6 things I want to see in every housing system

housing

Despite housing systems gaining traction in online games, not every one has them, nor have we arrived at a point where there is a consensus about a baseline of mandatory features. I’ve been thinking about housing a lot, especially since my two main games are currently denying me that fun (FFXIV is too expensive and TSW lacks it entirely). If I was to codify video game law for MMO housing, here are six things I would make standard:

(1) Universal accessibility

I’d make housing as accessible and standard of a feature as anything else in an MMO, meaning that whether you’re a lowbie or a long-time vet, you’ll have the right to housing without a huge barrier (levels, cost) getting in the way. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to start out with a mansion, just that everyone should have their own place to call “home digital home” soon after character creation.

(2) Freeform placement

I’m definitely not a fan of the hook system in MMO housing, whether it be LOTRO’s strict placement or SWTOR’s slightly less strict panels. Give us the ability to fiddle with placement to our heart’s content and build what we like, where we like.

(3) Housing drops as part of the loot table

I’ve always felt that housing offered a boon to devs by making the loot table potentially more diverse and interesting. As a player, getting a cool item for my house as part of a random drop or a dungeon boss is just as exciting as getting a new set of bracelets that bump up my vitality by two stat points. Maybe a little more exciting. So don’t limit housing decor to a cash shop or crafting only, is what I’m saying.

(4) Customization on every level

The more ways that I can customize my house, the better. I should be able to select (or even create!) my own music, adjust lighting, and perhaps even create simple scripts.

(5) Socializing support

Housing is great for the nester, but sometimes we want to show off our creations and have friends visit. Games should make this as easy as possible, with ways to highlight particularly creative homes. There should also be tools to allow players to throw parties and other limited-scope events in their houses.

(6) Functionality

Houses shouldn’t just be for hanging trophies and looking pretty; houses should offer a range of services. In other words, when I go to my home, I want to be able to do things there that can benefit my character or account. Storage, crafting, mail, and special buffs are just the start of what could be included in this category.

What do you think should come standard in MMO housing?

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6 thoughts on “6 things I want to see in every housing system

  1. Sylow February 26, 2016 / 9:27 am

    Hmm. All in all, you just sum up what old SWG offered for housing.

    Building houses and furniture was a player profession. Yes, it cost a little, so it was not “for free” for every beginner, but it was affordable after a short while. While a lot of the basics were crafted, some furniture came from special sources. There were trophies (like heads of some monsters) reward for special achievements, some stuff was only purchaseable when involved in PvP, etc.

    Not only were items freely placeable in the house (people were creative, they built aquariums and many other things by re-using other t hings), but houses also were placeable on the planets, and it was possible to form cities.

    Houses were private or public, depending on the status. Everybody had one, as it served as storage space. (The public bank was limited to 100 items. A large house was able to handle several hundreds. ) Next to that, crafters placed vendors inside their houses, effectively turning them into shops, which were displayed on the planetary map.

    The whole system only had two drawbacks:
    1. To support this, the game required plenty of space to build upon. In the long run, some of the planets turned from scattered settlements over a wild world to an almost planetweide settlement, with barely a few dozen meters between buildings.
    2. Players come and go. Buiildings remain. A system of clearing lots when the owner was not online for a while was established, but that again made a return much harder for people who had their houses removed and “stored away”. (Nothing was deleted, but people had to find a spot again for the house when returning. You can imagine the enthusiasm when somebody lost his prime quality spot for his shop right outside of a starport, and would have had to place it a remote corner where there still was a spot free. )

    Next to that, while I would like housing for some MMOs, there also are several where I don’t see any use for it. (I could name a few examples with housing, which is never used as it just doesn’t really fit to the game. )

    While your six criterias are understandable, I would add rule zero: invest housing into those MMOs, where it fits to the style and design, save the effort in those where it makes no sense.

  2. Stropp February 26, 2016 / 9:30 am

    I reckon Everquest 2 is the gold standard here. Housing there covers pretty much all of your points except perhaps #6. You can even adjust lighting (to an extent) by using different types of lighting.

    About the only complaint I’ve ever heard about that system is that it uses instanced housing.

    I’ve always thought it a bit of a shame that no one has ever really implemented housing to quite the same extent as EQ2.

  3. bhagpuss February 26, 2016 / 9:50 am

    I agree with Stropp. EQ2 is the gold standard and by some margin. I’ve tried most of the mainstream alternatives and there really is no close competitor.

    Even your Point 6 is well-served, with additional storage, pictures that port you to the places they show, pets that give you valuable collectables, personal crafting stations, mailboxes and lots more.

    Most importantly, though, EQ2 houses feel more like homes than any others I’ve virtually lived in.

  4. Rowan February 26, 2016 / 11:11 am

    It seems to me that Rift has everything on your list except #6. I dabbled (and spent) quite a bit in that system, but ultimately, it was just a bunch of decorations. SWTOR has that practicality, but it also has hooks. and a far more limited palette of items, it seems. Also as was brought up, both examples are instanced. There are pros and cons to both open-world and instanced housing, but I think ultimately, I prefer the intances.

  5. MMOBro February 26, 2016 / 12:59 pm

    I prefer housing systems where there is tangible real estate involved like the aforementioned SWG and Ultima Online.

    Although there was eventually no room for placing structures, UO’s housing system was an awe inspiring at the time. Walking through the world and seeing a castle that an actual player owned was inspiring.

    SWG had more empty space so the building placements weren’t as out of place as UO’s at times (keeps overlooking the beaches of Vesper anyone?). The fact that communities sprung up out of these clusters of player houses enhances gameplay so much more than “virtual housing” that most MMOs opt for. And I think that’s why tangible real estate should be involved. Because it can enhance the community and play experience, even for those without a house.

    Certainly this works best in a modern or sci-fi setting, but I think ideally every player can get a “virtual home” apartment for free. No upkeep or anything. Then there’s a limited amount of real estate for “real” houses to be placed ala SWG/UO. These would require taxes or whatever cost to the player. If unpaid, the deed for the structure would go up on an auction house. The player losing the house would have all of his goods relocated to his virtual apartment so nothing major gets lost.

    I’ve never really cared for player housing unless it was really part of the world and not just tuck in some magical corner.

  6. Sandrian February 26, 2016 / 4:32 pm

    I’ve never really gotten into the whole player housing thing, the first time I really got in contact with it was with Wildstar and it didn’t hook me.

    My main MMO right now is FFXIV and even though I don’t own a house… I do have a room in my FC house that I can customize the way I want, which I’m really content with.
    I do have to say I agree with some of your points. Housing should be a social experience, a different way to hang out with your friends online. They should be functional and accessible to everyone..
    But in a world like FFXIV I like the idea of assigned districts for the houses themselves. It’s kind of like in the real world, where you don’t just put a house in the middle of nowhere either (well some people do, but besides the point).

    All in all I think housing is a very personal preference and something a lot of games are trying to explore in their own way. What may work for one system, may not work for the other one though, and that’s what is causing the massive differences I think.

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