Player Housing Still on the Back Burner for WoW

The fact that Blizzard has refused to implement some form of player housing in WoW remains one of the most bizarre and perplexing decisions in the short history of MMOs and virtual worlds. Player housing long desired by a significant number of WoW players and even Blizzard devs has been a feature that has been successfully implemented in other popular MMOs such as Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest 2 and Lord of the Rings Online — MMOs that had a tiny fraction of the development budget and incoming revenue that WoW has.

So what possibly could be the reason for player housing not being implemented yet?

Player housing has been on the minds of Blizzard for many years now — it was originally intended to be a part of WoW for it’s release. Some folks at Blizzard really want player housing to be a part of WoW yet it never seems to make the final cut. Then Lead Designer Jeff Kaplan made the following statement back in 2007 to MTV:

Jeff Kaplan: I think housing can take World of Warcraft to the next level.

Despite initial promises to include player housing in WoW, after five and a half years later it’s *still* on the back burner at Blizzard. We found this out via Lead Designer Tom Chilton’s recent interview with WoW Insider’s Lesley Smith this week. Here’s what Tom had to say about player housing:

Lesley Smith: Is there a feature in another MMO that you admire and would like to see in WoW?

Tom Chilton: Sure! Right now, for example, we don’t have a housing system. Other MMOs have it and it’s a system that we’ve talked about since before the launch of the original WoW. We’ve talked about housing and how we’d do it and how it might work for at least five years.

Lesley Smith: Is it something you’re actively working on?

Tom Chilton:  No, we’re not working on right now, but it’s incredibly complex to do right and we’re not sure yet if it’s going to be the right thing for WoW in the long run. It has major implications for the game itself and again I wouldn’t go out of my way and say never but it’s not on the immediately of things to do.

Five years is an eternity in the MMO world. Here we have the leading MMO company in the world, a company that has taken in approximately $500-600 to million in profits each year has not found the wherewithal and the resources to implement player housing. Unbelievable.

Where is the money being spent? It’s a good bet that not much of it is actually being reinvested back into WoW. I’m sure that first dibs go to the Activision/Blizzard shareholders and then to the development of Diablo 3, Starcraft 2 and their upcoming console MMO.

Let’s take a look at some arguments against player housing in WoW:

The Complexity Argument

Surely a company like Blizzard should have some kind of research & development division that is working on exploring cutting edge technologies for virtual worlds? I just do not buy the excuse from Tom that player housing is “complex”. Putting a man on the moon is complex. Comparatively speaking player housing should be child’s play considering Blizzard already has instancing technology at their disposal. Besides, Blizzard could easily recruit the top programming and design talent in the world and solve the predicament of player housing.

As we know Blizzard is great at taking other people’s ideas and polishing them, so why not look to see what other companies have done? Turbine implemented player housing within a year of the release of Lord of the Rings Online; compared to Blizzard they are a tiny company with a fraction of the development resources and subscribers. Yet somehow they managed to implement an elegant player housing solution without waffling and falling back on lame excuses.

The Scarce Resources Argument

One of the most popular arguments against implementing player housing is that it would take scarce resources away from legitimate development (more outdoor and instanced “combat” content). I would counter this argument by saying that instanced content has a very short shelf-life compared to a feature like player housing that would be never be obsolete.

Tom Chilton leaves us with an absurd and astounding point when he says that “we’re not sure yet if it’s going to be the right thing for WoW in the long run. It has major implications for the game itself…” Yet Blizzard thinks nothing of spending millions of dollars of resources creating white elephants like the original Naxxramas and the Sunwell (to name just a few) — expensive content experienced by a infinitesimal minority of the players — only to see them ignored and discarded by the player base as the next patch or expansion is unveiled.

Player housing is a wise investment and something that would be used by players for the rest of WoW’s lifespan.

The Players Don’t Want It Argument

Often Blizzard claims that the desire for player housing isn’t universal. But let me ask this: since when does Blizzard listen to the players? The answer: only when it’s convenient and when it supports their inaction to update their MMO.

Let’s also be clear that although Blizzard has a polling feature on it’s forums they rarely if ever use it to get feedback on current and future design decisions. So how can we even know for a fact that Blizzard knows what players want and don’t want when there is no open and independent way to verify the opinions of players?

Features We Never Asked for that Blizzard Gave Us

So if we are to believe that players don’t want player housing is a legitimate rationale for failing to implement it then how then did the following features make it into WoW?

  • Voice communication – Was that universally demanded by the players? No it was not.
  • Arena PVP  – Another feature that was never demanded by the players but somehow magically made it into WoW.
  • Achievements – Yet another dubious feature that was never asked for by the majority of players.

I’m not buying the excuse that players don’t want player housing. The fact that players haven’t expressed an overwhelming desire for a feature never stopped Blizzard from implementing features that their own lead designers personally wanted. Just think how many incarnations that PVP has gone through at the behest of Tom Chilton and consider the resulting waste of resources that have been expended all for naught. Tom should put his own experimental ideas under the same level of scrutiny as he does player housing.

Here are some arguments for player housing:

Making Professions Meaningful Again

Professions in WoW are currently in decline. Lately they’ve been relegated to the sidelines and are generally seen by Blizzard as a token MMO feature. With player housing suddenly professions and crafters would be useful again as they could be used to create furnishings and objects that players could purchase to adorn their homes.

What better time to introduce some new professions such as forester which gathers wood and woodworker which fashions wood?

Broadening the Player Base

Some feminists will hate me for saying this but I know from personal experience that many females love to shop for items to decorate their homes in the real world. Features like player housing would also help to broaden the playerbase and hopefully bring in more females which is a good thing to break up the male dominance of virtual worlds.

Recently I’ve been enjoying SOE’s new MMO Free Realms and to be honest it’s been a pleasant and refreshing surprise with its gender inclusive content. So why not bring in more features that help broaden the playerbase which makes for a more interesting and varied world?

Supporting Immersion and Role-playing

Currently players don’t really *live* anywhere in Azeroth. The result is that we have a nation of 12 million homeless avatars who fall asleep in alleyways, alongside mailboxes and in pubs each night. Yet we have ample amounts of real estate within major cities that are boarded up and unused.

Player housing would really help with increasing the level of immersion of Azeroth. As well as having the option to bind in an inn, players could bind to their own home which is entirely feasible. Player housing along with guild halls (which I’m certain could be implemented at the same time) would be a great place for people to role-play and host events, activities and gatherings.

WoW could certainly use more features conducive to role-playing. Creating more mechanics that enable players to role-play makes sense as it’s an economical way to let them create their own content by entertaining themselves. Who knows, that could be a terrifying prospect for Blizzard — actually allowing players to create their own fun without being led around like cattle by questgivers.

Giving Players a Sense of Ownership

I think the best argument for implementing player housing in WoW is that it would give players a sense of true ownership in their virtual world — a world where players have no real and appreciable effect on Azeroth with the exception of their own avatars. One of the great failings of modern MMOs is that things never change. At least with player housing players would have some place to call their own and be able leave their own mark on the world.

Concluding Thoughts

Something seems amiss at Blizzard. It’s almost as if they are victims of their own success and with that comes a suffocating inertia and stodginess. It makes no sense that despite both Lead WoW Designers being supportive of player housing it is still on the proverbial back burner. Perhaps Blizzard has gotten so big that decision making has become bogged down in the kind of stifling bureaucracy that all too often afflicts larger corporations.

As players we shouldn’t have to care about that. All we know is that after five years of experiencing essentially the same gameplay mechanics WoW has become a diet of boring, routine and predictable fare. Players like myself have become fatigued with an aging, non-dynamic Azeroth operated by an increasingly obtuse and risk averse Blizzard.

Of course WoW could easily survive another expansion without the inclusion of player housing but the time for Blizzard to act is now — not when the ship is sinking. Eventually dissatisfaction with WoW will start to hit critical mass and people will leave but by then it will be too late. If Blizzard was wise they would immediately commence thawing their infamous glacial development process and start interjecting new features that expand the palette of play experiences available to players.

Do we really need another formulaic expansion that saddles subscribers with more planned obsolescent content? I say no. What we really need is a virtual stimulus program that refurbishes and revitalizes the aging infrastructure within Azeroth. Player housing is one such feature among many that would go a long way in making WoW a more interesting, richer and viable world.


Update: I just wanted to acknowledge an excellent article entitled: Why Have Player Housing? recently penned by Morninglark. Anyone who doubts how important and meaningful player housing can be to MMO players should read her article!

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