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).
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
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).
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.
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.