For the first time in a long while, Guild Wars 2 has gone without updates for a few weeks while the ArenaNet team took a well-deserved break. The next content release will drop on January 21st and will reportedly herald the beginning of the end of the Scarlet Briar story arc.
I’ve been spending my free time reading through the latest collaborative development initiative thread on the official forums. A few weeks ago I wrote about horizontal and vertical progression in GW2 and the CDI thread related to it; at this time the discussion on the forums has narrowed specifically to horizontal progression and what players would like to see from it. After posting our top three priorities for horizontal progression, we were asked to further narrow it down to one, in order to develop a proposal. Since it’s been such a popular suggestion in the thread, I think it’s a good time to talk about a subject near to my shriveled, cold Necromantic heart: player housing.
What’s the big deal about player housing?
Housing is one of those features MMO players tend to have split opinions on. Some consider it absolutely necessary to find a game fun; others are distressed at the idea of valuable development resources being spent on picking out rugs. Then you’ve got your pro-housing players who think the whole thing is a waste of time if the content is instanced, and still others who think it’s a waste of time if you can’t do whatever you like with your patch of homespace. For something that’s basically a game in itself, requiring a lot of art and polished implementation, it’s not entirely surprising that housing fell off the MMO radar for a few years.
The trend has swung back toward building recently. RIFT added Dimensions to great acclaim. WildStar is launching with housing as one of its primary features. Much of the excitement surrounding EverQuest Next and its sister program Landmark comes down to the prospect of creating and building; voxel-based games are popping up like mushrooms. Even World of Warcraft is getting in on housing, which I find deeply interesting as someone who played WoW through the era in which Blizzard “streamlined” a bunch of RP features while doubling down on its raiding focus. It’s deeply interesting not in a “Ha ha, I told you so” sense but in the sense that WoW is still in many ways a bellwether for the industry. It may not be the trendsetter it once was, but you can be pretty sure that if WoW is picking up a feature, it’s probably a trend.
OK, so there might be a teensy bit of “I told you so” in my reaction, but I promise it’s good natured. It’s nice to see this stuff getting added.
What’s the big deal about player housing in GW2, though?
A while back, I wrote an article about the lack of roleplaying tools in GW2 and how that affects attachment to the game world. I also briefly discussed the ways in which roleplaying tools can present a good investment for developers, since roleplayers require very little in the way of constant content additions to keep them happy and playing.
Further reflection leads me to believe that it goes beyond that, though. In talking about the addition of Dimensions, Trion noted that non-combat activities like weddings, fishing, and survival actually caused a spike in player retention. One line in the RIFT dev blog stuck with me: “It was clear that we’d provided a needed dose of RPG in our MMORPG.”
When players recommend games to each other, the language is often specifically that of opportunities and freedom. This is especially apparent in MMO fandom, where advertising almost invariably paints a picture of customizing your personal journey through a vast world of endless possibilities (GW2 is no exception). On the surface, it may seem as though players are expecting something that can’t be delivered; game balance and budget concerns make an MMORPG with near-total freedom unrealistic. But what I believe players really want is the opportunity to play.