Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

1 October, 2006

Weekend Design Challenge: Housing
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:52 AM

This time around, let’s pretend that you’re a designer on an MMORPG, and you’ve been tasked with designing the player/guild housing for the game. Your goal is to introduce a new housing feature not found in any other current major game. This is to make the feature more appealing to the players.

Normal restrictions are assumed: You have to use existing technology, you can’t add significantly to the current or post-launch budget (assume you can hire one new team member at a maximum), and you have to work within a standard schedule (30 or so months of development).

So, what would you do? My idea after the break.

I would focus on guild housing, because that’s the most useful. Meridian 59 has nice guild halls that really add to the game. The fight to take and defend guild halls can be really exciting for players, and the source of great tales.

My idea is a slight variation on this theme where you add special items to the guild halls for the guilds to defend. It would be similar to the relic raids from DAoC, where enemies could raid your hall to take your relic. The relic might give the guild some bonus that could be gained/lost with the relic. This doesn’t have to be a huge bonus, but something that would be worth fighting for. For example, maybe you get a +3% better chance to-hit in combat. Or, maybe the guild gets a +5% chance to gain skill improvements during the appropriate check. Not overwhelming, but definitely nice.

Another option would be to allow more customization of the area. This is something we had talked about with M59, but never had the time to do. Maybe you could alter some of the walls to create new rooms or open up some of the area of the hall. Or, allow the players to make small changes like renaming the guild hall. Another cool option would be to allow players to place furniture in the guild hall within certain restrictions; although Asheron’s Call already had something like that in place, if I remember correctly.

So, what’s your idea for housing?

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  1. I suspect one of the next big sub-games will be becoming a landlord, or property tycoon.

    Buy property, fix it up and/or furnish it, see how much it rents for. Select PC or NPC tennants, have them trash it, take all their bond money (even if they don’t trash it), and repeat. Put up advertising, “If you lived here, Mordor Estates, you’d be home by now!”. Etc.

    Orc tennants, by the way, would have a different sense of decor than elves.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 1 October, 2006 @ 2:19 PM

  2. Screenshots as paintings. The painting would just be a small, blurry summary of the original capture. Choosing to “take a closer look”, the player would see the actual screenshot framed and reduced to a manageable size (and in a format of minimal memory).

    Encouraging the capturing and reviewing of personal screenshots is extremely beneficial, because screenshots remind players of pleasurable game experiences. Players are more to likely remain interested in the game if they are frequently being reminded of their favorite game memories.

    I take screenshots in every MMO, but I rarely review them. It doesn’t help that I don’t know many people personally who are interested in these games, so I’m rarely encouraged to share them. Moving screenshots into the gameworld would not only help make homes truly personal, but it would also help to inspire conversations between players about fun experiences, thereby directing their minds where we want them.

    Comment by Aaron — 1 October, 2006 @ 4:08 PM

  3. Playing off of the town planner and Flip That House ideas, I would suggest allowing for more than your typical houses in small, medium and large sizes with a handfull of floorplans. Instead, I think it would be cool to have a “blueprint” interface. Players could design their own floorplans either from a set of drawing tools ala Paint or Photoshop, or from sets of tiles that could be arranged in various ways. Players could then transfer those designs to others. Perhaps a market would emerge where the best house designers became successful merchants.

    Another nice touch would be to allow for the design of parks. While SWG had park objects that could be placed in the player cities, they were a very limited set of parks and all seemed like giant flowerpots more than they did real parks. Allowing players to place trees, fountains, statues, benches, flowerbeds, etc. may really add to the feeling of uniqueness that player cities could create. Instead of just judging cities upon layout, the design of parks, etc. could really make cities unique.

    Also, any player city scheme needs to include the original /citywarn and /cityban functions of the SWG player city militias. Important game areas would simply have large “no build zones” that surround them, preventing players from building so close to them as to use those tools to grief.

    Comment by Matt Hector — 1 October, 2006 @ 4:45 PM

  4. In a word, trophies. One of the things I enjoyed most about DAoC and SWG’s housing implimentations was the occasional ‘trophy’ reward. Completing important quests, achieving certain levels, perhaps traveling to new areas, all should result in some sort of collectable trinket you can display in your home. The badge system in SWG was something I greatly enjoyed, essentially, but I thought it ridiculous that you had to be nearby to the character in order to see their accomplishments. Going to a person’s home and seeing things like a ‘Declaration from the King’ for reaching max level, or a ‘Dragon’s Tooth’ from that big raid encounter mean far more than an entry in your /whois description.

    Additionally, given the importance many MMOGs place on equipment, I think in-game items should be trophies as well. It would be important to make sure players are not penalized for showing off the cool gear they’ve gotten, though, so my thought is that what is displayed in the home is not the actual item. That is, a player should have the option of displaying in their home a likeness of any given piece of equipment their character has ever owned. I’m specifically thinking here about WoW, which binds almost all of your equipment specifically to one avatar. Being able to look back on your level 30 loot, gotten by tooth and nail from an instance boss, would be a very nice thing indeed.

    Comment by Michael — 3 October, 2006 @ 7:37 AM

  5. Here’s a comment I left on MMOG Nation in response to the post tracked above:

    I don’t think it’s late. Of course, I don’t usually move at “blog” speed (that is, like a ADD victim on fast-forward).

    I thought up the challenge because in EQ2, I’m looking to move to a larger apartment than the starter one you get initially. EQ2 offers a lot of items for you to put into your place, and I’ve seen some really impressive decorating. Some of the old “UO spirit” can be seen where people make fireplaces by putting up a number of braziers behind wine racks and stacks of stone chairs to look like a fire screen.

    But, for all the care and attention I give to my place, nobody will see it. And, some people that do see it may not appreciate it in the way I do. One of my friends commented that my virtual apartment in EQ2 is just like my offline home: too much furniture crammed into too little space, black cats wandering everywhere, and books spread out over every surface. Sadly, he’s right.

    So, part of the motivation for the design challenge was to come up with new reasons for having player housing. Give it some meaning beyond what it currently has. So, while I like your idea, I think it still needs a bit more. We see trophies in other games already. What else can we do with them to make them an important part of player lives?

    Some stuff to consider.

    Comment by Psychochild — 4 October, 2006 @ 11:15 AM

  6. South Park Season 10 WoWs Me

    [...] Update 10/5. I’m working on a response to Psychochild’s weekend design challenge as we speak. [...]

    Pingback by Wondrous Inventions — 5 October, 2006 @ 12:08 AM

  7. No game designer, just a player so take my comments as such. I agree with Aaron. As much as I LOVE player housing, I’ve yet to see it made into an integral and necessary part of my gaming life. Guild halls in AC2 were great for pre-instance preparation, inventory muling and social interaction. When I left for WOW, I really missed them and still do. When I heard that EQ2 had personal housing, I was very excited. I knew this would be a fabulous addition to game-play immersion. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. No one ever saw my apartment, and other than using it has the required medium for vendoring my crafted goods, it served no purpose. It became a lonely place that I didn’t need to be except to post auctions and pick-up my profits. Eventually, I was never there and it wasn’t enough to keep me playing the game for other reasons and defecencies.

    WOW could benefit from simple guild halls. However, with their new Honor System and Battle Arenas coming, I doubt they would implement anything that could be defended or provided bonuses, hence probably not a big priority feature.

    Without the pre-requisite grind of the Asian ported games, I’d love to see defending player cites (with meaningful housing) made available. Perhaps tie it to the crafting system, as more than just a drop-off/pick-up spot. Guild halls with items that provide crafting bonuses? Enhanced rest bonuses? Direct portals to high-end raid dungeons? Decor customizations for RP and casuals? Interactive online content on game lore (AC2 had books you could read and vignettes)? Message board and announcements? Dunno – the little details that would encourage players to visit, while providing direct and tangible game value.

    Comment by Saylah — 5 October, 2006 @ 5:02 PM

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