One off events in MMOs, and the players who love them

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Ideally this picture should show a screenshot from the recent weekend-long one shot event in GW2. It should but it doesn’t, because I wasn’t there. And the world event went on without me. A one off event, by the way, is any event that happens in a game world on one occasion only, like opening the gates of Ahn-Quiraj in WoW.

My traumatic experiences with one off events in RP MUDs

You’d think that players in virtual worlds would love it when exciting world events kick off! We know these persistent game worlds can get a bit boring, a bit stuck in their rut. What could be more popular than a big event to give everyone something new to do or talk about? You’d think, right?

Back when I was staffing a MUSH, we used to run staff-driven plots alongside player-run plots (which mostly, if I’m honest, revolved around romantic subplots.) And occasionally, one of the staff would have a great idea for a world event. We had plague, earthquakes, a tyrannical ruler demanding a census of all the NPCs and player characters, psychic vampires appearing in people’s dreams, and in one particularly adept piece of foreshadowing – a financial disaster and run on the banks.

From running these events I have learned one thing. Do not assume that players will find your event more exciting than their daily cybering. Do not assume they will be invigorated by the opportunity to interact with the new event or the NPCs involved.

And the other thing I learned is that players like to have the opportunity to opt in. When we posted up messages asking for volunteers to be involved in a plot, telling them only that it would involve dreams and nothing permanently bad would happen to their characters without their permission, we got a good number of volunteers for the psychic vampire plot.

The traumatic event of the title, by the way, is that when I introduced the royal census plot (not an opt in plot) one of the players contacted me and said their character would rather commit suicide than submit to the census. I was all about suggesting ways they might be able to make some cool plot out of dodging the census (and there were viable ways to do it) but the player was adamant. It was a DID NOT WANT moment. Since I wasn’t able (or willing, really) to stop a perfectly viable in game event just because one person didn’t like it, things continued on. It got a bit feisty IC – the upset player acted it out by disclosing her character’s feelings to a PC she knew to be a powerful loyalist. That player was upset OOC because she didn’t want to kill another player or force them to submit to the census, but it was the only avenue she felt open to her. And so on. It would have been easier all round if the upset player had just accepted that shit happens and laid low ICly for a week or so, hanging out with other disaffected characters.

And the lesson from this is that some players feel a strong sense of ownership of the setting or the NPCs. They don’t like it when things happen that they didn’t want to happen, and they don’t really like having so little control over the setting. Saying “just roll with it” to them is like lighting the blue touchpaper.

But in an MMO, or any game where you can’t just discuss things with the GM, sometimes you have to just roll with it. You are one character in a big world. Things happen that are not all about you.

My theories about events and control

I have a theory that there are two types of players who play virtual world MMO games. Neither are really thrilled with virtual worlds, but for different reasons.

  • Type 1 players prefer the game world to be mostly static, as a backdrop for them to drive their own goals and events. Maybe that will be through doing quests and raids at their own pace in a theme park game, or player driven events in a sandbox. They like plans, and knowing what they will do when they log into the game and events being explicable (e.g. if the price of ghost iron ore goes up, the Type 1 economy focussed player will know why or be able to find out.)
  • Type 2 players prefer the game world to be more dynamic, up to a point. They like unexpected, memorable things to happen, and get bored of the static world and static scheduling. They don’t mind being killed horribly by some random spawn epic monster while questing if it meant they got to see a cool epic monster, and then maybe stick around to get a raid together to kill it. They don’t mind being caught up in a huge in-game plague of zombies, or an exciting weekend event. They enjoy these things … up to a point.

Type 1 players don’t really like too much randomness in their gaming, unless directly caused by other players. They have things they want to accomplish in their gaming time and will be disrupted if they aren’t able to do those things. They will tend to be annoyed if the devs throw random events at them unless they have time to organise their schedule around them, in which case they might like the events quite a lot. As long as they don’t go on too long. They like being rewarded for making smart choices in their gameplay.

Type 2 players are up for anything that seems interesting, particularly if it breaks up their regular routine. They won’t fret overly if they miss out on one event or reward as long as there are other interesting things for them to do. They don’t like being punished for making gameplay choices based on what looks interesting.

There are also two types of dynamic event.

  • Event driven. An event that is triggered by something the players do. You see this a lot in single player RPGs.
  • Time based. The event will happen when it happens,  independent of the players (at least until it starts – once it is running, how it ends might be dependent on player activity.)

So my theory is that Type 1 players (who are the majority of core MMO gamers) prefer the control and predictability of event driven dynamic events. One off events are fine as long as they have advance warning of exactly when, where and how long the event will be. Or if they run in such a  way as to not disrupt anyone’s existing plans.

Type 2 players like either type of event, but they especially love being part of the big memorable one offs. Anything where they can be justified in laying their regular routine aside to do the new stuff instead.

Suppose you gave a party and nobody came?

What if an event ran and players just don’t turn up it? Player run RP events often run into this barrier. It isn’t even because people aren’t interested (surely on a RP realm, you could find a handful of interested players for just about any RP). It’s a combination of poor word of mouth, players not knowing/trusting the organiser, or players having something better to do. How you decide that you have something better to do is a combination of what goals you were working towards anyway, what your friends/guild are doing, what rewards are on offer, and whether the event sounds interesting.

So it isn’t enough to just allow players to opt in, offer the chance to take part in something cool happening to the game world, and give plenty of advance warning. Players need rewards too. Plus if you want numbers, they need the chance to get the word out while the event is still on.

I do personally have a soft spot for unannounced surprise events though.

The best one off event I have seen in an MMO was the Rakghoul Plague in SWTOR. That is partly because it came with no warning. Absolutely none at all. I was on the fleet, chatting to my guild. Then there was an announcement on the local channel, news holos appeared on the fleet with announcements of an accident … and we were off to the races. EVERYONE was excited. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was racing off to Tatooine to investigate. And there were parts of the events that were accessible to lowbies as well as high levels.

It also lasted a week or two, which was plenty of time for word of mouth to kick in.

The second best one off event I have seen was a poetry contest in DaoC, which was run by one of the GMs but with lots of input from players. We knew in advance that this was scheduled, which gave people time to prepare and set aside time to attend. It was fun because there was a lot of player involvement.

I’ve seen plenty of other one offs, and the ones which were generally more memorable to me were the player driven events. Although they don’t always do so well at allowing everyone to actually take part. ie. you can go to a huge fancy ball and enjoy the atmosphere, but chances are you will be standing at the back watching events unfold. Similarly with large PvP raids, although you can usually at least hit something or play with the siege equipment.

Some have been more interesting mechanically with new minigames or requirements for the realm to work together to unlock an event. Others had more human input, or involved much larger numbers.

All of these can be cool, all of these can be fun, all of these can enhance the MMO experience.

Is it really all about control and rewards, in the end?

Maybe it is all just about control and rewards.

The players who hate one off events dislike having their previous plans interrupted (especially if the interruption lasts for a few days.) They don’t want to ‘just go with it’ or ‘enjoy the experience’ or ‘just not log in or go to that location while the event is on.’ They want their controlled, predictable environment back. They prefer to be in control of their own events and not have world events dropped on their heads.

Another category of players will be frustrated if a one off event gives really good rewards or some kind of achievement and they aren’t able to attend (maybe like in the recent GW2 event, it just doesn’t last long enough). They don’t want to ‘just go with it’ or ‘not worry because there will be something else next month and they can go to that’, they just don’t like missing out on content.

Devs need to try to keep these two groups happy, particularly the first set as they are quite a large grouping.

But also there are players who ADORE world events, love seeing the game world disrupted, like being part of something memorable, enjoy running around with a bunch of other people who all want to go check out the new event, and really love being surprised by the game world and other players. For everyone else: one offs are for these guys.

You’ll get yours. Meanwhile, try to just roll with it Winking smile

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14 thoughts on “One off events in MMOs, and the players who love them

  1. Now I’m wishing I’d subbed before the Rakghoul event. Oh well.

    One problem with player led world events is that there are (nowadays, in particular) too many people who prefer to be griefers at any player led events rather than actually participate in them. Of course, this isn’t limited to player led events –the time during WoW’s Brewfest when a toon riding a mammoth sat on top of a Brewfest quest giver was the most obvious recent example I’d seen– but the point of world events is completely lost on them. I suppose you could go the ‘art’ route and say that a world event is what you make of it, but if you’re simply looking to cause trouble, I think it’s safe to say that the point of a world event is lost on you.

    It’s a shame, really, since one off events really add flavor to a game world. If this were a pencil-and-paper RPG, you’d have the opportunity to tell an asinine PC that they really didn’t fit in with the group. But in a paying MMO, you don’t have that chance. If you’re a customer and you don’t violate the terms of the agreement, you’re allowed to stay. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a terms of agreement forcing a player to RP properly, because there’d be way too loose of an interpretation of that.

  2. Excellent analysis. I’m definitely a Type 2, although with the caveat that I like my surprise one-offs to be fairly short and sharp. Unexpected events that end up hanging around for weeks soon wear out their welcome.

    In the good old days of Everquest you could sort players into something like your two types by how they reacted to GM events. GM events in EQ were frequent but sporadic and they had a not-undeserved reputation for being lethal. When something kicked off, like several high-level named Aviaks suddenly appearing to slaughter players camping the Treehouse, word would go out across guild chat like wildfire.

    Some players would drop everything to rush to the scene, jostling on the way into the zone with the stream of players running as fast as they could to get somewhere, anywhere else. Chat would be full of bitter complaints over the disruption and hysterical calls to arms. Groups would split up as some members rushed to join in while others cursed the interruption to their level- grind.

    The Lost Shores event seems to have come as a surprise to a lot of GW2 players. I guess perhaps there hasn’t been much of a culture of big, disruptive one-off events in MMOs of late. Used to be all in a day’s play, albeit not on such a scale or with such a PR machine behind it.

  3. After the Lost Shores event, I saw many commentators holding Rift up as an example of how to do one off events. I couldn’t disagree more, Rift started off with interesting time-limited events, then gradually began taking the safer, more conventional route, first by extending the length of phases, the events then became increasingly formulaic, one new zone invasion, a few new rifts, a bunch of dailies and cosmetic rewards. Even now they seem to transitioning to fixed seasonal holidays. I think the worst Arenanet can do is start playing it safe.

    I’m type 2 too, I really enjoyed both the Halloween and Lost Shores events in GW2. As soon as I feel that I need to adopt a set routine e.g. do X dailies every day for a week to get the shinies, then I’m more likely to go and do something else. Most of the problems with GW2 events so far, lag, culling, pacing and scaling are ones that can be improved. The in-game mails and notification of events were much improved for the more recent event. The way the rewards were handed out could have been better handled for example sending the unique trinket and bag via mail, but I can’t accept some players getting upset at missing the lottery for a precursor, even if you didn’t win one, it lowered the prices on the TP dramatically.

    One thing that is a tough call is if the finale should have been ran at two or three times throughout the day, unlike the first two phases which could have been ran repeatedly during the day, i.e. repeated invasions of LA and then repeated battles to take and establish bases on the island, the finale had more finality to it, with the ancient karka becoming a permanent statue at the bottom of the hive as a mark of it’s defeat. I think if became the case, I’d try to make the first running because the excitement and anticipation was great.

  4. Nice analysis.

    Personally I don’t think each of us is always a type 1 or always a type 2. I have game sessions where I login expecting to be able to do something specific. Anything that prevents me from doing that is a strike against the game. There are sessions where I’m up for (almost) anything.

    darkeye: “I think the worst Arenanet can do is start playing it safe.”

    Totally agree. They do need to push the edge. But I also think they need to turn the hype down a notch or two.

    Mike.

  5. Reminds me of when the pre-launch events for Wrath really kicked up. I called it one of the best things Blizzard had done, only to be shouted-down by the screams in guild from people who needed the banker, or the AH, or just to be able to port into a city without being zerged. Then there was the crew who decided that anyone killing the infected, or worse, curing them (I was maining a Shaman at the time), deserved to be cursed and threatened.

    There’s nothing wrong with MMOs except other players.

  6. “So my theory is that Type 1 players (who are the majority of core MMO gamers) prefer the control and predictability of event driven dynamic events. ”

    I have one problem with your analyses: I am not sure that the Type 1 players are the majority of core MMO gamers. If that is true, why we see everyone, including MMO bloggers, saying that want LESS static and MORE dynamic worlds? Or why we see too many MMO bloggers defending the creation of sandbox MMO? Just look at the commnets of your post and you will see a lot of players saying “I am Type 2″. No one saying “I am Type 1″.

    Take note that MMO players too play single player RPGs and all that games currently try create an illusion of dynamic world. And ALL the new MMO players come that single player RPGs.

    IMHO, we live at a diferent eletronic game age than when EQ and UO were launched. Currently, the new MMO players will come from dynamic world single RPG games and they will look for MMO with dynamic content.

    IMHO, that is the reason WoW is showing its age and losing subscripters (q4 2012 will show WoW losing more 1 million subscripters, and they had MoP expansion…): WoW is a static world.

    I think Tobold just saw that problem with MMO static worlds when he make a fast analysis of World of Steam (http://tobolds.blogspot.com.br/2012/12/my-apologies-to-city-of-steam.html): the quests and the world are static. The same problem apply to TSW: a good setting is not enough for create a 1 million subscripters game.

    Take note that Tobold quit WoW after some weeks of MoP and wrote a post about the “MMO of the Future” (http://tobolds.blogspot.com.br/2012/11/the-mmo-of-future.html) where he basically say want a more dynamic MMO world. I think it is funny that a lot of features he wants at the “Future MMO” currently exist at sandbox MMO (ATITD, Wurm) or exist at GW2 (dynamic events). There is a sense of irony when someone wants future features that current MMO games have…

    Finally, when GW2 start an one off event, Xfire show the GW2 hours played going up by 30%. While that 30% certainly are Type 2 gamers (one off events will not attack who likes a static world, sorry…), IMHO the GW2 normal population have both Type 1 and Type 2, but mostly Type 2. GW2 have the dynamic events and while the dynamic events are not so dynamic, they are not the same static quests that ask for “kill ten rats”… forever.

    You cannot explain how GW2 is the second most played MMO game at Xfire if “the majority of core MMO gamers” are Type 1. You too cannot explain why TSW, that have a very good setting, lore and skill system, failed to be a 1 million subscripter game if you not see that the NEW MMO gamers, that come from single player RPG games, are mostly Type 2.

    • I don’t think Tobold is a typical MMO player and I also don’t think he’d really be happy in the sort of dynamic world he describes. But you’d have to ask him about that.

      My point is that people may ask for more dynamic worlds, but when it comes down to it, many players prefer the sort of dynamic event that is under their control and will never disrupt their own playing schedule. You talk about the 1m players who may leave WoW this quarter. I point to the other 9m who will stay.

      I don’t follow xfire numbers but I assume GW2 numbers are way down when there isn’t an event weekend on. So while a good number of players will pop back to investigate the dynamic events, they won’t all settle back in to play continuously outside that. We know events do well for F2P games, so that’s the pattern Anet will likely keep following. Will people keep being interested enough to keep checking on them? That’s something we will see.

      • “You talk about the 1m players who may leave WoW this quarter. I point to the other 9m who will stay.”

        It was 8 million last time I saw, they lost 1 million before MoP. If they lost one more million (that I think q4 2012 report will show), they will be 7 million, not 9 million.

        I guess how many millions subscripters WoW will have after a long bleed that will be 2013. We will not see any WoW expansion at 2013…

        “My point is that people may ask for more dynamic worlds, but when it comes down to it, many players prefer the sort of dynamic event that is under their control and will never disrupt their own playing schedule. ”

        The problem is that all new MMO gamers are coming from single player games with dynamic worlds (or at least the illusion of be dynamic worlds). That is the reason they ask for dynamic MMO worlds. However, while they can control their own playing schedule at single player games, that is only possible at MMO if they are static…

        There is a trade off. The question is that if the new MMO gamers that come from single player games that are dynamic can accept lose the control of shcedule for have a MMO dynamic world. If they can do that trade off, the future will be dynamic MMO worlds, not static.

        Anyway, I think funny see a lot of bloggers to note the fact the players are everytime looking for the new “shinny” at MMO but cannot relate it with the fact that the new players are coming from dynamic worlds (single player games) and soon find MMO static worlds boring.

        There is some new phenomena happening with these new MMO players that a lot of devs need take note. MMO games as TSW that have a very interesting setting, a good skill system and a combat similar to single player games are failing at just get that single player gamers taht they were created for be the market target. IMHO, the problem with TSW, Tera and City of Steam, that are made for attrack that single player gamers (so, the combat system), is the same: they are static worlds.

      • WoW’s numbers, if I recall correctly, bounced over 10M in September.

        I’m all for dynamic, and difficult, worlds – early start RIFT was spectacular, less so when the invasions became timed. But the fact is they made that change because people were leaving the game. Most players like the stability of a fixed world. This, I expect, is why we don’t see too many sandbox games and those that exist are fairly small.

        I wouldn’t make too much of the bloggers talking up novel game mechanics, this is a self-selecting group that almost by definition isn’t talking about the more standard fare.

  7. @João Carlos

    “You cannot explain how GW2 is the second most played MMO game at Xfire if “the majority of core MMO gamers” are Type 1.”

    Actually I can.

    GW2’s version of dynamism is a fixed number of options (defense, escort, invade) that cycle randomly with outcomes depending on the number of participants. You can set your watch by it.

    Due to the lack of world PvP or competing for resource nodes with other players, plus the fact that Lost Shores and Mad King were totally opt in, GW2 is probably one of the most type 1 friendly games out there.

    • @Bernard

      Very strange, why all spinks post is about the one time events at GW2 (the picture above the post is from the Lost Shores) is that the type 1 don’t like them… So, basically, you are saying spinks is tottally wrong and type 1 gamers like one time events…

      Maybe the problem is that some people think that “dynamic” is a sandbox pvp full loot MMO. However, the players type 2 are growing with single player RPG games that are not sandbox. Dynamic for these gamers is not build and destroy and rebuild sand castles (and that is basically everything you can got from a sandbox, nothing more than that), but NPCs that interact and change and behave diferently with the action of players. Basically, the NPC interaction we see at Elder Scrolls and other games of same kind.

      The “dynamic” is not restricted only to sandbox and pvp and that mistake will make some dreams be nightmares, because the wolves ever will be a minority that cannot pay enough for mantain a MMO. The Darkfall 2 is an example to soon to be nightmare, the problem with that game ever was the pvp full loot, sheep will never play it and pvp with wolves against wolves is not fun, and they not effectivelly changed it. If Everquest Next is made as sandbox pvp full loot I am sure it will be a disaster worse than Vanguard…

      [maybe you like to use the example of EVE as a sucess of pvp full loot, but sorry to say it, less than 10% of EVE players go to systems bellow 0.8 – but we will see forever posts at bloggers about how to fix systems 0.0, when it is something that never will be fixed]

      I saw a lot of people at GW2 forums having problems why they don’t get the rewards at Lost Shores and that do’nt like one time events because they can lost them. For me, that are type 1 gamers. GW2 is not a type 1 friendly game.

      However, I saw at GW2 forums more people that like the idea of one time events than people that not like it at . Most critics are going after the problems with implementation, mostly bugs and lag issues, but not against the idea of one time events, they said just want better implementation. From what we saw, Anet will not only make the xmas event, but too they have preparated one time events for january (confirmed at GW2 official site) and february (from dev interview), so let’s hope they make the implementation better. From a dev interview we too have the impression they will make that one time events each month.

      But quoting from my head some comments I saw about the incoming one time events each month, I saw two player quibling like this: “Let’s hope they make the attacks to other cities and not only to Lions Arch” ” why not? There are half tower at Lions Arch that was not destroyed yet”

      My guess is that there are a lot of places that Anet can destroy at Tyria: that dam near DR (that will just open a new area north to DR), DR itself can just collapse at that huge hole, ghosts can just overun BC, the real owners of Rata Sun can return, that huge wall that defend tengu city can fell (making tengu a playable race). My guess is that GW2 will have a lot of one time events with too much creative destruction…

  8. Pingback: Spinks on one-off events | GamingSF

  9. Pingback: [WoW] Smart storytelling in Patch 5.1 (minor spoilers) « Welcome to Spinksville!

  10. I find events, including the Rakghoul one, incredibly boring, unrewarding, and feeling like work. The ones in WoW, boring (thank God the achievements are now account-wide though). GW2, boring (I’m not even max level yet, why should I care about these events? People want max level to play with). It is like playing SWTOR but then you are distracted by the side quests instead of the class quest. Only the class quest truly matters. And all the non-class quest you already played once if you got a level 50 on both sides. As for the SWTOR one, I never went off fleet anyway (long loading screens are a valid reason not to) and the only funny thing about the Rakghoul was someone exploding on a vital moment in PvP (which was like other games way too grindy). All that said, I actually very much enjoy dynamic events because they are spontaneous but “one off events” are not. They always contain some kind of minigame/grind (gather X of this, do Y dungeons, travel around the whole world to pick up Z) and these feel mandatory (grind + limited amount of time available to do them). It is the same stuff repeating, all the time. Fun? NO! Grinds, repeating the same stuff over and over again, is NOT fun. That’s what an average day job is for. It is lazy/cheap game design. I have a better alternative: don’t include them and let us pay (yes, pay) for more unique content (either in the same game or another game). Which is how I am adapting to this: I now refuse to play grinds. Instead, I simply quit playing the character or game and try another one.

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