In-game housing the beginning
My first MMO I have ever played was Ultima Online which featured open player housing. In Ultima Online, not only could you own a house or even a castle, you can also design the floor plan and customize the structure, type of walls even roof type. Houses had to be placed on existing land, adding an important gameplay element which was that housing was rare and highly sought after. Don’t get me wrong it was not impossible to buy a small house, but you usually had to buy it from another player, and it cost a good amount of gold. This added gameplay element created a new type of player class that I would call: “The Prospector”. This was not something that the original designers built into the game, however it was a great example of how players adjusted and changed the open world sandbox that was Ultime Online.
The prospector would buy and sell houses. They would require little in-game skills and some gold. The prospectors would buy a house for less than it was worth, or wait for a house to fall apart (due to owner neglect), place a new one and sell it for a profit. Some prospectors would also design the house so that it looked great, to sell it for an even larger profit. All in all the gameplay was not so different from the real life Real Estate prospectors.
Instance Housing vs. open world real estate
What is Instance housing? In UO a house would have one owner, and only one house could occupy the same space on a server. Instance housing means there is a door (or doors) to a house(s), and everybody walks to the same door into their own “Instance” of the house. Many “instance” houses share the same in-game space.
Instance Housing is where the MMO market seems to be heading. The advantage of instance housing is that it is cheaper to implement as it makes use of an existing instance game mechanics used in quests and dungeons. Instance housing also guarantees that everyone can have a house. Believe it or not, despite the cool housing game mechanics of Ultima Online, many people actually complained about the difficulty of finding or buying a house. I could understand this issue, if I am paying $15 per month I want the same benefits as the guy next to me.
The Housing Argument
Many players will argue that housing is just in-game fluff, and that developers should focus their attention to important tasks such as more questing and raid content. I certainly understand this argument to some degree. However many players or gaming companies do not realize that housing can really help a free-to-play or cash strapped title. Many MMOs such as Dungeons & Dragons Online or Lord of the Rings Online make additional income by selling better housing options or housing upgrades and amenities. I would argue that a housing system in an MMO would certainly pay for the development cost, and provide future revenue that can be used to develop even better game content. I am actually quite surprised that some major MMO titles such as World of Warcraft do not have any form of housing.
What do I want?
Thinking back and comparing UO housing to today’s MMOs, I realize that Ultima Online Housing was and still is actually ahead of its time. So I am a bit spoiled in the fact that I now expect all my MMOs to have some form of housing. An MMO that does not have any player housing for me is a step in the wrong direction. If we had it in 1997, I expect to have it now.
Nowdon't get me wrong I don't sit in my house and role play. I just want to display some of my junk and have a constant place to return to when I log out. For me it somehow makes the idea of a persistent world a bit more real. Instance housing is not my preferred form house game mechanics. However I prefer having some form of personal or guild instance housing over nothing at all.
What is your opinion?
The above article is just my opinion. I would like to hear what you have to say about MMO housing. Are you a fan of MMO Housing or do you get upset even thinking about wasting precious developer time on “in-game fluff”?