Syl at MMO Gypsy has some interesting thoughts on the future of MMO housing. There are two main points to the post – 1) personalisation and 2) social tools / opportunities.
The two example MMORPGs used in the post are LOTRO and Wildstar. I’d certainly agree that LOTRO’s system is in desperate need of an overhaul, somehow I’d missed the concrete promise by Kate Paiz (producer for LOTRO) that this system was being re-done this year – I’d read it was a possibility but this seems a lot more positive! My concern for this, and for what Syl discusses, is that over-emphasis of the housing neighbourhoods will empty the main population centres of the world. Does it matter that there aren’t people idling by the bank or auction house in 21st Hall, Bree or where ever?
Well normally the answer is probably no, in most MMOs you see players concentrated in certain spots – like Stormwind in WoW or fleet in SWTOR. But in LOTRO more so than most games in the genre there are actual social tools that encourage something beyond dancing on mailboxes. The random music playing, the theatre sets that are actually used by players to put on shows, the markets that players use to host ‘meet and sell’ events. If all this is moved into neighbourhoods (and there are a *lot* of neighbourhoods per racial housing zone on a given server) then a lot of this spontaneous community activity could become invisible. That’s probably an overreaction, given that any large event on my server, Laurelin, is usually posted on the forums in advance; so even if they are decamped to a specific neighbourhood I could check in advance the address and go there. But the pleasure of spontaneously stumbling across such things as I go about crafting, banking etc will be gone.
Regarding social tools DDO’s guild ships have the option of buff NPCs to provide various standard buffs before the group jumps into a dungeon. Perhaps LOTRO’s new system could have a similar facility (since it’s the same developer)? There’s a certain, very appropriate appeal to the fellowship gathering at the Kin house for a ‘buff’ meal together before they head into danger!
Coming back to Syl’s points about housing in general I’d add a few of my own:
Simple, affordable upkeep and no escrow!
Make sure the barrier to entry is low enough that you can have a house early in your adventuring career – it shouldn’t just be an “end game” activity (Vanguard!). Also things like escrow are unnecessary petty restrictions. Don’t expect me to always remember to login to pay upkeep, EQ2 does this best. I’ll be locked out if I forget to pay but once I’ve paid the normal fee (no back charges or interest!) I’m back in business and my house is as I left it not packed up in a box. Buying a house is one of the most stressful experiences of adult life, developers should not be trying to emulate the technicalities of this process!
Not all housing enthusiasts are armchair architects!Personally the wonderfully minecraft-esque version of housing in Rift was a step to far for me (in my very humble and biased opinion). I want a nice space to place mementos of my adventuring career, and perhaps some racial or faction oriented furniture for a specific look. But I’m not interested in having to build almost the whole thing from scratch nor having to grind endlessly to get anything nice. Once again EQ2 does it pretty perfectly I feel. Whether a compromise is possible for LOTRO’s new system to suit both or all tastes I don’t know. If there were some pre-built houses, or those built and then sold by players that’d be good for me; perhaps also there’d be empty lots for the Rift style amateur architects to build from scratch on?