Claiming a spot
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 February 2014, 4:51 am
I was reading with interest Bhagpuss' journal of his experience with Everquest Next Landmark. For example he wrote: "Under the pitiless desert sun I built something that vaguely resembled the first level of a mock-medieval multistory car park. I built it out of dirt. When I logged back in later both my eyesore and my claim had vanished, the former healed by the land, the latter, presumably, lost to a bug. My attempt to reclaim the same spot was firmly rebuffed and I couldn't find anywhere else so that was that.". I'm not too much bothered by the fact that EQNL has bugs, that is to expected at this state of the game. I do however find the idea that he couldn't find a spot to claim to build something problematic.

If you don't count LPMUDs, my first MMORPG was Ultima Online. I don't remember the details, but at some point on the server I was playing on, claiming spots for houses was enabled at a specific time. I logged out my character on a flat ice plane full of walruses. When I logged back on the next day, I was in the middle of a city, with walruses in the streets. There was no spot to be found for my house. I searched for a housing spot for a full two weeks, and then bought a house on EBay, because claiming a spot by myself was clearly impossible.

Another game I remembered when reading Bhagpuss' story is A Tale in the Desert. I think Bhagpuss would love that one, because it already does a lot of what EQNL is trying to do. The big advantage of ATITD is that the land is huge. There is enough land for everybody. But of course some spots are better than others, and certain areas do become crowded. And then you observe something over time: Everybody who plays the game wants to claim a spot in the world. But not everybody wants to maintain that spot for a prolonged period of time. Thus over time you get accumulations of abandoned buildings. In ATITD, where players can make game rules by organizing a vote, every single incarnation of the game had some laws made enabling players to destroy abandoned buildings so as to liberate good spots for building.

ATITD and other games with housing, like Star Wars Galaxies, also taught me another thing about MMORPG housing: Of a 24-hour day, a typical player only plays 2 to 4 hours. And of those hours spent in the game, he only spends a small fraction in his house, because most of the adventure is elsewhere. So even if you built a house surrounded by houses of active other players, you rarely meet your neighbors. Virtual cities appear less lived in than real cities, because we don't spend 24 hours a day in the virtual world, and don't spend 12 hours a day at our virtual homes.

A MMORPG that wants to offer a great player housing experience will have to wrestle with all of those problems: It will need to offer enough space to build on for everybody who wants to build a house. It will need to deal with abandoned buildings. And it will need to deal with trying to create alive player cities in spite of most players only spending minutes each day in their virtual homes. Maybe there is a good technical solution for that, but I have yet to see it. I do think that using houses for crafting and as virtual shops is a good approach, but only if there is no auction house and players are actually forced to visit shops to browse for wares. And I'm not sure that sort of inconvenience is still acceptable in this day and age.
Tobold's Blog



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