Thursday, August 28, 2008

The MMO Housing Market

I'm currently in the middle of searching for my first home and having fun navigating the imploding housing market. With all the stress that comes with learning about origination points and PMI its no wonder that I have housing on my mind. Still as I sit down to write this I can't help but think it's weird that player housing didn't make an appearance in either Age of Conan or Warhammer. I guess I can see how Age of Conan sort of has it with player made cities, but those require insane amounts of resource gathering to complete. I mean after Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest 2 wasn't player housing supposed to be one of those features that would became standard on every MMO?

Player housing has to be one of the few MMO features which doesn't really run the risk of alienating anyone. No one has ever filled out a survey and marked "player housing" as the reason for leaving a game. It's the type of feature that players might not use if it was crap, but it wouldn't really detract from the overall gameplay. Plus it gives the marketing department another line item to mention in the magazine interviews. Heck, even Blizzard has long "considered" putting player housing into World of Warcraft though they have never really moved on the idea. That's probably the real reason why the idea of player housing has kind of died out. If World of Warcraft hasn't seen the need to provide customizable homesteads for their 11 million players then a lot of other developers have to wonder if the feature is worthwhile.

It's a sarcastic line of thought, but there might some truth behind it. The last game which eventually added player housing was Lord of the Rings Online. Turbine used a instanced approach to player housing which was very similar to the one that EverQuest 2 and Final Fantasy XI pioneered. Most players seemed happy with this implementation and a lot of buzz around furniture and fish trophies spread across the LOTR community. Unfortunately, player housing didn't prove to be a feature which drew back a lot players who had already left the game. This has to make some people wonder if the developers would have been better off working on additional quests or dungeons rather then what some people considered fluff.

The problem is that MMO's have become overly specialized as their audience has grown. In the early days of MMO or MUD development there wasn't such a large wedge between fans of virtual worlds and game worlds. Without the need for advanced graphics and physics programming it was easy to let players experiment with the world around them. This ended though as the rising popularity of video games seemed to suggest that more money could be made with pure game worlds. This obviously lead to some animosity between those who wanted virtual worlds on par with Cyberpunk novels and those that wanted a kick ass game they could play with their friends. As a result it now seems very hard to implement any virtual world kind of features in a game based MMO.

Thankfully, we still get some virtual world features in games since virtual items provide such an effective way to take money out of a game's economy. It seems like the only way developers can sneak virtual world features into a game is to convince the suits that its necessary for a balancing the game economy. Micro-transaction based games have even taken the practice further and monetize virtual item sales so that they can support the game. It's not an acceptable payment method for every player, but it works for some games. Of course none of these games offer the flexibility and creativeness of a true virtual world like Second Life, but it's closer then most subscription based MMORPGs.

Player housing is often used just like an expensive flying mount or any other virtual item that removes currency from a game's economy. A MMORPG that is based on pure item progression might not feel comfortable selling these items for real world money, but they have no problem using them to control inflation. So how come World of Warcraft hasn't used the same system? Well in all honesty they haven't really had a need to introduce additional money sinks into their game. The enormous, but necessary costs of epic flying mounts has done a great job of keeping inflation down. It really wasn't until after the introduction of daily quests that most players were even able to save up enough money for this benchmark item.

I hate to focus just on World of Warcraft, but I think it's important to highlight why they have avoided player housing since so many MMO publishers use them as a template. With Wrath of the Lich King coming out you can see Blizzard actually exploring some new money sink ideas like the barbershop. This hints that perhaps the daily quests have served their initial purpose and now are creating inflation. Blizzard can't really remove the daily quests so I wouldn't be surprised to see more money sinks like player housing eventually added I actually expect some form of housing before the third expansion. And once World of Warcraft starts using player housing I think the bubble will pop and we'll mysteriously see more game adopt the feature. It's a good thing too since I would much rather display my crap in a house then just have it sitting in a bank vault.


Anonymous said...

I hate to nitpick here... but wasn't it FFXI that first had Player Housing instanced?

I thought FFXI came out first and I know they have had it in since beta.

Jason said...

I would love to see a player house that I could "mount" old pieces / sets of armour on the wall. I have so many old tiers in my bank just becasue I don't wnt to get rid of them.

They should also introduce a way to get that item back if you had it and destroyed it, since I did destroy some of the pieces I wish I didn't but had to make room.

And I don't think there are sufficient goldsinks. I have 10k + gold. It is nutty. There is no way I can spend it all...


Relmstein said...

Yeah, I think it would be cool if I could mount old armor sets on the walls of a house. Especially, the hard to collect stuff like that insane tier 1.5 armor set.

Could be, I haven't played FFXI but I do know it has mog houses but not when they were implemented. I mostly mentioned the EQ2 player housing since it was very similar to the setup LOTR uses. LOTR did add in the idea of instancing neighborhoods instead of individual houses so it's probably slightly different from both games.

Heike said...

Player housing isn't something that particularly interests me one way or another.

But there is a version of it that I would *love* to see, and that's a guild hall. I'd love to have a place where our entrance-way might be accessible to anybody interested and would have trophies of our guild kills. And then deeper inside would be the guild bank, for items to trade between guildies. A place we could design plaques and leave notes for each other. Even better is if it could be a place you set your hearthstone at.

Openedge1 said...

Then look at Runes of Magic.
A WoW clone in all ways, but has player housing, dual classing..
It is like they took WoW, added EQ2 stuff, and then Guild Wars classing systems.

Anyways, the houses have the "Armor" dummies to store your armor and wall mounts to display your weapons.
I put up a video of it here..

Your own french maid in RoM

Yup...your own maid gents.

Centuri said...

FFXI player housing was instanced but for years it was only that one player that could enter. Several years into the game this was changed so that you could invite guests inside.

FFXI also had mannequins for displaying various suits of armor in your house but they still used up storage spots (the mannequins) so you were somewhat limited.