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How Restricted Should MMORPG Housing Be?

By on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:52 am, in MMORPG  |  Comments: 14 comments

Housing in MMORPGs is starting to become less “the next best thing” and more “what we’ve come to expect”. With RIFT‘s successful dimension system, WildStar‘s housing buzz, FFXIV‘s recent launch of FC housing, the explosion of voxel games, and World of Warcraft‘s news regarding garrisons in the next expansion, custom houses, building blocks, and cute shrubbery seem to be trending. Let’s face it– character customization is important, but being able to customize a cool-looking home away from home in a game world that you can kinda call your own? That’s why we all play MMORPGs, after all, to escape the mundane. Being able to take the non-mundane and build a bright magenta house surrounded in blue picket fences and skull-covered windows is pretty cool. Well, okay. It’s creative at least.

When it comes down to it, MMORPGs have two types of content essentially– content that’s available to everyone at all level ranges, skill levels, playtime levels, and in-game cash levels, and content that’s gated in some way. Endgame raiding, of course, is generally gated to some degree at least. Often with multiple gates and difficulties.

This makes sense given the teamwork requirement (okay, except when it comes to LFR raiding in WoW) as well as the playtime requirement, level requirement, and gear requirement. That’s why games with raiding endgames have hit caps, item level systems, lengthy entrance quests, and gear tiers. All that streamlines players toward surmounting the raiding gates. Most games also have some sort of gated “fluffier” content such as hard-to-obtain achievements and ridiculously rare and/or expensive mounts in order to keep all types of players busy and happy.

rift housing

On the other hand we have content like small group dungeons, group instanced PvP, collectible items such as pets and mounts, world/holiday events, achievements, wardrobe systems, solo/group quests, and the multitude of other nifty features games are coming out with that aren’t considered gated. You gain 10 levels, run a few quests, grab some new abilities, and bam– you’re generally good to hop in a dungeon. A player of any level or gear level can enjoy features like achievements, pet collecting, world events, and a wardrobe system. This type of content is designed for everyone to enjoy even if they can only pop on once a month. This type of content, interestingly enough, is also the content that tends to generate the most money in F2P MMORPGs. We all love fluff, it turns out.

So, back to those picket fences. Where’s housing fit in? Is it a gated feature or one that’s naturally available to everyone as long as they gain a few levels and maybe do some quests and hand over 100 coins? Most games with housing tend to go the fluffy route. RIFT‘s probably one of the best examples, as you can pick up a dimension in RIFT the moment you enter the main town and pick up a quest. You even get your first tiny dimension for free. Some RIFT players avoid the dimension system like the plague, but others play just for dimensions. It’s kind of an odd phenomenon. Add an extremely customizable housing system to a seemingly normal MMORPG and suddenly there’s a whole new stock of RIFT players these days– the ultra-creative dimensioneers.

It also helps that RIFT‘s housing system has a ton of freedom and creative possibilities. Folks can create whatever they can dream up, basically. Take a look at this Star Wars dimension, for example. Pretty cool, right? This is the same reason creative builders tend to flock towards Minecraft and the like. Housing is best when it encourages socialization, but also creativity. That’s part of the reason it works so well in MMORPGs.

wildstar housing

WildStar is following in RIFT‘s footsteps here and allowing players to build their own house almost right away in the leveling process. Again, it makes sense. Not everyone’s going to enjoy housing, so it’s best to let players try it out early on and see what they think. They can approach it later on in the game, but for those wishing to purely test out the waters, they can do so without being stuck behind a looming gate that generally consists of in-game cash. For players who love and adore housing in WildStar, they can spend all kinds of money on it, and that’s perfectly cool. A housing system is what you make of it, after all.

Housing also works well as a method in which to bump up the level of a game’s immersion factor. In a game like WildStar, your housing plot not only serves as your home away from home, but also a place to store all the goofy-looking goodies you’ve collected on your adventures. A place to brag to your buddies and hang out when it’s late at night and there’s not much going on. For roleplayers, housing is the perfect location for a great deal of activities.

Part of the reason World of Warcraft is handling housing right, in my opinion, is because garrisons are going to be much more than a simple house. WoW players have been playing for years upon years, and it’s only natural that immersion-wise they’ve become popular enough to populate an entire instanced map with buildings, personal blacksmiths, etc., and amassed a following of NPCs that will eagerly run off and kill that old raid boss who will refuse to drop its mount yet again. Garrisons simply make sense in the game world.

While we don’t know how exactly Blizzard will handle the costs and restrictions of garrisons in Warlords of Draenor, it’s probably safe to say that they will work similar to the current farm feature in Mists of Pandaria. Players are able to grab a farm while leveling from 85-90 by doing simple quests. By working on the farm, raising reputation with the various Panda people, and by reaching level 90 in order to unlock dailies, players can quickly gain full access to all of the features of the farm. It’s not gated by anything more than quests and a few levels. This made perfect sense for a brand new feature Blizzard was testing out, and I would expect that garrisons will be handled in a similar manner.

wow to the farm

New features shouldn’t be too gated. All that does is discourage the playerbase from taking part. New features need to be thoroughly tested and thoroughly tried in order for developers to really figure out if that feature was worth the time of the development team. When new features have wide access, this also allows the development team to figure out what next to do with that feature. New features all boil down to metrics. When World of Warcraft launched Pandaria with ten thousand daily quests, the steep decline of players taking part in said dailies told them enough information they needed– they’d taken things one step too far.

Now, in order to get that data and information, developers need to make new features accessible. In some cases, this means lowering the gating on new features and allowing new, low-level players to take part in order to really get a good sense of the big picture. This is partially why housing tends to be made available to players of all level ranges and in-game cash totals. The other reason, as mentioned, boils down to player choice. Not everyone enjoys housing, but for those that do, it tends to be a very social activity– one that needn’t revolve around endgame gating, cash gating, or any other type of gating.

There’s one more game to talk about, and that’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I’ve been a pretty harsh judge about the game to be fair, but with the game’s recent release of 2.1 and the highly anticipated Free Company housing feature, there are a lot of dissatisfied players in the game currently. Scroll down the huge list of patch notes and take a look at the pricing for housing. The prices vary based on the overall population of your realm, but most prices start at anywhere from 4 million gil to over 40 million– and that’s for a small plot. A large plot on the more populated Legacy servers can cost more than 500 million gil. That’s a lot of gil for a new feature to be gated behind.

ffxiv housing

The reasoning behind these prices boils down to the fact that SE felt there was a surplus of gil on many servers and that players would be able to come up with that much money if they so chose. Essentially, Square Enix decided to gate FC housing. Now, given that this is guild housing and not personal housing, it’s expected that it be gated slightly due to the fact that guilds/FCs naturally have more players to help contribute, but personally, I feel this is too large of a gate for casual FCs to surmount– at least at this point and time in the game’s livelihood. Honestly, it would have been better for SE to release personal housing before FC housing in order to get a solid amount of feedback and metrics on costs, interest, and economical impact.

Housing was one of those features FFXIV players were looking forward to most, which makes sense given the large amount of immersion in the game, but gating it heavily right as it came out of the arena wasn’t the best of moves. Money isn’t extremely difficult to come by in the game, but unless a Free Company is fairly large and has the majority of its players at endgame and doing a large amount of dungeons/raids and/or crafting endgame items and selling them on the market board, most casual FCs simply don’t have that cash. It’s kind of a shame, really, especially considering housing is largely a social feature that casual players often are drawn to most.

Square Enix went in the opposite direction of RIFT here. Instead of encouraging players of all levels to poke around with housing and see what they enjoy, they’ve gated it. It’s completely possible that FFXIV‘s personal housing will be much more accessible, and I truly hope that’s the case, but for now there are some important lessons to be found here: There’s a time and place for gated features, but housing shouldn’t be one of them. Housing should focus on figuring out what players enjoy. Optional houses/furnishings that cost a lot more are perfectly fine, but the basic feature of housing should be enjoyable by anyone who wishes to take part– for both the game and its players.

Laura Hardgrave

Laura Hardgrave

Laura is the Editor-in-Chief for Junkies Nation. When she's not writing long editorials or fighting apostrophe errors, she enjoys exploring multiple MMORPGs, getting inspiration for more long editorials, distracting big snarly things for her friends, and writing LGBT science fiction/fantasy.
Laura Hardgrave

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  • RiftDimensionAddicts

    I for one love having as much freedom in player housing as possible. It makes it feel more like mine and there for I spend more time in my game, and spend more, well money. Weather its a sub or clicking on adds for free credits. I just love having a place that is my own. When RIFT brought in Dimension(player housing) it pulled me away from all my other building games. It gave me something I was missing in my mmo. Plus it gives me something to do and work on when I am feeling down, excited bored, or just artsy fartsy.

    Nice article btw thank you~Kitasia@Deepwood~

  • Pingback: RIFT: Preview of Dream Weaving– New Crafting Profession Coming in 2.6 | Junkies Nation - MMORPG Network

  • Graeme Smith

    While I recognise and (even if grudgingly :-) ) accept all the comments people often make about Community, some of the things I most want to find about Housing in any game are seen by some to act against such principles (blush). Specifically? Well, specifically, I’m a Crafter. Which means, yes, I’m quite mad, OCD to an equally insane degree, and should be avoided at all costs :-). But it also means, if my Housing (of whatever nature, is to be my home? It means I want to be able to make crafting stations, and site them at my ‘house’. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind my own personal ‘store’ or Vendor there, where people could buy things I’d made – like an old time cottage crafter would have. Does that conflict with Community? Well, perhaps. But if there was some form of listing what folks had for sale, but the only way to buy it was to go to their own personal store, wherever that might be ‘geographically’ sited? Well, might that not encourage a type of exploration the classic Auction House doesn’t? After all, clicking on the AH and having, say, a boat suddenly in my Inventory is one thing. Having to trek overland to Rum ‘N Ronnie’s High Class Marine Emporium, then after buying it having to sail it to some dock I had access to…
    Yes. I confess. I’m a Sad Old RP-er too :-) (blush).
    And while I’m at it – even if it’s not Housing, but Crafting – I’d love to see games with a mechanism (vetted if necessary or required) for uploading textures. Not so much so I can make my own wall types or floors or such, a la InWorldz, Second Life or other Virtual Worlds – but what about pictures? Oils I can hang on my walls, made of screen shots I’ve taken in game? Rugs and carpets? And… anna pony, anna new bike anna…
    Nurse! The Red Pill!
    Phew. That was close :-).
    But first of all?
    I want my Crafting Stations.
    Oh – and can I build a Portal at my house to link into the game Transport system?
    Er – and a Mailbox?
    Oh – and a Bank….
    Right. I know. Coat, please! Yes – mine’s the nice tight one, with wrap-round sleeves… :-)

    • Laura Hardgrave

      I’d love to see a housing system that let folks set up shops and made people travel a bit to find those shops. For me, it’d be far more immersion-filled that way, and sure, it’d take some travel time, but if the goods are rare enough and valuable enough to travel for, the travel would be completely worth it.

      I always had a soft spot for Ragnarok Online’s merchant shop system. Only one class could set up a vendor shop and it could be a pain to level up that one class without borrowed equips from other chars, but it was fun seeing all the different areas people would open shops. The card rarity system kind of assured that players actually wanted to browse those shops, and it gave players a reason to wander through Prontera after a session of monster grinding. RO2′s system didn’t come anywhere near it sadly.

      • Graeme Smith

        Greetings, Lady Laura! :-)

        Well, it’s unlikely to surprise you to know I agree with everything you say – and I think it’s one way Housing (yes, and Crafting (blush)) can _help_ Community.
        The model I’ve always loved most was one I came across in a game originally called ‘Horizons’, and later ‘Istaria – Chronicles of the Gifted’. Now that game had one advantage large games don’t – a comparatively small number of players. Why is that a plus? Because it meant, rather than the RIFT model of isolated Instances for Housing, players could build on live game land, and build out on their own or close to each other. So I could build high grade Smelter, say (there was no Crafting mini-game, but higher grade machines reduced raw material requirements), and set it open for anyone to use. You might build a high grade Woodworking bench and do the same. Other folk would hear of our Great machines, and maybe come build near us, and someone might then build a Textile Loom. Or another example – in Istaria, raw material had weight. Lots of weight. You could dig a little and put it in your pack, go home, come back, dig some more – but that was tedious. Folk would get together in Community projects. They’d build open-to-anyone machines, and storage towers. And they’d build them _where_the_raw_materials_were_. Now you could gather, store, process – and take finished bars and planks back home in your pack. Or haul them on huger capacity, single item transpost carts across county… but that’s another story :-).
        In a game with lots of players, building ‘on the land’ is less practical. But, to use RIFT as an example, what if TRION had multiple instances of the whole map? Just without monster spawns? People could form and gather in their own Communities. After all, didn’t someone once say ‘it takes Village’? Well, the first villages started when some bright spark built a house
        at a ford over a river maybe. Or a pub… :-).

        Thoughts? Comments?

        • Laura Hardgrave

          Not a bad idea! Housing is rough in games with higher populations because of all the players and the need to there to be some type of instancing. I think a lot of us were hoping RIFT’s would be sort of open world. They could have, for instance, had certain instance maps that were “neighborhoods” (or maybe just a series of tunnels/portals) in certain zones, Shimmersand, IPP, Silverwood, etc. Then players could enter those neighborhood maps and visit with each other on an open-world map full of dimensions.

          The problem, of course, would be that players would probably end up a little limited as space goes, especially compared to some of the larger dimensions we have now. Also, artists would have to come up with all of those instanced maps, so we’d likely only have a few choices.

          What Trion did with dimensions is definitely pretty cool, but the system works in their favor since new dimensions are fairly easy to create. I’d love to one day see a true open world housing system, though. Where you could just walk through a zone and see the little player-created houses. That would be awesome in my book.

          • Graeme Smith

            Lady Laura
            It is indeed a problem – and one where the smaller player-count games have an edge, since they need less player Housing space. Sadly, it’s an edge I suspect most of those games would love to lose, since they’d love higher player counts! :-)
            LotRO (Lord of the Rings Online) did something that tried to be the best of both worlds (though the houses were still pre-built, and still no ability to make Craft machines, boo-hiss!). They had multi-instanced spaces, but each space had a number of houses in it. Each space had the potential to be a Village. Sadly, for me at least, while it had the space potential to be a Village, there was little other incentive for folk to even talk to each other. Yes, they could put up trophy statues and such, and hope folk admired their magnificence, but no real reason for people to share common goals.
            So maybe something similar, that starts off as just empty land, where the things folk can build include things they can both need and share (did I mention Crafting? :-P) might be on interest. And if players could build Portals… :-).
            Of course, we’re dreaming here. But I really think Housing can be more than it generally is. That is can have both use, and a purpose that lets Communities develop – and grow.
            Or am I (we, if I may be so bold, wise one and fair :-) ) just crazy? I’m OK if people say it – it would hardly be the first time. Go on. Say it. You know you want to! :-)).

          • Laura Hardgrave

            Nah I don’t think you’re crazy. ;) Housing can definitely be more than it is. I have a soft spot for LotRO’s system too, that was my first real intro to housing. We’d try and RP in the housing areas, and it sorta worked well, except for the fact that we had to invite people because otherwise, the areas were just empty.

            A system with RIFT’s customization and LotRO’s neighborhood feature, and maybe even a little open world goodness (and crafting, of course!) would be perfect.

            Ooh, I’m so glad you picked up my book! Thanks! I don’t talk about it much on the sites I write for, but yep, I pretend to be a fiction writer, haha. I hope you enjoy it! I’d love to hear feedback of any sort.

          • http://www.graeme-smith.net/ Graeme Smith

            Lady Laura
            Well, it’s now on my ‘current reading’ list :-). There’s one book ahead of it – someone at one of my Publishers had a Release yesterday, and that one got there first (not that I read _everything_ the houses I’m with release – there’s not enough time as it is!).. But as soon as I’m through that one, yours is next! :-)
            LotRO’s sort of worked – well, it did work in some ways. But for me it still lacked ‘purpose’. Yes, you could decorate. Yes, you could build (limited) storage. But beyond that? Why go there at all?
            Rats. I can feel me heading towards talking about Crafting again. I’d better shut up before my hobby horse complains of a sore back! :-)).

          • Laura Hardgrave

            Awesome, I feel honored. :D

            And yeah, LotRO’s did kinda lack purpose except for RP purposes. You might be right– crafting may definitely be key!

          • http://www.graeme-smith.net/ Graeme Smith

            Lady Laura
            Well, I guess (personal obsessions (blush) apart) it doesn’t _have_ to be Crafting – though it’s an easy win, I think – but if, to buy something from me, you have to come find my Store (even if you know I’ve got it for sale from some World Wide Vendor Board), if I can store raw materials in stores I’ve built, and craft on machines I’ve, um, Crafted, then Housing becomes more relevant, maybe. After all, we can all decorate, but that tends to be an isolationist activity. We decorate alone, and even if people come see, the come – and go. And if the world has a wide-spread group of stores, to which folk have to travel to buy ‘stuff’, maybe there’s a new opening – for folk who work the Tinker route. Who set up their own Houses (and Stores) at easier to get to locations, who (for a small tip or fee, naturally :-) ) will take the tedium of coming to find my store off your hands, and go get the goods for you, trek it back overland in their carts, and hold it for next time you come by. But then they might get attacked along the way, and their cart damaged, and they have to…
            Sigh. Nurse! The Blue pill! :-)
            But it opens up options for Housing that, I think, are often currently lacking. Of course, I’m clearly quite, quite mad… :-) :-).
            Thoughts, wise one and fair?

          • Laura Hardgrave

            I think that’s a great idea. I’d love to see a game with that type of system. It’d give crafters a reason to delve into housing, housing fans to delve into crafting, and AH economists to travel the world. If the world’s dangerous for traveling, that would be even better.

          • http://www.graeme-smith.net/ Graeme Smith

            Lady Laura
            Great! Now, if the Forbes TESO report is to be believed, all we need is maybe 200 million dollars to develop a game with all that in!
            Hmmm. Maybe not…. :-( :-)

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