What is Housing, Anyway?

There’s been some back and forth on social media lately about player housing in games, and specifically how WoW’s new garrison feature shouldn’t be judged as player housing. There was an  article on Massively that was quite critical of garrisons, and this prompted a response at ALT:ernative and on Twitter that it is not ok to critique a feature that is still in development. While I think the Massively article might have been overly harsh, I would like to politely disagree with the idea that one has to wait to see the finished product before forming an opinion. So today I wanted to use this blog space to figure out what I think constitutes player housing and why WildStar’s in particular won me over when other games left me cold. Hang in there folks, this is a long one.

Definitely housing

Definitely housing

What is Housing?

I tried to distill the elements that make me call a feature “player housing” in a MMO. I came up with the following:

1. Unique to the player – MMOs are vast shared worlds, but sometimes a hero just needs to put her feet up and unwind in her own personal space. Player housing can be instanced, phased, or open-world, but each character or player must have a space of their very own.

2. Control and choice – You can’t call it player housing if everyone gets the same exact thing. Starships in SWTOR are pretty neat personal spaces, but aside from very restricted legacy perks there’s no difference between one and the next. Player housing lets me make choices about what I want on my little piece of the world, and control how my house looks and feels.

3. Showing off – Admit it, there’s an element of “hey look at this cool thing I did” to putting certain things in your house. Player housing should let you show off your skills or dedication. This could be in the form of trophies on the wall, or the house itself, masterfully built from 300 individual pieces of decor.

What I wished was housing, back in the day...

What I wished was housing, back in the day…

Are Garrisons Player Housing?

By my own definition they are. Whether or not Blizzard calls them by that name, they sure feel like they meet the minimum qualifications of player housing to me. This is where we run into trouble. Since garrisons feel like housing, people want to compare them to housing systems in other games. I think this is fair. No, garrisons are never going to be a place where you can freeform build your own castle out of spare parts. They are a unique space where the player has control and choice, and can show off their accomplishments with trophies or rare followers. They’ve also got an associated minigame, implications for crafting, and some integration with questing. That seems interesting, but none of it disqualifies them as player housing! I think it is completely valid to compare WoW’s offering with other player housing systems. Garrisons have some neat features even if they don’t appeal strongly to me.

I do believe that one of the things fans and critics are reacting to is the fact that Blizzard seems to be removing some of the opportunities for choice, like which zone your garrison got placed in. Removing choices doesn’t usually feel fun, even when it ends up being for the best in the end. I personally was enthusiastic about the idea of garrisons when they were announced, but gradually lost most of that enthusiasm as I learned more details and choices became more restrictive.

The beginning of something beautiful

The beginning of something beautiful

Betas, WildStar, and Love

I was fortunate enough to get a WildStar beta key. I enjoyed the game when I saw it in its beta state, but when I got to 14 and saw the housing I was blown away. Until that time I was not a MMO housing fanatic. I had seen the systems on offer in a couple other games and didn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other. That unfinished beta experience gave me a glimpse of a housing system that I could absolutely fall in love with. The combination of freeform building with prepackaged kits, the fun minigames and mini-dungeons, and the hugely social nature of WildStar’s housing melted my housing-neutral heart. It was still buggy, it was still a work in progress, but I could see the shape it was taking and I liked what I saw.

This is one of several reasons why I think it is incredibly unfair to say you shouldn’t judge content until you see the final, finished work. If I had waited for that with WildStar I may have never purchased the game at all! Getting in early and seeing it develop and grow and being a part of the pre-launch hype really contributed to my enjoyment of the game. The friends I made during that time are my awesome guildies now. Waiting for long enough post-launch to get a concrete review would have meant missing out on some amazing fun experiences! So conversely, if people see something in a beta  that they don’t care for, I think that experience is also valid and should be considered. What good is a beta test if nobody feels free to give feedback on anything except technical bugs?

Additionally, for cash-strapped gamers beta access has become a way to get a trial run of a new game. Ignoring beta experiences means either ponying up the cost of entry based on the hope that things will turn out ok, or waiting until post-launch reviews are out and playing catch-up. And finally, not everyone gets a chance to beta test a new game. Lots of folks rely on the first impressions of those lucky people who get beta invites. Opinions formed during beta absolutely matter, for better or worse.

dining roomTL;DR

WoW’s garrisons sure look like player housing to me. While I vastly prefer WildStar’s take on the feature, I’m glad there’s space in the MMO world for experimentation with lots of different flavors of player housing. As a former long-term WoW player I’m glad to see those players finally get a little piece of Azeroth (ok, fine, Draenor) to call their own. And I think that player responses to beta content, whether enthusiastic, apathetic, or downright bitter, shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand just because the work is still in progress.

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