We are past 15 years on now, and World of Warcraft still lacks housing. This is, frankly, really dumb. And it comes up a lot, and you always have the people working hard in the Fanboy Mines who fire back with the same set of defenses: that housing wouldn’t work in the game, that no one wants housing, that they tried that with Garrisons and it was awful, that it’s just not doable because of the engine. So on, so forth, over and over.
Gosh, why does Blizzard even have lawyers? A whole lot of people are so dedicated to defending them for free.
I’m not going to dissect every single one of these bad arguments here, but I am going to talk about housing because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. And I think that there’s a pretty clear fact that the resources for developing at least a functional housing system exists because we already know that there were the resources to develop a lot of other systems with much less longevity.
First and foremost, let’s be clear about something: With any development project, “can’t” means something that is never actually synonymous with “this is not possible.” “We can’t do that” could mean “we don’t have the budget to do this” or “we don’t have the manpower to do this” or even “the engine we have can’t easily support this.” But in all of those cases, the real issue there is with an extended caveat that you’re making that decision based on money, time, and other projects.
Or, to put it another way, it’s not that there is no way to add a little toe-wiggling idle animation to male orcs whenever they stand idle for more than five minutes. It’s that the amount of time and resources put into that project instead of other projects either isn’t worthwhile or isn’t something project leads want.
It’s easy to take that as a grounding and say that Blizzard obviously has the money to develop proper housing because, well… look at it. And I get that stance, but I also think it’s not the strongest possible argument because there’s a more obvious one sitting right there. Namely, has no one noticed that starting with Warlords of Draenor, the developers have had the resources to create new game-defining systems for each expansion?
Garrisons, Artifacts, the Heart of Azeroth, Covenants… all of these systems were designed for one expansion. You could certainly argue that some of these systems are not very well-designed (I’m not going to be the one trying to convince you that the Heart of Azeroth is actually good, because it’s not), but the reality is still that these systems were put into place and functioned. And there’s a lot of work involved in developing a new system and implementing it, complete with visual effects, game mechanics, interface elements, and so forth… especially when you abandon the whole thing two years later to make a totally new one.
You will also note that none of these systems is actual content. We’re not actually even talking about losing a raid tier. If you had the choice between Garrisons and housing, which would you choose?
And the thing is that all of these systems are, well, difficult to put together. This required time and effort and struggle. Yes, it would have been difficult to make housing work. Making Artifacts work was also difficult. Can you really tell me that the latter is so much harder, especially when a lot of the basic features were already in place from early beta tests? For that matter, can you really tell me that expanding Garrisons into being full housing would have been more difficult than abandoning them altogether?
Of course, all of this is academic because we should know well enough that the “can’t” here isn’t a matter of resources. It’s a matter of what the people making the decisions are interested in seeing in the game. And that is… actually kind of worse because there have been approximately nine million words written already about how much housing adds to a game, not to mention how much it would add to this game specifically.
In the comments of last week’s column, MOP reader Khrome mentioned how Shadowlands is, ultimately, another “content island” – a collection of zones wholly disconnected zones that you level through and then leave with no larger connection established or maintained. This observation is accurate. In fact, the smartest thing that Legion did was attempting to de-emphasize this fact by having a number of your quests send you all across the world. It was only in service of establishing your order hall, sure, but it did at least give the sense that these places were still there and relevant even though they’re not the main focus of this particular expansion.
In spite of the name, the development team appears to be not just unwilling to treat WoW as taking place within an actual world but actively opposed to it. Housing would be a great way to bring people together all across the game’s world. Instead, the team seems bound and determined to avoid having that happened. Why the heck is that? Why would you actively want players to not be as engaged with your game world?
It’s hard to be sure, but as near as I can tell it’s a matter of forcefully mashing all of the game’s players into the same narrow corridor to make the game feel more massive than it actually is. Couple that with a steadfast refusal to plan about things in terms of multiple expansions (or, if there is a plan, to have one that seems identical to what there would be without a plan), and you wind up with a team that can’t see the value in housing because it’s a long-term investment.
This is disappointing to me not just as a roleplayer but as someone who really wants to see this game achieve its potential. The very name of “expansion” feels like a misnomer; at this point it’s more like buying the next season of an ongoing thing that has the collection of stuff to beat up for the next year, and maybe begrudgingly we’ll remember one or two areas from the base game.
But let’s be honest here. Ultimately, WoW’s lack of housing hurts it for much the same reason that I pointed out its unerring focus on elite progression hurts it. The more the game tries to mash everything into one very narrow path, the more people who break off from that path are going to feel like they have nothing left to do. And then they’re going to leave. For example, they might go play in one of the many, many other MMOs which do have housing and have for quite some time.
And ultimately, that’s the closest thing the developers have to an excuse. Based on the evidence, they want to keep pumping up a playerbase that long since plateaued and has been dwindling for ages, the social dependency crew that wishes we could roll back the clock to 2004 when WoW was babytown frolics instead of really hardcore raiding games like EverQuest.
You know, a game that did add housing. A long time ago. Because it turns out that players really like it.
It might not be easy to add it, but it’s an investment in the long-term health of the game and a diversity of playerbase. And every time you stamp out voices calling for it, the more you mark yourself as blindly sycophantic to a design philosophy that has led to the slow atrophy of a title a lot of people still want to love again. Frankly, I’d rather demand something difficult than be sycophantic in my devotion or lack the fortitude to stand by that.