When The Sims launched in 2000, what seemed like a dull and laughable concept on paper proved to be one of the most compelling video game experiences of all time. Messing around with a virtual dollhouse tapped into a part of gamers’ psyche that loved to create and nurture rather than constantly destroy.
I spent countless hours fiddling with my own digital home, sometimes imagining what it would be like to actually live there. The Sims sparked a successful formula that carried on through numerous sequels, spin-offs, and ham-fisted attempts by EA to nickel-and-dime it to death. Even so, fans counting in the millions have stuck with these games because of the lack of any other strong competitor in this field.
Outside of The Sims, however, my craving for housing was left unfulfilled. Even after I started playing MMORPGs, I seemed to have a knack of avoiding the games like Ultima Online and EverQuest II that actually had some sort of player-owned abode. It wasn’t until 2007’s Lord of the Rings Online that I got to move into my very first Hobbit hole and set up shop.
Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for more online games that included player housing. Suffice to say, it’s been a bit of a crap shoot. Some of the bigger and more popular titles — World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 — decided not to go this route at all. But I got my housing fix from other sources, such as SWTOR, RIFT, New World, and (especially) WildStar. Palia had all of my future money the minute it said that it was making housing a central feature, and I’m pleased to see this system will be instrumental to Wayfinder’s gameplay loop as well.
(The less said about The Sims Online, probably the better.)
Sadly, housing isn’t standard in all MMOs and remains woefully ignored in what seems like half — or more — of the more popular titles on the market. I’m sure it’s seen as a complex and resource-intensive project that studios eschew for more dungeons and raids. We know that, for example, World of Warcraft’s been kicking around the idea of player housing since alpha, yet Blizzard decided to make Shadowlands instead.
And you’ll hear a segment of players defending studios’ refusal to do housing as wise and logical. After all, it would be taking away precious resources and appeal only to a certain type of player. So why do it at all?
You’re on a pretty thin branch when you try to argue from the position that housing is a net negative to an MMO. Other than sheer laziness, cowardice, or a genuine lack of money and manpower, there’s no acceptable reason why housing shouldn’t come standard with every online world.
People, housing is not a frivolous feature. It may not be interesting to you, personally, but it’s certainly far more than a niche appendix designed to fill out a PR bullet point list. Housing is where player creativity goes to roost — in more ways than one. Creative personal expression is so dear to pretty much every player that I can’t believe devs aren’t constantly looking for more ways to allow users paths to projecting their personalities… or the personalities of their characters.
We all know that MMORPGs are far too lopsided in the direction of combat and questing, and housing helps to provide a counterweight to that. Tired of constantly fighting mobs and laying waste to the world? Head back to your virtual home for some interior redecorating, R&R, or social hobnobbing.
And speaking to that last point, player housing is an essential tool for social interactions. Parties, poetry recitals, and roleplaying enjoy a greater degree of support when done at a player-tailored locale that may be made specifically for that purpose. Housing also feeds into many other areas of the game, such as reward loot, crafting, player voting, guild halls, and the economy.
These are — or should be — virtual worlds with a well-rounded feature set. Developers would be wise to consider that if players are to stick around for more than the usual short-term stay, there needs to be space for a player to make their home and feel as if he or she can make a mark on the game.
I’m encouraged to see a lot of upcoming MMOs invest in housing to various degrees, but as with any system, housing needs to be done to a high standard rather than the bare minimum. We need a wide array of tools, placement options, community sharing, and practical functionality to help housing reach its full potential.
Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here on MOP, but this is the sort of thing that needs to be said every now and then. Housing isn’t a fringe, side activity that can come as an extra, the way a car might add tinted windows at the dealer. It’s core. It’s the one place where I and you can go in a game that’s our own, where our imagination is allowed to run wild, and where we feel most at home.
Devs, don’t neglect housing even when it’s hard to do. And players, don’t stop pushing for more and better housing systems in your games.