need to deal with abandoned buildings. And it will need to deal with trying to create alive player cities in spite of most players only spending minutes each day in their virtual homes. Maybe there is a good technical solution for that, but I have yet to see it. I do think that using houses for crafting and as virtual shops is a good approach, but only if there is no auction house and players are actually forced to visit shops to browse for wares. And I'm not sure that sort of inconvenience is still acceptable in this day and age.

I have liked this article a lot, Tobold.

As a suggestion for one of the problems, one can adopt the way, for example, Age of Wushu does it. While housing does not exist, characters that are logged off stay in the game in that exact place, performing tasks related to the place they were left at.

Other players can also interact with them in various ways, and above all, makes the cities seem livelier. They are kind of NPCs, but in a context of, say, an MMO "neighborhood", seeing your offline neighbours appearing to do various kinds of ordinary stuff around the neighbour would add to the inmersion.

And then, in between all them you see some that move in a characteristic player-controlled way so you knew who's in and who's not.
What can't we have portals teleporting us to our houses? It would save a lot of space
What can't we have portals teleporting us to our houses? It would save a lot of space
Sometimes I think that in-world player housing only works where the all claims can be captured or destroyed via PvP and the only towns (outside regional capitals with basic facilities), are player built settlements in a pure sand-box environment.

Natural PvP pressures limits the number of settlements and because they act as regional hubs, the whole server population can be present to prevent them becoming ghost-towns.

I played both SWG and ATITD. I am too playing EQNL alpha. From what I saw, EQNL have a very advanced crafting system (more similar to ATITD than SWG), but the voxels create a diferent game. Like ATITD, a player need gather resources and use diferent crafting stations for buld things, including more crafting stations.

But the diference come from voxels, players can dig a tunnel underground for mine ore. Players too destroy trees in the enviroment cutting them down. That is the reason why the game need have specific plots for put the houses, that places players cannot dig and eventually destroy the house other player built.

We just need too remember that EQNL is an acessory game for EQN. EQN will have the same haversting/crafting features than EQNL, but it too will add combat and dynamic events. SOE is implementating an ambitious plan.

With relation to your comment that ATITD "already does a lot of what EQNL is trying to do", I think that EQNL is being more ambitious than ATITD. The voxels really make a diference. A EQNL player can dig holes and tunnels and can make any building she can imagine. That cannot happen at ATTID.

Maybe the better comparation is that EQNL is tryng to be a better Minecraft.
What can't we have portals teleporting us to our houses?

Several games, including EQ2, have "houses" like that. Somewhere there is a single door shared by all players and leading many different houses or neighborhoods (LOTRO). I assume housing in Warlords of Draenor will work like that too. The problem is that this effectively makes all houses invisible. There are no player-created cities to walk through and find a shop in. It strongly diminishes the appeal of player housing.
I do believe the mines in AtitD influenced the surrounding, I'd I remember correctly. Also there was quite a competition to get a mine setup in the beginning. But of course the process was more involved than a right click and "claim this".
I'm a big proponent of instanced housing, for all the reasons you described. I've never seen an implementation of in-world housing that was anywhere near as polished or as enjoyable/fun for me as the instanced housing like Myst Online's Relto Home Ages, or Rift's Dimensions. The only in-world housing that even comes close that I can think of was Glitch's houses, and people hated that they were limited and you couldn't buy a nice house even when you could afford it, to such an extent that they switched to instanced housing.

Some people will complain that they want to have neighbors and be a little community. I've never understood this. I don't even know my real life neighbors. Everyone I'd call friends are at least a 10-20 minute drive from us. It feels like pointless bragging. If I want my friends to see my nifty home, I can invite them into my instance. There's no good reason to want random people you don't know to be able to see that you have a nice house. That's just foolish pride.

More to the point, limited housing slots just creates unnecessary antagonism. When playing an online game, the worst situation to be in is where there's a thing you want to do that would be fun, but you aren't able to do it because another player is preventing you. Games that have more of those moments are less fun to play, and limited building slots guarantees that almost everyone will wish they were in a better slot, but cannot be because stupid jerks used them all up. Unnecessary antagonism and bad design.
@Michael: "More to the point, limited housing slots just creates unnecessary antagonism."

I liked most of your points. Minor correction on the point I quoted: In a pvp game, there is no such thing as unnecessary antagonism. Antagonism is a good thing in a PVP game, it's free meaning and motivation. In a cooperative PVE type game where you can't attack other players and take that limited housing slot by force, then yes, the antagonism serves no useful purpose.
It's not even the end of the first week of alpha - these things are to be expected. They've already added a third server and all the servers are down right now while they clean up duplicated claims and add another 39 "islands". There's also an EU server coming and more servers further down the line to be added as needed. I would anticipate that by the weekend everyone who wants a claim should have one, although obviously not everyone will get the exact claim they want - that's actually part of the design as far as I can see - these claims will be tradeable at a later stage I believe so land speculation and/or development will form part of the gameplay.

As for the houses being populated or used when the game is up, I think that may slightly miss the point of the game. In other MMOs, even when the housing is quite sophisticated, the main part of the game is always elsewhere. In Landmark, as far as we can tell from what we know so far, the main part of the game is at your claim. The main reason you have to go out and hunt creatures or explore underground is to obtain materials to bring back to your claim so you can go on building there. Or sell to others who will, of course. Still doesn't mean it will create any kind of community around those claims, though. That will depend on what people decide to use them for.
I really like the ability for people to set up merchants and such like in SWG and UO, and to an extent EQ had this with the Bazaar zone. An Auction House would still be possibly but it could add a significant cost to the transaction for the convenience. And Just because you purchased something doesn't mean it has to be automatically available the instant you buy it from the nearest mailbox. The game could add shipping costs based on distance and such as a money sink. And or you could arrange for a pickup.

The issue of limited housing is a problem of a world that is far to small. Charging a significant upkeep fee can also go a long ways to preventing deserted urban sprawl.
One possibility, it seems to me, is to design your cities and towns with a certain number of houses - appropriate to the place - each of which is separate and distinct but also instanced. The quality can vary.

If the population increases you increase the number of instances per house, but not enough that there is no competition for resources. There should be some sort of pricing model (and yes, I was thinking of in-game gold but this would also be an obvious sink for RL money) that means living in a crowded place has costs. But at the same time there is no 'hard' cap, because the number of instances allowed per household can be modified. In short, the idea is to use the instance count per house as a smoothing factor to make in-game markets seem less volatile and more like real-world housing markets.

Over the very long term (a year) there could be a response by the devs in which more houses are built in the region of populous cities - there would be designated areas left as woodland etc. at the start of the game, with at most the odd disposable quest or resource. If the local city gets crowded, these get converted into built-up areas. If it later becomes deserted, they can be converted into slums with added bandits etc., and eventually back to woodland.

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