Massively Overthinking: Which MMO suffers from the most useless housing system?

    
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A few weeks ago, I was showing my seven-year-old around Villagers and Heroes, and she wanted to get herself a house. I warned her that she’d probably be disappointed because V&H’s housing is currently exterior-only. You can’t go inside. You can farm in your yard, but if you click on the door, you just get an inventory. It’s not useless, but it’s not necessarily the use new players might anticipate, either. Of course, V&H has since announced an expansion to its housing system, so I won’t be dunking on it here – just the opposite, as it’s making housing way better with those interiors.

But not all housing systems are so lucky. We might really want housing in all the MMOs, but there are way too many games that do have pointless housing, with no reason to go there beyond stuffing some achievement cosmetics or maybe snagging an extra stash. In some MMOs, we wonder why they even bothered beyond finding new ways to get us to open our wallets.

So let’s dig into that in this week’s Massively Overthinking: Which MMO suffers from the most useless housing system? Which games would actually be improved by deleting housing from the game and starting over? Where is housing so weak or uninteresting or nonessential that it may as well not exist?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): This one’s hard for me since I can often find something fairly useful about most housing. For example, I never owned a home in Darkfall since people could break down your door and rob you. However, I also realized that housing acted as a kind of small-guild housing unit for guilds who couldn’t go to war with the massive alliances. A guild could either work together and take a neighborhood or just share a single house. The community would need to work together to prevent theft, though people could also be bullied, even if the latter could easily be a major mistake and lead to major conflict escalation.

Gun to my head, the worst housing I think I can recall in an MMO was FFXI, and only because as a low-level player I only ever went there for mail. Everything else felt like it had enough design choices to make sense for me, even if I didn’t personally enjoy it.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I should preface my personal answer by saying that there really is no completely useless or pointless housing as there will always be some small portion of players who enjoy having a private space, even if there’s nothing to do in it at all but sit there and look at the walls. And this is perfectly valid, and I would rather have a pointless space than no space.

So I’m being consciously hyperbolic here when I point to games like Elder Scrolls Online and Lord of the Rings Online. I don’t hate the housing in these games. I actually think it’s cute and entertaining. But what I’m looking for in truly robust housing systems is a reason for players to go there, a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that turn housing into a major gameplay feature that a wide range of people want to engage with. I mean, the main reason to own a home in LOTRO is a teleport, cheap mats, and maybe things like a private farming plot. None of these things has anything to do with the house itself. The game relies entirely on your own personal motivations to decorate and have a home.

Admittedly, my standards are high; it’s hard to beat Star Wars Galaxies, where life revolves around player homes, vendors, factories, and towns, or even Ultima Online, where you build your house tile by tile. I kind of look at housing the way I look at economies in themeparks: Every game with currency has an economy, but that doesn’t make it good. And when it comes to housing, if I have to do 100% of the work to making it useful, then why did I need the MMO at all when I can get a 100%-me housing experience anywhere?

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): As someone who has never put any effort in owning a virtual home, I have never encountered a useless housing system because my housing system is the whole game! If my characters need a roof over their heads, then they can just hang out in a dungeon.

I think mileage may vary depending on who’s talking, though. There are soo many reasons to own a virtual home and not to own one. For me, I’m perfectly fine just logging out in the middle of the street. But for many folks, it matters!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): The first response that immediately springs to mind is the stronghold of Lost Ark, though the word “housing” is being stretched to the limits of its tensile strength there; it’s more like a WoW garrison with a bit more placement customization.

Another one that springs to mind was whatever the personal space in Torchlight Frontiers was called, but since that game’s effectively been left in a ditch, that’s probably not a great answer either.

The best answer, then, is the personal housing plot in Trove, primarily for two reasons: The plot of land is so tiny and pointless with features that seem almost superfluous, and the player-built Club Worlds are far more interesting.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I’m going to be “that guy” and say none of them is useless because the best aspect of any housing system is simply having a house in the game world that can reflect your/your character’s personality. The RP aspect — even if you never join an actual RP group and simply maintain a story and personality for your character in your head — is always a benefit.

To give an answer more in the spirit of the question, I’m going to go with SWTOR. The hook system is awkward and limited, and there isn’t a lot of utility there. The account-wide bank is nice, but even that is accessible in the fleet. You also have to pay to open doors to other parts of the house you just bought, which is frustrating. It would be one thing if you could pay to add rooms on, but the fact that they’re always there, taunting you until you pay tens of thousands to millions of creds to unlock them, is just annoying. I don’t think I’ve ever done it.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): While I’m sure this will ruffle feathers and elicit “well it’s not a housing system!” I’m still going to haul out Guild Wars 2’s home instances as an example. Leading up to launch, ArenaNet made such a big deal out of how these spaces would change and be tailored to the events of a player’s character. That kind of fell way short. In the subsequent years, the studio half-heartedly offered little bits of customization and functionality — a candy corn mining node here, a small garden there — without really committing to a proper housing system. It’s disappointing in light of the game’s guild halls and the fact that we know if Anet really did housing, it’d most likely be amazing.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I can’t offer much in the way of housing; it’s just too far outside my interest. The only housing game I ever played was The Sims. My first online housing experience was in Neopets, though. Does anyone remember Neopets? The online Tamagotchi, basically. I played that game so much. Anyway, I remember it adding housing at one point. I started to add flooring and walls and then thought, “Why am I doing this? Who is this for? I don’t really care about a house for myself online.” That’s essentially the entirety of my experience with online housing.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I think most housing systems I’ve encountered are pretty useless. I don’t think it has to be that way, but that’s the way most games seem to design it.

If I had to pick most useless, I’d probably go with Elder Scrolls Online’s housing. The houses are pretty, but what few useful conveniences you can add to them are so ludicrously over-priced (in either real cash or in-game resources) that I can’t see myself ever getting them. It’s a colossal waste of potential.

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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