Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 22, 2014
Housing for tourists

My first proper MMORPG (not counting LPMUD and the like) was Ultima Online. I was there when they introduced open world housing. It was a disappointment, with not enough housing space available, but a lot of empty houses taking up space (camped by people who wanted that space when they house crumbled). 15 years later I read about the ArcheAge launch and think that nothing has changed. If anything, things have gotten worse: People stay less long in a MMORPG than they used to, and that is especially true of Free2Play players, which didn't exist 15 years ago.

The problem is relatively simple: If you have open world housing (as opposed to instanced housing), there is an optimal ratio of housing spots to number of players on a server. If you would know exactly how many players are on one server, and you could be sure that this number would remain constant, you could make a good open world housing system. If your servers are crowded right after release, you get players complaining about queues and lack of housing spots. If many of these players turn out to be tourists that didn't come to stay, you end up with dead cities full of abandoned houses in a few months.

Right now Trion can't open enough servers for the release rush, because that would make the problem in three months even worse than today. You can't easily expand and contract the offer of available housing spaces. How do you merge servers when both servers have houses in the open world? Even if on both servers half of the houses are empty, it won't be two halves that fit together on one new server. How do you tell the players on one server that they are losing their houses if there is already an active house on the other server they merge with?

I simply don't think there is a solution to the problems of open world housing in MMORPGs. Today's MMORPG populations are largely migrant, and you can't build a good housing system for tourists.

Actually, you can make a perfect method and EVE Online did it: house space as PvP reward!

You compete for the house space with others,
- either by direct PvP: kill him and destroy his house to let you build yours, this is happening in Sov-nullsec and Wormhole space in EVE
- or by indirect bidding: the house space has upkeep costs and it increases when too many people want it. At some point too many owners/wannabe owners give up bidding and the winner takes it. This is the method for fighting for office slots in EVE stations. By the way, this is the real-world method of handling housing debates: only the richest can have a view to the Sea.

The best thing about house-PvP is that it's auto-adjusting: if less people play, there is lower competition and the game becomes easier, making players less likely to quit.
I don't see what the problem is. What's wrong with shortage? If there are fewer houses than there are people who want them then houses become a desirable commodity. Desire drives action, which in this case means players will play.

As time goes on, those players who don't desire houses enough will drop out, thereby reducing demand. At some point equilibrium will be reached, where everyone who remains will be able to get what they want.

This is exactly what happened in Vanguard, which had a similar system of limited open housing on fixed plots. Vanguard, for reasons wholly unrelated to the housing limitations, eventually declined to the point where there was far more housing available than people who wanted it but what's seldom remembered is that for many months there was actually a housing shortage. All the popular plots were occupied and used. To get a house you had to move to the less-popular areas along the fringes of the coast or in the desert. Eventually the pressure on housing in Vanguard was such that new islands had to be created off the coasts of Qalia and Thestra.

Vanguard retained a sufficiently large population for housing to be an issue for much longer than the traditional three months. Property ownership was a motivating element of gameplay for quite a while. Assuming that ArcheAge does better in retaining players than Vanguard, having too few housing plots for those who would like one should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

Sometimes not getting what you want is a good thing.
@Bhagpuss: without a PvP system the shortage is decided by luck. The first one who was there (got lucky with spamming login) is served, the rest can do nothing.
"you can't build a good housing system for tourists." IMO should be "hip old-school developers can't build a good housing system for tourists. Developers who want to make money instead of being lauded in forums can make instanced housing.


BTW, a meta question is "why is housing the limited resources the boys have their epeen swordfights over?"

I.e., like Rome 2000 years ago or Victorian England, you have a house/apartment in the city and a country estate that pays the bills. The apartments/houses could be instanced and the farms where they hold their Lord of the Flies meetings.
Even in a no open PvP game, there need to be methods for cycling through houses of abandoned accounts.

Wurm Online and A Tale in the Desert all allowed for dissembling abandoned houses to make room for new ones.

And imo, done to a better extent in ATITD than Wurm Online, is the concept of a land mass big enough that there's always space to build a house - if you're not picky - but that there will always be more prime locations of great desirability to be land-rushed for.

In this way, you get to also keep the tourist dabblers for the length of time they're willing to stay. They'll settle for being in the outskirts, unwilling to fight with the rich players, and just play around for a bit.
Another solution is to use the same approach as in reality, i.e. have a world which provides vastly more space than the one needed for housing, and let housing rot into nothingness when it's abandoned (= it vanishes completely).
Will it become slumville? Yes, but only temporarily.
If the demand for housing plots is higher than the supply of housing plots it only means that the price is not set right, not that equlibrium is unreachable.
I think there is a relatively easy fix and that is to accept that not all players can own houses.

Make some of the houses in a major city rentable and your MMO does have player housing - just not everyone.

Actually - not every player might even be interested in a house. Me, for example I don't care all that much about havig a house myself. But I love the featue, anyway because it adds so much to the world.
Maybe the solution is a combination of 'real' housing and 'instanced' housing. The real houses would be prestige items requiring commitment (maybe in some cases a lot of real $, but I'm thinking also some would come from rare treasure finds, elite raid rewards, world events etc.)

The instanced housing would be available to all players, and many would find it adequate - those interested in prestige or greater customisation could compete for the relatively few real houses.
Other possibility is to make moving house : let the house be a ship or a flying vessel or a caravan. And secondly make the game so that parkingyour ship is not interesting : for exemple, the only thing that can instant-travel is your ship. Lastly, if you disconnect, your ship is dispelled and no longer appear.

Some check that this solution reach the house goal :
- Decoration - Check
- Friend can visit - Check
- Showing that you are the best - Check
- Have a gameplay utility/impact - Check
- Not filling the beautifull sightseeing with ugly thing - Check
- Fight for territory - NOPE
- Create one for Guild - Check
- Create city - NOPE
This made me realize that player housing could work in a post-apocalyptic themed MMORPG. You would have an open city of thousands of houses that are supposed to be abandoned, so it is perfectly fitting when the vast majority actually are abandoned. It just adds to the atmosphere (assuming players can't do annoying things like paint their house bright pink).
Ultima Online. Oh God, I wish I was a young teen once again...
There are games with great housing systems, they just tend to be instanced. Limits on who can get housing or how many houses there can be are bad by my rule.

Imagine you're playing a game and having fun. There's something you could be doing in the game that would be more fun, but you can't do it because another player is preventing you. My rule is that the more often this scenario occurs for the greater number of players, the crappier the game and the worse the game design.

Open world housing breaks my rule and turns every other player away from a potential friend and instead into a rival. It creates pointless aggression and makes the game very unpleasant for me.
I am not that well read on AA. But my understanding is their farms are land/farms are far more like EVE moons/stations (resource generators to enable you to purchase more implements of destruction) than housing qua housing (e.g. SWTOR/Rift/Lotro/Wildstar )

The resource generator part of the equation can't be instanced (or the PvP crowd would complain mightily ) Although Gevlon farming in overalls talking to a swarm of Bees outside his instanced farm could provide interesting conversations.
There have been people buying up over 20 slots by themselves, so there is no way to say players vs spots. It didn't help that some players got multiple founder rewards (without them meant to, they didn't buy that many), so they could have the resources to do that.

Personally, if you make housing a big draw of the game, and then make it so a lot of people can't do it, they will just quit the game.

I don't know exactly what ArcheAge's economy is like , but if it is REALLY a sandbox then surely this should apply:

1. Property should be rentable/sellable by players to players
2. Property values should be determined by the player market

As it is i believe there is property tax (paid to the "system") in place , which should only serve as the lowest value of the property (so there is still a money sink in place).

Surely i read the term "sub letting" properties in some ArcheAge discussion? So you can have a Donald Trump like person who owns a bunch of land and pays the taxes on it, but resells/sublets it to you at another price (this most likely will be higher than the tax rate).

I'm also quite happy having "contested" areas which is the equivalent of a war zone where you can just walk in an take land, but i would hope there would be some governance around this (either player based or system based in the sense that it's zone specific) , i.e. equivalent of a nullsec island/zone where the resources are in abundance, properties are prime but with a ton of risk and need to pay all kinds of bribes/protection and probably having to defend the property.

Either way, i also think it's GOOD that there is property shortage, you need these types of demand to drive economies...assuming there is an economy in place for this demand.
You know the floating houses in places like vietnam where they're out on rivers? Do something like that. The active players with active houses will stay in more premium spots along the river. The abandoned, or lightly used houses, will float out to the edges or even disappear into the fog until the players start using it more frequently or hit some other type of in-game activity benchmarks. The house is still there, its just not wasting space.
---so some kind of world/instanced hybrid.
@ Gevlon

PvP housing works well in Age of Wushu as well. It's a good solution.

@ Tobold

But what is wrong with Instanced housing, anyway? The general thing I hear that EQ2 does better than anyone else is housing, and it is instanced. There are a bunch of different designs, all accessed (instance portals) at different places in the world.

Instanced housing means that anyone that wants one can have one, and that you don't have to "recycle" them, which makes it welcoming to returning players. Add enough customization do-dads and you have an endless reward sink.

OK, you have limited in-world housing. And it might be slightly more fun for the lucky owner of that house that everyone else has to walk past their windows. Not enough of a "good thing" for the complications. Instanced housing is, I think, much better overall.
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