Dynamic Events: A funny thing happened on the way to the quest giver…

One upon a long time ago, I was one of the storytelling staff on a MUSH (think of this as an online roleplaying game). And we used to come up with weird and wacky ideas for cool plots to introduce to help players get involved with each other and with the overall story.

One of my fellow storytellers had a brilliant idea. What if there was a strange magical disease that people could catch?! It might give them nightmares or some other minor but eminently roleplayable symptom, and eventually symptoms would get worse and people would have to get together and find a cure.

“Awesome!” we said, “Let’s do it!”. (We used to talk in exclamation marks a lot.) And although some people loved that plot, the majority hated it. Why? Because it got in the way of whatever else they’d had planned in the game ; probably cybering or some epic romance plot.

Blizzard received the same reaction with their zombie invasion event before Wrath launched. A lot of players loved it, but a vocal subset hated it because it got in the way of their questing. Sure, they learned from the experience and the Cataclysm pre-quests weren’t as intrusive … but they weren’t anywhere near as cool either.

When dynamic events attack!

Here’s an interesting issue with dynamic events and static players: the people who are keenest to pre-organise their gaming sessions in advance can get very screwed around by dynamic events.

For example, imagine trying to organise regular raids if your raiders keep being distracted by dynamic events. “Sorry, mum says I have to miss Blackwing Descent because an awesome dynamic event ate my homework!”

So there is a dilemma for designers – if the dynamic events are awesome then players will want to do them, which means that players will eventually be reluctant to organise events in case an awesome dynamic event occurs at the same time. But if they’re not awesome then players will quickly get bored and disillusioned and ignore them. On the surface, you’d think that awesome dynamic events would be a good thing. Even for the players who like pre-organised fun, they’d just get a choice of which event to go to when they logged in for the night. Games are all about choices, so having more choices is good, right? Right! Unless you were one of the organisers of the player-run event (e.g. the regular raid or RP night) which gets abandoned in favour of the dynamic one.

If you look at things this way, dynamic events are in direct competition with static ones and with player organised events when it comes to attracting players. And the designers have the ability to skew these numbers by dropping loot and in-game rewards into the instances and dynamic events, which players generally can’t do for player-run events.

Maybe dynamic games need more dynamic players?

So are player-run events increasingly doomed as dynamic events look to be offering more and more options to bored players? It’s always been a struggle to get people to turn up for regular events even when there is some loot potentially on offer (eg. raids).

Maybe so. Or maybe players will adapt. Instead of having a fixed goal for the evening, maybe events will be more flexible. “Thursday night regular adventure evenings!” Where organisers are ready to shelve their backup plans should something more interesting turn up.

This pretty much modelled our Pirates nights where we just sailed around and did stuff depending on what showed up. But people who like their regular, predictable events may find that they get more than they bargained for.

Also, a gratuitous link for Thor fangirls/boys – does Thor look better with his shirt on or without it?

8 thoughts on “Dynamic Events: A funny thing happened on the way to the quest giver…

  1. One possible way of sidestepping the issues is to provide hints about dynamic events well in advance. That way players can plan for or plan around the events well in advance.

  2. I can understand that someone is not happy if a random event kills his bank alt upon login.

    But this is no reason to forget about events. Random opportunities and disaster add spice to the world/game. I don’t see player run events doomed because of dynamic events. I think we would see more player run events if MMO mechanics would allow for more than simple crafting, gathering and killing. I can imagine player organized reactions to dynamic events. City X overrun by Zombies, Zombie Horde moving towards Y, strange things going on at Z, where do you want to go? Now imagine how happy people would be if their actions would have a certain impact on the world/event.

  3. What doesn’t work is to have a perfectly static game and then suddenly add one very dynamic event.
    What does work is to have a lot of dynamic events.

    It is all about expectation management. Designers and marketing need to make sure that players play the game with the right attitude. Just like playing Fallout 3 with a first-person-shooter attitue doesn’t work, nor does one single zombie event work in the static world of Warcraft.

  4. @Longasc: In Rift, I’ve “learned” not to log out near wardstones. I usually come back online and find my character being killed by a huge mob.

    Personally, I loved the zombie invasions in WoW pre-WotLK. I guess that is why I’m enjoying Rift as well. With that said, I play with my husband who lately seems to want to avoid the Rifts and just level. I told him that I was still going to stop and help groups close rifts. That is what sets this game apart after all from most others and what pulled us to it in the first place.

  5. The best part of the zombie invasion was the bug where if you were a zombie and swapped weapons in combat, it would heal you to 100% health. 🙂

  6. One of the things I’m looking forward to in Guild Wars 2 is that it appears that all of the content will be shifted towards the “dynamic” line. If there isn’t a “schedule” of static events to run over and over, there will suddenly be room on the calendar to do events because we, y’know, want to.

    In WoW, from a roleplaying perspective, the “golden times” were before raids, raid calendars, weekly and daily quest grinds. If you scheduled a RP event, lots of people would show up, since the only thing that was “missed” was another run on Scholomance or Dead Stratholme or the like. It didn’t feel like showing up to a dynamic event (albeit player created) was a big sacrifice… you neither had to make excuses to the other folks that signed up for this week’s raid nor “slip behind” in the power curve.

  7. I don’t see this as being a problem in any game right now other than Rift with it’s zone invasions. (Regular rifts can’t really compete with a dungeon or raid as the rewards aren’t great enough.) But I think the invasions are probably more of a benefit to regular raiders than a detriment. How much time to people sit idling, or playing Peggle in WoW, while waiting for their group to log on or get ready for an instance?

    With Rift I’ve found, when I join a group to do a dungeon, having rifts to do gives me something to occupy myself while I wait for the group to form up. Sure, doing the dungeon may get delayed for a scheduled run, but taking into account those are often late waiting for people to get ready, the bad effects of dynamic events (delays) are counterbalanced by the benefits (something do to while waiting.

    Anyway, the only events which really get in the way of anything for me is taking down the invasion bosses for the rare currencies, good loot, and the achievements for killing them. Eventually, that novelty will die down and I imagine even those lures of dynamic events will be weak in comparison to planned events.

  8. I loved the zombie event, too, and was upset when it disappeared so quickly. If we’re buying into the idea that we live in a dynamic world, then people should understand that sometimes they won’t have control over what happens there. However, the “vocal subset” you refer to seem to think that because they’re paying customers they can demand a specific kind of service. Too bad Blizzard often listens.

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