If you ask any well-informed MMO player what two games have/had the best housing in the genre, the answer will be UO and SWG. It’s those two titles by a landslide, with basically everyone else in a distant, forgettable pile. The common thread between those two classics? Open world, non-instanced housing. Instanced housing by comparison is just a sad, cheap Sims knockoff mini-game the devs tossed in to +1 their MMO bullet list of features.
Moving past the obviously predictable, ArcheAge also has open-world housing, which already puts it ahead of most. Layer on top of that real functionality (farming that is critical to crafting, which itself is critical for everything else), and you have the basis for something pretty special.
If we go back to UO (and perhaps SWG, although my experience with that game is limited because, well, it was SW), the two biggest issues people had were the ‘urban sprawl’ of too many houses, and the fact that once a house was placed, that was basically it for that spot. AA has systems that fix both problems.
For the urban sprawl issue, housing is limited to certain spots, although said spots are often varied and in interesting spots rather than generic “housing corner” areas. When you come across housing locations they still feel organic, while at the same time you won’t find a house plopped in the middle of your quest location. It’s a solid compromise, though it perhaps leans a little too much towards themepark; I would have preferred more ‘prime location’ housing areas, though perhaps that’s something that happens in the later zones (still just level 26).
The second and IMO bigger issue of houses never going away is fixed with the tax system. If you don’t pay your taxes, you eventually lose ownership, the land is cleared, and someone else is able to come along and claim it. This system will ensure that inactive accounts can’t clutter a server, and will also make hunting for a housing spot a constant activity, rather than the one-and-done scan that it was in early UO (UO would later add a taxing system as well, I believe).
The big non-issue with open-world housing is availability, and especially with prime location availability. A location is a prime location because it’s limited. In the real world a large portion of a house’s value is based on location, meaning not everyone can have a mansion in the most ideal spot. This creates structure, demand, and a pecking order. Those with more can afford better, and almost everyone works to move on up the ladder.
An MMO retaining the gameplay of moving on up isn’t a negative, unless of course you are an entitled little brat who just stands around crying ‘gimmie gimmie gimmie’ and doesn’t actually want to work towards something. For everyone else, the added value of location is fantastic, as it gives everyone something to work towards. Players can make a solid income by snatching up locations and reselling them, and just about anyone can get something if they pay enough. That isn’t a problem, it’s an amazing feature. Tossing all of that in the trash by instancing your housing is a crime, not an improvement, and it’s nice to see at least one game build on a great feature from previously great MMOs.
On our server (Ollo) we currently have a large chunk of land claimed in one of the level 50 zones, as one of us was able to get in early and make a deal, basically buying out a guild that had put down a few houses in that area. Currently we have this section claimed by placing one small house and multiple farms around it (preventing others from interrupting our ‘chain of land’), but this area will be redone with a bigger house and more structured farming as soon as we have the resource to do so. It’s an exciting, long-term plan that will not only provide a good looking, but also highly functional space for us to use for our future housing and crafting needs. Unless of course we flip it for something better, which is always an option. Again, more on the personal side in a future post.