I have to admit, so many dreams were shot down this past week when the news came out suggesting that personal housing would never make it into The Secret World. I felt as if my soul had been crushed a little; I know I am not alone in my desire to live more fully in that fantastic world via my own personal space. The pain was mitigated slightly when Producer Scott Junior clarified his statement to emphasize the difficulty of such a task instead of the impossibility of it. Still, I had to know just how hopeless the housing situation for TSW was, so I sat down with Junior and Lead Designer Romain Amiel to find out, bracing myself for the pain of lost hopes and unfulfilled dreams.
Their answer was music to my ears: Never say never!
Between Junior’s forum Q&A and Amiel’s interview, things looked pretty bleak on the housing front. Many players came away with the feeling that there would never be housing. That’s exactly why Junior and Amiel wanted to offer clarification. Amiel reminded me that when the game launched, the devs insisted there would never be mounts in the game, and now look! So never say never. It just turns out that whatever system is actually implemented needs to fit into TSW, and that takes creative thinking and development.
Before you get your hopes up too high, however, know that there’s no way housing will be heading into the game anytime soon. It’s not even on the roadmap. But also know that its absence there isn’t because it won’t ever happen; it just can’t happen right now. Junior noted that the roadmap itself is done by year so 2015 is already set, but there is always 2016 and beyond. How far ahead? There’s no real answer to that, but Junior said, “The reaction to [the news], even if we might have been taken out of context, has made us reevaluate housing, and the team has been tossing around other ideas of different ways to do it and add it to the roadmap at some point.”
Players may not realize that they’re not the only ones who want housing. Amiel revealed that long before Funcom’s big restructuring a couple years back — pretty much right after launch, in fact — the team members were asked what big tasks they wanted to take on next. The overwhelming answer was housing! And it turns out that there was plenty of discussion and planning as a result. Amiel said, “We fleshed out a lot of designs.” The team is sitting on those plans and ideas now (more on those below!), waiting for the right time to focus on them again, perhaps even by working them into a future issue.
So why exactly can’t players have housing? The why seems obvious. From one perspective, it would seem that housing would bring in more funds to Funcom. I know I’d be throwing money at the screen to purchase and furnish my own pad! And I am certainly not alone in that. “The retention value of housing is undeniable,” Amiel admitted, “but it’s with a certain type of player.” Hearing the two lay out the reasons in detail for why not right now helped shed a different light on the situation.
There’s real truth to the statement that the best way to implement housing would be using a time machine. There simply is no system in the game that can do what is necessary for housing; whole new systems and new database would need to be developed. Amiel described three very clear costs to making housing. The first is that the system would need an all-new database that would save the player and his housing. What about converting dungeons? Amiel explained why that won’t work, since the dungeons immediately forget who you are once you leave, and each time you enter, it’s a random new instance. Most folks would probably like to return to their own home with their own stuff, not a random regeneration!
The second cost comes form having to create a decoration system that would allow players to personalize the house. Amiel emphasized his motto, “If we do something, we do it well,” so the team would want robust functionality. He added, “We have inspiration from a lot of very good systems out there.” The current world-building tool is completely standalone from the game, so devs would have to create a version actually works within the game, which is no small task.
The third task comes in the form of the data. We’re talking about all of the assets players would use to within their housing and all the accompanying meta data that tell the game the properties of said assets, like that tables go on the ground and paintings go on walls. And of course there needs to be a system that understands all this.
Therein lies the problem. Creating all these systems would take time, and that takes time away from other content.
There is no denying that the number one reason people play The Secret World is its story. Amiel confidently said that 100% of players care about the story, the atmosphere, and the setting. I certainly couldn’t disagree! Housing, on the other hand, does not enjoy that much support. Some players really do want it, some don’t care either way, and some would be upset to see resources spent on it instead of whatever else they might prefer. On this I could also agree, which made his next point all the more powerful: Focusing on housing now could be detrimental to the game.
Amiel pointed out that to do the most scaled-down version of all the aforementioned points would require about six months months of dedicated work from everyone everyone on team — artists, programmers, and designers. That means no one would be able to spend time on developing other content. Now add in that it takes approximately three months to develop an issue right now and you’re looking at a conservative estimate of nine months with no new story content. I have to admit, taking away the reason people play for nine months does not sound like the best way to retain players! Housing is very much a calculated risk, and just not one worth taking. Right now the priority is on issues.
Junior admitted that the team could put a cheaper housing solution with stuff the game supports right now. However, Amiel emphasized that such a scaled-down feature with no game play could leave most people feeling extremely underwhelmed and disappointed. Then the team would possibly spend more time and resources trying to cobble together something to make it better and still not come out with a product devs are happy with. Instead, when housing is done the team wants to do it right and have a spectacular system in place from the start.
Of course, housing could end up tied to an issue, which could bring it to the players sooner. Junior noted that to open up the player apartment might be doable as a piece of a mission in an issue that opens for players to visit and then just remained open after. Will it happen? That way is more possible. Like the snowmobile opened the door to mounts, having the work done for another (especially story) purpose makes it easier to have it available to players.
While we know that there is no way housing can happen in 2015, the fact that devs already have some ideas in mind is pretty heartening, not to mention intriguing. So what’s the scoop? Junior told me that since the game is all about the story, “We would want to make it very gameplay focused housing, not just somep lace people could go and RP and have a party. [We want to] have it tied into the actual systems of the game, the progression of the game, and the story of the game.” Junior described having neighborhoods where cabals build their houses together. He also described one possible idea for using neighborhoods that got me pretty excited, but they’re not ready to talk about it just yet.
Of course, the system will a double-edged sword. It could be a negative as people will start hanging out in their houses and cabal neighborhoods instead of congregating together as they do in Agartha, making access to other players more difficult. Amiel pointed to the hubs in EverQuest II; after the massive guild halls went in, the main areas emptied out. Amiel noted that devs tried to make London the central hub for gathering, which is why certain things like the bank and mail are only found there, but players migrated to Agartha instead. This concern would also need to be addressed so new players would have access to veterans who can help them acclimate to the game when needed.
Even with the possible negatives, housing and neighborhoods still sound great to me, and I look forward to the day they can be implemented — even if it is a long, long way away. I’ll hang on to my hope, and I’ll look forward to inviting you in for a visit.