Massively Overthinking: Would you play a housing-only MMO?

    
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Massively Overthinking: Would you play a housing-only MMO?

Last week, MOP’s Justin put up a neat post on his personal blog about the potential for bringing back just the part of WildStar that he loved the most: housing. Here’s how his idea would work:

“Players would only have access to their housing plots, their characters (locked at max level with default stats and given combat gear appropriate for their class/build), and all social features. There would be no level or gear progression or traveling outside back into the wider world of Nexus and all points after. You could do it in a way that you’d just unlock, well, every single housing item and blow open this whole experience into a sandbox. Let anyone make anything they’d want, without restriction but perhaps with item placement limitations due to server capability. It’s one way to go, and for some folks, it would be perfect. No limits, just creativity.”

He likens it to something like The Sims, with multiplayer and chat – maybe even something Animal Crossing-esque. This is the sort of thing people would and do pay money for. It seems like such a shame to let WildStar’s housing system rot in the ground when it could be turned into something more specialized that would make money.

Would you play a housing-only MMO? How would you see it working – or not working? What would you pay for it? And which one would work best in this pseudo-standalone system? I’ve posed all these questions to the team for Massively Overthinking this week – from inside my player house, of course.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I was actually just thinking of WildStar (after Landmark though) while playing Animal Crossing. That being said, as much as I love the Animal Crossing series, to be a great MMO, there’d need to be restrictions. Much as in Animal Crossing, I don’t think having everything at once would be fun, as I think once people made what they wanted, they’d walk away from the game. I mean, as a solo game, it’d be fun, no doubt, and I’d probably pay up to $40 for that. For a multiplayer game, though, we’d need something else. To borrow from Animal Crossing (and Landmark), I think crafting, gathering, finding items, interacting with NPCs, and randomly finding/discovering recipes make for a fun experience.

But I think we need a little more. I think some simple PvE would help. Imagine if all players were helpless, but in order to get rare materials, had to venture out and help each other distract said monsters so people could gather items or resources. Maybe throwing rocks, or saying certain words would affect the NPCs. Maybe each person’s plot attracts different creatures, and if you join your plots together, it forms stronger enemies guarding rarer treasures. It would still have that combat thrill some people need, but with a new twist. Too often we players strive to kill over whatever’s around us. Simply surviving isn’t just unique, but I think easier to appreciate. While taking down a raid boss is cool, I have more memories of being weak and someone swooping in to help me escape dire odds. To suddenly find a mummy in my house that I need to lure out to get back to decorating (and maybe he leaves a canopic jar I can decorate with) might be fun. You’d not only have decorators, but people looking for action.

Andy McAdams: Of course, that’s why every survival sandbox game in the world comes with a “creative mode” that people do absolutely amazing things in. Minecraft being the easiest example what some of what people have accomplished in that game without anything combat related. Glitch was also moderately successful (having just made an ill-fated technology choice) that was mostly a social game. I think there would be some people who would use Wildstar’s housing system just as it is.

I’m not sure I would be one of them, however. I loved the housing system, and I loved the game, but housing itself I don’t think is enough for me to reach critical mass on the game. It’s the same reason I’ve never played a creative world on Minecraft. I want the eustress in my game that comes with some survival aspects.

But I also think that a developer could make a successful social-only game that I would find compelling. But I think the game needs to be designed with the social functionality as the core experience. In Wildstar’s case, the social housing piece was only ever part of the game, never meant as a standalone experience.

You know where I think the real future of this is? A social-game hub that enables interoperability between many different games. Make the social hub the persistent experience and allow integrations between the social hub and all the games that integrate. We have the technology, we have the ability, we just don’t know do it. But creating an oasis-like experience for our games is the next step in my mind.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): If there were some kind if gradual building/design aspect to it, I might play a housing MMO. After all, I enjoy Sim City-style building/simulation games. I’m not really sure how to incorporate the “massively multiplayer” aspect, though!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): This might shock some folks, given what a housing zealot I am, but I’m only at a solid maybe. I’m not positive I could turn a housing-only-MMO into a long-term MMO home for myself, if we’re being strict about the “only.”

Part of why I adore housing – and why I turn many MMOs into housing-centric games the way I play them – is that they are nestled into a bigger gameworld with plenty of other things to do, an economy, crafting, exploration, and so forth. (This is why I would say not even Landmark qualifies as a housing-only MMO; it had other content.) Personally, I like the feeling of coming “home” after other activities. I like shopping in people’s structures. I like being able to take breaks from decorating or playing house without having to log out and play a different game. I like punching things on occasion! And I really like having a wide range of friends with a wide range of playstyles, all accounted for, in the same game. Single-flavor content doesn’t quite achieve that. And no MMO we’ve ever seen does either, though a few scrape the sky.

Maybe my answer is “probably,” just with caveats. I definitely want housing-only games to exist, and my goodness especially for the Landmark and WildStar and Glitch housing people. We deserve those games back, even if in part. But my MMORPG dream is really for full-scale housing in full-scale virtual worlds – otherwise I can just go dip into one of a dozen modding sandboxes I already have and build without some always-online, games-as-a-service fee and the acute risk of losing my creations when a server sunsets.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Not only would I play an MMO that’s mostly about building a lovely space, I have done so already. It was called Landmark, and putting together dreamy little spaces that others could visit and visiting some of the awesome places that others had already made was the whole point of the game for me. While it didn’t give you all of the tools outright and there was a bit of a grind to get to the really neat stuff, it wasn’t a timesink, and frankly going out in to the wilds to find wanted materials and getting sidetracked by seeing something neat that another player made on the horizon was the best thing in the world.

Basically, I continue to remind myself how hard I miss Landmark.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Housing only? I barely use housing in MMOs as it is. That sounds like a game that would be fun for someone else, but I would pass. Or I might come through as a tourist occasionally if the chat were interesting enough.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I would. And I have. I played Sims Online (my first MMO!) just to build and decorate the houses, and Landmark was housing extraordinaire! But I am also a person who was gifted architecture programs so I could design and build houses. Yes, I love doing it that much! But could it be viable? Not in the MMO market is my thought, but appealing to other markets would work — just look how popular Facebook games are to a large group. I mean, building up houses and farms is what that is all about, right?

Personally, I wouldn’t play any stand alone WildStar housing because I didn’t like that system (particularly its looks/style), but if you put together something with EQII’s or SWG’s scope for housing as a standalone game, I’d be buying in. Man, if you brought back Vanguard’s housing — including the ships — I’d so be there in a heartbeat! You better believe I’d be paying for that.

For the housing to work, you’d need to have crafting as well in order to make items to decorate because a huge variety in housing types and items is a must. Just look at SWG, Vanguard, and EQII as examples. Trading is also a must, so you can share things with others. Unlocking items through achievements could be a good tool; just don’t make housing items in a cash shop! The ability to go visit and tour other houses is also necessity, like EQII has and Sims Online had. Some achievements could be tied to visitors and housing rankings. If we want to go ideally, then let’s throw in the ability to make mini adventures for others in your world using the systems Landmark had, like linking and triggering. Now that would make it primo stuff. Or, even better, let’s bring Landmark back without its EQNext and Daybreak baggage!

Tyler Edwards: So… Landmark?

I don’t think an actual pure housing game would have a lot of mass market appeal, but if you add in resource-gathering, farming, crafting, some kind of progression other than just decorating while still keeping building and decorating as the heart of the game… that could work. I liked managing my farm back in Mists of Pandaria; expand that kind of gameplay into a full game and combine with the building mechanics of Landmark, and you’d have a game I’d be happy to play.

I really miss Landmark now. Thanks, Justin.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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OneDollarLobster
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OneDollarLobster

I’m appalled anyone could call this multiplayer let alone massively multiplayer. Come on now.

Nephele
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Nephele

I think Bree summed up exactly how I feel about the question in her response. I would definitely support building a full virtual world with a robust, fully-integrated housing experience. But housing only and nothing else? Not so much…

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Schmidt.Capela

A housing-only MMO? Nope.

A housing-only offline game with an optional quasi-MMO online mode, similar to Animal Crossing (but without Nintendo’s wacky grouping/matching mechanics)? Yes. Very much yes.

Why something offline with optional multiplayer rather than a MMO? Modding/cheating/etc. If I’m playing a game where the main point is to be a sandbox then I really don’t want to have to abide by the limitations imposed by the devs. It’s why when playing games like Sims, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, etc, my list of mods range from dozens to hundreds.

npNaN
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npNaN

Tower Unite has great housing customization and allows steamworkshop user textures/models.

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Robert Mann

Yes and No. It really depends on how the game was set up, and what sort of social systems it chose to utilize.

I probably wouldn’t bother with most implementations just to build on hooks, although WS was at least better than that about things. So there is a possibility that, given the slightly higher degree of creative freedom, that I would… but at the same time I find the idea of just building in an instance that will be ignored by most of the rest of the population of the game fairly problematic. The entire point of cool creativity is to share and enjoy together.

I’ve long said that crafting is a part of my dream game. So too is housing. The more creativity allowed, the better. At the same time, if it’s online I’m wanting to have things to draw everyone out and about too… so the model of “Just this, and you can look in on others if you really want” is a negative to me.

I suppose if I were to summarize the dream of a building-related portion of a game to me, it would be “I get to be part of a group making something bigger than any of us, with as much creative freedom as possible.” I’ve long wanted crafters to be recognized for expertises, rather than just being “Generic X #59872398, please just hit button and gib item.” That is… counter to MMO norms, by any means.

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Toy Clown

If gameplay was created around the acquisition of housing items and was big on roleplay features and interaction, then I think it has potential to be fun. I play ESO and SWGL with the largest amount of my time spent on decorating and the acquisition of items to place in my houses, which I use for hosting RP. While I don’t RP in ESO, I do belong to the housing sub-community and find it addictive learning new ways to do things and sharing creations with the other housing enthusiasts. I have a small circle of housing enthusiast friends in SWGL and we’re always on the go, doing content that obtains more housing items on our entertainers. While it’s a struggle going through game content on one, content is doable with three!

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

You mean, would I play something like “Second Life”? Sure, if it was pretty enough and popular enough and provided more gameplay choices.

The thing is, the game which focuses on this single aspect (housing) will never be popular. A good MMORPG needs to have not only housing and socializing in housing areas but also optional, large scale PvP for people who enjoy this type of gameplay in an addition to housing and socializing, as well as pointless repetitive activities like killing dumb AI enemies to get better “loot” with higher “stats” which become obsolete the moment new expansion releases (this is usually called “PvE” in most games) for some people who also enjoy doing this in an addition to housing systems and socializing ;-) So there is no good reason to create MMORPG which is only focused on housing and socializing in housing areas, some MMORPGs already do a good enough job at that while also providing more gameplay variety.

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Robert Mann

I disagree. I have yet to see an MMO that does anywhere close to a “good enough job” of housing and socializing in housing areas.

Where I do agree that more activities are a good thing, there ARE fairly large populations in games where combat isn’t a thing. So I also disagree that those activities are a must for an MMORPG, and even for a ‘good’ MMORPG. Good is, of course, subjective… everyone will define it by their own tastes, but since matters of taste ensure dispute is futile we can all only either agree to disagree, or even up ruining things for one another. The later is just a tragedy that no person should desire.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

I have yet to see an MMO that does anywhere close to a “good enough job” of housing and socializing in housing areas.

FFXIV did a good enough job – yes, you CANNOT customize the physical size of your house in this game due to limited plot size and you cannot make a house of any material and any shape, however I have seen a lot of beautiful interior decorations of various houses there and I also been at many social events being held there, from fashion shows to music concerts to “player auctions” to, well, more adult-themed and anything else. ESO also has a housing system which I personally did not use but which satisfies the need of many players, even with its limitations. And Second Life also does a good enough job for many players, both for housing and socializing – it has an ability to build a much more customizable houses than those games, same goes for decorations and for building your own avatar and for hosting various social events. None of those games are nearly perfect in terms of housing, of course, but like I said, for many players they are “good enough”. This is a pretty subjective definition, of course, so you are free to disagree with it.

that those activities are a must for an MMORPG

Of course they are, if you as a developer who care to make the best (meaning the most profitable and most long-lasting with largest population) MMORPG. And even if you are a player who enjoys seeing other players, regardless of what they do (after all, this is why we play MMORPGs). That is just a fact, not an opinion. The more stuff you give people to do (do large-scale optional PvP with meaningful permanent territory control or do optional PvE grinding in dungeons or meaningful crafting, and crafting is the most MEANINGFUL when you link it to system like a full-loot PvP where players can lose everything which crafters should be able to craft or where you can at least modify PvE system where AI monsters can also fully loot you and where you will want to use crafters to replace PERMANENTLY lost items) – the more of them will stay in game, regardless of how often developer will release content patches. And the more of them will stay in game – the better it is for EVERYONE, from developers who will keep getting income to various players, regardless of what those players like to do, because even a person who participates in large-scale PvP or grinding dungeons in PvE might one day decide to buy and decorate a house or participate in a housing event such as fashion show or music concert, and same goes for people who enjoy other activities.

I don’t know about you but I am tired of seeing boring MMORPGs where you stop logging in after a while simply because you or your friend become tired of doing same activity which was the primary focus of developers who neglected every other activity (even if those activities technically exist), and I know A LOT of other people who feel the same and who are forced to jump from one game to another because none of them combine everything by giving everything equal importance.

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Loopy

Most likely not. I don’t necessarily need non-stop combat, but housing to me has always been a “set and forget” system in MMOs.

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Jon Wax

Outpost

A game where you go around reestablishing old outposts so players can spawn there so they can go and find old outposts to re-establish. You get aesthetic and logistical control over any Outpost you re-establish.

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The quarantine is already a HOUSING-ONLY MMO. Why would I want to play a digital iteration of real life.

Jokes aside, the reason most people play games with action, shooting, killing, slashing, RPG, dragons, wizards, zombies is because these are things you can’t do in real life. The same reason why sports games are boring to those people – if you want to play Football, or ride a dirtbike, you can always do it in real life, but you can delve into the school of Alteration and Conjuration magic.

That’s why I think it’s a waste of time to play a game that solely revolves around things you can do in real life. I’d rather delve into an evil necromancer’s crypt and rid the village above of his tyranny in Vanilla WoW or Project 1999 or bust some caps in my teammates’ asses in something like CS:GO or Valorant.