There can be no denying that the MMORPG genre has made great strides over the past decade. Games like Rohan: Blood Feud and Perfect World have graphics that blow Ultima Online and Asheron's Call out of the water. But both those older games had something that few games released today days do: Player Housing.
Some of my best memories during the dawn of the MMORPG genre were spent alone inside my own dwelling. Hours could be spent decorating and designing a large house. These houses not only served as a distraction but often doubled as live event locations. For example, the head quarters of a powerful guild in Ultima Online would serve as a PvP hot-spot. Newer games like World of Warcraft have had to bypass these player generated action zones with artificial PvP zones like the Battlegrounds and the Arena. Now don't get me wrong, both of those are great features in WoW but they do have a structured feel to them. I prefer my virtual worlds to be player driven.
Some games have implemented player housing in a lousy manner. For a good example of this look no further than Dark Age of Camelot. Rather than making houses a geographic feature of the main land, entire new zones were created to act as house parks. Expensive monthly rents were attached to house ownership which made them impractical to anyone outside a major guild.
With the success that World of Warcraft has enjoyed, there doesn't seem to be much demand for playing housing. But with the MMO market growing so fast, there must be a few developers willingly to experiment with this long neglected feature. I would like to point out that a recently released 2D free to play game called Wonderland Online has a very basic housing system. Each player can pitch a tent which can then be decorated. The tent will appear in the game world and other players may enter if the owner permits.
Hopefully we'll see more in depth housing features in the MMORPGs of the future. How soon and to what extent housing is implemented in tomorrows games depends on how much value we put on it. Please share your thoughts on player housing in MMORPGs!