Personalization of the online experience is an aspect of MMOGs that many players feel strongly about. This is enabled and achieved in different ways in games, from the ability to fine tune the physical characteristics of an avatar, to the selection of the clothes and armor they wear, to the display of titles attained, to the houses, steeds and other physical manifestation of their achievements in game.
One of the ways that EverQuestII allows for the personalization of the online experience is the many items that can be displayed in a player house. Players start off with a simple one-room apartment and can progress to a five room place in which tradeskill appliances may be placed. As evidenced by player posts, house decoration threads on a forum often grow large and long and remain the most viewed threads on a forum.
The community team at EverQuestII likes to organize at least one large event a quarter, and house decoration seemed to be near and dear to many in the community. So in one of their monthly meetings with Marketing, they dreamed up the Norrathian version of "Trading Places" in which they would pick one home on each server and redecorate. Players were encouraged to submit screenshots of their houses and those of their friends, whom they deemed needed that special interior decorator's touch, and explain why they thought a renovation or redecoration was required.
The response was gratifyingly overwhelming. They had a tough time making choices, but eventually, they looked for houses that had potential. "We were looking for the diamond in the rough," said Craig Darymple, Community Manager for EverQuestII. "For those whom we sensed were doing this for fun, and not to take advantage of the contest. Even so, there were some winners who expressed disappointment when they did not receive uber loot."
Craig first watched as Emily Taylor, Game Designer (EQII Tradeskills), worked on a few houses. Emily is someone that totally enjoys her work and her favorite thing to do in EQII is to decorate houses for friends with her character's carpentry skills and thusly, she is well versed with the items in-game that could be used to decorate a house.
"We would go into a house and take a look around to see what themes could be built out of it. Matching up trophies, providing a weapons rack, etc." said Craig. "Some houses didn't seem to need renovation in my eyes, but Emily took it a step further."
Craig described a house that had a least two dozen frogs hopping around it. It belonged to a father who shared it with his two children. "We focused on what was already there and worked on re-design and complementing what was already there." What he did was to tidy up and create a pool area for the frogs.
Emily concurred with Craig's description of the process, describing one of her projects. "It was a Qeynos house with an area in the upper area like a little alcove. The owner was a Scholar, so I added bookcases and made a little library, moving all her books there and put in a Scribing bench as well."
The team were mostly in communication with the users, as some wanted to be closely involved in the process while others sat back to see what they would created. I asked how long it took to do a house.
"Emily does houses in 5 minutes flat," said Craig, making her laugh. "One of the first things I said to Craig when I heard of the idea was. You realize how long that's going to take, don't you?" added Emily, informing me that it took one to two hours to redecorate a house, sometimes a little longer depending on the state of the original house.
"Before sub-combines were removed, it was a 48 hour marathon to properly decorate a 5-room house," said Emily. How did you know? I asked. "Emily is incapable of owning a home that is not decorated!" Craig quipped, and Emily confessed with a laugh, "I've been known to walk into homes to buy something and was so horrified at their state that I've mailed them furniture, and I've leveled two carpenters to 70."
"A large portion of enjoyment I derive from decorating is other people's enjoyment. I have not done anything as rewarding as redecorating other people's houses." She laughed as she described how friends had zoned in and out again because they thought they had zoned into the wrong house.
The contest to select houses for this project ended April 30th, and every US server had a winner, with their international team selecting one winner per country. Craig was telling me that he had a few more houses to complete before FanFaire in August. That's a long time, I commented.
"Isn't that how it all works out? It's much more of a task than I had envisioned in the beginning. It turned out to be a bigger project because we care. There was an "A-ha!" every time and in every house. Even the people who thought they had a storage closet, made me re-think how items can be used to inject some personality. It was eye-opening."
"We left them functional things," said Emily. "Things that a person would need if they didn't have them, like a bed for sleeping on, a table and chairs, or added items for style and comfort - like a rug and we tried to match their personality and themes already present."
"Someone had a bird cage," said Craig, "and I wanted to put one of those stuffed plushie aviaks in it but there was no place to hang it, but as people know, in EQ2, when you place stuff on a shelf and then remove the shelf, stuff stays hanging in midair. So I put a bunch of boxes on top of each other until it reached the cage, put the bird in and removed the boxes."
The houses that Craig and Emily redecorated were evenly distributed between three-rooms to five-rooms with most of them in Freeport and Qeynos, although at least one player moved his house to Neriak for the project. They ran from the Spartan to the packrats, from the storage closet to the pet collector, and every house had at least one pet. "The problem with pets mainly was that they often got in the way when I was moving objects. The one I hate most is the zombie that jumps up - the first time that happens it scares the pants off you," said Craig.
What did they learn from this project? I wanted to know.
"I was not aware of the wealth and depth of items you can put in your house. I also didn't realize how time consuming decorating is. Nor was I really aware of the volume of passion and dedication players put into decorating their houses," answered Craig.
"Carpentry is a unique class," said Emily, "it's the only class where you can see and physically interact with every item you make. We have many house items in game, but there is no limit to people's creativity on how they are making items by putting other things together. Such as rugs across rafters to create a second floor and book cases to create set of curved stairs."
The creativity of players also allowed the development team to know what house items not yet in game were most in demand. Fireplaces were big, as were mantles and different types of shelving. "One of our coding guys - Rothgar - is quite the house decorator and re-examined the placement of house items. He's the reason you can now place items in a 3rd-party view." Emily told me, with Craig piping in, "I love 3rd-party view!"
House decorating, it seems, has created a secondary tradeskill in-game. "Carpenters make the items, but may not be interested at all in decorating houses," said Emily, "and there are those that may be completely uninterested in crafting, but are hiring out their skills for home decoration."
"My own houses in-game have improved as I learned from this project," said Craig.
What about your real life homes? I wanted to know.
"Well, I cook, my wife decorates. We have a rule of three. She brings three things to show me and I choose one or two. It keeps the sanity in our marriage. Of course," he laughed, "She's learned to bring me two things she knows I'll absolutely hate!"
"I recently moved to San Diego and have spent the last couple months buying furniture and decorating my house. Yes, I love to decorate in real life as well," was Emily's reply.
The player house in EQII. This is the only place in entire game that you can say, "this is mine, and this is me. I control this." With this interview of Emily Taylor and Craig Darymple, we also bring you a selection of "Before" and "After" pictures of the houses redecorated. Take a look at how a few simple items and a little imagination can transform even the most mundane house. Look closely. You may find the snowman that Craig hid in each house that he redecorated.
Put your mouse over the image below to see a before and after of these houses.
* Allow a moment for the rollover image to load, speed depending on your internet connection
If you would like to see more before and after images, please visit our EQII gallery here.