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The Player Housing Manifesto

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This is a re-post from Real Life. As on old school UO player I still whine about the lack of housing in WoW. On one hand Greg says it'd be hard to implement in WoW, on the other he says maybe we could have apartments in Stormwind.

I wana house in SW! Who else is with me?

~Jen

Developers of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games: I am officially putting you on notice. You've had over 15 years as an official genre to develop and move forward, to hone your craft and deliver a fully immersive experience. And I am here to tell you, right here and now, that on one key point, you have failed. Miserably.

It's not combat - MMO combat has evolved to the point where players can quickly change battle strategies and turn the tide of a fight in their favor with judicious use of special abilities. It's not the grind - most studios have managed to make character progression robust yet simple, and skill trees are as common as levels, thankfully. And it's certainly not graphics - for all its flaws, Final Fantasy XIV is a stunning visual experience.

It's HOUSING.

Now, I excuse games where housing is either not included or not feasable. As much as housing would be nifty for World of Warcraft, for instance, WoW is not a game focused on ROLEPLAYING. It's a combat game in a fantasy setting. And furthermore, WoW never mentioned having player housing in the first place, so that kind of game is off the hook.

When I mention housing, I'm referring to the games that do choose to offer it as a selling point of the game, or, to some degree, to games where it SHOULD be offered, but is instead ignored. It seems very much as though game developers don't fully comprehend what "housing" means, so I've decided to take some time and detail, point by point, what it means to offer player housing.

1. A house must not be instanced. It's funny that this point should even need to be pointed out, but one thing nobody in the MMO community seems to understand is that in order to be even remotely useful, a house must occupy real estate somewhere in the game world. It seems as though the easy band-aid applied to most MMO games is the instanced "apartment" model, where you go to a centralized "housing" district and wind up in your own private space located somewhere in never-never land. Where is that apartment located? How would I get to it other than being magically teleported there or selecting it from a list? How would others find it? This is a pocket in nether-space. It's not a house.

An example of this model is Final Fantasy XI. To get to your "Mog House", you needed to run to the zone border where the housing district is located, and after a few seconds - pop. You're in your mog house, wherever that may be. And it's increasingly vague as to its location, since you can access the SAME mog house from any of the four cities in the game. You can decorate it to some degree, but there wasn't much point, since nobody can visit you there. You couldn't use it as a shop, obviously, since nobody could ever visit it anyway. It was a pointless little dwelling, if you could call it that. Other games in the past have used this same model - Anarchy Online, Phantasy Star Online, and lord knows how many others. Even Uru, as much as I love the game, took instancing to the Nth degree, since you have to find a neighborhood from a list to visit it, despite the fact that they're all identical and ostensibly share the same physcial space. Come on - the game is about a giant underground city - you're telling me you couldn't find the space for a few thousand players?

Now, too often I have brought up this point only to be shouted down by younger, less experienced MMO players - "You can't put houses on the world map! The server wouldn't be able to handle it, and it'd be total chaos! That's why nobody's ever done it!" Well now, this won't be the last time I use it as a reference, but Ultima Online, released in NINETEEN NINETY-SEVEN, has had this form of housing included since day one. Its implementation may have been far from perfect, but players were able to take a house deed out, claim a piece of land, and build their dwelling there. Other players could see that house, and if it was public, they could even enter and visit. If you had wares to sell, you could place your NPC vendor on the porch, and open up shop. Because of this, player-run cities could sprout up somewhere in the forest, or at the very least, suburbs to the main cities in the game were commonplace.

2. A house must be customizable. I don't necessarily mean that you need to be able to change EVERY ASPECT of your dwelling space as in the Age of Shadows expansion to Ultima Online, but players should have some choices when it comes to their house. Whether this comes in the form of being able to modify an existing structure, or simply offering different choices as to which house model you buy/build, not all houses should be identical. That's not how cities work. Even in tract home developments in the real world, houses have some degree of variety to them. To feel like a home, it needs to be YOURS. If everyone has the same room or square building, there's nothing special about your house. In Final Fantasy XI, for example, every Mog House was the same square windowless room. This is supposed to be Vana'diel, not communist russia.

3. A house must be a privelege. I realize there are many that will cry elitism on me for this point, but hear me out here. A major flaw in the standard cookie-cutter instanced house model is that housing is something that is granted to every player, regardless of whether they want it, or whether they would be willing to work to support it. It's a "given", and I honestly think that's a bad thing. Because housing is ubiquitous, it becomes mundane. Why would any other player WANT to visit your house, when they have one themselves just like it? (This becomes especially true in games where interaction with objects such as chairs, benches, and beds is not allowed - but that's a whole other rant)

Houses should be earned. I'm not suggesting they be a massive goldsink, costing millions of gold, only available to the most elite player, but there should be a cost of ownership. UO hit this on the head - there was a cost to place the house (which was really fairly reasonable, assuming you found an open plot of land) and there was the requirement that you had to log in every X days in order to keep it from falling down. Players who didn't maintain their house would lose it, opening the land up to other players. The house becomes a cherished possession that you have an attachment to, and you become more likely to play the game to keep it from falling into someone else's hands.

But more than anything, this gives younger players something to aspire to. It shows them that if they work hard enough, they too could own their own house, or tower, or keep. Think of houses as alternatives to endgame raid content. People will claim their plot of land in your world, and that ownership of virtual real estate gives them a reason to log on and play. I can say from personal experience that when I played UO, I spent a good portion of time sitting on the patio of my house, which sat along the road north of Vesper. I had a table and chairs there, with a chess set ready to go. I would occasionally chat with passers-by, who would sit down to a game of chess, or talk about the adventures of the day. (remember, UO was much more roleplaying centric at one point than it is now) I was perfectly content to play a virtual homebody instead of going out and slaying dragons or orcs. This is another way of saying something I've been saying for many, many years about MMO development: Give the players something to do when they're not playing the game.

With all three of these points, realize that I'm not saying every MMO needs to follow these rules or anything. I'm not saying every MMO needs to include housing. What I'm saying, in a nutshell, is that if you give your players personal apartments without any connection to the real world, where nobody can just pop in and say hi, then You're NOT offering housing. Call it whatever you want, it's not player housing.

Now, don't think I don't understand technical limitations inherent in non-instanced in-world housing. I get it - depending on the implementation, it could cause some server strain, and if improperly handled, it could also cause ridiculous overcrowding... not to mention the chaos that ensues when houses are randomly placed willy-nilly across the countryside. I'm not simply standing here on my soapbox shouting about injustices without ideas to back them up, so just to prove that a LITTLE bit of thought can solve some of these issues, let me address a few points below.

Point 1: Housing placed in the game world will put undue stress on the server.

Sure - if you had EVERYTHING load for every house in a given vicinity whenever the player was nearby, that would be nuts. Perhaps not as much nowadays as internet connection speeds have increased, and the graphic elements would have to be held in memory to begin with... but there are many, many ways around this. Just off the top of my head, you could go the UO route, and opt not to load in-house items and decoration until the player stepped onto the doorstep of the house. You could adapt this for 3D games to decrease lag time in items loading by expanding it to a wider radius around the house, but still - we're not talking about loading EVERYTHING for EVERY player. Again, this has become SLIGHTLY less of an issue than it used to be, but the point is, there are solutions.

Point 2: Random house placement would create utter chaos.

This is true, to a point. UO players will recall wandering through the forest only to come across the sea of random houses, sometimes blocking your path and forcing you to make a severe detour. This is remarkably simple to deal with, however. For starters, designate certain areas as "housing areas", and only allow houses to be placed there. In this way, you prevent random housing from interfering with the average player in the game, and you still allow people the freedom to place houses wherever they want.

There is an even SIMPLER solution, however - don't allow random housing. Set up pre-defined "neighborhoods" in your cities where housing is already built and ready for move-in. This allows for two things - one, it allows you to control the visual look and feel of the world and prevent it from going crazy with housing where it doesn't belong, and two, it allows you to make the houses a static part of the game world, preventing excessive load times of custom structures. Neighborhoods could contain all sorts of different houses, or perhaps even structures set up to be shops or other types of services, and this could even be taken further by allowing players who meet certain criteria (or can afford it) to live in apartments or buildings IN-town, lending a certain prestige to them. Lord knows MMO players love their prestige. And be creative! Offer special houses on coastlines, or small fishing villages for players to take up residence in! This is a chance for developers to REALLY build the world their players live in beyond the empty facades of buildings in most towns. Imagine if Stormwind City (I know I gave WoW a pass on this, I'm just using it as an example) had people living in the spaces above shops, or in some of the unused buildings around town.

A system like this would certainly have to be scaled to meet demand, based on average server populations and the like, but the benefit is that if more housing is needed, the developer can simply "knock a few trees down" and expand the residential area as needed. Cities grow - that's part of what makes for a thriving economy. Which brings me to my third point, however...

Point 3: New houses would never open up, because players would buy a house and hold on to it.

Sure, in the days of Ultima Online, this is certainly what happened. Buying a house in UO generally meant finding one on Ebay, or paying someone a TON of in-game gold to buy their plot. Housing was pretty scarce, and part of the reason for it, as I see it, is that houses didn't really require too much upkeep - you logged in once every few days and that was that. Here's a novel idea, and I didn't even have to make this up... I just stole it from the real world: Taxes.

Think of it this way - you buy your house for whatever the going rate is. Ideally, this should be automatically controlled by the system to be in line with current supply and demand - if a ton of houses are sitting empty, it'd make sense that you'd be able to buy one for a song. If, on the other hand, a house is a hot commodity, the cost is going to go up pretty substantially. But there's more to owning a house than simply paying for it... you've gotta pay your taxes. This would be a cost, either fixed or on a sliding scale, that would be deducted from a player's stash of gold every fixed time period. If a player wanted to keep their house, they'd have to make sure to earn enough money to pay this tax, or they get the boot.

This ensures that house owners actively play the game, preventing a community of ghost houses from popping up, and it ensures that new houses will come on the market from time to time as players give up the house or are unable to pay for it. As I said earlier - housing should be a privilege, not a right. I'm not suggesting these fees be outrageous or unreasonable, requiring players to goldfarm for hours a day to pay for it... but there needs to be some kind of upkeep involved that requires the players to PLAY in order to sustain it. Really, it's just good business - you want players to play your game, and if they're dedicated to having a house in-game, they're going to be more likely to log in and spend some time playing.

If you've made it this far, I applaud you. This has been a veritable novel, but the reason I took so much time to write this (I've been poking at it off and on for a few days) is because I want to make one thing clear to any MMO developer who happens to read it: Housing IS important. If you sell your game as including player housing, it's going to excite me, and for a decade now, I've been extremely disappointed in the implementation of "housing" that has come on the market. I don't tend to stick with MMOs these days because I'm not really offered an incentive to do so. Once I hit max level, what's left for me to do? How can I become a part of the world you're offering me if all I can do is run around and kill things? I realize not every MMO player out there cares about housing... MMO games these days have spanned to non-roleplayers, and that's fine. But there is a large percentage of your audience that, like me, plays these games with more in mind than just getting the best loot or the highest level. We're still here, and we'd still like to be a part of your game. Spend a little extra time and give us a housing system that will make the difference between a player and a lifelong fan.

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I agree 100% with your post! This would be a great addition, even though I don't think they will take the time to make it work with only two expansions left. I have no idea if the game is still running, but there is a little independent game called Mortal Online that attempts to do what you talk about.

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I'm totally for Player Housing, so I definitely approve the sentiment.

Sadly I just don't see it realistically ever being lifted from Blizzard's back burner as far as WoW goes.

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Asheron's Call had player housing, pretty much as you describe. I payed for that game a year after I stopped playing it because I couldn't stand to lose my house. One month I logged in a day after the rent was due to find someone else had already snagged it up. In retrospect it was probably a good thing since I quit the game for real when that happened. It was just so heart-breaking because any personal items you had left in the house went to the new owner. All of my stuff, including rare event items that could never be gotten again, was just sitting there and I couldn't pick them up :(

AC was a huge world. Houses were scattered in remote areas in little neighborhoods of maybe a dozen houses per neighborhood. Transportation in AC was stone (hearth) and portal based, so in order to get to your house you'd have to hit a few portals to get there, but it was completely worth it to stare at the ocean from your top floor window. The largest houses, intended for large guilds, even allowed a second hearth point, and in the basement there was even a private portal instance if you wanted complete privacy while conducting guild business.

Like you, while I recognize providing non-instanced housing for a game that had maybe 500 people on a servers versus a game that has several thousand people may require more server resources and planning, I find it baffling that game companies (including Blizzard) haven't included something that was available 10 years ago. Heck, I'd be happy if they made it a guild only perk, especially with WoW's new guild system. Make it a level 25 requirement to get one to make it a rare enough thing.

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I would love an MMO like that. It's probably why Build-a-Home maps are popular on Furcadia.

I want a guild hall at the very least. I wouldn't care if it was instanced and only available to guild members. Maybe one guild hall style per city and the guild master chooses which guild hall the guild will use when it unlocks it. Make it expensive and it'll be a good money sink to soak gold out of the economy.

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Sure it'd be fun, but I also feel, it's really not feasible, and to play devils advocate, why would Blizzard want to? How would Blizzard regulate it? Does everyone get it? What about older players? Or newer players? Or players that don't want it period? Should it be free? Should you pay 10 dollars on the online store to access it?

It's something that I have read that they are interested in, but honestly, they don't see it as a priority, and probably have a total of 2 people working on it on their down time, and during major patches, and a new expansion, is probably only during their lunch break.

It would be cool but, in many aspects, kind of pointless in the way the game has developed. I'd personally second the idea of a Guild Hall, that would probably be feasible, and as a reward for getting some sort of a rating.

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At the very least, Blizzard could stop putting NPCs in empty buildings around Azeroth that could´ve been used as houses.

This. I'm looking at you, Orendil's Retreat >:|

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Sure it'd be fun, but I also feel, it's really not feasible, and to play devils advocate, why would Blizzard want to? How would Blizzard regulate it? Does everyone get it? What about older players? Or newer players? Or players that don't want it period? Should it be free? Should you pay 10 dollars on the online store to access it?

It's been done in other MMOs TEN YEARS AGO. I find it hard to believe a mammoth like Blizzard can't figure something out. Why would they want to? The same reason they add anything else in the game: because some people want it and are willing to continue to subscribe to the game because of it. As far as regulation, that's all game mechanics they've already worked out for other things...have you done this heroic dungeon yet? yes, no. Does Alliance or Horde hold Wintergrasp/Baradin Hold? I'm not sure what older and newer players have to do with it. Players who don't want it? Well, there's lots of things in the game that other players don't want. I'm sure there's a huge bulk of PVE'ers that wished Arenas would go away, and vice versa.

As far as who gets it, that just depends on what they want..a gold sink, a guild rep perk, or even a monetary investment. Make it available and I'm sure enough people will want it to make it worth their while.

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yeah, swg housing was nice too. I was an architect that lived on the test realm for most of the couple of years that I played. I use to specialize in making fishtanks for people, lol :)

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The thing is, these other MMOs actually had a *wilderness*; a vast expanse of relatively empty space of nothing but terrain and the randomly spawned pack of creatures.

WarCraft doesn't have that, because despite what a lot of people complain about every now and then, there's relatively *no* travel time in comparison with other MMOs because the world is so *small* and compact, and everything is just *by* each other. There's no wilderness; if there was anything close to wilderness, it would be what Silithus looked like before Ahn'qiraj; a fully undeveloped wasteland with just random animals in it; of nothing of importance or significance. That's where those playerbuilt communities were developed, especially in the case of Galaxies, where there were literally just worlds like this that took 10-15 minutes of traveling via swoop or dewback, or in the earlier times, foot.

WarCraft won't have that ever. It's not built for that. If you want instances for houses, then that would put too much stress on an already stressed out instance server located on each battlegroup cluster. The amount of threads that each process would need to maintain for sheer accountability, let alone the stress of access via thousands of times, it would be completely unfeasible from a sheer hardware standpoint without adding excessive servers to each battlegroup cluster just to hold the data and connections. Then you still have the dormant data due to how each character in every account will eventually have these, and unlike instances where the zombie processes are killed after the instance closes down, these will continue to absorb more and more data, weather or not the characters ever relog on; the sheer fact that they exist will keep the housing data static without it becoming a huge moneysink a la SWG's "Rent/Maintenance".

But by then, you're literally working in a game to pay virtual rent while simultaneously working in a job to pay your actual rent.

WarCraft isn't Second Life. If that's what you want, go ahead and do that thing. You take things too far and soon we'll end up just like Emmons.

122154729298.jpg

Despite what it looks like, there's no nudity there.

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I'm surprised no one mentioned SWG...

For all the things SOE fucked up with that game, housing was the one thing they got right...

This..

SWG was one of the biggest games for player housing. Top Down view for selecting where you want your house.. the orientation.. and after a time.. Mayors that incorporated your house into a city and could kick you out for not following protocol!

It's just a shame that SOE fucked it up so bad. Still, I would be happy with Instanced housing similar to LotRO.. it's not -just- a house but a whole Neighborhood. Granted, some people you may not know but I had success in finding guild members that had vacant lots.. and while LotRO decoration operated on a 'hanger' system.. in which you click a specific location to put certain belongings.. you could still personalize it pretty well and your house was very easily accessible by others (and they refined it later).

Still, I could see where Elwynn Forest would be a massive metropolis and look utterly ridiculous had these things been implemented from the get go.. However, guild halls.. I could see that for guilds that reach the 25th level.. Would be an accomplishment and something to look forward to at that level.. and you wouldn't have billions of them from every tom-dick-and-jane guild that started as it would take time for it to develop.

Ultimately, it would have been nice.. and still would be.. but, I think at this point, it's not necessary. We have our hubs for RP and a majority of us in guilds have a few hot spots outside of major cities. If you want to say you live somewhere.. it's just the word of mouth away. Just say you do and who can contest you!? :D

End.

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Manus has injected reality into the conversation. Despite our hopes and dreams and examples and pretty sunshine rainbows... the truth of it all is World of Warcraft is not 'one of those games'.

Could it come close? Sure, something could be implemented in a way that allowed guilds to have areas, or that a certain area was relegated to "guild stuff", allowing guilds to display their symbols or accomplishments or a weekly/monthly/seasonally success for their particular server for everyone to hang around. While that is not player housing (or guild), it is something that is along the lines of World of Warcraft and the direction Blizzard has been taking with guild perks, phased zones, and achievements.

I don't want to be the little rain cloud over your picnic, but accessorizing your home and inviting your friends over for tea and biscuits is not an experience that Blizzard wants to provide, no matter how cool or awesome or exciting it would be. Personally, I'd love to have a guild hall or home to make me feel internet awesome... but I'd also like to be a millionaire and have ban powers on the server. I expect the last two before the first in actually happening, though.

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FWIW, I actually agree that WoW is a terrible game for player housing in anything other than an instanced format - and instanced housing is lame anyway. The only marginally interesting instanced housing I've seen is LOTRO's instanced neighborhoods, as was mentioned earlier.

But then I don't care that much about housing anyway.

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I have no real hopes of anything like the old UO housing ever existing in WoW, but I felt like I had to pass this along. I haven't played UO actively in two years but I'm still playing for two accounts to hold my main home on Europa and my fortress on Seige. :P

Part of the issues I see have been mentioned by other people... the fact that there is no wilderness, and that it hasn't been a part of the game since day one. It's harder to add such a shiny feature as time goes on than to just tweak on that you built in at the ground floor.

Honestly, I'd be happy with more little apartments, the ones with BEDS like Ironforge has. The buildings are already there in all the major citys, just put some guts and furnishings in them, leave them NPC free and let players use them as they will.

One of the things I really liked about the new werewolf zone were the little, complete houses set up here and there. You could kind of guess what sort of family lived there by the furnishings... whether or not they had kids, how many people there were in the family. Some were very spartan fishing huts that obviously housed a lone male, others were cozy little places with kids beds and play rooms.

Right now there are four beds in all of Stormwind. Count them, four. Three of them aren't even set up as a part of a house, but are just slapped in an upstairs room to fill the space. The only real "home" is the house everyone knows in Cutthroat Alley. Even that one could do with some better decorations in the down stairs. Right now a lot of people "live" in Ironforge because that is the only city that has any real places to claim however loosely.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I log out I put my characters to sleep in their bed!

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I don't see player housing ever being implemented, which is sad because WoW is such a huge influence on other MMOs that it just perpetuates the lack of housing in MMOs. I see the issue more generally as the lack of players actually being able to influence the world (at least when talking about un-instanced housing). If I move a character from one server to another there's no real difference between the servers. Players like being able to actually leave their mark.

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Housing is out there, you just need to find those secreted away locations and hide them from everyone. Become a hermit.

Thalarios is living his life happily in a one-room apartment.

WoWScrnShot_122110_040544.jpg

Carry explosives.

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The only way WoW could do housing is instanced, and I'm against that type of housing. It seems half assed, and really serves little purpose. My first MMO was an MMO that did player housing correctly, because from the start it was designed with big enough worlds that left plenty of space for player housing: Star Wars Galaxies. Of all the things SWG did wrong, it did player housing RIGHT.

I'd rather see an 'appearance tab'.

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