Ultima Online and the Player Housing Debate

12 11 2010

I wrote this as a comment on Larisa’s (the author of The Pink Pigtail Inn) post about player housing. It got really long, so I figured I would put it up here and burnish it with some screenshots from Ultima Online.

As someone who played Ultima Online (UO), a game in which player housing played an important role (I’ll expand on that in a second), I think there are two important pros for player housing and one big caveat that Larisa mentioned in her post.

The Ultima Online player housing model

Before I get to those, let me explain how player housing in UO worked. Your bank could hold a maximum of 140 items. In UO, this was not a lot of items. There were things like reagents, crafting materials, gold, rare items, house decorations (plays a large role in UO), etc. Far more than WoW has and with no easy things like how mounts are “learned” rather than carried around. In addition, UO has a weight system; each item weighs x stones (stacks of items, such as gold, weigh more or less depending on the amount) and the amount you can carry depends on your strength.

So a house (depending on the size of the house) allowed players to hold secure containers, which could in turn each hold a number of items. Larger houses could hold more items. This was necessary for any player intending to do more than just run around the graveyard killing skeletons (the UO equivalent of, say, killing boars in Goldshire).

The UO graveyard outside Britain

The graveyard outside of Britain, the main city of UO

Player housing also was not instanced or separated from the main game world, which it likely would be in WoW. Instead, houses dotted the countryside (weren’t allowed in cities) and your house was in a specific place that you often got to know well, as though it really was your home. This presents a problem for potential WoW housing: it wouldn’t feel integral to the game world because it likely would be somewhere you teleport to by use of a magic key type item.

Customization is king

My house

My house in UO. Lots of decoration

In addition, UO housing was very, very customizable. Not only could you buy a fair number of types of houses (from small one-room to a keep, with 4 wings and a courtyard), your house came empty. This meant that players (and NPCs sold basic stuff) sold and crafted items for decoration. Rare drops from mobs were often decorative items, unlike the traditional weapon/armour rare drop model. Vanity items played a larger part in the UO economy than they do in WoW, and crafting was also more than a means to creating/enhancing equipment.

The pros and cons of homebuilding

Now that the preamble is out of the way, here are the two pros and one con of player housing in WoW:

Pro 1: Allows players to decorate a piece of the game world, making it their home. Much like phasing quests allowed players to make an impact on the game, decorating player housing lets players directly affect a part of the world. Decoration also has a big effect on the economy and has the potential to make crafting more interesting if Blizzard followed a UO-style model of decoration (easy to do since we have things like Tinkering, Tailoring and Blacksmithing already).

Crafting skills

The various crafting skills of UO

Pro 2: A place to call home. I’m not an RPer by any means, but when I played UO, I always made a point to log off in my house. Even though I could just as easily log off at the inn in a city. In addition to RP benefits, homes give players a more logical way to store additional items. Instead of the traditional method of “bank alts” and “alt guild banks” which are a hassle and don’t really fit into the world very well, having a chest in your house where you store crap is pretty sweet. Things you could also do in your house: craft, auction, bank, get your hair cut, etc. Gold sinks galore.

The caveat: People leave cities to go into houses, leaving cities more empty. The image of cities being empty sucks. It’s always great that cities are filled with people in the streets, yelling crap about Chuck Norris. However, people are always going to need to be in big cities to pug raids, use trade chat, see what guilds might be recruiting, train professions and skills, buy items, reforge gear, etc. Striking a balance between what you can do in a house and what you can do in a city would be very important to making sure people still had incentive to go to Dalaran, Stormwind, etc.

Pipe dreams

I would like to say that, while I think player/guild housing is an interesting concept and generally good for MMOs, I have a feeling Blizzard has no plans to add it to WoW. Adding such a huge thing to a game not really designed with it in mind is a huge undertaking, one I imagine Blizzard will keep in mind for its mysterious future MMO, whenever that appears.




4 responses

12 11 2010

The housing model in UO was absolutely amazing imo – and most people simply love the idea of owning a little place or at least personalizing a space of their own in online games (part of the success of games like farmville or second life surely). I think you hit the nail on the head when mentioning balance: cities will not become deserted just because of player housing as long as the AH, bank etc. stay there. they’re the main reason why people are crowding there in WoW right now and that wouldn’t change as long you give houses a different purpose.

13 11 2010

I think a lot of people in WoW are underestimating the value of creating a house in a virtual world. I think if I hadn’t played UO, I would scoff at the concept too. But knowing how much time/gold I spent decorating my UO house, I’m not convinced that I wouldn’t do the same in WoW.

14 11 2010

The other problem with player housing is how it is implemented.

One game I played (Crappy, asian MMO) it was all instanced. You basically went up to an NPC and said “Enter my house” or “Enter Friends house” at which point you entered a number and password (if applicable). Which, from an RP perspective sort of takes away from it. It also just feels like a cop-out.

Other games that have actual houses you’re limited by real estate. If there are 1k houses in the world and 5k players, you’re kinda screwed. It does offer a more realistic approach though. And on a PVP server camping someone outside of their house would be fun.

I don’t think blizzard will ever add housing because they QQ about item slots and whatnot. 24 slot bags are as high as we have right now. 18 was the max 5 years ago (IIRC). Even if we could get another bank slot that’d be huge. For 33k gold we can have 11*24 slots. Guild banks are sort of our ‘middle ground’ as far as a place to store things.

Though, with blizzard in the past they said there would never be flying in old Azeroth. Though, technically since the world is being destroyed it is no longer ‘old’ Azeroth.

19 11 2010

@faet I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Blizzard QQ about bag slots…I’ve seen players complain about it but those types are pack rats that should probably vendor 99% of the stuff in their banks. From a guild master’s prospective…don’t ever use the guild bank for your personal storage. If you own the guild and it’s just your character, it’s cool. But in a raiding/social/leveling it’s not cool for the bank officer/guild master to have to organize junk that people are putting there temporarily. All I’m saying is, the bag space is sufficient.

@shopshop UO was very fun. I thought you could have houses in the cities but that was 5 years ago I played. (Had me a nice keep outside of the Chinese area) Housing in wow would be wonderful. I really don’t think instanced housing would be so bad. Say they made the furniture another profession and tailors could make carpets and curtains and stuff, and cooks could make stuff to set on your tables. Enchanters could make lamps and stuff. etc.etc.etc But as it goes, say your raiding or doing randoms or pvp and say furniture loot and stuff would drop. That’d give people who are tiered out and geared more incentive to keep running to get that rare chair. 😛 Good thoughts mate. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: