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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