Why MMO guild halls do nothing for me

Here’s a weird thing: As much as I love player housing and will take just about every opportunity to gush about it, I’m far less enthusiastic about guild housing. As in, I almost don’t care about it at all. I even resent it when an MMO — such as Guild Wars 2, DDO, Guild Wars 1, or City of Heroes — decides to include group housing without an individual option as well. I guess many of us are like that when a game includes a feature we don’t want instead of one we do.

So why does guild housing (or halls or superbases) fail to spark my interest? It’s more of a subjective than objective thing with me. Objectively, I appreciate that the game has another option and can even acknowledge the positive benefits of providing a space for guilds to gather and work on group activities. I’ve seen some impressive guild halls in my time, especially in EverQuest II and RIFT. They can be cool for parties, but outside of those, I haven’t seen a need or use for guild halls.

Outside of games that prioritize the inclusion of guild halls to the exclusion of individual housing, my main objection to this content is that I as a player usually have no direct say in the acquisition, decoration, and function of the guild hall. It’s almost always a project of the guild leadership, a box of toys for them to play with and the rest of us to admire without touching. What’s the fun in that? I can only root so much for a guild hall to be built up using the resources or money that I’ve helped to provide but have no say in how it’s used. I cannot summon the passion to care.

What’s frustrating is that with some thought, guild halls could function on both the group and individual levels. In fact, I have seen this played out. In RIFT, I was part of a guild that used a giant shared space in which all members were given permission to build and then set up little homes dotted about the map. I think Trove’s clubs work like this, but I could be mistaken. And FFXIV did kind of a cool thing where guild houses had a doorway that led to individual apartments, linking the two types of housing together.

I also would like to visit WildStar again soon and see how the new housing communities are coming. That seems like a great compromise of group and individual control, although they’re not large enough to be a guild-sized endeavor.

MMO guild halls (usually) do nothing for me. But they could.

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4 of my favorite MMO crafting experiences

Crafting in MMORPGs simply is not something I do very often, for a variety of reasons. I feel it’s somewhat futile if I try to start long after a game launches, it usually ends up being a huge money sink, and the benefits rarely outweigh the effort and resources that it takes. Still, I like the *idea* of crafting an awful lot and can see why survival sims have been taking off over the past few years.

When I think of it, I’ve had four great crafting experiences across my MMORPG career. They are:

1. Fallen Earth

Since pretty much everything good in the game has to be made by hand, crafting is presented as a core gameplay feature rather than a side activity. I absolutely loved it, and the whole gathering/crafting loop fit in so well with the post-apocalyptic setting. The crafting queue (which ran whether you were online or off) was strangely satisfying, and the day I finally made my own motorcycle was one of the greatest achievements in my gaming history.

2. World of Warcraft

Prior to Burning Crusade, I decided that I would try my hand at crafting as an engineer. The sole reason for this was for engineer-exclusive toys that only such characters could use, like the rocket boots and parachutes. Yeah, it was a complete money sink and took way too long to level, but I had a lot of fun doing it and ended up with a gyro-helicopter when flying was added to the game. Awesome stuff.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

Apart from dabbling in crafting when the game first released, the only real time that I poured effort into it was when I decided that I needed to be a scholar to make potions. I guess it was OK, but all I remember was hunting down scraps of ancient texts in ruins for hours on end while everyone else was off saving Middle-earth.

4. WildStar

While I was not the biggest fan of WildStar’s bizarre crafting system (which did try, to be fair, to add some strategy to a routinely dull activity), I poured a lot of time into leveling up an architect to make housing items. As a housing junkie, this was a perfect fit and I ended up churning out a lot of great items that went right into my abodes.

5 of my favorite MMORPG Halloween memories

I find it dismaying how much I forget of years gone by but also thankful to records like blogs and pictures that help to retain and trigger some of those memories. So while I’m sure that I’ve forgotten many a great MMO Halloween event, here are six that stick out in my mind as some of my favorites.

1. Fighting the Headless Horseman in World of Warcraft

This is just such an iconic and fun event that’s been around for so, so long… and yet I love doing it pretty much every year. This spectral loudmouth spouts these ridiculous rhymes, taking us through a fight as familiar as riding a bike at this point. It’s all located right in the middle of Scarlet Monastery, which seems absolutely perfect for a Halloween throwdown, and I think part of the fun is desperately hoping that this time, this time will be the time that his mount drops. Probably won’t, however.

2. Going through WildStar’s Shade’s Eve instance

WildStar really did Halloween right when it finally came out with it. Probably a year or so too late to make an impression on a larger audience, but oh well, they are missing out on something spectacular. Among all of the terrific activities is a special dungeon that involves traipsing over a countryside, trying to connect with your teammates, and fighting off spooks and shadelings until you get to a ridiculously over-the-top fight. Just terrific, screenshot-worthy stuff.

3. Finding out that The Secret World was like Permanent Halloween: The MMO.

Whenever I find myself missing Halloween a little too much in an inappropriate time of year, I just head back to Kingsmouth in Secret World for the perfect atmosphere and, like, every horror trope ever. Old gods, drowned creatures, zombies, ghosts, ravens… the works.

4. Playing through LOTRO’s Haunted Burrow for the first year

Oh, I’ve loved the Haunted Burrow every year since, but its debut year was a truly special occasion. I fell instantly in love with this quirky, Hobbit-themed haunted house. There’s nothing else out there quite like it, and I probably didn’t leave it for a good two or three weeks solid after first walking through its doors.

5. Mad King Thorn’s silly puns in both of the Guild Wars games

Yeah, who doesn’t love this insane king that, year after year, returns to make us all grovel at his every whim, all for the chance of getting some bizarre loot? I feel a particular bond with Mr. Thorn and appreciate every dad joke he’s given to the community.

6.

Pining for an MMO home

There’s an apparent paradox of my current relationship with MMORPGs. There are just *so many* games to play that I could keep dabbling forever and not run out of new experiences to sample. Yet I’m also starting to feel starved for an MMO “home” to be at the center of my gaming life.

For me, at least, the notion of an MMO home is a title that fulfills these requirements:

  • Is still somewhat popular with active development happening
  • Gives me a rounded, robust MMO gaming experience with plenty of goals to pursue
  • Has me connected with a guild that is full of great friends and friendships
  • I can see playing for a lengthy stretch at a time

The full package, in other words. The whole enchilada.

In continuing to seek out the right balance in my gaming time, I am realizing that I need both that anchor of a home and the flexibility and variety of other, more casual experiences. Too much of the former leads to burnout. Too much of the latter leads to restlessness and dissatisfaction.

And over the past month or two, I just haven’t been gaming in a home. I think LOTRO felt like that during the summer and World of Warcraft for the most past last year, but my infatuation with certain other games (usually in the hopes of finding, re-finding, or establishing a home) hasn’t really worked out too well for the longer go.

So I’m taking a step back and evaluating. I don’t think that there are any new great options here for a main focus, but rather the usual suspects: WoW, LOTRO, RIFT, FFXIV, ESO, GW2, WildStar. More traditional MMORPGs with proven quality and quantity of content, games that I have enjoyed long-term (mostly) and could potentially plunk down some deeper roots. Also games that I have drifted away from at various points because of burnout, disappointing features, a lack of community connections, or a downturn in development.

Maybe I’m serially incapable of committing, but I don’t think so. I have had some really long stretches of game dedication in the past, and I’m OK with stepping away from them so that my excitement batteries for those particular titles can recharge. I just could use a more centralized game right now with satellite titles than a rotation of equal-but-equally-non-central games like I’m doing now.

The idea of an MMO home comes attached to focus, purpose, and a future. I hope I can find that soon, but I don’t know the best way of going about it.

I’d love to hear from you who have what you consider to be an MMO home. What game is it and why do you consider this your main game?

Remembering Ravious

“I’m really sad this morning.”

“Why, daddy?”

“One of my friends died this week.”

“Oh.”

Cancer claimed the life of Zach Best a few days ago. Zach, better known to most of us as Ravious of Kill Ten Rats, was a prominent voice in the MMO blogging community ever since he started writing on that site in 2008. He was prolific, opinionated, and personable, and I genuinely enjoyed reading his writing over the years.

I only got to meet Zach once, and only then briefly. In 2011, he and I worked to throw an impromptu “bloggers and breakfast” meetup at PAX East. It was pretty chaotic and crowded when it happened, and I regret not having had more time to just sit and talk with him and the other writers.

If you are unfamiliar with Ravious or want to revisit his writings, perhaps take a few minutes this morning to peruse his posts over at KTR.

My morning prayers will be asking for comfort, strength, and grace for Zach’s wife and children. I hope his kids always remember the special father they had and that they take time when they are older to share some of his life by reading his words left behind on the blog.

Fare thee well, Ravious. The blogging community will dearly miss you and your thoughts.

MMO open world housing is a failed experiment

This past week, Final Fantasy XIV pushed out its Patch 4.1 and with it, a highly anticipated new housing neighborhood. The ensuing housing rush — which lasted mere minutes — quickly sealed up all available lots and shut out the rest of the playerbase from buying one of these homes. It’s a problem that the game’s been struggling with ever since it launched its open world housing system, but now it sounds like things have come to a head and the dev team might actually do something about it.

Reading the news on this, I once again wonder why open world housing is this holy grail that some players and developers seem hellbent on chasing. It’s an ideal, a beautiful mirage couched in the notion of players inhabiting the very world they play, allowing them to stroll through neighborhoods of fellow adventurer’s homes and basking in the connectivity of it all.

Yet it’s a failed experiment, one that is proven time and again to have far more drawbacks than benefits.

There are so many issues with open world housing that I’m frankly astonished that such systems haven’t gone extinct by now. Allow anyone to place a house anywhere, and the world is quickly going to be cluttered and uglified by sprawling housing tracts that aren’t managed by any urban planner. Limit open world housing to certain areas, and there is the very real danger of having too high a demand for too few spots. Ghost towns can ensue either way, the real gaming content for adventurers is sandwiched among structures that aren’t meant for most players, and the casual player (the one on the lower spectrum of time and money) is shut out from participating in this side of the game.

Then there is the cautionary tale of games like ArcheAge, which has to deal with open world housing and server merges regularly. Instead of being able to preserve players’ homes during a merge, the “solution” is to evict everyone and trigger a new land rush in the interest of fairness. This actually hurts the game’s reputation and can turn even more players away, especially loyal and faithful customers who are the MMO’s bread and butter.

I worry about upcoming sandbox MMOs that are throwing in their lot with open world housing, such as Chronicles of Elyria, Shroud of the Avatar, or Ashes of Creation. Without a way to adjust to the demand for housing, there is a danger of both cluttering and shortages, creating a long-term headache for developers looking for solutions that won’t involve making 3/4ths of the game world into suburbia.

A while back, when I was trying out Shroud of the Avatar, I became confused when I was trying to explore a town only to eventually realize that I had transitioned from the “real” town to a neighboring cluster of houses that offered no content or benefit for me. It was a mess, and this was just the starting village. I didn’t hold high hopes that the game got better from there.

Housing is, obviously, very important to me. It’s one of the few systems in MMOs that regularly allows players to express their own creativity and style the game world to suit their personalities. Even more important, it helps establish roots in a game and reinforce the notion that this is a virtual “home” of sorts. So this is why I get rankled when players are kept out of housing due to high cost, low supply, and other stiff barriers to entry.

MMORPG design and tech has already come up with great alternatives to open world housing thanks to instancing and phasing. There’s no reason why you can’t be strolling through a small housing neighborhood in a city and have the game phase to show you your own abode and lawn right there in front of you. Going all the way back to 2001’s Anarchy Online, players have been able to own their own instanced apartment without any worry about not being able to grab one.

We simply don’t need fixed open world housing, even in sandboxes. If there’s a desire to be able to stroll through neighborhoods, enter others’ houses, and maybe even engage in some activities in those houses (such as purchasing from a vendor), then more elegant solutions can and should be crafted.

I’m open to hearing arguments about the importance of open world housing and why all of these drawbacks are worth the numerous problems that they create. I’m even more open to hearing solutions to creating better and more flexible open world housing that satisfies the desires of players and developers without making an unmanageable mess of things. So far, I’m unconvinced.

A not-so-scary trip to Disney

So here’s something: I went vacation. In October. That’s a rarity for me, because it’s not usually the time of year that I take off, but I’ve been working hard and haven’t had a break since April, so I felt pretty OK with enjoying a vacation for a week.

What happened is that my parents and brothers and all of my nieces and nephews went down to Disney World for a family vacation that’s been in the works for a while. Because of school schedules and my wife’s new job, we couldn’t commit our entire clan to taking off for a week (plus, we had gone earlier this year, so there’s that). However, I successfully lobbied for the idea that I would take my second-youngest down with me for a few days to celebrate his fifth birthday.

My wife and I debated how to handle this, because we knew that “the twins” as we call them (my 7 and 8 year olds) would hit the roof when they found out. It’s that whole “feeling left out, life isn’t fair, he gets it so I should too” thing that happens in any family with more than one kid. We do try to drive home the point that sometimes one of them gets something the others don’t, and that’s just how life is, and we can’t always give everyone the same things. Plus, we did something a little extra for them last week to sooth the sting of being left out.

When we told my five-year-old that he was going to Disney — an hour before we left for the airport — he lit up like a Christmas tree. I don’t know what made him happier, spending three days at Disney or getting his dad’s undivided attention for all of that time.

It was a really great trip. Not relaxing, not in the least, but that’s to be expected when you do Disney World with a time crunch. We took a plane on Saturday, went to the parks Sunday through Tuesday, and caught an early flight home on Wednesday. It was a ton of walking in a ton of heat and humidity, making me once again wonder why anyone would want to move down to that sunny swamp.

Probably the best thing we did was to get my son a Disney badge letting others know it was his birthday. He kept getting stopped by visitors and cast members and — on one special occasion — Snow White during a parade to be wished a happy birthday. Invariably he’d shout back “I’M FIVE!” with pure happiness.

It wasn’t a perfect trip. There were Columbus Day crowds (that’s a… thing? I guess?) and I refused to wait more than 20 minutes for a ride with a squirrely kid, so we did some of the smaller rides more often. I lost my wedding ring. I had to walk many miles on a broken big toe. But there were no meltdowns, no disappearances, no major problems. With only one kid in tow (which is a novelty to me these days), we were able to get to the parks early, be nimble in our plans, and just focus on having fun.

Probably the best part of the whole trip was going to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. It was a last-minute impulse purchase on my part, but I feel that it was well spent. It opened up the Magic Kingdom to a smaller crowd on Tuesday night with really cool decorations, trick-or-treating, lots of costumed characters out and about, a spectacular parade, and some wicked fireworks. We strolled around and did all of the rides we couldn’t get in before, and I made sure to visit my favorite — the Haunted Mansion — at least three times. Don’t worry, the boy got to pick most of the rides, and those almost always ended up being (a) It’s A Small World or (b) anything that went “fast.”

It took a lot of effort to make this trip work, even so far as pre-writing a week’s worth of posts for Bio Break here, but I needed the mental break from the routine. Not writing, not gaming, and not working for five days helped reset things in my head, and hopefully creating a lasting memory for my son is what it was all about for me.