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Housing in MMOs

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MMO housing systems are one of those topics we used to all sit around the table and talk about. Back in the good old days, when there were half a dozen major MMOs in development and everyone was talking about mechanics and features, etc., there would inevitably be a conversation about housing. Will the game have housing?! I remember the forum posts (remember forums?) with long discourses on the pros and cons, how it could be implemented, etc.

Devs would hype their game having houses when it comes out and there would end up being no housing at all. Open-world housing would be promised and it would end up being instanced neighborhoods or “islands” off in the middle of no where. For whatever reason, it kind of became a big joke to me.

I love housing in games. I love decorating them, building them up, collecting things to store in them, and visiting other people’s houses. But I love those things when the games are built around them. Does that makes sense?

Housing wouldn’t be as fun in a game like World of Warcraft because the point of the game is to run dungeons to raise your score, gear up in raids, and  raise that ilevel higher. The point isn’t to take it slow and sit in a capital city or a housing area.

A step toward the right direction is DAoC. This one still misses the mark because the game wasn’t about sitting in a house or a guild hall. It was about being out on the frontier fighting for your realm or delving into dungeons. However, the element that worked was guild and realm unity — that’s what worked in a lot of ways for DAoC. So despite the housing being stuck in these little “neighborhood” zones out of the way, they allowed people to come together and decompress from the stresses and rigors of pvp.

Moving right along, we have EverQuest 2. Housing here was 100% instanced and everyone entered their housing from the same door. A little imagination and that worked just fine because it was nice to have your ‘house’ or ‘apartment’ in a major city. EQ2 housing worked really well because the game was designed around this activity a lot more than a game like WoW. EQ2 life moved at a much, much slower pace. People were encouraged by the game to sit around and socialize. This was also a different demographic of players in EQ2 who were the group forgoing WoW (because the games launched in close proximity) therefore it was and has remained a more niche focused group of older, more social gamers. Housing fit this niche.

And lastly we have the SWG/UO level of housing where it’s literally placing or even building a house out in the world anywhere you can make it fit. First come, first serve on real estate. The world was one big tent city. This form of housing has the merits of creating the closest thing to a ‘living’ world where we’re all sharing the same space. It’s also messy and hard to maintain. The worlds and the games themselves revolve entirely around the concept of putting down roots and creating local economies, social constructs, and a sense of permanence to every corner of the world.

So when a game like Pantheon or Camelot Unchained talk about housing, a little part of my gets excited. I have to stop and ask myself, however, where these games fall on the scale. Are they like Vanguard? DAoC? EQ2? WoW? SWG? LotRO? If a game coming out today is more like WoW, then despite loving housing I’d probably not care. If the game was like SWG then let’s sit down and have a serious discussion. A straw poll about open-world vs. instanced housing doesn’t quite do it for me without more context. Wanting every game to have housing is also so 2007.

  • Housing is one of those features where certain fans of the idea always have to loudly demand it be part of every MMORPG. It is probably only second to PvP on that front.

    For some games housing worked very well. It was a staple of the UO experience. And EQII housing, while instanced, was integrated into the game. You had to set up your market sales from your house. And there were quest rewards to place in your house and a whole profession dedicated to furniture and the like. It is probably the housing I’ve used and enjoyed the most in any MMORPG.

    On the flip side, there is the housing in LOTRO, which I wanted to like but which, in the end, was a huge waste of development time for a useless feature. I think the game would have been better off if Turbine had focused their efforts on something else… better icons spring to mind.

    Because a development team only has so much bandwidth to spare, I hate when independent features like housing take over the narrative rather than the core of the game itself. And it isn’t just the effort to build the feature. People who aren’t in software development don’t get this, but you aren’t done when you ship the feature. It has to be maintained and upgraded and tested forever onward as new releases go out. Every feature you add sucks bandwidth to create and forever onward.

  • It is still baffling to me how games like Ultima Online, for all intents and purposes, had open world housing back when the average player was still playing on dial up internet! Yet not a single modern game can provide the same.

    You forgot to mention that Star Wars Galaxies also allowed for player cities which took housing to an entirely new level and allowed players to create points of interest in the world that were on par or better than the developer created NPC cities.