In Defense of Housing
One thing that seems to be a perennial topic of conversation is player housing, and I still don’t quite understand Blizzard’s staunch disregard for the concept. I think the developers might be thinking a little too narrowly when it comes to housing. They think of a house and not of the context of that house, or of the content that goes into truly great housing systems.
Their usual argument seems to be “we want players out in the world, not sitting in a house.” Or some variant of that theme. Yet, in Warlords, they tied us down to the garrison feature so inexorably that the primary complaint of the expansion was that we aren’t getting out in the world.
I’m perplexed, friends. Really perplexed. Because I think player housing can be an absolutely stunning feature brimming with potential for world wide engagement. So, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to expound on that idea a bit here. Who knows? Maybe a bored Blizzard developer will stumble accidentally upon my ideas and see their merit.
The first thing I want to make clear about my concept of player housing is that it is 100% interactive, social, and tied to the game world as a whole. Housing should be a vast and expandable system that encourages players to get out into the world to collect and explore. It should not be (as the developers fear) a means by which players become insular and anti social.
The second concept I want to establish is that the housing system should be fully integrated into other aspects of the game. It should be connected to professions (more detail on this soon) and progression and social aspects of the game. It should require players to put in effort out in the world through a variety of activities. It should be connected to the game as a whole, and not simply to its self. Housing should draw from everything else available, not exist in isolation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, housing should not be tied to one specific expansion and then become obsolete when that expansion ends. It should exist as a feature all on its own, expanded upon with every update, in order to maintain its relevancy and impact. If housing is “this expansion’s big new thing!” that’s fine. But it should tie in with every expansion both retroactively and progressively.
If player housing is to continue to be relevant after it is introduced, I firmly feel that player houses should not be located on the latest expansion’s land mass. No houses on Pandaria, Draenor, or the Broken Isles. Once we are done with those locations, they become obsolete and inconvenient. I feel that player houses should be located in the old world, probably near the capital cities for each race. If plots were available for purchase (one per character; you can’t have multiple houses for one character) at each major racial city, that would keep them tied in to current content the same way that Stormwind and Orgrimmar are always tied in to current content. That is, people still visit them regardless of expansion. If players would rather purchase a plot more out of the way, they can pick Silvermoon, Darnassus, etc.
In my ideal world of fully customizable player housing, I would love to see plots available in every zone in the game. Every. Zone. But you can probably see why that would be a little absurd. For the sake of simplicity and sanity, one per capital city should be fine.
So you purchase a plot of land in Elwynn just outside of Stormwind. It is a literal blank plot of game world, entirely yours to customize. Now what?
A New Profession
I think that player housing would be the prime time to introduce a new secondary profession. Call it woodworking, or something to that effect. Everyone can learn it the same way you learn every other profession. Go visit a trainer (for the sake of our example, this trainer is located in the logging camp in Elwynn Forest) and pay the fee. We already have the basis for this profession on Draenor. It’s called the lumber mill. Woodworking would have a gathering component in much the same way. Trees appear around the world that you can click on to chop down, and wood is stored in your inventory like any other profession material. Alternately (and I do like this idea better), woodworking materials are stored on a profession pane much like currency and do not take up bag space.
So now you run around Elwynn happily chopping down trees. You gather wood and maybe purchase some nails from a profession vendor, use the woodworking profession interface to select your little level 1 house, and build it. Maybe building houses takes a few hours, similar to how building stuff in your garrison takes time. A small level 1 house probably takes 5 minutes. You wait 5 minutes. Your house finishes. You have a house! You get a special hearthstone that allows you to teleport to your house once every 30 minutes. The house even gives resting bonus. Hooray!
Woodworking should be the profession you use to customize everything in your home. The walls, the windows, the architecture, the floors, the furniture. Everything. But it should only come with a few basic necessities, like maybe a simple wooden frame bed and a small chest or dresser, a chair maybe, or a wooden fence. If you want better items made out of nicer stuff, you have to go out in the world and track those patterns down.
Let’s say you want a dining table made out of that pretty bluish-purple wood from the elvish areas around Darnassus. Since you are an Alliance character, you have to go to Darnassus and hunt for the recipe. Maybe it drops off of mobs in that area. Maybe it comes as a quest reward in a night elfy zone. Maybe it is literally sitting on a table in a building and all you do is click it. The point is, different recipes should be earned different ways that make sense for the recipe. If you want a stone table, maybe that comes from the Dark Iron dwarves in Blackrock Mountain. If you want pretty hanging lanterns, you have to go hunt for the recipe somewhere in the world that has pretty hanging lanterns.
Woodworking, like all professions, will require you to skill up in order to collect higher level materials and craft nicer and rarer things for your house. So if you started in Elwynn chopping down level 1 trees, you will eventually progress to Redridge, chopping down level 2 trees, and then to Darkshire for level 3 trees (the levels are just an example. I imagine the trees scale up the same was herbs and ore nodes do)…and so on. Chopping down low level trees gives Simple Wood. The next step is probably something like Better Wood, then Superior Wood, then stuff like Black Oak and Elvish Walnut and rare woods like Polished Teak and Glowing Draenic Maple. See where I’m going? If you went to the Barrens, you might find the rare Dry Acacia, or you might have to scour the jungle for Zandalari Ebony, and if you had a recipe that called for Twisted Scourgewood, well…you can probably guess where to find that.
I think all trees should be a personal tap item. You can harvest it and so can anyone else who spots it. It despawns on your screen but not on theirs until they harvest it. That way rare trees don’t cause upset, and people can go at their own pace. No need to turn wood chopping into a PvP brawl.
So you have built your level 1 house in Elwynn, you’ve leveled up your wood chopping so you can craft a few nicer items. What else is there to do?
Let’s say that each time you hit the expansion skill cap for woodworking (profession levels 300 for vanilla, 375 for Burning Crusade, 450 for Wrath, etc) you gain a new house model to craft. Now you can upgrade your floorplan, not just your furniture! So you hit profession level 300 and unlock a level 2 house. This adds more rooms to your existing house. You don’t have to delete the level 1 house, or worry about losing anything inside it. You gather the materials to craft a level 2 house, craft it, and your house is upgraded. Let’s say it takes 1 hour this time to crate the new house. During that time, the original level 1 house is still accessible. You can continue to decorate and rearrange while the additional room is being built.
Once that room has finished construction, you have a two room house! Now you can build another table or another bed, or move the first bed into the new room and call it a bedroom. You have more space on the walls, more space for storage…the possibilities are endless.
As you level up woodworking, you also gain access to new crafting recipes from the trainer. You can build bigger storage chests (which would function like a bank or void storage access point) or learn how to craft different types of windows, or maybe even learn to craft a bathroom addition to your home.
Again, if you want specific aesthetics for these features you’d have to go out into the world and find them. But the basic bones of the house are craftable by default through woodworking trainers.
Now that you have a second room to toy around with, let’s discuss what sort of stuff you should be able to put in your house.
Accessorizing and Decorating
Aside from hunting down new aesthetics for the furniture in your home, I think the house is an excellent place to display trophies and achievements. This is how I think the house would best tie in with other professions. If you have tailoring, maybe you can make a rug or a blanket or a wall tapestry. If you have blacksmithing, maybe a carved obsidian figurine to decorate a shelf. Leatherworkers could hang beautiful animal hides on the walls while jewelcrafters can make glittering fixtures. The recipes for these items, too, should be found in the world. It would be counter to my idea for housing as an interactive, go-out-and-see-the-world sort of thing if you simply visited a trainer to learn how to craft Bear Hide Rug or Tourmaline Chandelier.
As for secondary professions, what about a place to display trophy fish on the wall, or the ability to display unique archaeology finds for all to see. The garrisons had a whole room for archaeology. It was a cool concept but it served no purpose. In a house, those neat artifacts can go on a pedestal or on the wall or sit in the garden outside.
Oh yeah, there’s a garden. But not a garden where you grow materials needed for crafting. That was one of the biggest problems people reported with the garrison. The herb garden and the mine made people feel compelled to harvest in order to milk every last cent out of their garrison’s production. They also trivialized secondary professions in a way that hurt not only the economy but also professional enjoyment as a whole.
In player housing, nothing should be tied in to progression. You shouldn’t feel obligated to keep your house going just so you can min-max your character through end game content. Nothing about the house should tie in to end-game raiding advantages, or make you feel forced to do a certain thing in order to get ahead. Houses are for fun, for immersion, for the love of collecting and crafting and roleplaying. So the garden at the player’s house should be full of fun, unique plants that don’t impact the game at all. Except, of course, to entice you to find them, plant them, and enjoy them.
Let’s say you build your level 2 house with its two rooms. Suddenly a quest giver visits your house and remarks that it is coming along nicely, but could do with some curb appeal. Help me out, they say, and I’ll do you a favor by tilling the land in front of your house so you can plant a garden. You complete their quest (probably something easy, as leveling characters will be doing this fairly early on). In Elwynn forest this probably involves killing some Defias that have wronged the quest giver. Easy enough. Now the quest giver keeps his promise and you have a patch of freshly tilled land to play with.
In the context of player housing, gardening should be fun. It should be relaxing and, most importantly, obligation-free. No coming back to check your plants every 45 minutes to water them so they don’t die. This isn’t fucking Farmville. We’re getting away from the garrison style of upkeep. Once you plant something, it’s permanent and upkeep-free until you dig it up and get rid of it.
How do you get plants, then? Well, some of them should be drops from herbalism. I think that just makes sense. If you’re an herbalist, maybe you get seeds once in a while as you gather. But if you were to gather, say, Peacebloom, the seeds that drop are not for planting Peacebloom. The seeds are something else entirely, like Foxglove or Bluebells. I think seeds gained in this manner should be rare enough that you don’t have bags brimming with seeds just from picking a few flowers out in the world. If you pick flowers in Pandaria you get Pandaren-themed seeds. If you pick flowers in Icecrown you get something that makes sense for a frozen climate. These seeds should be BoE, so they can be traded or sold to players who are not herbalists, but rare enough that the prices will be something to consider.
How else do you get seeds? Out in the world there should be rare plants that you can interact with, a lot like the rare treasures in Pandaria. Sometimes while you’re out gathering and questing, you’ll find a rare plant growing out in the world. If you click on it, you get seeds to plant it back at your home. Think about all the beautiful flower models in the game that are not used for herbalism. The glowing, dripping ten foot tall flowers from Maraudon come to mind. The seeds for these rare plants should be BoP, and the plants themselves should be one time click only. Meaning, if you spot the plant at the same time as someone else, only one of you can harvest it. Some of these flowers can be found in raids, too.
Other seeds can be found as drops from appropriately themed mobs, like dryads or those flower lasher things in Maraudon. They might even be drops from plant-like dungeon and raid bosses.
Planting these seeds will start the growth process and over a period of hours or days (or maybe even weeks for the rarest seeds) you’ll see it grow to maturity. If you want to move the plant to another spot in the garden you can do so without losing its growth progress or destroying it. There will be some sort of garden UI that lets you move and arrange things how you want, perhaps accessible by clicking a sign in your garden that says “SoandSo’s Garden.”
The garden should also be a place to customize to your liking. Add features like rocks or large gemstones (obtained by mining of course), elvish lamps (those tall street lamps made of vines like you find along the road in Teldrassil) or other aesthetic things like a fountain or an archaeology artifact. A big ol’ Arakkoa sundial in the middle of my flower garden sounds about right to me.
And if you want to tie the garden into other aspects of the game even more, then the rarest flowers will produce a combat minipet for you when they have fully matured. It could also be a place where your minipets can be seen romping about and playing, or you could find a hitching post recipe and then have a place to display a favored mount out in front of your home. If you enjoy fishing, you might be able to place a little pond in the garden where colorful fish swim.
Since the outside of the house is largely customized via the garden, the interior of the home is where other professions can shine. You should be able to move furniture and decor anywhere you like with a UI similar to the garden. Every bit of space can be changed to your liking. So you can hang stuff on the walls like I discussed above, or build windows to let in light, or totally redo everything.
Your home starts with standard wooden walls and floors, but there should be ways to make your home unique to your style. So scribes can produce different paints to spruce up the walls (they already make pigments, paints just make sense) and maybe blacksmiths can produce stone flooring.
Maybe the windows need to be changed to suit your tastes. You can take out the standard square windows and replace them with round ones, or big ones, or ornate ones. Maybe the secret to crafting stained glass windows lies hidden in the heart of Gilneas, and you might have to journey there in order to uncover it for your own use.
Other aspects of decor should come from the environment, not just from crafting. While you’re out in the world questing and killing and going about your business, maybe you come across objects that you can take for yourself. While questing in a furbolg camp you find a jar of bees sitting inside a tent and you take it home (for some weird reason*). Or maybe while running Black Temple you steal a couple of hookah pipes from Illidan’s concubines. Perhaps you find a painting in an abandoned house somewhere, or a dreamcatcher in a Tauren village. The game is full of really neat flavor objects all over the world that could easily become interactive. These objects should be looted once per click and then despawn. But they don’t need to be rare and should respawn again soon, though perhaps not in the exact same place.
Some objects could be rewarded to you from quests. Perhaps you complete a quest for the red dragonflight and are gifted a ruby dragon statue as a token of gratitude. Additionally, some decor items are rewards for reaching certain levels of reputation with different factions. Egyptian-style objects from the Tol’vir, really weird bug stuff from the Klaxxi, etc.
I sort of touched on this before, but I’ll expand on it here. When you build your house it looks like a very basic house. Brown wood, nothing special. If you want different architecture, you have to work for it.
So, since we built our little level 2 house in Elwynn, it looks pretty much like any other level 2 house. It is brown and wooden and square and unremarkable. What if we want our little house in the woods to look like it was built by a night elf, or a pandaren? Well, we have to go learn their secrets.
Obtaining the ability to change your house from default to elvish should be an involved process. If you want elvish architecture, you should have to be exalted with Darnassus, and have the achievement for completing all quests in every primarily night elf zone (Teldrassil, Darkshore, Ashenvale, etc.). Maybe only then will the night elf woodworking trainer offer you a quest to learn how to craft a night elf building. And that quest, too, should requite a bit of work on your part. Collect a bunch of rare materials, prove you can craft a bunch of stuff properly, etc. When you finish the chain, you will have the ability to re-skin your boring old wooden house into a night elf house. Yay!
Alternately, the original house you build will be set to your race’s default architecture. So if your character is a night elf and you build your very first level 1 house, it defaults to a night elf house. If you character is human, it defaults to human architecture, and so on.
Either way, I think it is important to bring racial flare and identity to these homes. They represent your character, and should feel like something they would live in.
I don’t feel like Alliance races need access to Horde architecture or aesthetics. Not on this sort of scale, anyway. A night elf will never be able to build an orcish hut, nor will an undead character get to build a Draenic home. But smaller pieces of decor should be available that transcend the factions. So your night elf might have a Tauren dreamcatcher in her home, but her home won’t look like a Tauren built it. Hopefully that makes sense.
So you built your little level 1 home in Elwynn, and you put in the work to gather the wood and materials to upgrade it to level 2. Aside from adding new rooms, how do we make these homes really feel like they’re progressing?
After a certain skill level I think you should be able to build a completely new story to your home. So levels 1, 2 and 3 add a room to your home, and level 4 adds a second floor. Then levels 5 and 6 add more rooms to that second floor. Everyone has access to these floorplans and everyone can build them if they put in the effort.
What sets homes apart from one another if everyone can build the same 6 levels of upgrades? What about rare building plans out in the world?
See, there’s a theme here with my housing ideas. Get players back out in the world. Players at level 100 or 110 who have “done it all” now have a reason to go back and poke around the open world. I think floorplans should be available to those who are dedicated enough to look for them.
Floorplans, unlike decor and gardening items, should be exceptionally rare and difficult to get. That way when you visit someone’s house (and you totally can) and you see they have an addition to the basic level 6 house, you know they worked hard to get it. If everyone has it, it’s not nearly as interesting. What kinds of floorplans, then, and how should they be obtained?
What about finding the plans to build a hidden room behind a bookshelf? Or plans to build a basement, or a master bath, or a hookah lounge?
Maybe while killing necromancers somewhere you get a rare floorplan drop. It teaches you how to build a basement, and once you gather the materials (which are also rare) you build a basement fully equipped with a freaky demon summoning pentagram and eerie purple candles. Or, a rare spawn mob out in the world drops an item that takes you on a quest chain across the continent to learn how to build a deck around your house from a master craftsman who is now living hidden in the mountains of Grizzly Hills. Other floorplans can be obtained as rare spawn items hidden out in the world. For example, an ultra rare book might spawn in one of the shelves in Dalaran that, when looted, teaches you how to build an arcane library in your home.
I’d like to stay away from a lot of rare housing goods dropping in old raids. That doesn’t help get people out in the world and engage with other players. It just facilitates raid grinding, and running Icecrown 400 times for a rare bone and ice light fixture isn’t nearly as fun as I’d hoped housing to be. Some stuff should certainly come from dungeons and bosses, but the majority of these items need to tempt players out into the world to explore. Adding more rare drop stuff to old raids that players have already burned themselves out on farming mounts and pets and transmog isn’t going to go well.
The garrisons saw a neat version of holiday flair, in that you could use holiday currency to purchase decorations for your entire garrison. I love it. I want that to carry over to housing in the same iteration. Use holiday currency to purchase decor for your home and display it however long you wish. If you want Winter Veil lights up in June, go for it. It’s your house. If you enjoy the cobwebby, spooky look of Hallow’s End, that’s awesome. Decorate how you want.
Obviously the house is a phased place exactly like the garrison. You see your own house and not anyone else’s, and when you enter your property you vanish to other players. Like garrisons, I think you should be able to see other people’s homes if you’re in a group with them. “View Leader’s Home” is simple enough.
But beyond simply admiring your friend’s home and garden, houses should tie in to achievements to encourage people to poke around outside their own four walls. It could be as simple as “visit X number of player homes” or as involved as “visit player homes that have each of these objects listed below,” in which you have to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts to complete the list. It would encourage people to see other houses, meet other players, and give them something to work for. If they see a cool thing in a friend’s home, they’ll likely want to get it for themselves.
To further social interaction, I think most (if not all) of the housing stuff created by professions should be BoE to allow for trade. If you have a couple of extra Lupin seeds you picked up while gathering herbs and your friend who isn’t an herbalist has an extra Amethyst Doorknob (I’m kinda half joking with that example) then you should be able to trade them. Of course, selling items on the auction house sort of ruins the idea of neighborly trading. Maybe housing items can’t be sold on the AH but can be traded between players? I’m not sure if that’s possible, but it’s a thought.
There can be achievements for collecting all of a certain type or style of decoration, like “Pillow Fight” for collecting all of the throw pillows available, or “Draenic Decor” for collecting all items that are considered Draenic in style. This might also encourage people to cooperate a little bit. If they’re out in the world and they see a decor item has spawned that they don’t need, they might actually announce it so other people can come get it.
Meta achievements can be created to award special decor items as prizes. Collect and plant all of the rare flower seeds in your garden and you will receive a bird bath, or a fountain, or something along those lines. Collecting all of something might mean you actually have to cooperate with other players in order to fill in the gaps.
Trophies might drop off of raid bosses, encouraging people to raid together if it is a drop for everyone in the group.
I think there are a ton of ways to encourage cooperative social play when it comes to a feature like housing, that isn’t progression-related. This notion that player housing will turn people into hermits is absurd. If you do it right, a feature like this is overflowing with potential for social interaction.
The User Interface
While woodworking could use the default profession interface, your house would need a more interactive UI for customization. I could see something similar to the garrison UI, which gives you an aerial view of your housing plot and allows you to drag and drop stuff into your garden area from a visual panel that shows every plant you own. Similarly, clicking on the house will let you click through the rooms to move stuff around and add furniture. It would have visual lists displaying all your items in categories for easy navigation and selection. Decorating your home would be as simple as drag and drop.
You would use the woodworking profession UI to create items, and use the housing UI to place and arrange them.
As far as storing unused items goes, I haven’t really figured that part out yet. I think it would make sense that one of the first items you learn to craft is a chest that allows you to store housing items in it, like furniture and decor. You could learn to upgrade your storage over time.
BoE, BoP, BoA?
Trading objects and items between players would be necessary for people to get the items they want from professions they don’t have. But some stuff should be exclusive, in order to make it feel meaningful. This is just kind of a rough list.
Seeds found while herbing, as well as many items made by professions, should be BoE to encourage trade. Wood obtained by chopping trees could also be BoE, just like materials for any other profession. Recipes for crafting decor items should be BoE.
Rare items found out in the world such as decor items should be BoP. The idea is to encourage people to get out and explore, not sit in front of the auction house. Items that drop in a raid should be BoP, but able to be traded to other eligible group members the same as raid gear. Rare floorplans should be BoP, to encourage people to go look for them rather than spend 100k gold on them.
As for BoA items, I haven’t really figured that one out. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that seems like a prime candidate for BoA. However, I kind of feel like any floorplans you obtain on one character should be usable by all characters on your account. So if you stumble over a rare floorplan while playing an alt you don’t intend to play much, it isn’t a waste. Floorplans are unlocked by all characters, decor items are not.
One of the most important tenants of my housing idea is the notion that player housing should be a fun, optional activity that players can pursue at their leisure. It should never, ever feel like an obligation or like a chore. When you log into the game, your first thought shouldn’t be, “I have to go to my house first…” It should be, “I want to go to my house first!” The difference is crucial.
Garrisons felt like a chore to a lot of players. They felt obligated to log in and take care of the million different garrison activities. This obligation created resentment. They wanted to be out in the world doing something else, but first they had to manage their follower list, send followers on missions, take care of their buildings, pick herbs, mine ore…
It gets to the point where the entire game feels like it takes place inside the garrison. Log in, do garrison things, queue for raid, run raid, return to garrison, repeat. My main, Sylvestris, rarely leaves his garrison anymore. Once he was done leveling, he ended up parked there and I had to make a concerted effort to find non-garrison things to do**. The idea of player housing is exactly the opposite. It is a small hub that compels you to go explore the rest of the world, and return only when you have something you want to do. You don’t need to come back and pick herbs, or repair anything, or take out the trash. You come back because you found something cool in the world you want to add to your home.
I think the success of player housing falls squarely on its balance with other game activities. Player housing shouldn’t become a focus point, the way garrisons definitely are. Housing should instead be a flavor piece, an accompaniment to the rest of the game. Players should feel perfectly free to return to their home only when they want to, as opposed to planning their play time around when they feel they have to be home.
And finally, the player housing system should be entirely, absolutely, 100% optional. If you don’t want to mess with a housing minigame, you simply don’t purchase a plot of land. The end. No quests bugging you constantly to talk to someone about buying land. No reminders. No worries. If you don’t have a house you won’t even see housing items out in the world, loot them from bosses, or stumble over them during questing. Players should never, ever feel like the house is something they have to do in order to gain a competitive edge over other players in PvE or PvP. It should not be tied to gear progression, profession progression, or any other sort of progression except its own.
If you go on vacation and don’t play the game for a month, everything is there just how you left it when you come back. If you decide you don’t want to mess with your house anymore, that’s it. No consequences. No falling behind. Play with it when you want and ignore it when you don’t. It really should be that casual.
I feel like Blizzard is missing a golden opportunity to add longevity to the game by creating a housing system that encourages players to collect, share, and personalize. Systems like battle pets and transmog have already proven the success of collection-based side games. Most people love to collect. That’s just how the human brain works. When we’ve exhausted our current expansion content, run every dungeon, downed every boss, and saved the world, we still need something to do. I think housing can help fill that niche the same way pet and mount collecting fill it, and the same way achievement hunting helps give people something to do.
This isn’t a system that can be done half-assed and succeed. It needs to be fully integrated into the game world, tied in with other systems, and allowed to flourish well past its introduction. I think Blizzard can do it. They just need to stop resisting and arguing and digging in their heels. When the game goes more than a year between content updates and subscription levels dip to record lows, I don’t think it is in their best interest to discard content ideas. They need to be perfecting them.
* My house in Skyrim has like 8 different jars full of bees as decor. I have no idea why.
** I really liked the garrison feature, and I’m not one of those people who feels “compelled” or “forced” to do garrison stuff. But even I got kinda closed in a little bit and had to remind myself that I am capable of leaving the garrison if I so choose.