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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,
  • Storage management (possibly),
  • Artwork

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…

Categories: Gaming
  1. Bhagpuss
    April 5, 2010 at 4:59 am

    Over the course of a decade, player housing has moved from something I never even thought of to the first thing I look into when considering a new MMO. Having a base from which to operate makes a huge difference to my connection with my characters, with the gameworld and with the game.

    In economic terms for the company concerned, giving me a customiseable home is likely to encourage me to play the game for longer, be less willing to take breaks and to come back sooner when I have unsubscribed. It’s important, however, that the home be sufficiently customiseable that it feels as though it’s “mine”.

    The hang-it-on-a-peg homes in LotRO, for example, engendered no feeling of ownership and hence no feeling of loyalty, so I was able to abandon my house there without compunction. When I unsubscribed from Vanguard I thought about my house often and it worrying about whether I had paid enough ground rent to retain it was one factor that eventually drew me to resubscribe.

    I hadn’t. It had fallen down. The first thing I did was rebuild it and pay a year’s rent in advance. There’s now no way I am going to let it fall down again until the Vanguard servers are switched off.

    For something that is as relatively simple to add as you describe, it would seem foolish for any subscription MMO to miss out on the retention and loyalty benefits housing offers.

  2. April 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

    WoW is aching for player housing, especially since they added the “Random Dungeon Finder” in 3.2 or something. The last time I played WoW (December? January?) I saw a fairly clear trend towards isolationism, which is terribad for an MMO. The RDF is cross-realm, so people hop on, find their guildies all occupied, and get into a random dungeon. Then guildy #N logs in, and is in the same boat.

    Player housing is basically somewhere between tradeskilling and dungeons. The strangest people fall for player housing, like you say using it as a base of operations. And it fosters social activity.

    You only need to look at the community of comics and player videos for WoW, or ask people why they play (“my friends play it”) to realize it is incredibly dependent on its social community.

  3. April 5, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I don’t understand why there’s no player housing in WOW other than the sheer number of players times storing all the house objects and their attributes would be more staggering than any game to date. In a game that had several months of inability to spawn enough dungeon instances this really could be what scares them about housing.

    Yet it is something that could help players at max level who aren’t into the whole gear grind find something else to chase – house objects. I’d do that before gear any day of the week. I only need enough gear for decent survival after that it’s meaningless to me. Player housing with shared banks across alts, additional storage, a method to access the auction house, maybe a small crafting bonus via workstations ala ROM would be nice addition in my book.

  4. April 6, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Never understood the housing stuff, collecting crap I put in a room that I don’t visit. My house has 2 items within it a door that moves me instantly to my guild hall and a broker board for selling stuff.

    I play EQ2 and live in the field and use our Guild Hall as a hub to move about the game using the extensive teleport system that SOE put into the game to save time.

  5. Silky
    April 6, 2010 at 5:17 am

    The SWG system was excellent, the main problem was ever getting to show off your interior design skills. I always thought the concept of non-value adding loot was massively overlooked. What better than a purely cosmetic award, of which the only benefit is prestige, rather than any kind of unbalancing weapon or buff etc

  6. April 6, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Yeah, SWG… Frigging hundreds of same looking buildings littering a void landscape of nothingness, broken up by a valley or a hill as far as the eye can see.

    Player housing within SWG is/was just awful, it was a ‘nice’ idea to put it in the suburbs, however they missed a trick, having the ability to buy and sell housing in and around the conurbations would have been far more impressive, buy a plot of land or two, build them up.

    Instead we had a scattering of buildings with numerous quest people stood around offering pointless quests to the outskirts of town where you kill womprats in and amongst the buildings.

    Ideally you want to introduce real estate like EVE did with 0.0 space.

    Creating a thriving real estate economy where players can buy and build buildings in a city, SWG was kitted perfectly for such an economy.

    A game that has a real estate system + economy & quest element will make for a more varied and interesting game.

    SWG:Monopoly

  7. April 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    When pro-housing people talk about player housing, Sres, they’re talking about the interiors; even then, later on in SWG, when people started building towns, some of them were quite impressive. But it was walking into a house that was acting as a store and seeing all the various displays etc.

    It really shares elements with things like Second Life and MySpace or player conventions :) It gives people a chance to dress up their own little bit of the world with the game world. And you don’t want that to be out-front and public, you want that to be indoors and private so that one guys vision of a universe full of Ewok Bounty Hunters doesn’t impinge on your vision of a universe full of naked Twileks :)

    Developing a real estate system and the rest … that takes real development work, because you really have to make that a significant gameplay component. The stock-in-trade type of housing that MMOs have had back as far as Neocron is perfectly sufficient to keep the set of { (not-quite-crafters) + (crafters) } occupied when there is nothing else to do.

    – Oliver

  8. April 9, 2010 at 8:25 am

    When are we getting Player Housing in WW2OL. If I got the choice of a house instead of a statue, I’d pay for a builder’s account.

  9. Silky
    April 9, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Not sure I see the benefit of player or squad bases per se, especially in a moving map

    An idea I have thought of before is the ability to place squad flags/colours/posters on ABs/town items, as a way of indicating squad presence. These colours/posters could act as prestige items, ie purely cosmetic. An example would be increasingly complex flags, ‘bought’ with squad points or some such currency, perhaps could interlink into the One AO discussion?

  10. April 9, 2010 at 10:50 am

    It would probably be more practical to tie them to a given brigade or division. Mmm. Could lead in to squads declaring war on each other and getting extra points for killing members of a warring squad and/or capping facilities in a town with the enemy-squad presence in it :)

  11. February 11, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Interesting article, one of the most in-depth player housing mechanics I’ve ever seen was in a game called Achaea.

    http://www.ironrealms.com/player-housing

  12. March 28, 2012 at 6:30 am

    If you have player housing you need burgler alarms. I’ve had kit stoeln in a guild house before(albeit in DAOC) because it was accessed unbeknowest to us. The whole concept of “personal living space” in a virtual word is a complex one and can replicate a lot of the issues that exist in real life.

    Skyrim has options to buy housing but its as simple as stumping a once up sum which does not grab you as much as the need to maintain it with resources over time.

    As for houses in WIIOL I’d be happy with a comfy foxhole for starters!

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