Housing in MMOs
Having recently returned to The Elder Scrolls Online, there is a lot of excitement within the community regarding the introduction of housing in the next major game update in February. So far from the information that is available, there’s a wide variety of house styles and customisation options available. Properties can be bought furnished or unfurnished and players can further embellish their respective dwellings by crafting specific items for them. Housing also includes the usual fast travel options to and from their location and access can be shared among friends and alts. There’s a more detailed breakdown at The Elder Scrolls Online website and so far, ZeniMax seem to be offering all a comprehensive version of the current popular MMO mechanic.
LOTRO is also implementing a housing upgrade with its next update, allowing home contents to be placed where the player wants them, as opposed to relying on predefined “hooks”. Again, this is an improvement that has been long awaited by the LOTRO community. Over the years, previous developers Turbine frequently promised changes to the housing mechanic but sadly failed to implement them. At present homes and the homesteads in which they are located, simply offer the same services as the major towns and social hubs, with the benefit of some extra storage. In fact, as far as I’m aware there is no major social dynamic to any of the housing systems implemented in any of the top ranking MMOs.
It is this social element or the lack of thereof that is predominantly of interest to me. Let us not be diverted with questions regarding the purchase of in-game housing. In the modern MMO market making premium housing available for cash purchase is simply a no-brainer. What you can do with housing is a far more interesting talking point. At present housing mainly offers in the MMO genre additional storage, an opportunity for aesthetic customisation and convenient support services. For example, in LOTRO if you repair your gear from a vendor based in the homestead, there is a discount. STO and SWTOR can offer access to personal and account banks as well as the auction facilities. STO is a little different to other MMOs in so far as your ship is your home to all intents and purposes.
What housing across most MMOs fails to do is offer any additional social facilities or unique group content. Players can group together and generate their own social events but they can also do that in other areas such as Bree, Earth Spacedock or Divinities Reach. Considering how many MMOs have strong social communities, especially among roleplayers, you’d think that game developers would be quick to capitalise on such human resources. If there were more reasons for players to use their homes and spend time in the homestead areas, the demand for housing would increase, thus bringing more revenue to any game. Housing could also provide a potentially different way to play MMOs. If crafting became more accessible via housing, players could level by developing their own cottage industries.
However, it is only fair to consider the other side of the argument. Some players may well like and prefer the relative tranquillity of housing as it is currently implemented. Not everyone wants to find fifty plus players embarking on a lengthy social event next door to them, spamming emotes and indulging in shenanigans. And many of the more recent MMOs do not seem to be as actively social as the older ones. So far, I have seen no compelling reason to join a guild or interact with other players in The Elder Scrolls Online. Guild Wars 2 is also a game I have predominantly played alone and it still seems to lack any essential social mechanic. Perhaps dynamic grouping effectively renders more complex social interaction redundant.
From my perspective, I always like to have more options than less. I also like social functionality to be optional and not essential. Therefore, I welcome any improvement to housing for any MMO along with any bespoke future social content. As long as it comes with a toggle in the UI settings then I’ll deem it an equitable arrangement. If a big guild wants to use its housing to a higher degree and access potential in-game benefits, then it should be afforded such an option. But I would also ask the developers to make judicious use of the phasing mechanic or offer the option to buy a “remote house” for those of a more solitary disposition. I am neither a strong advocate of either mantra, “better together” or Hell is other people”. I believe that the truth lies somewhere between the two.