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Community Spotlight: The Decline of Player Housing

Posted by MikeB Sunday July 8 2012 at 4:40PM
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In this week's Community Spotlight we focus on the thread, "Player Housing - Why has this feature gone from a priority to a feature most developers couldnt care about? by MMOExposed.

Suffice it to say, the thread title explains what our spotlight poster is getting at, so let's get right into it beginning with MMOExposed himself:

Player Housing IS possible. It just is not a priority. If people do not like the game or if they do not find the game fun, they will not build a house.

The reasons make sense though. You could create the best housing feature-set we have ever seen in a game but if nobody enjoys the game to that point, they will not stick around just to have a cool house.?

Seem as if developers now days see no importance in this feature known as player housing. The quote has a point. If Developers put too much resources into Housing over other features, than players may not be interested in the game and wont build houses regardless of how detailed that feature is.

but why has this feature been tossed under the bus over the last few years?
seem like this feature has become very unpopular in the developers offices lately.

Player Housing seem like a dynamic feature that gives players something to do when raiding/leveling/other grinds come to a end. Seem like a win win feature from a consumer point of view, but not from a developer.

What turn of events causes this?

So, why has player housing fallen off as a marquee feature of most MMOs? Read on to find out!

terrant offers a convincing take on why player housing has fallen off:

Because by and large it's become useless from a gaming standpoint.

Devs often try to find soemthing useful to do with homes, to encourage players to visit them often. But at best they end up being a location the player jumps into from time to time, to collect some special item, get a buff, ot craft. Then it's back out in the world the other 99% of the time. Why waste resources developing a segment of content players only spend a tiny amount of time in?

Also player hoursing is viewed as a staple of RPing, which has declined quite a bit in MMOs. 

Keep in mind I'm not saying I have an opposition to player housing...I remember the fun I had opening up my Jobe house in AO for the first time and decking it out. But I don't thinkit's something enough people care about and will use for most mainstream developers to care.

Torluk feels its a matter of failing to get housing right all these years:

I get the impression that housing is something which is hard to get right in MMOs.  

If they make it instanced then people can lose the feeling of uniqueness their home brings.  If they make it buildable in the world then the problems of finite space, land hogging and ghost towns crop up.

I also believe the design focus of the game can impact how useful housing will be.  In a linear themepark where players are constantly relocating to new areas for character progression housing becomes less convenient, however, in a sandbox that is trying to simulate a world where individuals are linked to a particular territory housing can more easily become a fully fledged and enriching feature.

Perhaps once the majority of MMOs started dropping the world simulating elements of their predecessors and began to focus solely on being a 'fun' game housing became less relevant?

maplestone offers the likely culprit:

In a themepark design, it is unnatural to anchor a player to one place with a home when the rest of your design is focused on moving them on a constant zone-to-zone path.  Similarly, when the general tendency is to on-demand instancing, the concept of player-created landmarks is a little hard to mix in naturally. 

There's the coding/troubleshooting overhead to consider in the cost-benefit of giving players what is essentially a mini level-editor. 

That said, I greatly miss my UO houses - there are good reasons why "The Sims" was such a gigantic success.  Letting those fall was by far the most gut-wrentching part of unsubscribing.  If the finale of my stay hadn't felt like a "stay subscribed or we burn your house down" shakedown, I might have been more willing to return for visits.

I started out in MMOs with Star Wars Galaxies where player housing was a major focus of the game. I never got much use out of mine, though. I had a great spot at the Lake Retreat on Naboo overlooking the lake itself, but I really only used the house to dump stuff in. With that said, in my time playing the game I saw some of the most creative and authentic Star Wars looking homes I could imagine and it really did a great job at selling the game as a living, breathing, Star Wars world.

This wasn't just limited to housing, but even player shops (which were often run in houses). There's nothing like walking into a starship engineer's house and seeing what looks like a completely realistic workshop with engine parts suspended from the ceiling and the like.

That sounds great, right? But again, if its so great, why has player housing fallen off in recent years? Honestly, I think maplestone gets the basic idea right: housing doesn't make as much sense in themepark games. When you put together a game design vision, settling on a themepark design means your team is focused on producing content that is then consumed by players. This often means the world is also designed such that the playspace serves to support the content created for the game. Every bit of the map has a meaning and so creating these wide open spaces for players to populate with housing kind of clashes with that.

Sure, there are exceptions, such as LOTRO with its instanced neighborhoods, but by and large, player housing just doesn't fit in with themepark world design. I'd also wager that the people that really took advantage of all the awesome customization offered by player housing often make up a small percentage of the playerbase.

It's also a database nightmare. ;)

Why do you feel player housing has fallen off as a major MMO feature? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Torval writes:

The housing in EQ2 is the single feature that keeps me returning to the game from time to time.  There is a spot in themepark gaming that could allow for each player and guild to have their own customizable chunk of 'dirt'.

I think the reason it has fallen off has more to do with terrant's point about the RP falling off of the MMO.  Game focus has changed from long term to short term quick gratification.  Housing is a long term type of feature.  Warfronts and gear tokens are not.

Sun Jul 08 2012 10:22PM Report
DSBHR writes:

Most games are about gear and PVP. Mostly because that is just really a lot easier to code. Make a map and let the players be their own game running around killing on each other to earn better gear to run around killing each other with /repeat.  Personally coming from a FPS background I would rather play a FPS game for that.

There is an available niche for a really good game with player housing and exploration combined with crafting. Especially with multiple server types for consentual/open PVP.

Sun Jul 08 2012 11:15PM Report
Terranah writes:

Housing meshes perfectly witht the virtual world style of mmo, but we don't really see that at the moment.  Maybe someday things will swing the other way.

Sun Jul 08 2012 11:26PM Report
mcrippins writes:

I honestly thought the way UO handled player housing was an absolutely genius marketing idea. If for 30 days you or one of the people friended to the house didn't refresh it, then it would fall, and people could loot whatever was inside and place a house there. This alone probably kept so many people subscribing. 


What I really enjoyed about player housing is simply having something to call my own. Humans are by nature territorial. When you have your own piece of territory you want to protect it by whatever means necessary. This brings in a certain psychological element that a lot of 'developers' seem to miss. I agree with the comment referring to MMOs no longer being a world simulator, but just visiting a themepark that has rides. You don't go to a themepark to live there. You go to have fun for a little while, and then back to reality. 

Mon Jul 09 2012 5:19AM Report
Lowcaian writes:

SWG did it right, land hogging and ghost towns are not a problem. Just put restrictions in certain areas and have a pack up every six month. SWG had too few pack ups but the basic concept was sound.

Mon Jul 09 2012 5:29AM Report
Athcear writes:

The trouble with housing is that, barring RP situations, there's no real reason to bring someone to your house.  Friendships in MMOs often come from shared activity.  You bond with the people you kill monsters with.  Bringing someone to your house for a chat... to a lot of people that's mildly creepy.

Houses need to be a gateway to some form of content to get people in them.  I think it was Runes of Magic that put crafting bonuses into a guild hall.  That's a good way to get people together somewhere.  One seriously missed opportunity in TOR would have been group space missions, where everyone had to pile into one person's ship and take on different roles on the same ship in order to win.

I think housing is really a poor place for socializing.  When hanging out in a player's home, there's always the question "Why are we here rather than doing X together?"  Put X in the house, and people will gather in each others' houses to do it.

Mon Jul 09 2012 9:12AM Report
Jaedor writes:

As afropuff420 posted, we are territorial by nature. Being able to claim a house or spot of land as "mine" is a single - huge - immersion factor. But as already mentioned, it is a database nightmare and requires a long-term commitment to support from the developers.


LOTRO does have housing. It is not as good as others already mentioned, but it is one of the few successful player housing options available in MMOs today. And yet, if you perused the LOTRO forums, you'd see many, many threads from players begging for more housing options. This is a really big aspect of the player community in a game that encourages RP, and the players find it stale and frustrating. Yet they will continue to spend money because they are invested in their houses.


There's a big clue here for game developers, but also a warning. I'm not surprised that most companies won't go there.

Mon Jul 09 2012 11:07AM Report
Melieza writes:

In FFXI, you could access your house from any city.  Obviously, this made it instanced and they didnt allow other players to enter your house until much later after the game was released, but your house was something you went to ALL the time.  You needed it to change jobs, access your storage, and craft (since you could have crafting bonus furniture).

I think if a game implements it so its easily accessable and useful, it can definitely have a place in themeparks.

Mon Jul 09 2012 2:31PM Report
Sicom writes:

Never really cared for housing, and I've played a lot of games with it. Perhaps the game it was most useful in for me was DAOC, but that was mostly because it served as the game's Auction House system and a central hub for crafting... but I'd rather have those things as integral parts of the "world", and not some seemingly contrived reason to visit a dollhouse. 

Mon Jul 09 2012 7:51PM Report
someforumguy writes:

I think a problem is that housing is now associated with decorating some barbie house. In most recent cases it almost has no connection to the rest of the game. It already devaluated to some little sidegame.

But the way the playercity system worked in SWG for example, it actually was a feature strong enough for players to stay. It connected into crafting (which could be a full profession), into faction war (defenses) and buffs (player cantina's, hospitals). For the players who didn't even give a shit about housing, it at least was their main storage. This system was one of the main features that helped players feeling part of the game.


Tue Jul 10 2012 3:17AM Report
thamighty213 writes:

The 1st point is moot,  SWG more than showed that there is a subset of players  who rareley if ever participated in combat instead choosing a social profession or choosing to be mayor of a city, run a museum etc etc

Tue Jul 10 2012 7:01AM Report
Moirae writes: I find housing a really big deal. I suppose I'm living vicariously through my gaming npc because I badly want my own house in real life. People are naturally territorial. They want what they can call their own. And frankly, its something to do other than kill stuff.  Sun Sep 30 2012 5:53PM Report writes:
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