Player housing has been a long time coming in World of Warcraft, after all the concept was in place going all the way back to the game’s internal alpha. Blizzard has referred to housing as “on the horizon” going all the way back to the game’s launch in 2004, with a few comments here and there of no particular detail other than to say that the idea was not in active development. One fear conveyed by Blizzard was that the world that had already become rather empty due to the Looking For Dungeon tool, would become even less populated if players had no reason to leave their house. On the other hand, Blizzard did not want to take the massive effort of creating a housing system only to have it underused out of lack of functionality.
With garrisons, Blizzard seems to once again be picking a “learn from the competition” approach to development. For those of you who didn’t catch the Blizzcon information, Garrisons are phased housing areas coming with Warlords of Draenor which allow players to create buildings and recruit followers. Followers add an element of offline progression as players can send them to gather resources, complete crafting tasks, and are able to gain character and item levels to find resources with which to build better buildings and obtain even more resources. Garrisons will also be a case with which to show off one’s trophies and achievements, and presumably will be updated with further features over time.
From what we’ve seen so far, garrisons feel like a slightly more jazzed up version of The Old Republic’s resource gathering, minus the ability to manage your crew portably through a menu. Unless you can, in which case ignore that previous sentence. I’m looking forward to seeing more about garrisons in the future.