It's no secret that I love housing; I've written about it on multiple occasions and livestreamed tours in various games as well. But this isn't just about fulfilling a personal wish list. Adding housing goes beyond making my gaming experience more immersive (though it most certainly does that); it's a method for increasing the longevity of the game. Housing is one of those features that, when done well, binds players to a game, giving them a reason to not only stay in game longer during a play session but stick with the game long term. And I definitely want that for The Secret World.
Giving folks their own space and the opportunity to personalize it ensures they have something to do outside of just combat, and that's something TSW really needs. It's no secret that some parts of The Secret World play like a single-player game. That's not necessarily bad, except that when most people finish a single-player game, they move on. The same phenomenon happens in MMOs: Once the given content is finished, people grow bored and move on to something else. Obviously, an MMO fares better if it keeps folks longer, so it needs to stop them from leaving.
So how do you keep people logging in after the developers' current content is completed? By having more content -- and it doesn't need to be developers' content. You don't have to have weekly updates rolling out new missions and adding new zones; instead, tap into the great resource of creativity in the playerbase by turning to player-generated content. There's already one example of doing so in TSW: the Albion Theatre. A robust housing system is another important purveyor of player-generated content that would fit into TSW well.
Look at it as the difference between renting and owning. Which group is more likely to be attached to its space, more likely to set down roots? The homeowners. Why? Because they have invested their time and money into their houses. The same holds true in game: The more you invest of yourself in the game, the less likely you are to walk away from it. And housing is definitely a time and money investment, especially if you decorate it.
First, housing needs to be available to everyone. What good is it to let only a few very rich folks invest themselves in the game while everyone else drifts away? For this reason, it needs to be relatively affordable -- give players options from studio apartments all the way up to lavish penthouses with prices scaling proportionally. Housing in TSW should also be instanced in the three main cities to allow everyone to have a place to call his own; the open game world just isn't big enough to handle accommodations for everyone. Besides, as Jef noted a while back, unlike many other games, The Secret World is a great fit for instanced housing. Me, I'd love a little flat over the record store!
Next, have a vast variety of items to decorate with, and the more, the better. Maybe the buffalo don't need to roam about your pad, but having a statue of one gracing your mantle or flanking your doorway would be great. Allow everything from paintings to rugs to knickknacks along with the standard furniture items. Furniture items can be rewards from quests or bought from vendors in the city. While we're at it, add some tangible physical (er, pixeled) trophies for special achievements to display. A new type of crafting could also be implemented to make house decorations. Furniture is also a good thing to include in the item store, as it doesn't affect gameplay and is purely cosmetic. Just don't make everything good be cash-shop-only; that makes for very resentful players.
Following that, decorating needs to be freeform. None of this "item must be placed in this specific spot" nonsense that happens in certain other games. It is important that creativity not be curtailed, as doing so only frustrates a player and makes him want to log off more! If someone wants to use dressers or upended rugs to make a fake wall, let him. The more a player can truly personalize the place, the more attached he'll be to it. And isn't the whole point to be more attached to the game?
Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ every Monday as she infiltrates The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. Heard some juicy whispers or have a few leads you want followed? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll jump on the case!