Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the fifth title in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series, was released in March 2020. The brightly colored, cheerful game of island development, crafting, interior design, and tree shaking, arrived just in time to provide much needed escape from the growing COVID-19 pandemic. New Horizons design and game play received critical acclaim and it went on to become the best-selling title in the series, selling over 26 million copies. The steps involved in obtaining and expanding your island home also makes the game an example of how player housing can work in World of Warcraft.
When you first arrive on the New Horizons island, you are met by Tom Nook, the local real estate agent. Tom gives you a tent to set up anywhere you like and a series of objectives to complete, which earn you Bells and Nook Miles, the island currencies. Upon amassing 5,000 Nook Miles, or 50,000 Bells, you purchase your island plot from Tom, upgrading the tent to a single-room house. You are able to expand your house to three additional first floor rooms, a large basement, and, finally, a large single-room upstairs. There are exterior style options available as well for the roof, sliding, and mailbox. Getting your house to its maximum size will run you over 5 million Bells, but once done, exterior options become free. Besides, you will want all that extra room to display the myriad of items you will accumulate.
World of Warcraft players have been asking for housing for years, especially after other MMORPGs including Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, to name a few, incorporated housing into their game worlds. Blizzard has been slow to grant this wish, possibly because there has been no story logic to support it. Blizzard always had a story related rationale for introducing a new race, class, or game feature; flying notwithstanding. As Death Knights in Wrath of the Lich King, we wrestled free from Arthas’s control and swore to end his reign of terror. Races were able to learn formerly unavailable classes in Cataclysm to stop Deathwing from destroying the world. Demon Hunters emerged from the shadows in Legion to defeat the Burning Legion. We embraced the ways of the monk in Mists of Pandaria, because, well, balance and harmony.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands launched in December 2020, selling 3.7 million copies in the first full day of release, making it the fastest-selling PC game of all time. Shadowlands did not introduce a new race to embrace or class to learn. Along with the maximum leveling squish of 120 to 60 levels, Shadowlands big feature were the new customization options for the core races. After more than 15 years since World of Warcraft launched, a person of color could finally play a human character that closely resembled them. New body options and adornments were added to non-human races as well. While a welcome change, customization had nothing to do with traveling to the afterlife and facing The Jailer. It had everything to do with player identity and choice, and if that is Blizzard’s intent going forward, then permanent housing would be an appropriate player-focused feature.
Blizzard experimented with the technology when they introduced garrisons in the 2014 Warlords of Draenor. Garrisons were the player’s base of operations on the alternate history world of Draenor. As a player approached their garrison gates in the open world, they transitioned into an instanced, individual stronghold. The garrison grew as the player progressed through the campaign against the Iron Horde, giving players the ability to arrange and construct a variety of buildings to support their professions and interests.
Implementing player housing in World of Warcraft can follow any number of pathways. What should be taken from New Horizons is; start with a small floor plan, expand in steps become progressively more expensive, provide an abundance of furniture, household items, flooring, wall coverings, etc., and make it fun. Indeed, providing household items may be the most challenging aspect of this plan. There are over 800 pieces of furniture in New Horizons, and many of them include color and/or design customization options. There are over twenty player races in World of Warcraft, each representing distinctive cultural schemes. Designing a multitude of items based on just a few of these races represents a significant developmental task.
The pathway I envision for how a player would obtain their new home in World of Warcraft starts at level 10, after a new player has completed their starter zones and are ready to venture forth into the world. Upon arriving at their faction capital city, they are summoned to the commander of the city guard. The same summons would be issued to higher level characters upon entering the city.
The commander heard impressive things about you and asks your help with problems plaguing a neighborhood; breaking up a crime ring, finding lost pets, battling stray monsters, etc. Completing the quests puts you in good favor with the commander and they mention a fixer upper dwelling available for purchase. Since you’ve proven your reliability, they offer you the key at a substantial discount. You can expand your house for a price, which will also require increasing your Community Standing; the new housing reputation and probably improved through repeatable quests (a WoW staple). Once you purchase the key, you receive a quest to visit the people you helped. They welcome you to the neighborhood with starter furniture, household goods, and recipes. From this point on, it is up to you on how much time and effort you want to devote to your home.
Establishing player housing within the walls of Stormwind and Orgrimmar makes it accessible and relevant regardless of the expansion story impacting the outside world. It also removes one of criticisms of the garrisons, being, so much was able to be accomplished there, players had little incentive to leave. City living places the Auction House and other amenities players have been utilizing outside their front door, keeping the focus of housing on player identity and having fun with a new avenue of game immersion and expression.
A big difference between Animal Crossing and World of Warcraft is crafting. In New Horizons, you can craft anything, provided you have the recipe and materials. In World of Warcraft, you are limited to two primary professions consisting of either gathering (Skinning, Herbalism, Mining) or production (Leatherworking, Blacksmithing, Engineering, Alchemy…) skills. Incorporating household items into the production professions provides a revenue generating opportunity for those with them, but leaves those without a needed profession having to change professions or keep vigil at the Auction House for a desired listing. Neither of these options fits housing’s “fun” intent. Production skills should have the ability to craft and sell the rarest of items, but a new production skill and vendor network will be needed to give all players access to the majority of household items.
Of course, this is just my vision and the tip of the player housing iceberg. What about visitors? Guild housing? Purchasing plots in other cities and zones? Will Community Standing transfer to alts? To be honest, I never cared about player housing until I started playing New Horizons, and now, I really want it to be part of World of Warcraft. Regardless of how Blizzard sets the path for experiencing their stories, housing can be something for which the player exerts near total control to create a small corner of the world which is all about them and their joy of the game. Isn’t this reason enough to do it?
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