Garrisons Are Not Housing, Even If We Wish They Were

Massively has a pretty fierce takedown today of Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor, the next WoW expansion. Author Eliot Lefebvre seems disappointed in almost every aspect of the feature, saying, “[Garrisons are] a half-baked Facebook game integrated into the leveling experience. Except those usually give more housing options.”

Dang, dude. That’s cold.

I’ve played with Garrisons a bit in the WoD beta, and to be honest I don’t find them very interesting. They’re essentially the farm from Pandaria combined with SWTOR’s companion crafting quest system, integrated in a way that makes them mandatory while levelling. I don’t feel any particular attachment to my Garrison, and the focus is more on function over form.

That all being said, I think more than anything Blizzard is dealing with a pretty serious perception issue here: Garrisons are not and have never been housing, and people who are expecting housing features are going to be very disappointed.

If you look back at the original feature announcement at Blizzcon 2013, to their credit Blizzard shied away from using the h-word. Garrisons are a “personal fortress” that provide “a piece of land to call your own”. They allow for customization of “layout, appearance, and gameplay effects” with “a number of configurations”.

The only documented time I can see “housing” come up is in a comment by Tom Chilton during a panel on the first day of Blizzcon where he said, “Garrisons are the World of Warcraft version of housing…integrated directly into the world.” In retrospect he probably shouldn’t have used that word, but the phrasing is enough to provide a little wiggle room in interpretation.

(Side note, but this is the Tom Chilton who said in an interview in 2010 that “housing will be introduced to World of Warcraft some time right after “never”.” That’s the same attitude the company had for years about a costume system and oh gee, transmog turned out to be one of their most popular new systems ever. Dorks.)

The media and player interpretation of the Garrisons announcement sort of skipped over the details and went straight to housing. GameSkinny, for example, lead with the headline, “BlizzCon Announces Player Housing“. Even WoW Insider, arguably the most Blizzard-friendly news site, reported the news as “Player housing in Warlords of Draenor“, although the article itself correctly states that the feature is more like a Real Time Strategy minigame than anything.

Garrisons are not player housing, even if we wish they were. They are a personal quest hub, the farm writ large. Anyone who approaches the feature expecting player housing is going to be very disappointed. And I understand that disappointment! I would have loved housing back in my WoW days.

But as much as many players might want housing in WoW, this is not it, and as Blizzard has repeatedly shown disdain at the idea of implementing anything approaching the housing in RIFT or WildStar or Everquest II or even Ultima Online I think for the foreseeable future this RTS clicky thing is sadly as close as we’re gonna get.

Author: Jessica Cook

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9 Comments

  1. It does take a special kind of courage to effectively say “screw you, player base and industry at large, we’re doing what we want to”. The interesting thing is, players buy it anyway and subscribe anyway.
    Tesh´s last post: Tinker Gearcoins… Now With More Mad Science!

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  2. I think some of the WoW forum threads about Garrisons just after BlizzCon… summed up as “Yay! We’re getting housing!”… are a pretty good indication as to how much people were projecting their desires onto Tom Chilton’s slip.

    Though, even his slip called it a “WoW version of housing,” which means it is whatever they say it is.
    Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers

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  3. The real problem is gong to be in managing expectations. That Massively piece is the second in a series of three which Eliot Lefebvre announced upfront would be extremely negative. As a professional writer working on a major MMO news site he’d clearly be among the most informed and aware of Blizzard’s potential customers and yet it’s clear from his piece today that he did indeed believe that with Garrisons he would be getting a full implementation of MMO housing.

    When you have more customers than your next ten direct competitors added together you’re in a position to claim you know what people want, I guess, but WoW is an aging product and one possibly made for another era. At the moment it does seem that “housing” is something MMO players get excited about and most games are happy to feed that excitement.

    If you really don’t want to devote the necessary time and resources to it, I’d say that it might be better to take ArenaNet’s approach with GW2 and say “only if and when we can do it right”. Doing it badly may be more damaging than not doing it at all.

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  4. I think this came from a combination of bad factors. Looking back this morning it is clear that Blizzard was not doing anything akin to traditional MMO housing when they announced it at Blizzcon.

    Still, as you pointed out, plenty of fans, including some of the most popular, interpreted it as “Housing.” Tom’s statement didn’t help that. So maybe the players misinterpreted, but Blizzard, the entity with all the information, didn’t exactly go lengths to correct them. We got blog posts talking about some of the cool features of Garrisons, but we never got an affirmative “Garrisons are NOT your typical MMO house!” or “Garrison’s are not housing!” This might have been just an accident/oversight, but on the other hand no entity wants to have their fans salivating for a feature only to turn around and say “No that’s not what you’re getting.” So IMO Blizzard bears SOME of the responsibility for the expectations.

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  5. Whether they called it Housing or not, Garrisons were always sold as a major expansion feature. I think if they seemed like something anyone cared about, then we wouldn’t need to have a conversation about whether the feature is a failed attempt at implementing Blizzard’s own take on housing or just a failed attempt to implement a feature worth having at all.

    I think comparing Garrisons to a Facebook game is incredibly accurate from what I’ve seen of the feature. It’s a potentially fun addition for some, but not the implementation I would want for the backbone of the entire expansion. I believe challenges to the scope of Garrisons and their lack of customization are valid whether the challenger mistakenly felt they would function closer to traditional MMO or not.
    Murf´s last post: Weekly Encore: “Too Long” Edition

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    • Okay, when you’ve jumped from “major feature” to “backbone of the entire expansion” I think you might have stepped too far.

      It is a major feature, a line item for the back of the box, but like pet battles, the farm, or the brawlers guild, it is still something of a side dish relative to 10 levels of new zones and a pile of new group content, which is the main course.
      Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: Quote of the Day – What Baltec Fleet Really Does

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      • Too far? Maybe. Backbone is a strong word, I will give you that.

        Still, garrisons are a mandatory part of leveling up in these new zones and in this new content. Not exactly a throwaway feature for those uninterested in it.
        Murf´s last post: Weekly Encore: “Too Long” Edition

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      • For an expansion that doesn’t have a new race or class but is charging $10 more for what is looking more like a patch than an expansion, the folks at Blizzard are defaulting it to near “backbone” status.

        It takes time to make a class or race so consumers rightly expect that, by not having either in this xpac, that time was spent on some cool and fun new content, otherwise where did all that dev time go?

        Revamping character models, although a worthy project, isn’t “expansion-worthy” if you recall the general response to the zone revamp in Cataclysm. Worgen+Goblin+revamp = consumers were okay with.

        5 or 10 levels is just a figure; heck, they could make it 2 or 20 since those are just arbitrary numbers. They need to get Garrisons right and the messaging right or even hardcore fans will bleed away.

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  6. When one adds your commentary to the piece by LeFebvre, it doesn’t get much more damning. Garrisons aren’t going to be fun for anyone, really. Some players will defend them, but some players defend absolutely anything Blizzard does.

    The truth is that a main feature of this expac is dull. How is there a worse criticism of a game than that?

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