by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
The modern MMOG such as Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning have certain expectations placed upon them to provide players engaging and meaningful experiences in a fantasy world. A small part of these requirements revolve around bringing players occasional events which coincide with real or made up holidays. While there are few who would not categorize such content as "fluff," even fewer would attempt to argue holiday events aren't a necessary piece of the on going content provided by developers. Warhammer Online's Witching Night has been met with both praise and criticism. This shows not only that Mythic realizes the necessity of such additions but player ideals appear to be increasing as time goes one. Did the ancestors of the modern game such as EverQuest and Ultima Online set the bar too high? What is a reasonable standard for a successful event?
Rewards Can be Simple
First and foremost an event should be meaningful to the participants. Of course this is subjective as people excited about lore will enjoy story more than the min/maxer who just wants decent rewards. How do you find common ground between all the interests of players? The simple answer most developers seem to be using is to try and provide a little something for everyone. This seems to start with a half decent story which can be a haunted house where it's owners have died in some horrible manner or even the standard plea to stop the swarm of disturbed spirits from destroying the world and claim a Ghostbusters title. There also of course has to be rewards for each and every level of participation. Ironically players will toss 99% of what you give them in a bank slot and never look at it again, but if you don't have it reward it "isn't worth their time" to complete.
Different people have different skill levels and time investments. In order to provide the most return for your development investment, a game must provide various levels of rewards based on challenge and how long it takes to obtain a reward. While this might sound like a simple definition of meaningful, it can be a difficult balance to find in the real gaming world. Should an instanced event take one hour or two? Will players have to kill 100 ghosts or 1000? Should there be a time investment at all? Many of the mechanics surrounding the Zombie events this year (which spanned multiple games) required little effort on the part of a player to get involved. Warhammer Online this year tried using tiers, reflecting the Public Quest reward system and gave players who put in the most time, the greatest return. While it wasn't ideal for those looking for a one night adventure, it did provide the more dedicated demographic something to strive for by requiring competitions in PvP areas.
It Must be Meaningful
The most important attribute expected in a holiday event (which should be incorporated into every piece of content) is simple fun. Now once again, this is a subjective term and it will boil down to personal preference but casting a wide net is the safest bet. For the average player, a task shouldn't be tedious and mind numbing such as going to 42 different NPC's or fulfill the criteria for an epic quest. There is plenty of this for players to work with already so why add more of the same? Simple snowballs which annoy other players or even the recent zombie infection in World of Warcraft are great examples. Neither offered people extravagant rewards, just the satisfaction of interacting with their environment in an out of the ordinary way. They also were very likely light on development time avoiding the need for new zones, new creatures, and new equipment providing low cost and efficiency.
No one who didn't enjoy backseat driving ever claimed game development was an easy task. In an increasingly demanding audience whose attention is waning with every sequel to Grand Theft Auto, it's important that players are understood and considered in content creation. This is of course not stating that they should be the measure because as much as they don't like to hear it, developers do know more about game creation and have a firmer grasp on what is possible. There could be a suggestion to implement a multilevel haunted castle with groups, raids, and the content of Willy Wonka's factory but the time and cost involved would be astronomical with a mediocre return. What does the future hold for Mythic and other companies holiday events? We'll just have to wait and see.
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