The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Briefly, for a split second last week, I was considering re-subscribing to LOTRO for the upcoming winter season of Q4. I have loved the world of LOTRO ever since joining late in 2013 despite its many flaws and these days, I like to call it my favorite MMO that I’m not playing. There’s always that pull, the call of Middle-Earth to return to its glamorous wide vistas, its merry horse rides and romantic visits to the Prancing Pony. How I miss playing my lute, sitting on a lonely rock under a tree.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

But I know myself too well and the fickle beast that is MMO nostalgia. Jumping back into LOTRO would mean jumping back to the Gates of Moria grind of the mid-40ies, dealing with an overwhelming number of features and systems that are poorly introduced to newbies and the same old static MMO combat. It would also mean dealing with the loss of my housing plot which was lackluster to begin with, yet I gave it my all to make the little hut by the waterfall somewhat comfy and welcoming. For years, I’ve hoped Turbine would up their housing game as so many have – it’s one feature that would get me to re-sub in a heartbeat, if only it were properly revamped and made accessible.

Yet once again, it’s not to be; watching the upcoming LOTRO patch features has left me forever disillusioned with this developer’s idea of a good housing system. LOTRO’s premium housing is as expensive and inaccessible as ever, not that I had my hopes up for “premium” housing in the first place. Still, it’s grinding my gears! Player housing should be an integral part of MMOs these days and yet over and over, players are being let down in this department. When will this long-awaited “future of better player housing” finally arrive?

I guess it’s fair to mention Wildstar and Black Desert Online in this context, two titles which both made laudable attempts at accessible and fun player housing in more recent years. I loved my sky plot in Wildstar, the crazy customization and design options, yet Wildstar housing is so disconnected from the rest of the world that it never quite felt like a home but rather, that side-game you go play at when you need a break from being social. That’s the issue with instanced player housing which is both a blessing and a curse in so many ways. Pearl Abyss tried to solve this very issue most expertly in BDO – yet all seamless phasing and great housing options aside, the fundamental questions of “what to do with all this stuff now?” and “what is it good for?” remain mostly unanswered.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Musing on all my gripes with player housing old and new has inspired me to come up with a definite list of commandments or guidelines to ensure housing features are a fun addition to games rather than frustration. Your mileage may vary but here go my personal commandments for great MMO housing design –

  1. Thou shalt not make your MMO housing an exclusive or expensive feature.
  2. Thou shalt not create a limited number of housing options that are up for FCFS land grabs.
  3. Thou shalt not exact weekly or monthly housing tolls / upkeep costs.
  4. Thou shalt not pre-define indoor/outdoor decoration options and location of hooks/plugs.
  5. Thou shalt not unreasonably restrict the total item number of decor items.
  6. Thou shalt allow for social sharing of housing rights and visitation.
  7. Thou shalt not disconnect housing from the rest of the outdoors / world.
  8. Thou shalt offer great variety of cosmetic customization for housing, such as layouts, colors, styles, materials and music.
  9. Thou shalt give housing a meaning beyond cosmetics, such as storage, crafting, stabling, shops and neighborhoods.
  10. Thou shalt offer housing items from various sources, such as questing, raiding, crafting and trade.
  11. Thou shalt enable players to expand their housing space over time.

And yes, this is all easier said than done. I realize, I don’t know of any MMO that meets all commandments although Ultima Online came reasonably close and I also keep hearing the praises of EQ2. Then again, I’m not looking to play 2D top-down and generally much older MMORPGs these days, sooooo……I guess I want too many things! It’s a nice thought, though.

11 comments

  1. Obviously I hadn’t seen this post before my reply to your comment at IF!

    I’d back most of those commandments but I actually prefer to pay upkeep than not, provided the upkeep is set at a relatively trivial rate. I have to pay various taxes and charges on my real-world housing and I like to see that replicated in game. It makes the whole thing feel more convincing.

    One MMO with excellent housing that never gets a mention is EverQuest – not EQ2, which always gets talked up in this context and rightly so, but the older game. Housing there is instanced but the instances are full zones rather like LotROs, not individual properties like EQ2/WildStar. There are no hooks and you can place a huge number of items including many weapons, armor pieces and various other bits and pieces. In fact next time I’m playing EQ I really must go and get a house for my Magician. My beastlord had one but I’m not playing her account these days…

    1. “I have to pay various taxes and charges on my real-world housing and I like to see that replicated in game. It makes the whole thing feel more convincing.”

      You are weeeeeeeeeird! :P

      I don’t think I could ever go back to something as old as EQ, but you’re right that there’s older MMOs I’ve overlooked. Another one appears to be SWG which had a type of evolving, dynamic neighborhood feature mostly unheard of.

  2. I am not sure I can go with something as strong as “commandments” on your list, if only because there seems to be at least one pair in conflict and another situational. If number seven means “no instancing” (not clear to me), then number two becomes a problem because no matter what you do, if there are real world spaces for housing, some lots will always be more desirable than others, and so there will always be a FCFS aspect to it, even if the supply is infinite out to the horizon.

    And if you are going to have housing real and in the world, then I feel a company absolutely must charge some sort of rent. Even a nominal fee to check that the person is still playing would be okay, because if “location” is an aspect with limited supply, you don’t want the day one bozo who grabs the best location and never plays again to hold that spot forever.

    I do agree with Bhagpuss that EQ housing is pretty good. They clearly learned/borrowed from the EQ2 team when it came to items and placement. I am not a fan of the neighborhood thing, however, because there is always somebody who lets their place run down or goes on some crazy bent.

    1. Them dang hippie neighbours! ;)

      And yes agreed, if we’re talking non-instanced housing, you need upkeep to regulate the market and free up space. But I’m a fan of neither – instancing nor regulated outdoor housing – and the only good solution I’ve experienced so far is in BDO, which is amazing in seamlessly transitioning you into a phased interior from the real outside world. You can even look out of the window from inside and see the outsides, including people peeping in or your horse grazing in front of the window. BDO is the only MMO so far with such an expertly executed compromise, I was truly impressed. If it wasn’t for a brief loading flicker every now and then, you’d never tell.

      Needless to say, I loved UO’s free placement of buildings which is an impossibility with today’s games and also MMO populations.

      1. I felt kind of the opposite about the BDO solution. it’s technically elegant, yes, but it feels really cheesy. I always felt I was in a game because of it rather than in a world. It’s certainly not a bad way to handle housing but neither is it superior either to pure instancing or pure open-world versions.

        I keep forgetting to mention Vanguard now it’s sadly no longer with us (officially). It had really excellent open-world housing and while the game was still busy enough to require it (and yes, despite the history re-writes there was such a time) the issue of under-supply and over-demand was neatly dealt with by adding islands around the coast.

      1. Moses: The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen…
        [drops one of the tablets]
        Moses: Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!

        Ah, History of the World Part One. A Mel Brooks classic.

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