Well, why do friends come over to the house in real life?
- To share an interactive leisure (conversation, video games, board games, etc).
- To share a receptive leisure (TV, watching the wildlife from your porch or patio, etc).
- To share a constructive experience (building, fixing, working out personal issues, etc).
- To share a design experience (landscaping, architecture, furnishings, etc).
- To deposit or remove items.
Now, why at a house, as opposed to somewhere else?
- It's a predictable (and safe) environment.
- It's a personal environment.
- It's a secluded environment.
- It's where the desired items/service are located.
What did I miss? Anyway, there's a number of possibilities that can be drawn from that. (since I'm pressed for time today and I tend to drone on anyway, I'm going to try to focus on just pointing out areas of consideration, rather than coming up with solutions)
Yeah, an MMO home is a predictable environment, but so are many, if not most, other places in an MMO. These games aren't dynamic enough yet to regularly surprise even those players familiar with a given area. Predictability isn't going to keep players indoors by itself, of course, but it is a significant factor. If I can do whatever out in the middle of the road just as well as inside a building, without any fear of the unforeseen bandits, dragons or thunderstorm, then why not do it there?
MMO developers perhaps have a unique challenge in this regard. In real life, I prefer to have my personal conversations and interactions with friends away from others. Nobody likes the idea of strangers eavesdropping on their conversations, and we are easily distracted by voices and noises. If there's another conversation next to you or someone's music blaring in your ear, your own conversation can be difficult. So we take the conversation to a secluded environment...often a home.
In MMOs, you never have to speak above the noise. You can open up a private chat window so that other conversations don't disrupt your own. This a downside to non-localized chat (which is not to suggest that alone makes localized chat a better option). And though you may see nearby players occasionally doing stupid things or emoting in some way, you've likely seen it before and it's not a great distraction.
In real life, a home is usually not a static setting. You can turn on the TV to inspire topics for your conversation. You can turn on the stereo for background music as you shoot some pool, and occasionally grab another beer out of the fridge. In a sense, the house isn't just sitting there looking pretty as you do things. It's not just a locale...you're interacting with it to combine experiences and create new ones (like picking up a pillow from the couch and smacking your friend with it).
COOPERATIVE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION.
In real life, I help a friend build patios and patio coverings from time to time, and have helped with many similar projects since I was a kid. I enjoy it. For the owner in particular, there's often a great pride in recognizing a product as the fruits of one's own imagination and labor. A structure often means more to the owner who built it himself than to the owner who just bought it. But, as someone just helping another or building for a job, even knowing I'll probably never again see the thing I've constructed, I enjoy the conclusion and I enjoy the process...largely because I was working alongside a friend or family member. Obviously, cooperative game developers are well aware of this feeling.
In gameplay, it's more common to share a destructive experience ("die, worm!") than this sort. Sometimes there's strategizing on the part of the group or guild, though usually a strategy is already known and there's not much creative input needed. Up to this point, in the MMOs I'm familiar with, crafting and other contstructive experiences have been solo work. Sometimes there's sequential groupplay involved (the player constructs one part and then hands it the next person to construct the next part), but that usually permits players to act separately and demands only limited interaction between players. In EQ2, there was some socialization, but the reliance was limited, as I recall. Sigil's crafting system for Vanguard seems the most promising by getting players to really work side-by-side, in both the harvesting and crafting phases, but I'm not sure how it actually pans out.
Anyway, does that spark any ideas?