It’s hard to overstate the success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. With more than 22 million units sold since it’s release earlier this year, it’s the fastest-selling Switch game so far. Now it’s also the #2 selling game of all time in Japan, second only to Gameboy’s Pokemon Red/Blue/Green from the mid 90s.
A convergence of circumstances have fueled its record-breaking success. Its release timing couldn’t have been better. After a delay from a 2019 release to March 2020, New Horizons launched right when millions of people around the world were on different levels of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The game has the perfect combination of ingredients for people stuck inside: a feeling of exploration and discovery, endless gameplay, and the ability to express yourself creatively in many different ways. It’s like the game was custom built for this moment in history. The adorable aesthetic, cheerful tone, and social elements can help us all to forget for a little while just how awful this entire year has been.
It’s also just a very addictive and well-designed game. Some adorable house decoration, cool outfit, or weird recipe is always just around the corner, whether it’s floating around on a balloon to pop or stashed in a bottle that washed up on the beach. The villagers all have their own lives and personalities. It’s fun to see what they’re up to from day to day and how they react to you.
I admit I never played or even understood the appeal of the Animal Crossing franchise until this year. I was always super confused when AC stuff showed up in Smash Bros. Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m hooked.
And the more I play it, the more I see a whole lot of overlap between Animal Crossing and WoW.
Animal Crossing is a lot like WoW
Both games have crafting and gathering. Both have NPCs who send you on quests. Both have hefty “gold sinks” to make sure money still matters. Both have dailies and achievements: AC’s versions reward “Nook miles,” a special currency similar to WoW‘s badges and other currency systems. Both allow you to create and collect outfits. Both allow you to trade and talk with other players. Upgrading your island is similar to Garrisons from the Warlords era.
The one big thing lacking in WoW compared to Animal Crossing is housing. I would argue that it’s AC’s most compelling feature. Collecting awesome stuff for your house is very satisfying. You can design rooms with a certain theme in mind, a certain aesthetic or time period, or a combination. You can build a 1950s secret superhero bunker or a futuristic sushi restaurant. The possibilities are almost infinite and you keep getting more furniture and other design elements just by playing the game. New Horizons proves that housing as a game activity is not just alive and well, but more popular than ever before.
Given the popularity of New Horizons, I can’t help but wonder what a fully featured housing system could do for WoW‘s subscription numbers. It’s odd given WoW’s longevity that it doesn’t have such a system yet. Most of the major MMOs played in the West already have it. Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV have robust housing systems in place that are a major selling point of those games. Even Guild Wars 2 has a customizable “home instance,” as unexciting as it is. WildStar coasted for most of its life partly on how amazing its housing system was.
WoW players have been asking for housing basically since launch. Blizzard is well aware of this request. Their answer of late has been that they won’t do it until they figure out how to make it amazing. Well Blizzard, if you want a perfect blueprint on how to make it amazing, look to Animal Crossing for the answers.
Blizzard used Pokémon as a blueprint for pet battles and it worked out pretty well. It’s not something every player engages with, but it’s entertaining and provides fun rewards. I think housing would be a similar amount of work on Blizzard’s end, but far more popular. After all, WoW is already all about combat, and pet battles are just more of that, but cuter. Housing is an entirely different axis of gameplay. It would be about creativity — about celebrating WoW‘s amazing art team and extensive lore in a personal way.
The many benefits of housing
Housing would offer a range of benefits to players and developers both.
1. A huge boost to all professions
Professions in WoW have been disappointing for a long time. For many years, few professions have offered anything interesting or relevant outside of the same handful of consumables that high-end play requires. If you allow crafters to make housing items, however, suddenly everyone wants to engage with professions. Even those who don’t invest in housing would still want the opportunity to sell that stuff to others. With more demand for crafting comes more demand for ingredients, so gathering would get a big boost too.
Each crafting profession could get its own types of items to make. Some items could soulbind, meaning you need to be that profession to have that item in your house. Gatherers could dig up rare gems and minerals to display, pluck flowers and herbs to grow in pots, and catch fish to add to an aquarium. Blizzard could finally add a woodworking profession to craft furniture as well as bows, shields, and staves. (We’re dreaming big now!)
2. A massive gold sink
Blizzard is always looking for good gold sinks to keep inflation in check. They could go one of several routes here. They could either make multiple houses available throughout different zones of the game world, as in Elder Scrolls, or just give you bigger and better houses the more currency you spend, as in Final Fantasy XIV and Animal Crossing itself.
3. Extra revenue
Blizzard could sell special houses and housing items for real money like they currently with mounts and pets. I don’t love the idea of RMT in WoW, but if this possibility convinces the powers that be at corporate to let them finally do housing, so be it.
4. Relevance for older content
Much like with pet battles, Blizzard could add housing content to older zones, dungeons, and raids. This could take the form of recipes and items that drop from enemies, unlocks from old achievements, or actual housing areas. Imagine building a permanent homestead in Netherstorm, Grizzly Hills, or the Valley of the Four Winds, or setting up a lush condo in Suramar, Gilneas, or Dalaran.
5. Incentives and rewards
Housing items would make great giveaways for WoW‘s anniversary, BlizzCon, and other special events. Blizzard could have an annual holiday for housing, and housing contests.
Blizzard doesn’t do a ton to support roleplay in WoW. This would be a major step forward for the roleplaying community.
The main drawback that most people cite is that players would always be in their houses, leaving cities empty. This problem is easily solved by disallowing any kind of service in housing. No auctions, repairs, vendoring, or any toy or mount that allows these services. (Transmog should be available because it just makes sense to get dressed in your own house.)
Imagining the possibilities
The ways that Blizzard could expand on and support housing are practically endless. The game has a massive and diverse array of cultures to showcase beyond even the playable races: murlocs, ethereals, arrakoa, mogu, ogres, and many more have their own objects and architecture. Add to that the themes of different zones and eras and you have a crazy big number of styles to draw from.
The game files already have an absurd amount of such art assets built in. WoW‘s interiors are highly detailed, with kitchenware, paintings, books, beverages, and all kinds of arcane paraphernalia. Letting us accumulate our own set of such objects would require Blizzard to build a UI for it, but hundreds, possibly thousands of assets are already designed and ready to go. When you add the possibility of decorating your home with weapon models, armor, pets, etc., the game already has a massive amount of content for housing without adding a single new model.
Guild halls could be their own separate thing, using the same UI but giving access to communal bonuses, inventory, and resources.
The technology could eventually be adapted into custom dungeons too.
When will we ever get it?
Blizzard never seems to add a new feature to the game unless it ties directly to the theme of an expansion. There’s a reason, after all, that we haven’t gotten a new ranged spec (let alone class) in 16 years. Death Knights, Monks, and Demon Hunters were all perfectly tied in to their respective expansion themes — natural fits that unfortunately all turned out to be melee specs. No expansion ever had a theme that would have worked easily with a new caster or ranged weapon user, so we never got one. The lone exception could have been a Dragonkin class in Cataclysm, but alas.
Could WoW ever have an expansion theme that would support housing? It’s entirely possible, after Shadowlands, that we’ll have an expansion about returning to a devastated Azeroth to rebuild it while fighting back the many creatures that have taken advantage of the Fourth War’s distractions. Creating homesteads throughout the game’s zones could be a part of such an expansion.
I could also envision an expansion based around discovering and settling a new planet. This option would be less appealing because the zones and lore for our houses would all be new. Let’s just pray, if Blizzard ever decides to give us housing, that it isn’t a one-and-done expansion feature like farms, Garrisons, or Artifacts.
Pet battles are my one hope that maybe we don’t need an expansion themed around settling down in order to get housing. Pet battles were introduced in Mists of Pandaria, and they didn’t have anything to do with the theme of that expansion at all. Blizzard just wanted to give us something new and fun, and to their credit they have supported that content for a long time. Maybe housing will someday be the same.
My island in New Horizons will never have enough spikes to make me forget about the potential of housing in WoW. I don’t see what Blizzard has to lose. They already design entirely new systems for every expansion whether players ask for them or not. Housing is perhaps the most requested feature over the game’s long history. Instead of giving us another Azerite or Covenant system, give us a place to call home.
Editor’s Note: We’re huge fans of player housing, but we published this without considering how much we don’t know. If this were easy, it would already be in game. We’ve revised the post and apologize for the implication. We’ll review posts more thoroughly in the future.