Thursday, May 27, 2010

Player Housing

Last year I discussed the threat of nuclear weapons with some friends. They argued that nuclear weapons helped stabilize the world and although they were partly responsible for a cold war (and many small conflicts), they at least prevented a big hot one.

Then they argued that, since the U.S. and Russia and India and Pakistan and China and France and Great Britain and Israel and North Korea have nuclear weapons, it is totally unrealistic to think that we would ever have a world without the threat of nuclear weapons. So we shouldn't even try.

These arguments were good. In fact, I agreed with them to some degree. I just disagreed with the final conclusion. Funnily, a few months later President Obama held his historic speech in Prague.

Now, why is Mr. Obama's conviction that we can live in a world free of nuclear weapons so important? Firstly, because this may save millions of lives of our children and grandchildren and their children.. . But, more specifically, and with more relevance to this blog: Mr. Obama told us that while we cannot have the cake and eat it too, we can always remember what we actually want and only then draw a conclusion.

The U.S. will have to start. This is a disadvantage. Some countries will make them look silly. Some might even laugh about the President himself. Many will fear that another election will remove this noble goal from the U.S. agenda alltogether. But maybe not. There will never be a world without nuclear weapons if we don't try and trying comes at a price.

Player housing is not so different, although not as RL-threatening. (I know, this comparision is controversial).

To some degree player housing has been discussed on Tobold's blog today.
It is a typical cake-problem: We all want to be able to have some nice house in an MMO. We want it to feel like an accomplishment, but we don't want to lose it. We want it to be special, but easily attainable. We don't want too many houses of players that have long left the game, but we don't want our houses to ever be destroyed, either. We want everybody to see our house, but we don't want to have to walk for thirty minutes to reach it. We want to be able to construct the house wherever we desire, but we don't want other players to build houses in locations that don't fit or are inconvenient for us.

Now, you could just draw a conclusion, like: We will never have an MMO with player housing.

If we don't try.

While it is impossible to have the cake and eat it, too, it is possible to list what we actually want. This is the missing step here. Few things in life are ever easy. But that is no reason for apathy.

By listing what we want first, we might find out that it isn't even all that hard to eat that cake, and then spend some money to buy another one. There are always consequences – but you can chose among them.

You can easily implement player housing in separate instances. I wouldn't like that, but this is a partial solution. You could also just add houses and then introduce some rules, like

1) Houses can be destroyed by other players, if they invest enough into the effort. I'm not talking about some mean guys suddenly killing your house with heroic strikes. But with expensive bulldozers and an army and some preparation time it could still be fun; even add some fun, but that probably depends on the player.

2) The wilderness will consume your house, unless you periodically pay an upkeep. This could add a lot to the game. Imagine some houses in an abandoned desert village. Or grass growing on top of them.

3) Unless you are quite rich, you won't be able to own a house on your own. You will need to share one with other people. If you can chose these people, this could add a lot to the community, by the way.

4) Really large houses can be attacked by other players and defended with NPCs and traps. Now, that's not cheap to code, but if done well it could even become a central activity of the game.

5) Houses need resources to build, that have to be gathered and processed first. By having a free market and a limited amount of resources, the developer can determine how many houses he wants by limiting the resources. The effort necessary to build a house is then determined by the invisible hand. A brilliant mechanism for developers and generally the most important reason as to why there is an auction house in World of Warcraft.

6) A non-centralized economy without item teleports, but actual transport of resources. This way a house in a god-forsaken dangerous part of the world were incredibly expensive. But some rich players would build houses on mountainsides. What a pretty picture!

7) Houses need some significant amount of time to build.

8) Houses come in different sizes. Most are rather small.

9) Possibility for players to play police and defend each others houses in a certain region. Given the right tools and incentives, this could add a lot to the game. But it is tricky, as you don't want bored players to stand guard in front of their house the entire day.

10) Ground could be declared by the developers (king) to be auctioned as new construction ground. The guild/company who buys the ground can then determine where exactly on that ground it is possible to build a house. This way a nice village could evolve. The company had an interest in it, because the more villagers the more rent they will get to redeem the purchase costs. But if the village looked ugly, less players would like to rent a house and the profit shrinks.

“The Sims” were a ground breaking success story. Now, why exactly wouldn't you want to implement some parts of these games into an MMO? Players could farm land and give grain to a local miller who processes it with the help of a wind mill. The bread can be used as an ingredient of usual buff food. Just remember that players are not online the entire day.

These are just example rules out of my head. We need some rules; we cannot have the cake and eat it, too.
Most interestingly, however, necessity sparks innovation. By solving the player housing problem, we also introduce a lot of features that might even be fun. We couldn't eat the cake and have it, too, but we could eat it and then buy three new ones.

Just make sure the game is polished ...

1 comment:

  1. If player housing could be done? Well, look at Lord of the Rings Online (soon free to play). There it has been done, and some of your pve suggestions are also implemented.

    But as you say: you can't have the cake and eat it.

    It's boring as hell once you have it :)