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Yavin_Prime's MMORPG.com Blog

A blog about MMORPGing, the game community, stories and the entertainment we as gamers love so much. Why do we do the things we do and why do we like the things we like? This and more inside.

Author: Yavin_Prime

Player housing in MMOs, what makes it so important?

Posted by Yavin_Prime Tuesday April 12 2011 at 10:23PM
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Excitement, achievement, ownership, and belonging, these are a few feelings that I get when I think of player housing in MMORPGs. For me player housing has always been an important factor in whether or not I commit to an MMORPG long term. In many instances player housing is an important factor for many other players beyond myself. So why is it so important to us, why do people cling to virtual homes that have little meaning to the overall game?
 
Ownership
 
The first thing that comes to mind with player housing is ownership. When games allow players to own a piece of the game world it makes us connect in a way that we never did before. In Everquest 2 when you buy an apartment in Northern Freeport you can say to anyone "I'm a citizen of Freeport, that’s my city," and the truth is it is your city. It’s the same thing that happens in the real world. When you buy or rent an apartment in the real world your home city instantly becomes the one you're living in. I recently moved from my home town of over sixteen years and within six months my new home had begun to feel familiar and my old home had become less familiar.
 
The truth is player housing gives players the ability to feel like the own part of the world, in some cases like Ultima Online players would log back on even if they were burnt out of the game just to check in on their house. Back in 1999-2000 I remember waiting outside of a "decaying" house (the player had neglected to pay their rent on the house and it was pending deletion) desperate to build my own house for at the time Ultima Online had limited space for housing. It was such a big deal in UO that websites and third party companies built on land in the hopes of selling it for real money. Back in those days if you wanted a castle (the largest house type) you often had to buy up more than one "plots" of land next to each other so that you could build such a large building. At the time castle plots were so rare that the average cost was around $500!
 
Purpose
 
Player housing gives players the feel that their characters are "real" in that world and not just random avatars that pop in/out of the world. These characters have homes in the world which often inspires non-rpers to RP in some small way. The truth is I've always found the strongest RPing communities to be found in games with player owned housing.
On another note for purpose it can be said that loyalty can be created. In Star Wars Galaxies (which had a housing system similar to UO) many players opened shops in their stores. Often I found myself going back to the same players over and over again to buy the things I needed. No longer were sales "random" auction bids but true transactions. Often players would spend hours just going from player shop to player shop looking for the best prices on an object. Which then created a whole new time-sink in those MMOs, and the truth was it was fun. I always felt overjoyed when I found a good deal and then I would advertise to all my friends that "Wookiee-Nook's House of Bargains" was the best place for composite armor.
 
Longevity
 
Aside from the obvious bonuses to players, player housing influences the longevity of games. Most of the games I've seen get shut down in the recent past lacked housing of any kind. Tobula Rasa, Earth and Beyond, APB, and many others lacked any true mechanic to draw players back into their worlds other than raw gameplay. Obviously raw gameplay isn't enough to keep games running (unless you're Blizzard). Ultima Online, Everquest 2, Ashron's Call, and even the infamous Star Wars Galaxies are all still alive while some of the above games that lacked true player housing died out. The fact that SWG is still alive even after 95+% of MMOers have hate for that game is amazing. I'm not saying that housing is keeping SWG alive but it’s fair to assume it could be a factor.
 
An interesting example of housing having some sort of influence is the Ashron's Call story. Ashron's Call 1 added housing to their game. Ashron's Call 2 was launched and died within one or two years of launch. It’s sad to say it but AC1 was one of those rare instances where its "child" game died before it did, AC1 is still alive even though it looks like it’s from the gaming stone age. Now as mentioned above player housing can't be attributed to have saved AC1 but the truth is it really could be a factor.
 
The Bottom Line
 
Player housing is obviously good for both players but developers as well. So why is it that more modern MMOs are keeping this feature out of the game even though technology has obviously progressed? If you lay out the lists of dead games and living games you'll find the vast majority of dead games are non-housing games. Overall the ability to "own" a bit of the gaming world seems to be an important factor to MMOers, even if we don't consciously consider it.
xantris writes:

the thing about implementing housing... is its -really- easy.  It's just a subsection of the developer toolset.  There is absolutely zero reason it should not be included in every game.

Tue Apr 12 2011 11:17PM Report
mastersomrat writes:

Player housing is important for one reason:  It's an option that need to be including in all RPGMMO's and it's not the only one.  Crafting is another and I don't mean, go to an NPC, but a recipe and your all good.

Wed Apr 13 2011 1:42PM Report
Koros writes:

Housing is one of the big reasons I'm still stuck to EQ2. It has the best housing system of any MMO I've ever played, bar none. LOTRO was on the right track with their instanced neighborhoods, but completely blew it with that retarded hook system. I also don't understand why most modern games consider it something superfluous they can just cut out. Housing adds to depth and in the end it's depth that keeps me in a game for the long haul, story and atmosphere and the world around me, not some endless grind for better stats and gear.

Wed Apr 13 2011 2:10PM Report
grimmier writes:

Player housing offers a place to store items you don't want to get rid of for sentimental reasons, and to showcase the rare and unusual items you find throughout the world. 

You will often find people and even entire guilds dedicated to decorating houses for people. It adds a nice role playing aspect to the game.

Wed Apr 13 2011 11:58PM Report
daltanious writes:

Longevity

 

 
Aside from the obvious bonuses to players, player housing influences the longevity of games. Most of the games I've seen get shut down in the recent past lacked housing of any kind. 
-----
He he he ... now we have discovered root cause for failure for this games. :-))) Personally do not miss at all.
 
About items you do not need and want to keep for setimental reasons ... for this there are banks. And yes, guess I'm kind'a sentimental because in bank i usually keep decent number of items from past.
 
Thu Apr 14 2011 8:36AM Report
Praylor writes:

Totally agree with this. I can truthfully say housing is a big factor in my game play.

I think it's about no two houses in game are the same. Which is the ultimate in a player not being just another cookie cutter Avatar.

I remember downloading Mod's for Elder Scrolls (Morrowind) and  Showing off my houses to friends with pride. Even though it was single player game.

In MMO's it is always nice to have friends requeest to take screenshots in your house to.

Thu Apr 14 2011 5:09PM Report
permster writes:

Player housing is important but I haven't really ever seen it done to meet my standards.  Well SWG was close.  I am not a fan of instancing player housing.  I want a house that's part of the world.  A place where I can bring friends in and out of seamlesly without zoning into my house.  Non-instanced player housing adds many new aspects to the game.  Perhaps even the ability to hand out keys as an item to another player so they can access my house.   Instead of setting permissions like in EQ2.  One scenario I often wish I could see play out is where a thief class or lockpick skill  can break into my house and steal stuff.  It could add an entirely new layer to the game where your not always trying to level.  More about PvP and getting back at the thief.  Obviously this would have to be implemented with just the right set of rules or there would be massive griefing, but it's an idea.

I like the idea of instanced neighborhoods though.  That may be a good compromise to accomadate massive amounts of player housing.

Sun Apr 17 2011 12:14AM Report
Zekto writes:

Everything you just said is fine, it's something that should be a might as well have, then let's skip it, since it does add more depth to a game (as long as it's not instanced).

Mon Apr 18 2011 12:14AM Report
kjempff writes:

Maybe it takes more resources to make player housing in a game than you think ? After all, a player has to be able to create a unique house or it will be pointless. Unique and thereby variable things require alot of work in a game.

Anyways, couldnt agree more - One of the few things I loved in eq2 was player housing, and I spent many hours crafting furniture etc and designing my home.. even finished quests with useless items just to be able to hang those on the walls.

In the beginning of eq2 you could even go visit players houses to buy things of auction (save auction cost of retrieving it for you)... this is now removed due to the usual simplification (dumbing down) that happens in every game.

Mon Apr 18 2011 2:37PM Report
Lateris writes:

 

"The truth is player housing gives players the ability to feel like they own part of the world".  I think you nailed it. I remember my first house in SWG. Each day I would run missions to pay for it to exist. I would leave the planet to run other missions and to explore. Then I would return to store my items that I had gathered or purchased in my adventures back in 2003.  But I always had that sense of coming home when I returned to it. It gave a purpose to my decisions in the game.
Tue Apr 19 2011 6:06PM Report
Gardavil2 writes:

I subscribe to and play 3 MMOs...

LotRO (lifetime sub) which as others said is beautiful, but the hook system ruined it. I play this MMO now mostly only due to family and friends involvement with LotRO (still upset about cash shop, glad for the new players, made new friends).

EQ2 which has the item management in player houses I wanted for LotRO. EQ2 itself is fun for me once in a way but way too themepark.

SWG NGE which has the Player system I like the best. Love the realistic qualities of SWG's world as far as terrain, housing, harvesting, etc.

See a pattern? Player Housing for me is one of the three top features I look at as to whether I stay sub'd to a MMO/MMORPG. All the other MMOs/MMORPG's that have no or "substandard" Player Housing I may try once, but I don't stay.

....RoM has housing but it's highly dependent on the cash shop.

...EVE will soon have Player Housing with Incarna, will have to wait and see how that turns out.

...SW:TOR will have Player Housing in the form of your ship... but do you we loose our furniture and in house items when our ship gets blown to bits? Bioware you screwed up, it would have been so easy for you to put housing in the cities on the planets, so SW:TOR fails in the Player Housing department imho.

Hint Hint.

Thu Apr 28 2011 6:05PM Report
Cloudrat writes:

Housing has always kept me in games longer than ones without. I continued for years to just pay my subs and visit my houses on occasion on Ultima Online and Horizoins until I really felt I had built a new home on EQ2. 

EQ2 has been increasing the housing opportunities and just to straighten out the previous post, you can still shop in a person's home to save broker fees if the person places their sales display case in their home.

If anything, EQ2 is smartening up it;s game and the housing aspect of it. Visit the Norrathian homeshow on their official forums and get a look at the creativity and flexibility of their current housing system. Personal expression has never been more available to the average player.

Tue Jun 28 2011 3:17AM Report
Frenetic writes:

I love any type of housing where I can decorate. Making the world is fun too and that is what housing is all about to me. 

Without a place to decorate, it feels like I don't have an impact on the world and my immerssion breaks. 

I always wanted Age of Conan to allow us to decorate our own buildings. Personally, I'd ask my guild lead if I could have the alchemy tower! 

Just imagine it. A bedroom upstairs- my own lab that I put together! So much win!

Wed Apr 11 2012 2:49PM Report

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