Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

MMO Home

If you are playing or have played an MMO, is there a place in that game that you would call home? Me, I’d have to say no. Sure, my hearthstone in World of Warcraft was always bound to Dalaran and I spent most of my idle time there, but that’s simply because Dalaran is the best transportation hub available in the game right now. I don’t have any feelings towards Dalaran and, should I pick up WoW again, I will happily replace it with whatever new transportation hub the next expansion brings. Furthermore, almost every other player has his hearthstone in the exact same location. There is no feeling of belonging, no “us against them” and thereby little immersion to be had.

Jinx tells us that "home is where the hearthstone is". Is it though? (image:

Tesh really got me thinking about this with his post on home town pride. The closest we get to such a feeling on World of Warcraft is guild, server, or faction pride. We never care about actual locations in the game, mostly because location doesn’t matter. Something I have argued in the comments at the link above is that location can only be made to matter if distance matters. Simply put, if you can travel anywhere in the world without a significant investment of time or other resources, then it doesn’t really matter where something is. Even if the game has player housing, it doesn’t really matter where your house is as long as you can travel freely and quickly.

Reversing that argument tells us that in order for the location of your home town to matter, travel can’t be easy and free. This is a bit of a conundrum for me, since I absolutely despise travel times. If I’m playing a game, I want to actual play and not mindlessly run around an area for minutes before I get to where I want to be. Along the same lines, making travel really expensive isn’t a good solution either, as that simply adds another annoying money sink to the game.

If we really want location to matter, we need to put a burden on travel that is actually interesting and meaningful. Imagine for a minute a virtual world with various settlements in it that are surrounded by dangerous terrain. Sure you can wander from one town to another, but you’ll have to brave the woods in between that are laden with wolves and bandits. Such travels would not be undertaken lightly, but instead planned ahead and done with good reason. It would be important to protect your village against those wolves and bandits as well, otherwise your flock may be eaten and your house raided.

The increased difficulty of travel makes the choice of location for your home very important, as the things you plan to do should be possible to do near it. You would want to try and see your home town prosper and attract more players to increase trade and to allow for even better defense against bandits and maybe your neighbours too. Maybe you can build a settlement that’s strong enough to start annexing nearby villages and build your very own empire?

Protecting a trade caravan can be more than just a scripted quest. (image:

Obviously, this would require a world setup that differs greatly from what we usually see in MMOs. World of Warcraft and it’s ilk are divided into zones according to character levels and when your character becomes stronger you move on. A setup like that is diametrically opposed to creating a sense of belonging. Instead one would have to find a way to provide challenging content for all levels of players everywhere – a difficult task to be sure, but not impossible I think. I will highlight one possible solution to that in a post in the near future.

If you absolutely don’t want to limit player travel – and it might be that doing so would actually add so much burden that the game will become less fun in return – you could still limit the travel of goods. Player housing might seem like a way to bind a player to a location, but it is really only helpful if something makes the location of your house important. One such thing would be to make transportation of goods difficult. Instead of being able to access your storage from all over the world, selling wares to another player would require you to physically (as physical as it gets in a virtual world, at least) transport those goods from your house to that of the other player. Suddenly, local economies would matter and a local defense force might be advisable to make sure nothing bad happens to your stocks. In this example, players would be allowed to travel freely but not to take wares with them on those travels. Of course, this would only be useful in a game that relies heavily on trade.

Either way, I think it would be great to have an MMO in which location really matters, but designing such a game is notoriously difficult. Take a step in the wrong directions and you will have players rioting en-masse because they can’t play the way they want. And rightfully so.

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