From many of my previous ramblings it’s probably become apparent that I’m the explorer type who thrives on open adventure in MMOs; the unpredictable, surprises and taking the long road rather than shortcuts. I put less value on completionism, things like achievements, social firsts or best-in-slots. I’m in for the journey and the immersion in virtuality. Therefore too, there’s nothing worse to me than a world that’s fully discovered, fully mapped and fully understood. The moment we draw the last line in that picture is the moment we limit our world, the moment where it becomes small and finite – when hypothesis and speculation become hard fact and there is no more ‘may be’.
To a traveler and explorer “finishing a world” is the death of his playstyle. I want to stand at the shore of the southern sea and wonder forever what may lie beyond.
I’ve talked about dynamic events in GW2 recently and why I am at peace with one-time events of greater significance (even if it means I miss them sometime). However, the very diverging opinions on this currently hot topic have reminded me once more just how important it is to consider player profiles and preferences in MMO design discussions. There are areas where we will simply never agree and much of that is ingrained; we might as well discuss what tastes better, apples or oranges.
Still, I think there’s something to be said in favor of (well constructed) one-time events in MMOs that exceeds just lasting impact or significance. If more global events are realized in a way that allows for different playstyle approach, “missing a unique event” is not as horrible as it sounds at first. In fact, it is impossible to truly miss it. Let me try and explain why.
Immediate vs. Retrospective Experience
In the following image I (painstakingly..) attempted to depict a small scene of cataclysmic proportions. In case it’s not clear what you’re looking at, that’s A) a comet about to hit your world, and B) you curiously gaping down the crater the comet left behind. Yeah, you’re still alive – be grateful!
|Event A / Event B|
Now, ask yourself the following question: would you rather be:
A) The player who witnesses the comet’s impact, including all the excitement and epic/traumatic immediate effect that goes with this event.
B) The player who chances upon the crater later on, presented with the full scale devastation, wondering what may or may not have happened here.
The two experiences are mutually exclusive. If you have witnessed the immediate event, there is no question of what happened; you know. You are not going to wonder, speculate or investigate further to find out how the crater came to be. Most likely, you’re also not going to spend as much time on site “post cataclysm” analyzing the devastation.
Player B is presented with a different event entirely, yet an event no less. For him, the story unfolds in retrospective – in his imagination, in clues, in reports of NPCs or other players. Is that the lesser experience? Did he actually miss the event – or did he not much rather experience it from a different angle, a different point in time? The thought came to me when standing at the shattered fountain in Lion’s Arch last Sunday night, considering the damage done to this so iconic place in the game –
|As always, click to enlarge!|
Here’s a little secret: I still haven’t watched the one-time Halloween event on youtube. I didn’t go and check how the Mad King emerged. And I decided I won’t. Nothing can beat the scenario I have envisioned in my mind at this point. I have this epic idea of what happened and I want no youtube movie to take away from my imagination. The Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch will forever be the stuff of legend to me, mysterious, notorious!
I like it that way. Maybe you do not. I’m sure many players would agree that the “main event” of my little scenario above
is the comet falling down from the sky. If an MMO introduced this, they would want to be there just when it happens. However, the important part is that neither outlook is wrong, just like there are no wrong playstyles. There are different ways to experience events and different things to take away from them. Arguing the point would be as fruitful as arguing whether movies are better than books: some people prefer movies for their more guided experience (the camera is your focus), their concrete visuals and sound. Others rather stick to books that rely more on suggestion and imaginary effort, allowing you to stray. Both media have a purpose, a time and place.
Types of Events, Types of Meaning
Unique events in MMOs work especially well if developers invest on all stages of a scenario, the pre- and -post phases as much as the immediate event. Global changes lose much of their weight if there’s no aftermath for players to experience, no tangible impact on the world. Interestingly enough, while developers improve on creating events with (some) impact these days, pre-stage remains one of the most neglected areas. The only example that comes to my mind is the minor earthquakes pre-Cataclysm patch in WoW, with some NPCs commenting on them. I’d like MMO devs and storywriters to invest more time in foreboding details such as this…any better examples?
Naturally, not all events in MMOs can have monumental impact or narrative significance. Not all of them are designed to be collective experiences, either. Small-scale
events are usually created for individuals and may be repeatable without any “dramatic loss”. Group and raid events too with reset timers,
are very much of more self-defined and social significance. It’s players who attribute value to server firsts, second and third kills. It’s up to guilds which events are important content to them or not.
While events make up a large part of the content in today’s MMOs, they still differ in type and purpose. I personally agree that many should be repeatable in regular intervals – after all, why bother to design content and then not make full use of it? Still, there are events I consider special and where I believe it serves the “dramatic script” and narrative of the world we play in, that they be more unique. That’s part of the simulation – a world that has an ongoing story and therefore feels alive (opposed to groundhog’s day).
I’d like to see more of this in future MMOs, maybe delivered in frequent mini-patches. If designed and implemented well, there is no easy way for players to miss such scenarios – whether they happened at “one time” or not. So maybe event design, setup and finalization, are really the things we should look at, rather than asking for everything in MMOs to always be “repeatable”. If you find yourself in a brilliant field of snow one morning, blinking and breathing the cold air, how much does it matter that you missed the event of the snow falling?