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?