Saturday, July 11, 2015

We Need More World-Events

In my line of work I often meet people (mostly teenagers) who share my love and enthusiasm for video games and we often end up both playing and talking a lot about them. The other day I got to hang out with a guy who was playing Runescape (among other things) and he told me a bit about it. It seems like a cool game in general although extremely grindy (apparently quests of the sort "kill 100 of these" are standard. Yes 100, that's no exaggeration) but one thing in particular stuck in my mind. He told me of an event that, if I understood correctly, happened pretty recently in-game as part of an update/expansion to the game. Players were asked to hand in buckets of sand (and possibly other things the kid didn't mention) and in the end an island (or possibly beach) emerged in the game that hadn't been there before - complete with new places to skill up different professions or techniques. Now if you happen to play Runescape and know I got that all wrong, what matters is that it got me thinking about inclusion in video games and that it is the one thing that really sets MMO's apart from your every day singleplayer game.

And they say WoW graphics are outdated (Runescape in 2007) -

It might sound weird to talk about inclusion when talking about video games, because in essence video games are all about inclusion. Their interactive nature naturally invites the player to feel included and feel like they affect what happen around them (more or less). But MMO's can provide inclusion on a different scale, one in which the individual (that is you) gets to truly feel like they are part of something bigger and like they made a difference in the world around them.

Looking at a game like World of Warcraft, Blizzard have always known the power of this and allowed players to feel included in every expansion they released. Instead of just telling players there was a new expansion coming, they allowed us to experience it and take part of it through special events in game. One of my favorites was the massive event that preluded the opening of Ahn'Qiraj. Back then I had just started playing and was far from a raider, so I had little understanding of what was going on other than that everyone, from a low level casual scrub like me to the hardcore raiders, regardless of faction, united to achieve a common goal. There was something to get for everyone, you didn't have to be part of a big guild or know a lot of people who played - you just needed to take part in the event. It just felt magical to be part of something as massive as that undertaking. The event included gathering a vast variety of items and hand them in, but everyone could chip in and that was the important part.

You had to be there -

And the events that lead up to Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King were similar huge folk festivals where everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and come together to achieve the same goal regardless of whether you were a pvp:er, raider or quester. My rose tinted goggles will allow me to ignore the fact that Blizzard obviously cleverly designed the events to entice these different groups to come together, but that is exacly what good game design should do.

I think this is different from multiplayer games in general, where you obviously also see a bunch of people work together (hopefully) for a common cause. Most importantly because these MMO events offer change - they allow the player to take place in changing the world that they live in rather than just repeating an action (like any multiplayer shooter for instance where the same goal is achieved or failed over and over without permanent change, similar to the seasonal events or pvp done in WoW.)

Party with the dead -

Could you implement something similar in a singleplayer game? Would we even want that? I am thinking both yes and no. On the one hand I always think it's interesting to see how you could develop new gaming experiences, on the other hand I feel like singleplayer and multiplayer games deliver very different gaming experiences and that's ok. Naturally there are things in multiplayer you can't do in singleplayer and vice versa and I doubt you could conjure the same feeling of scale in a singleplayer game as you could in a multiplayer, unless you somehow managed to hook up singleplayers making it a sort of inbetween like Dark Souls. Could you make multiplayer games other than MMOs adopt this idea? Could a game like Team Fortress 2 or CoD include this kind of gameplay? I am sure they could, in fact I would love to see it be done more often. Instead of just giving players a new map/arena/whatever, you could have an in-game event regarding it. Whether it would go down well or people prefer things to be as static and predictable as possible in these kind of settings I don't know - personally I would love a bit of gameplay diversity (which might be why I don't play those kind of games much).

And what kind of content should have these kind of world-events? Anything? Free stuff or pay for stuff? It worked in WoW to have everyone engage in a world-event that essentially preceded something that you still had to pay for to experience but I am not sure that works in any kind of game. But I am probably getting way ahead of myself here.

I haven't played enough other MMO's to know to which extent they incorporate this kind of gameplay, I can't recall anything like it in the few months I played Warhammer though. I do realize it is probably a huge undertaking for a game developer to try to achieve but the reward must surely be worth it. I can only speak for myself but all of the world-events I took part in in WoW, which was pretty much all of them from Vanilla to early MoP, became some of my fondest and best memories of the game.

My personal opinion is that the experience got watered down as WoW progressed, but it might also just be that every new world-event became less and less of a big thing for me. It was just another expansion with another world-event. I like to think that is not the case and I'm not that jaded, but rather that Blizzard included the players less and less. If I compare the level of player commitment required for the Ahn'Qiraj event with that of the Mists of Pandaria event... wait, did MoP even have an event? I can't remember it if it did. But Ahn'Qiraj wasn't even for an expansion, just another (or technically two) new raids. In Burning Crusade we got to work together to unlock the Sunwell Isle. I would've loved to see more events like that, that changed parts of the game, big or small. To me nothing else ever came close to making the world feel as alive, real and worthwhile as those all-player-including world-events ever did.