Player Housing in MMOs
Massively.com asks whether people want player housing noting that people would often rather see the development time invested into endgame content (I would add: or general game content).
I want to address that particular concern: the development cost of player housing.
What does it take to implement one of the fancier, customizable, lets call it “high end”, player housing systems as see in EQ2 or StarWars Galaxies?
- Instancing capabilities,
- Object placement capabilities,
- Storage management (possibly),
The StarWars Galaxies housing system was incredible, but don’t give it too much credit: it was actually the SWG engine that made it possible to have such an impressive housing system. Users basically had a limited subset of the content creation tools, what made the SWG system so user-impressive was the content available, which was fundamentally stock game content.
For most games, it is not terribly difficult to add player housing: usually a simple matter of adding a user interface for placing the objects.
In terms of art work, most games can re-use their existing stock of objects.
So yes, there will be some time and effort diverted from gameplay content to introducing player housing.
If your game has customizable/furnishable housing, it will step up the value of the time that the art team spend on creating new content for gameplay instances. Instead of objects that you might only see in one location, it becomes usable as content for the home makers.
How often have you groaned at yet another quest that only gives coin? Well, that’s an indication that the developers are having a hard time making enough rewards to give out — they either need a vast amount of unique looking content to make into quest rewards, or they wind up giving out dummy rewards.
For those who don’t care about player housing, furniture as quest rewards is trash loot – you don’t stand to lose anything. But you will gain more quests. My experience is that quest rewards are often a muse for quest developers. So, I would posit that you will gain more interesting quest lines. The rewards may not be more meaningful to you, but look on the bright side: you stand a better chance of selling them on the market to some whacky home maker.
Those of us who have surprised ourselves by enjoying customizing our own piece of the world will find a whole new domain within the game. A reason to be online doing something other than doing laps around Dalaran.
So once Player Housing is introduced, it is actually a development enabler.
In the case of World of Warcraft, I honestly think the resistance to Player Housing is based on insane over-protection of the Warcraft IP. I think they fear seeing someone putting gnomish and orc furniture in the same building.
If you give the players anything less than customizable housing, you might as well just give them an extra bank or a guild house; if you give them player housing, they might make something that doesn’t fit the Warcraft aesthetic. More specifically, you might make the World part of the game look bad: if you’ve played Warcraft, perhaps you’ve noticed that they have a very limited number of buildings with a very limited number of interior layouts, down to the placement of tables. They use simple stock buildings.
WoW players fearing the amount of time it might take to develop Player Housing… Everything they need is already in-place: They can use the “phasing” concept to make some of the currently unenterable buildings in towns like Stormwind “phased”. The public phase would show the door partially ajar, so you can’t see inside. They add a simple interface for choosing which house you mean to visit.
The inside would just be one of the stock interior spaces, perhaps allowing each player to choose a specific building from the list of those used for the town itself.
If they are really scared of furnishable housing, and want to miss out on the time- and economy- sink potentials of furnishable housing, they could use a relatively simple bit-field to create “furniture sockets”, so that you don’t position furniture, you simply get to choose which of a set number of sockets are populated. So the look of a player house is tweakable but it will still have the officially decreed Blizzard/Warcraft look and feel.
Since Blizzard would ultimately control what content goes in the houses, I think that’s too paranoid. Sure, if you let players position furnishings, the first player house in WoW will be a room filled with chairs forming the outline of a penis. Screenshots will be posted, and forums will be ablaze. Oh no… Screenshots in forums!
But how many people will have their gameplay experience actually modified by it?
If you allow people, instead, to customize their homes to their heart’s content… Well, wait a second. They have to be online to do that. And they have to obtain the furniture to position… And they have to earn the maintenance/ownership fees of their homes/content.
The entire stock of objects you have previously only been able to use as scenery, suddenly becomes rewardable. That doesn’t mean you have to shove all of it out of the door on day 1. Suddenly you have a massive repository of art-content that you can turn into candy to pad the readme for a maintenance patch or a live event…