In the wake of the Lost Shores event in Guild Wars 2, there’s been some interesting discussion of the wisdom or otherwise of one-off events in MMOs. The problem should be fairly obvious: in a game accessed by people in different time-zones across the world, most of whom have to fit their gaming in around work, school and other commitments, some people are just not going to have the option of logging in to be present for a single, set time event. Is it fair to exclude these people, just because their real lives come before the game? Does it encourage unhealthy play habits (i.e. putting the game before real life)? Is it just bad design, when a portion of your playerbase can’t enjoy certain content even if they want to?
I’m going to argue that it’s worth it to hold one-off events now and then. They bring a sense of life to a persistent world which over-instancing threatens to destroy. Even if we can’t all participate in every update because of it, I’d like to see ArenaNet continue to mix these in with other event content.
(As I’ve said elsewhere, I realise that as a student with a highly flexible schedule, I’m going to sound like a hypocrite saying this until there’s a cool event that I actually can’t go to. But hear me out!)
The thing about a ‘living world’ is that it continues to go about its business even when you’re not there. This is true of all persistent virtual worlds; they don’t disappear when you log out. This means you can miss things, when other people are there and you’re not, in much the same way as you might miss things that happen at a party if you leave early to go to bed. More so, though, because the people accessing a virtual world come from all different time-zones, which cancels out that handy period where you can usually be pretty sure people will be asleep.
It’s a case of realism vs. gaming, then – yes, a real world would move on without me, but I don’t play games to experience the real world! We all want a fantasy that caters to us a little more than life is willing to. Particularly in a subscription MMO, players pay for a service and they don’t want to be excluded from content that, in their eyes, they’ve paid for access to. Still, there’s a trade-off: do we want a world that feels living and dynamic, and changes of its own accord? Or do we want a world that waits for us, and lets us catch up in our spare time? This is a complaint I’ve seen of Skyrim, for instance – it always waits for you. Dragons never attack until just when you get there, and if you put off the main plot, Alduin never makes any major moves. This spoils any air of urgency, but it does let you play as you will without jeopardising an overall win condition.
In my eyes, the greatest thing one-off events add to an MMO is a sense of history. Instances like the Mad King mini-dungeon are content; you might have done it or you might have not, but it was there for a weeks or so, then it went away. Attempt it at your leisure. Events like the initial invasion/colonisation of Southsun Cove are points in Tyrian history. In years to come, I will be able to say, I was there. I was among the first players to set foot in this land; I helped set up this outpost; I hounded the Ancient Karka that destroyed the Lion’s Arch lighthouse. Not everyone was there, but people will know it happened, and older players, perhaps, will tell their newer guildmates about it as they explore. To me, this is a strong way to build a living world – one that will continue to grow and change with players in it. Not just before launch, and not just in discrete patches every now and then (which suddenly transform the world). It grows with us amongst the changes!
Much of Guild Wars 2 seems to have been designed with the long run in mind (let’s hope it works out better for them than it did for Joss Whedon) -watch for another post about that soon. A sense of historical events now is an investment in a future community. For those who look only to the next loot drop, one-off events can be a disappointment, but for those who want to participate in Tyria as a world, they should be glad to see this. Nothing can be truly dynamic in itself and still wait for your convenience. Tyria is a place where things happen, whether you’re there at the time or not. That’s what makes it a world.
I will concede that rewards for one-off events are a sticky subject. On the one hand, they should be exciting – I spent three hours trying to get at the Ancient Karka with my overflow of great people, and we did expect something worth the effort. On the other hand, one-off event rewards can’t be too awesome, because then you’re punishing everyone who wasn’t able (or willing) to take that time out of their day for the game. Something which people are going to interpret as a ‘must-have’ should not be only available on one occasion like that. Phase 3 of the Lost Shores offered excellent loot (the cry of “people are getting precursors!” drove our overflow on with renewed vigour!), but only a couple of unique pieces. I don’t think these are strictly game-breakingly powerful (although my 20-slot karka bag has been exceedingly handy!) but this is the risk. What is a memento of an epic fight for one player can be an exclusive item that another player is not able to ever get.
As with many things in GW2, time will tell, I think. Right now the Lost Shores is really the only example we have of this kind of one-off content in this game, but in the coming months I hope that things may even out. If those who missed the Ancient Karka are able to take part in another event in the future (while others miss out), and rewards eventually even out to a point where everyone’s had a chance to do at least one one-off exclusive, it should look more reasonable. In the meantime, I can only encourage ArenaNet to continue to include one-off events in their update plans. Not for everything, to be sure – but every now and then, give us a moment like that of storming the first beach in Southsun Cove, where everything is messy and new and exciting and we know that this will never happen again. A unique experience makes a living world.