Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Guild housing in WoW

Player housing for World of Warcraft is one of those features where the developers said they would be interested in introducing it, but haven't gotten around to doing it. It is not a trivial problem to get player housing right. But by looking at how housing has been done in other games, I had an idea how housing could be great in World of Warcraft. So lets look at the history of MMORPG player housing.

My first experience of player housing was a bad one, in Ultima Online, when I could afford a deed to place a house, but in two weeks of searching high and low couldn't find a spot where to put it, because UO didn't have enough housing spots for all players on a server. The other big disadvantage of the UO system was that houses could be placed anywhere where the ground was flat, so that areas which were meant to be adventuring wilderness suddenly turned into huge cities, with the monsters still running around between the houses. It is clear that World of Warcraft cannot go that way, just imagine the Barrens getting filled with houses as far as the eye can see! Wouldn't look good, wouldn't feel right.

So games like Anarchy Online or Final Fantasy XI or Everquest 2 went with instanced housing instead. You go through a door somewhere in a city, and you are directly inside your appartment. As appartments thus take no space at all, you can have one for every player, even in various sizes. But houses also lose a lot of their purpose that way: Nobody walks past your house and sees what a nice castle you got, or sees the NPC vendor you placed on your porch for selling your crafted goods like in UO.

Open world housing did work for Star Wars Galaxies, for the simple reason that this game had far more square miles per player. And one of the really great features in SWG was that guilds could choose some empty spot somewhere, all build their houses there, and start a player-run city. They could vote for a major, and get utility buildings like star ports (flight point) for their city.

When Lord of the Rings Online introduced player housing last year, they tried to get the best of both worlds, by making housing both instanced and visible to your neighbors. The LotRO housing instances are not just one appartment, but a complete neighborhood with several housing spots, for everything from small houses to large guild halls. Up to 30 houses can be built in one neighborhood, and new neighborhoods open up when the old ones are full. But the system still has a couple of issues: Every neighborhood had exactly 4 kinship (guild) houses, 10 deluxe houses, and 16 standard houses. But the standard houses sold a lot faster than the others. It would have been better if there had been "slots" for sale, on which any sort of house could be build, not already pre-built houses of a fixed size. I also found the instances a bit too large, so you didn't meet your neighbors often enough.

So for World of Warcraft I was thinking that a system similar to that of LotRO would be best. If you explore cities like Stormwind, you'll find places that look suspiciously as if there is a portal to instanced housing already planned there. You walk through that portal, and get a selection of neighborhoods, with initially empty housing spots, on which various sorts of houses in various sizes can be built, depending on your financial means. And now comes the kicker: Guilds can reserve for themselves special neighborhoods, with a guild hall in the middle, and the housing spot around it, with enough place for every guild member to build a house. Voila, instanced player-built guild cities! The guild hall would have the guild bank in it, and have a trophy room where for every raid boss kill the head of the boss could be mounted on the wall. Player houses would have some functionality too, for example for storing armor sets on mannequins, and like in LotRO with an added possibility to teleport back to your house from anywhere. So with players having some reasons to visit their house and their guild hall, guild members would constantly meet each other in the guild city. It is a lot nicer to meet guild mates in virtual person than just see them as a name in guild chat. Guild halls could also serve as portals into raid dungeons, so meeting up for raids would happen in the guild hall instead of in front of the dungeon. Guild cities would become a veritable hub of guild activity, and thus foster guild cohesion.

What do you think? Would you like to see such guild housing in World of Warcraft?

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