One feature either already in a MMO, or always talked about as ‘coming soon’ is player housing. Seemingly always difficult to implement, highly demanded, and always a hot button issue on forums, housing seems to polarize players almost as much as a good ‘raid vs solo’ debate.
Part of this is undoubtedly the IDEA of housing. Owning your own part of a virtual world has great appeal on paper, especially if you throw out the idea of being able to customize your dwelling to some degree. Housing also seems to provide a central meeting place for guilds and groups of friends. Again, the IDEA of sitting around in your personal castle planning the next raid or event stirs a lot of players minds.
In reality, many of the promised ideas and features generally don’t turn out as players hope. Housing quickly becomes a secondary bank, perhaps a weak version of The Sims house editing, or an altogether ignored zone that most players see no reason to visit. All that developer time spent for nothing, right?
World of Warcraft for a long time now has had housing rumors. Lord of the Rings Online has a set date for housing, coming this fall with chapter 11. Vanguard (I believe) was released with housing already in the game. The list goes on and on.
So is housing in a MMO really needed? Does a game get significantly better the day a player is able to buy property? From what I’ve seen in the games I’ve played, I would say no. Not since UO has housing really been needed. In Dark Age of Camelot housing was a barren zone you would teleport to if you needed something out of your storage chest or guild vault. It always felt like a ghost town, completely disconnected from the world. I say UO needed housing because that became a form of content. Some players set out to be renowned merchants, and a house with a vendor selling their wares was their way of accomplishing this. With the addition of auction houses in MMOs, gone are player run shops, at least for now. UO also had the major issue of over-development, with a house in every single free spot in the world, which no doubt was a major influence in keeping housing in its own zone. Why come up with a solution when you can sweep the problem under the rug (or in this case, in its own zone).
I’m curious how LoTRO and WoW handle housing. Both Turbine and Blizzard have unique ways of tackling known issues. Blizzard usually refines a problem; Turbine generally comes out of left field with a workable solution. Will we get the same old ghost town zones, or something innovative that adds a solid feature and sets a new standard for MMOs?