Grumpy Gamer: Housing Shmousing
When I bought my first house in the Lord of the Rings Online, I thought it was the most awesome thing ever.
2 Anvilsong Road, Home of Gordur
I had just hit level 15 with my Minstrel, Gordur Gunkenheimer, and my friends gave me the 7 gold to buy the deluxe house at 2 Anvilsong Road so we could build up a storage chest network in one neighborhood. I didn't really mind that my chests were communal property. My favorite part was, it was a thing in the otherwise-static game that I could actually make semi-permanent changes to.
When you are finished saving all the people of Ost Guruth from certain doom, the place still looks like Ost Guruth, and the orcs and wargs and spiders and trolls are still wandering around the Lone Lands. But when you hang a painting on your wall and install blue Elf-style floor tiles, you've made your mark on the world.
Nice appointments with some Canadian wall-art
A number of people have complained about LotRO's housing system, because it is fairly simplistic and hasn't changed much in the 7 years since the game launched. But it's still my favorite, because it does exactly what it needs to do without tying up a lot of developer resources and without wasting a lot of player time and money.
In LotRO, a player's house serves four basic functions:
1) A place to store shared stuff. The housing chests can be accessed by anyone given permission by the owner, so they work well as group storage, whereas private storage is better handled by the vault system.
2) A place to display trophies. Stuffed bears, giant salmon fished out of a stream, boss mob accessories mounted on plaques, seasonal souvenirs and other small stuff can all be shown off at your private house. Giant raid loot can be displayed in the front yards of kinship houses. Bringing home the Draigoch statue and triumphantly plunking the enormous bastard in my kinship's front yard is one of my proudest moments in gaming.
This is how you do lawn ornaments.
3) A roleplaying environment, offering privacy and immersion. You can drop in a fireplace to /relax in front of, or wander around /dusting. Most of the furniture is non-functional, but can be selected and targeted for emotes.
4) Vendor services. Neighborhood vendors offer a small but significant discount on crafting materials and certain other services. A few coppers off might not seem like much when you're making one item, but when you need to cook a few hundred top-tier food items to get your gold anvil, and each crafted item requires two or three vendor mats to complete, it adds up.
It's all good stuff. It would be nice if we had a little more control over the decoration hooks, could expand our homes or had the ability to add crafting stations, but, after 6 or so years of doing without, I can still appreciate the bare-bones system as it is. These additions would be nice, but it seems a stretch to say the game needs them.
Not long ago, I started playing DC Universe Online, which added player housing in January 2013 as well - each hero or villain gets a free hideout at level 10, a place where they can pull back the cowl and hang out as their secret identities. The secret lair is a central trope of the superhero setting - Batman's Bat-cave, Superman's Fortress of Solitude, Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, etc. - so it was a natural addition to a superhero MMO. Even if it did take two years to be added in.
Wanna decorate more? Break out the Visa.
DCUO's lairs are much more advanced than LotRO's player housing, with a myriad of different themes and styles and locations, and a slew of upgrades offering basically every amenity in the game... but all the upgrades and fancy frills cost money, and the player will need to buy the Home Turf DLC to get the most out of it. Free players like me get a dank hole in the ground with some mismatched thrift store furniture (plus the odd chair or coffee table found in enemy loot drops), a generator and mainframe that shows me all the cool stuff I can't afford to buy, and one armory that can store one character loadout. Luckily, the furniture is all destructible, so when TehDarkGunk gets frustrated that every villainous thing he want to do with the place costs money or requires the purchase of a DLC, he can throw a super-powered tantrum and smash it all.
Even more recently, Star Wars: The Old Republic announced that it, too, would be adding player housing in a new expansion this summer. Players with an active subscription as of May will get a groovy free pad on Nar Shaddaa supposedly worth 1.5 million credits... which is cool and all, but it seems kind of extraneous at this point. SWTOR doesn't really need player housing.
Broonmark guards the vaults in our flying house.
If you really drop the hammer and buckle down, your character can get a starship on your first day of playing the game. The starship - with a few upgrades bought with Cartel Coins or cold hard credits through the Legacy panel - has practically everything LotRO housing has, and more.
1) You get a vault on your ship for free, providing personal storage. For a fee, you can add a mailbox - not quite shared storage, but you can organize your inventory and move stuff to your alts through it without ever leaving the ship.
2) Currently, SWTOR doesn't really have any "trophies" to display, unless you count the hideously-ugly shells of raid gear that takes a lot of work and time to earn. And those can be equipped on your companions, who hang out on the ship at all times. They can act as "living mannequins" to display your hard-earned ugly-ass raid gear.
3) The ships feature lots of little rooms and deco, almost none of which is used for anything other than roleplaying purposes. My Sith Juggernaut, Ogregunk, has what looks like a little game table in his lounge/comm area - he strikes me as the type of guy who would be an incredibly sore loser if he ever bothered to play. The Sith ship also has a big master bedroom with sexy mood lighting.
Bom chikka bow bow...
4) Players can unlock two important shipboard vendor services: a repair droid that buys trash loot and sells droid and dummy upgrades, and a Galactic Trade Network terminal that allows the player to auction quality items.
You can also unlock training dummies for PvP and PvE - stationary targets with millions of hit points that you can attack without mercy to develop new skill rotations and calculate damage output. There's even a "crafting station" of sorts - when you send your off-screen companions on their autonomous crafting missions, they stand at a bench in your ship's cargo hold and pretend to look busy.
Other players can visit your starship, too, provided they are in the same group. And each starship has its own zone chat channel - when you use General chat onboard your starship, you're talking to a bunch of other players using the same class.
"Sweet home Interceptor.. where the walls are steely gray..."
So... what do we need player housing for, exactly? Starships fill all the roles a player house would fill, plus they can fly.
To be fair, the expansion features more than just player housing. Guild flagships - something discussed since the game launched - will finally be added, and shared vaults for all characters on a legacy will be making their debut. Players will also be able to own "multiple" houses - they use that word a lot, but they only mention the capital worlds and Nar Shaddaa, so in this case, "multiple" means "two." Your wealthy Jedi can have a sideline as a Donald Trump-style real estate tycoon making champagne wishes in a party mansion on Nar Shaddaa and dreaming caviar dreams in a sweet condo on Coruscant. Or, if you're playing a Sith Lord, the sideline could be as a Slum Lord, with a den of iniquity on the Hutt homeworld and a creepy torture dungeon on Dromund Kaas.
These are exciting features, but the main focus of the teaser trailer seems to be on individual player housing. BioWare seems to be dumping an awful lot of development resources into this feature, which is essentially redundant since we already have starships. Really, I would much rather see the resources go into the continuation of the main storyline, or adding a new planet and bumping up the level cap like they did with Makeb last year. Or implementing Galactic Starfighter-style PvE space combat. Or, basically, anything other than housing.
Worse yet, I have a strong suspicion that nearly every interactable object in a player's house will provide a "convenient" link to the Cartel Market. It will likely follow the same cash-milking model as DCUO's lairs, except that it won't require the player to buy the expansion first because the expansion is "free." They will offer a slew of amazing features, and each one will cost Cartel Coins. Obviously I can't begrudge the developers for wanting to turn a profit with their new product, but I have that sneaking feeling that these apartments are going to be fairly aggressive in terms of marketing.
Don't get me wrong - I'm always glad when they announce any kind of development for SWTOR because I still enjoy the game. But with competition like the Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar just over the horizon, and EverQuest Next: Landmark building essentially an entire game around the construction of amazing voxel-based player houses, it seems incredibly misdirected to focus the marketing on something like player housing this late into the game.
What's your take on SWTOR's housing project, or on player housing in general? Let us know in our comments!