Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Player Housing in MMOGs

I originally wrote this post back in February, and am not really sure why I didn't publish it back then. The recent announcement of the cancellation of Star Wars Galaxies reminded me of it, so I decided to go ahead and publish it.

This post is in direct response to Greg Dean's "The Player Housing Manifesto" that he made in his comments to his webcomic. If you don't want to go read the whole thing, then here's his three main points:

1. A house must not be instanced
2. A house must be customizable
3. A house must be a privilege

He then discusses the various arguments against implementing these points, most of which have to do with the first point, and largely have to do with server load and virtual real estate within the game world. He points out that the former has never really been an issue and that the latter has been successfully dealt with in MMOGs that have met his three points by using decay, where if a player doesn't maintain the house it disappears.

He then wonders why no one has implemented this since Star Wars Galaxies and Istaria back in 2003.

Here's why I think that hasn't happened: since 2003 companies that run successful MMOGs have figured out that one of the most important revenue generators isn't attracting new players, but re-attracting former players. There is no bigger dis-incentive to returning to a game than knowing that the work you put into your characters the first time around has been undone.

Star Wars Galaxies was probably my favorite MMOG ever, but after I quit I never went back. The biggest reason for that is the disappearance of my house and everything in it. Some of my fondest memories of the game were working to get and outfit my in-game house, so knowing it's gone greatly lessens any incentive I'd ever have to return to the game.

It's true that maintenance requirements can often keep people playing longer than they otherwise would have, staying in just to make sure that their houses and other items don't decay, but that doesn't make up for the probability that once they do leave they're probably gone for good.

This is why I think that it's unlikely we'll ever again see a game implement completely non-instanced player housing. It could be done if you had some ability for returning players to replace their house, but even then they'd have to find a new location, and location was often a big part of the equation when establishing a house in one of these games. Having a prime piece of virtual real estate was often a big deal.

Instead of non-instanced housing, I think that games that have housing at all will continue to use the instanced neighborhoods model of Lord of the Rings Online and others, which allows them to use a less strict model of decay (or none at all), thus encouraging more players to return to the game after taking a break.

No comments:

Post a Comment