Gentrification in Albion

LeasingSandbox Interactive, the developer behind the upcoming Albion Online has released a new developer diary entry about how they are going to handle player housing.

One of the big problems with open world housing like you see in games like Star Wars Galaxies, or Ultima Online is that once someone builds a house (however difficult or expensive that may be) it’s theirs forever. Even if they leave the game the house still belongs to their account, so if they ever resubscribe, all their stuff is still there. You then end up with two problems.

  1. Wilderness areas that are full of mostly empty buildings.
  2. No space for players to build new houses. Which is a big problem for new players coming into the game. One of the big features is effectively closed off to them.

Everquest 2 ‘solved’ this problem with instanced housing. You’d go to the inn room, or Qeynos house, or guild hall door that countless other people used and you’d be ported to your own unique instance with all your furnishings a decorations. It’s a good solution for the problem, but it’s not open world, and a lot of players don’t like instancing.

What Sandbox are proposing is that each lot is leased for a period of 30 days, and at the end of that period it goes back up to auction with all the buildings and improvements the lease holder has made. If someone already holds a lease, their bids count double, so in theory it’s harder to lose the land.

By doing that land leases keep going back onto the market, and all players will get the chance to own property.

I’m not so sure. I see a lot of potential problems with this model.

The biggest is the gentrification problem.

Gentrification — Not Just For San Francisco Anymore

The last few years of the tech boom have seen cities like San Francisco undergo a process called gentrification. That’s where a tech company moves into a neighborhood, starts making a lot of money, and pays its employees lots and lots of money. Sounds good, right?

It does have a lot of benefits. The community gets wealthier, goods and services improve, and often places also get safer and cleaner. But there are downsides. With the increase in wealth rents often skyrocket and the original homeowners and small businesses that have been there for years get forced out.

How does this relate to Albion?

You can see where I’m going. Albion land will end up being un-affordable for many players, and many smaller guilds.

Big hardcore guilds can generate wealth a lot more efficiently that smaller casual guilds or players. It won’t be long until all the land is run by big guilds and their members.

And once the guild owns the land. Someone else then has to bid twice as much as their highest bid to win the lease.

No Motivation For Old Men

This leads to the other problem. Why would a player spend any real effort to build and improve on a block of land if they could be pipped at the next auction date?

I’ve been looking at Albion Online with a bit of interest lately. It looks like it could scratch some of the sandbox itch I have.

But I’m not a hardcore player. I spend my time on other games, and work gets in the way of gaming. What if I just want to take a holiday and go away for three weeks?

If that means I’ll lose what I’ve built, I won’t bother with housing.

The Toxic Avenger Strikes Again!

I also think this is likely to lead to a more toxic, angry community.

Just like the protests seen in San Francisco, if players are ousted from their leases, especially after building something nice, they’re going to be angry. And that will lead to an angry community.

If you think most games forums are cesspools of toxicity now, just wait until you get the inevitable posts about how someone screwed someone else out of their land. It won’t be a nice place.

How much of that will come into the game itself? We’ll have to wait and see.

At Least They’re Trying

One thing about this is that Sandbox are trying something different. I think that’s good.

Housing is one of those things that players keep crying out for. There’s been a push for it in WoW for years (I wonder if it will ever be implemented there.) But it’s hard.

Instanced housing is one of those solutions that doesn’t make everyone happy but aside from urban sprawl infesting the countryside, there’s been no real solution. This is at least an attempt at that.

Will it work? Maybe. But I think it will also cause a lot of frustration and upset, and anger among players.

I’m not sure it will be the long term solution that’s needed. I suspect if implemented it will be changed fairly quickly.