In a post musing about the problems with housing in MMOs, Roger from Contains Moderate Peril said that you can ask 100 players and will get 100 answers as to what makes good housing good. And this made me think when is housing good for me? For example, I love the housing in Rift and I don’t think it’s missing anything. Yet, a lot of people prefer Wildstar’s housing and while I liked it, too, for me it’s just not been as good. I’m not sure I even dare mention the Everquest MMOs… I never played EQ or EQ2. So I wouldn’t judge the housing on its own. Thankfully, I had Rakuno made a guest blog entry here about Everquest 2 a few years ago – 6 years, actually – has it really been this long?
And when I think about it, I guess it’s a simple reason why I like the housing in Rift so much more: I get to have inside and outside locations with no loading screens. I have an island where I placed a house and stables. The doors are open and I can stand in the entrance and just look outside. Or stand on the balcony and see both the room behind me and the beach below. And there are so many choices for places to get. Wildstar gave you this one piece of land and that was it. It was a really nice piece of land, but the basic layout was the same for everybody. So no matter what other options and features housing in other games can give me, this is the very reason why I prefer Rift.
But this is just personal preference. If I wanted to answer my question, I would certainly not say “the point in housing is to stand on your virtual balcony looking down on the beach”. Although yes, I have done that and imagined it was real. But now we get closer to why I like housing! One part is imagining it was real, imagining this little virtual space in the MMO was really a place to live in. After all, MMOs give us a virtual world!
Other than that, I think it’s the sandbox to live out your creativity that draws me to housing. At the same time, I always get discouraged when there’s just a whole wide space with nothing on it yet because I am not that creative. But that’s where most MMOs help you out and give you either complete houses already or at least the option to place a building. But at least in Rift’s case, you can also build something piece by piece. Either way, the more options an MMO gives me, the happier I am about it. I don’t want to build complete houses from scratch, but I want to build some structures. Again, take Rift as an example: I’ve got my house, but it has no bathroom. Since it is on a warm and sunny tropical island, I build a shower outside with some pipes and a dish to act as a shower head. Somebody else had created a toilet. I downloaded the piece, bought the individual items I needed and a mod took care of the rest and put the toilet together. I put up a wall and a door and now my house does have a bathroom. I just decided to keep the shower outside anyway.
So, for me it’s the creativity, even though I don’t want or need 100 % freedom in building. I would argue that the players who only want housing to live out their creativity are in the minority, however. The housing community is never a big one, after all. So what else should housing offer so there’s a point for the majority of players? I think this is the point where I can mention Guild Wars 2 and their home instance. But that’s also already where the comparison with housing will stop. However, what ArenaNet gave us is a place we can call… erm… well, it’s something personal, at least. Certain accomplishments will be placed there automatically and when you enter the home instance, you can see what you’ve done in the game. The choices you made during your personal story were supposed to affect the look of your home instance. There were minor changes which disappointed me and bookahnerk quite a lot. The Hall of Monuments in the first Guild Wars game has done a much better job if you ask me.
But in general, being able to display some of your achievements or even trophies etc. is a great thing! You get bragging rights, but in a subtle way as it’s within your housing space. I am not sure that those players who absolutely want housing in their MMO are also the ones who say that they want to show off their accomplishments or there’s no point in housing, but it is a way to combine these interests.
And then there’s the point of convenience: Crafting stations, access to your storage, etc. This is something I very much like to have as well. However, while I do have crafting stations in my Rift home, they are further away from the main building and I actually have never used them. There are no vendors nearby and I’d have to jump in and out again to do my crafting dailies there. I just walk into the convenient place right next to the auction house vendors and the daily quest giver to do my crafting. In other words: Trion already created a very convenient place to get everything done. For me, there is no point in going to my own house to do the crafting. But I could if I wanted to, so that’s neat.
Something that Wildstar did which I liked was letting you add useful things like a mine site to a plot around your house and there were also challenges you could add. These were basically little activities on a timer that also gave you some rewards at the end depending on how well you did. There weren’t enough plots to put everything in there, so you had to make a choice what you wanted to have. I’d assume that if more MMOs had housing with something like this, then there’d be fewer people asking “what’s the point?” because it gives you something optional to do.
Basically, if I were to answer this question now, I would say that the point in housing is to give you something to do while also being able to say “this is me!” – be it by building something, adding achievements or trophies or just choosing your favourite activities to play.