Over at Massively OP they had a daily grind question about which MMO housing was the most “usefless.” That elicited a lot of opinions, many of which with I agree, and even another blogger response, but I still felt like there was some cross purposes in some answers, because “useless” is something of a loaded description. We all know at least one pedant who will argue that it is all useless by definition because video games have no practical use or some such. But even among the more sensible, there is a wide range things that make housing something they will use in an MMO, so I thought I would explore some of the items that came to my mind on that front.
Basically, can you make the housing your own, or will it always look like everybody else’s place? This can mean a lot to some, but doesn’t necessarily influence the other items on the list.
I would put Rift and EverQuest II at the top of the list, as both allow free form decor and have crafting that can create house items. EQII would be my top choice because it allows you to convert things from some special quests into trophies for your home, which is what I tend to display. Also, there is a ton of wall art. But Rift gets the nod for overall flexibility and being able to go nuts constructing things.
New World isn’t too far behind, mostly because it doesn’t feel like there as many general “things” in the world for basic decor. The housing options also feel a bit more constrained. But it is also new, so it may catch up.
Then there is EverQuest… my list is not exhaustive, I am just going through the titles I know personally… which has borrowed a lot of ideas from its younger sibling and has free form placement, including out in your yard.
Lord of the Rings Online is a bit behind that, largely due to limited items and the fixed hook system that puts a rather low cap on the things you can actually put in your house.
Then we get down to WoW and Warlords of Draenor garrisons, which I am declaring housing for the purposes of this discussion, and not simply to dunk on it because it ranks highly in some regards. But for personalization it had a very limited range of pre-set options you could unlock, so every garrison felt very much like every other one.
Then, finally, I am going to bring in the captain’s quarters from the EVE Online Incarna expansion, specifically to dunk on it and provide a bottom end of the range for comparison. The only thing that made the captain’s quarters unique was the presence of your avatar shambling about it awkwardly or sitting on the couch.
It was otherwise identical to every single other one until they introduced a couple of basic faction options, and then they were identical to everybody who chose the same faction as you. Not that you could tell, because you were the only one who could enter. We can argue over whether or now a POS or a station or a citadel counts as housing, but this actual attempt at player housing in the game was absolutely the suck.
Is it pretty?
I am going to be down on LOTRO housing in a number of these categories, but I will say that if you like the art style of the game, then their housing is very nice. And the limited customization that I mentioned above means that in the neighborhood housing concept that the game uses, you can’t really end up living next to that horrible person who fills their yard with crap that spells out obscene words or political symbols. The Valar giveth, and the Valar taketh away.
I am going to put New World up high on the list too. Again, despite its limitations, the housing looks good and is well integrated into the settlements.
Since I brought WoW into the mix, I will say that garrisons look find, fit in to the game, and actually have some fun aspects in their look. Once more, huge limitations on how much you can customize, but it doesn’t look like crap relative to the rest of the game.
I am a bit iffy on EQII on this front. It isn’t that there are not some wonderful, pretty housing in the game. But there are also a lot of dingy little spaces. If you are a new player and get your first house anywhere save Halas, it probably sucks. I remember my first one room cracke rbox apartment in Qeynos.
Likewise, Rift has so much potential, but a lot of the new player starting dimensions just look like work rather than a place you want to own.
I am also going to put EQ down here. While it uses the neighborhood concept like LOTRO, its neighborhoods are kind of shabby and there is always the person who has their decorations for their favorite holiday out in the front yard all year around. Plus vacancies are very obvious.
And the, finally, just to see if Bree at MOP reads this, I am going to drag the Tatooine trailer park that was SWG housing into the mix as an example of ugly housing in an MMO.
I will grand practicality and integration into the game, however they looked like ass and in places stretched for as far as your draw distance would allow.
Can I actually do something useful to the game in my home?
Or, perhaps more to the point, if I can do things in my home would I bother doing them there rather than in town or a guild hall or some other location in the game?
Warlords of Draenor garrisons could barely be personalized at all, and aesthetically it was basically part of the game, which could be good or bad, but you could do stuff there. So much stuff. Too much stuff in the end really, as it managed to deliver on the prophecy about housing that Blizz had used as an excuse previously, that it takes people out of the shared gaming world.. I still visit my base when I play retail WoW to craft some 30 slot bags for alts and that sort of thing. It remains useful.
So, for all of the other knocks on garrisons, they are pretty much the gold standard when it comes to integration with the game. I mean, you had a flight point, a special hearthstone for the place, and could have a bank and transmog vendor. I kind of want to dig through Reddit to see if anybody wrote a post about playing the expansion without building their garrison. Is it even possible?
And after that I guess I would put EQII which, while far behind in function, is integrated into the game in that you have to setup your store front for the broker in your home. That was a day one item, and no doubt something influenced by SWG, so if you were looking for a compliment on that front after ripping it on aesthetics, there you go. You can also set up crafting stations, mail boxes, and all sorts of other things in your home that may be of use. Crafting stations in a home used to be a sure fire sign of somebody who botted their crafting back in the day, but it is still something you can do… craft, not bot.
Then maybe LOTRO, because at least the neighborhoods have a crafting hall. I found them less than convenient to use, but they are there and you could commit yourself to them I guess.
After that… well, I think the bare minimum, the low bar, is to provide some additional storage space, or access to your bank storage in absence of that. I think all the usual suspects and a few more that I have yet to mentions, like Rune of Magic, at least give you that.
I don’t think that is the right word, but it is the one I am running with. Still, I will explain what I mean.
What I am driving at is whether or not any player, new or old, who wants to engage in housing as part of their play can do so without too much effort or cost. I supposed “accessibility” might be a better word, but it is also a word weighted down with its own baggage, so I try to avoid it.
So, for example, EQII ranks highly in this regard in my estimation. The game guides you to player housing in the first ten levels of the intro, gives you some instruction in it, and the rent for basic housing is very reasonable at 5 silver pieces a week. That was a price that didn’t even bother me back in 2004 when SOE was trying to keep a very tight lid on the economy such that mobs did not drop coin and when I finally got my first platinum coin it felt like a huge achievement.
EQII even hands you some furniture as part of the intro. Everybody gets that same table and mirror that they have been handing out since launch, back when having an in-game mirror that actually reflected was kind of impressive.
Rift as well, once they introduced dimensions, gave new players a shove in that direction and a basic location right off the bat, though it was not very inviting in my estimation.
Lost Ark, which I haven’t mentioned up to this point, also gets right in there and requires you to take on a stronghold as part of progressing in the story. You may or may not like it, but you’re getting one… also, it is shared by all your characters on the same server, which I view somewhat favorably.
Runes of Magic also gets you into some housing pretty quickly as a new player, though it was pretty dull and pointless housing as I recall, so I set it up and never returned.
New World throws housing at you as well… but then makes it too expensive for low level players. Without grinding for coin specifically I could have bought a house, but upkeep would have been too expensive with all of the other day to day costs of the game.
LOTRO throws housing at you at some point… you get a quest about seeing somebody about a deed or a house or something. But housing has so little practical purpose in the game and is so out of the way and… at least back in the day… used to be a bit pricey for any new player that it falls way behind.
Then there is EQ, which I am not even sure ever tells you directly that housing is a thing. I think the only in-game notification I can recall is getting a reward that was marked as something to put in your house, which at least strongly implied there was housing. I have a whole post from 2010 about the effort I went through to get a house.
Also, the EQ housing is very reasonably priced… so long as you’re a veteran playing in the current content. If you’re a new player still selling rat whiskers to the vendor for 18 copper, housing is way out of your reach.
And then, way down at the non-viable end of the list for me sits any game where your home exists in the actual game world on real estate that only one person on the server can occupy. So I am looking at you SWG and Ultima Online and FFXIV and a few other title that escape me at the moment.
And yes, I know what you’re going to say if you think that kind of housing is great. I get that it is very cool that your house, and yours alone is there in that spot and everybody can see it. But as soon as you make real estate scarcity a thing and put specific locations in demand, housing shakes out into winners and loser and most players will be on the losing end of things. The argument that it makes the game more “real” doesn’t wash with me. If I wanted a game with the same pain as real life I’d go play EVE Online…. wait…. Anyway that is my opinion and you are free to disagree, just know that you are unlikely to sway me. I live in Silicon Valley where real estate PvP is a thing already.
Location, Location, Location
The tired old joke of real estate is that the top three considerations are “location, location, and location.”
In this case I am not referring to the whole “instanced vs in the world” housing which I was going on about in the previous section, though I will say that if new players can’t get a house some place useful, your game fails on this front… which means instanced housing rules for location generally.
For the purposes of this section I mean whether or not housing is some place useful, like in town or near services you might need as a player. EQII is pretty good on this front, though some locations are better than others. As a new player in Halas everything you might need is right outside your door, which is great… if you chose Halas. If not, your mileage may vary.
New World is also pretty good on this front. Housing is all in settlements. There is some vagaries around what level facilities will be available, but you will be in town. That makes it feel like you live somewhere worth living.
Other titles seem a bit more dicey. EQ puts you kind of off of the Plane of Knowledge, through the guild staging area, if you know where that is. LOTRO puts you out in the middle of nowhere, though there are fast travel options. But I seem to recall there also being some mithril coin or other cash shop currency relation options is you need it on demand.
I’ve gotten this far kind of riffing on memories and old screen shots of housing, and have probably mislaid my point along the way.
Oh yeah, housing being worthwhile.
In this reflection, it sure seems like the genre can be all over the map on the various aspects I have picked out. In general I am in favor of having housing in our MMOs, but I also feel like if the developers don’t have time to do it well, have it look good, be useful and integrated into the game, and have it available to users in general, then maybe they should spend their development time on other tasks.