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?


My history with Warhammer Online goes back about a year. That was when Arbitrary and I first started blogging about the game, several months before it launched. This was our first post, dated 14th May 2008.

I don’t regret any of it. We had a brilliant time writing about WAR, engaging with the hype, seeing how it evolved through beta, learning about the lore, chatting to other bloggers and readers, tussling with GOA, going to Games Day UK, and watching the community ebb and flow.

So I can’t help feeling a pang when my sub runs out today, and Arb wound up the Book of Grudges for much the same reason. Not only that, but this is the week that our server is also closed down and everyone offered free transfers to more populated ones.

That’s good in the sense that the game NEEDS to be played on well populated servers. But it still leaves me with a sense of closure – I’m gone, the guild is (long) gone, the blog is gone, the server is gone.

I really did enjoy playing Warhammer Online. I would and I do recommend anyone to try the free trial if you’re bored and looking for a new game. The starting levels (tier 1) are some of the best fun you can have in MMOs.

Best things about the game:

  • Red questy map blobs. When you got a quest, a red blob appeared on the map showing you roughly where you had to go. It very neatly gave a little direction while still leaving some room to explore. I miss it in every other game I play.
  • Scenarios. A little 15 min slice of PvP action that you can queue up for from anywhere else in the game. I loved how all the scenarios had different layouts and a variety of win conditions and winning tactics.
  • Holiday events. They weren’t all hits but Mythic did an awesome job of providing a stream of new temporary content in a way that put WoW to shame. Not only did we get holiday quests and events, we got temporary scenarios to play. Can you imagine WoW making temporary battlegrounds available?
  • Two targets. You could have two targets selected at any time, one offensive target (ie. all your attacks directed at them) and one defensive target (ie. all your heals/buffs directed at them). This was absolutely awesome for healers.
  • Public Quests. The quests themselves were hit and miss but the idea was great. You could roll into an area, help a load of other people with the quest, and be in line for reputation and rewards. And you didn’t have to even talk to them if you didn’t want.
  • Open groups. This one is a winner too. If a group or warband (ie. raid) was set up to be open, then anyone in the area could locate it and invite themselves to join. It sounds scary to a WoW crowd but a lot of the WAR content (such as open PvP) was of the type where more warm bodies were always welcome.
  • Open RvR. Some of the most fun I had in game was running Tier 2 or Tier 3 keep take evenings with the guild. And if we didn’t have enough people, I just set the warband as open and announced on the /order channel where we were going. The group filled up pretty fast.

I’m not going through the bad points, it’s been done enough. Endgame is lacking, the requirements for picking up ward gear were intimidating to people who didn’t want to run the instances, etc. These issues are being addressed!

As to why I left:

  • Guild leaders left after about a month in game. Yes, it affects morale.
  • Demoralised by the ward PvE gear requirements.
  • Wanted to spend more time in WoW — I didn’t switch immediately to Wrath, I spent some time playing both. But it was getting clear where I wanted to spend more time.
  • Bored of Tier 4 and not really enjoying the PvE instances I was able to run. I really do like the Tier 4 zones a lot, they’re gorgeous (apart from the Dwarf one). But do I really want to run around in warbands doing hit and runs on keeps every night?

Having said all that, the land of the dead (due out in June) sounds awesome and depending on how my gaming time goes I’ll be tempted to resub. Even just writing about the game makes me want to play it again, maybe as Destruction this time.

What Mythic should have done

In my mind, the game they should have made was DaoC II. This isn’t just because I find mythology more appealing than Warhammer, it’s because three realms works better than two, it’s because they threw away the concept of huge frontier zones in favour of PvP pools, it’s because we loved the seamless virtual world feel of the game. It’s because they had one of the best implementations of housing I have ever seen.

And it’s also because a feudal setup has huge possibilities for endgame that are there to be explored. In a feudal society, the king parcels out lands and titles to knights who distinguish themselves in battle. That’s a whole potential housing-centred minigame in itself.

Argent Tournament Public Quests?

I will be honest, I was dubious about the argent tournament. Aside from the sheer dozy headed brilliance of having a grand jousting tournament when there are evil undead necromancers to kill (I swear the argent crusade must be run by my ex-boss – yes the company went tits up), I mentally filed it under:

  • more daily quests…
  • … some of which are annoying
  • more rep grind for no special purpose
  • but it does look kind of cool to charge monsters with a lance from horseback

I also like Arthurian stories so was amused by the knights in shining armour theme to the quests. So, annoying but inoffensive time waster that would keep my interest for as long as it took me to figure out how jousting worked, and provide another new way to cover my repair bills.

Three things changed my mind today:  the quest to kill the boneguard commander (among other things), the quest to kill chillwind the frost drake, and the quest to kiss a boatload of frogs until one turns into a princess.

Yes, one of these things is not like the others, but they are all fairly irritating quests, if you do them solo. Which most people do.

Today, there were a few people doing each quest when I showed up. Some from different factions – and we all helped each other. There was no reason for it. I saw an alliance paladin killing gargoyles so that I could make a clean pull of the commander. I helped a warlock make his kill by shield breaking the opponent he was fighting. And so on. We weren’t grouped (although in some cases we could have done), but we were behaving cooperatively, not competitively.

People queued politely for chillwind and helped each other with the kills, A friendly orc whispered his frog-kissing macro to me while we pursued our amphibian dating strategies down at the duckpond.

And it make me think of the public questing from Warhammer.

I don’t really believe that Blizzard deliberately put in so many new quests that could be tackled cooperatively, I just don’t feel that they have that level of finesse. There have also been dailies before that you could help others with even when you weren’t grouped. Also, my server (being a RP-PVE one) has always tended to veer towards the cooperative rather than competitive side.

But today, quests that I used to find annoying actually made me smile. The sense of cooperating with people with whom you can’t even communicate does more to make the game feel like a massively multiplayer community than any number of solo or 5 man quests ever could.   I would love to see more genuinely cooperative content, where you gain far more from cooperating than you ever could from competing.

Instances and raids were always intended to be cooperative, and in a sense they are. But we compete for raid spots, we struggle to put groups together for instances (unless you are lucky enough to have a fixed group), and so on. It’s not the same as rolling up to a quest location, finding other people there, and being pleased to see them even if you have never met them before.

I wonder if this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.