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From what I've read in the media there will not be player housing in The Elder Scrolls Online. Quoting from manatank.com's article just today:
Zenimax has admitted some elements are unable to make the transition, such as owning a house...
Why can't it make the transition exactly? There's player housing in other MMORPG games.
I think there's three things which make developers put player housing in the 'too hard' basket.
Firstly, there's the preconception that everyone should be able to own a house. If a single server supporting thousands of players wants every player to have a house, then certainly there's a concern with providing enough space for all these houses. Developers decide simply that if they can't supply it to everyone they don't supply it to anyone.
Secondly, if we don't take the first issue and instantly rule out player housing, there's the preconception that buying a house as a player should be 'affordable'. What is actually considered 'affordable' will of course vary from gamer to gamer, with the more casual players being able to afford only a fraction of what the diehard, spend-every-waking-hour-online players will be able to. Yet again, the developer decides that if they can't keep everyone happy, they won't put the feature in at all.
Thirdly, given that affordability and accessibility aren't considered issues, is preconception that everyone should have an equal chance of obtaining a house. If we decide that the guy who plays for 4 hours a week should have the same chance of getting a house as the guy who plays for 40 hours per week, we're going to have to create some sort of method for randomly handing out houses. Lets face it, that's pretty lowsy. So, in the developers opinion, the conclusion is to not have player housing at all.
All these preconceptions come from the fact that the developer feels like they need to keep everyone happy. Well, they shouldn't have to. Like in life, some things in game should first in best served (at least in the game, missing out doesn't mean living out of your car whilst you look for a new apartment).
So if we remove all three pre-conceptions, what do we get?
Firstly, player housing is limited. The vast majority of people simply will not own a house in the game.
Secondly, player housing is expensive. Whether it's the initial purchase cost, or the ongoing upkeep, only the wealthy will be able to afford player housing.
Thirdly, people with the money, get the houses. Its simply first in first served. The first person to save up to 2,000,000 gold peices for that prime peice of real-estate listed with the NPC estate agent gets that prime peice of real-estate. If you weren't quick enough, tough luck. Maybe you'll be lucky and be able to buy it off him for 2.5M gp in 6 months time when he's upgrading to that 10M gp castle.
Of course, we shouldn't restrict ownership of a particular dwelling to a single person. That 10M gp castle could happily host an entire clan of 100 players, whilst that 2M gp peice of prime real-estate could be a could a stately manor for several wealthy adventurers.
By ensuring that many players can own one dwelling, but that each player can only have an ownership interest in one property, the developers could stretch that limited housing among many players.
Ensuring that benefits extending from owning a house are not excessive, and enabling owners to invite 'guests' to take advantage of those benefits (just as people invite non-guild members to their airships in Dungeons and Dragons Online to share in the buffs available on those ships), would ensure that owning a property does not give rise to an unfair advantage to property owners over non-property owners.
Finally, its with great disappointment that I reiterate here that The Elder Scrolls Online will not have global open-PvP (but instead a Team Fortress-with-Swords-and-Spells bastardisation of every thing PvP in an MMO should be), so to state that players would risk getting robbed by storing their valuables in their houses for extended unattended periods would be moot.
If Ultima Online could do it in the 1990's, if Star Wars Galaxies could give players such a highly customisable experience, if Everquest II could do it nearly a decade ago, if Lord of the Rings Online can do it in a game that went free-to-play ages ago, if a microscopic developer from Greece, Aventurine, can do it in their debut MMO Darkfall, then I'm certain that a studio with the financial backing of one of the biggest games companies in the world, with a vast talent pool from multiple award-winning studios, can come up with a way to include player housing in a game probably not due for release till 2013.