Player housing is in the works for Star Wars: The Old Republic. A mini-trailer from a dev chat earlier this week gave fans a brief preview of the upcoming feature, offering a windowed view of Coruscant’s skyscape as seen from what looks like a luxury apartment, which can probably be yours for a small security deposit of 1000 Cartel Coins.
OK, putting aside jokes about the SWTOR cash shop… even if the housing and everything in it is available for free – as it is in subscription MMOs and many F2P ventures – what’s the big deal? Why should anyone care about housing for the sake of housing?
Player housing is one of those things that MMO fans always say they want but never know quite what to do with. Sure, we’ll buy our plot of land, decorate it up all nice, maybe invite a few friends over to look at it once in a while. But unless you’re a role-player who likes to organize and run regular social events, then what do you do with it after that “new feature shine” has worn off?
We talk a lot about how various “old” MMO mechanics need a reworking, whether it be combat, questing, raiding, crafting, or whatever, but “housing” rarely seems to make that list. Granted, it’s a small and relatively minor part of most games – but maybe that’s the reason it’s viewed as secondary. In my opinion, housing as just a place to hang some trophies and have extra storage space is about as integral to a game as a new set of cosmetic gear – neat to look at for a little while but ultimately forgotten and serving no real gameplay purpose. And you can’t even take housing with you on adventures.
I think that if you’re going to put housing in your game, you should make it more than just a place to put stuff. Some recent games have been trying to make housing a more integral part of gameplay. WildStar, with its warplots, is looking that way, and any houses, castles, or bases you build in EverQuest Next and EQN Landmark look to be integral parts of the gameplay experience. Finally, after many years of half-hearted promises, Blizzard finally looks to be adding a form of combat-ready player housing in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.
“Storming the keep” is such a fundamental part of PvP, and some PvE, that I’m surprised more developers haven’t sought to integrate that style of gameplay with player housing, or at least some kind of customizable fortress mechanic. Attacking or defending a developer-made keep is one thing; attacking or defending a place you or another player built seems much more exciting and personal. There are some concerns, I suppose, about exploits and a lack of variety – that once one person or guild figures the “best” way to build a castle, everyone else will copy it and it will be nigh impregnable – but that’s what playtesting and iteration, and maybe the occasional nerftastic patch, are supposed to solve.
I know it’s not much to go on, but the SWTOR housing as seen in this brief clip looks pretty but not especially exciting or innovative. That could describe SWTOR as a whole, but it’s not like that’s the only game to pick on. I was one of the first people to buy a house when they were first offered in The Lord of the Rings Online. Six years, and one move, later, and I’ve got a bigger house and more stuff. Yay?
Perhaps not every style of housing is appropriate for action and exciting gameplay. That SWTOR Coruscant apartment doesn’t exactly look like a wretched hive of scum and villainy – well, maybe for senators, but that’s a totally different brand of evil. And there’s something to be said for having a quiet retreat, shut off from the hustle and bustle of the MMO world, where you can /sit and /sleep in peace or roll around in your mountain of loot, Uncle Scrooge-style.
But ask yourself this: Have you ever been actually entertained by MMO housing for more than a few weeks or months? Do you see it as something integral to MMO design, something that every game simply must have to be considered a complete experience? And are you happy with the “relaxing” style of housing we see most of the time today, or would you prefer a more action-oriented slant to your housing?