I long for the day World of Warcraft openly embraces being an Event Driven game.
The early promise of World of Warcraft for me was an online persistent fantasy world to adventure in.
Raiding didn’t enter into it. Raiding as a thing wasn’t part of my lexicon, it wasn’t what everyone talked about.
Everyone talked about the races you could play as. The character classes you could be. The way you could get quests from characters in the game that weren’t controlled by a GM or other players, and whenever you played, what you had done in the past carried on in the world to be shared with others. Persistent.
I remember in the early days talking with my friends Manny and James about World of Warcraft and the potential of games like it. Back when the idea was new and fresh and who knew what the future of such games might hold?
We’d talk about what new things online games might bring, like player-created quests and storylines with XP and rewards, or monster NPCs controlled by other players when taking a break from their player characters. Or smaller-scale MMO games with special events where live GMs might be in control of key main NPCs or commanders, and you could join their army as a player character and fight in one of these vast wars as the GM-controlled commanders led you forward into battle.
Early days full of promise, where the main draw of World of Warcraft and other MMOs was in how similar they were to tabletop pen and paper role playing games, and not in how they were different.
In every game where there are levels and experience points, there comes a time when you have to address… what do you do when you hit the level cap?
In tabletop games, at least in my experience, you either retire the characters and make new ones (usually in a new game system that just came out), try a few runs in a world where your old characters are now the new high power NPCs that rule the area your new players play in, or nuke the game from orbit and reduce everyone in power from some calamity, it’s the only way to be sure.
In a programmed always-online persistent world, the level cap happened, and it made us stop, look around, and go… so, what now? Where has the story gone? What do we do when the quests have all been done and there is no GM across the table to improvise?
The response was to have raids. Big raids. Raids with lots of players against static content, one big battle that you fight over and over and over. Every week, over and over.
Why? Loot. Upgrades. Shinies. More power.
If we’re capped, then what difference does that make?
Ah! What comes next. The big question. Are we done, or is there more to come?
And so a game that lured me (and my friends) in with a lush fantasy world, leveling, questing, rich story and familiar classes and races where the point was to adventure in new lands and meet new peoples became a game where I waited for the next scheduled event to begin. We began playing the waiting game, spending time on alts and pvp waiting for the next new event that would move the story forward one chapter at a time, adding new raid battles.
Events that had a beginning, a middle, and a definite ending.
We played World of Warcraft one way at the beginning, and a different way at the level cap. We had to, once at the level cap our actions to grow our characters were complete.
Do you remember when the majority of players only had one main character, and those with alts were few, and mostly those that couldn’t stick with one thing long enough to max out?
An Event Driven game does not keep you in with long and exciting questing adventures, it keeps you in by having a timed event that you must take part in while it is active to gain the rewards.
While an event is going on, you have filler content, preparations, small quests or gathering to do, but the focus is the big battles, and each event includes it’s own end because if you fight a big battle, once you’ve won, you know how that story ends. The only question remaining is how many times you’ll have to repeat that same battle until the timed event is over, and everyone has been given a reasonable chance to finish it before the next event comes out to push the story forward one more chapter.
That is what World of Warcraft really IS now. It’s not the subscription based role playing game that I at least still think of.
It’s an event driven game, and how engaging the game is can be traced directly to how long it’s been since a new event was released to take part in and stir the senses anew.
Each event brings new rewards for taking part, new parts to the ever-growing story, new bits and pieces of shiny things like mounts or armor or titles. Or achievements.
The death of an Event Driven game is lack of events. You’ve got to have a new event ready to go as soon as the last one gets stale.
There is a point to this, and it’s one that has been bothering me with every ‘expansion’.
Blizzard does not act as though they realize what kind of game we’re playing. They act as though we continue to play World of Warcraft as a questing and leveling experience, even as more shortcuts to max level are baked into the core experience.
You have to ride the wave of new events to keep the players pumping quarters into the change slot. If you distract us with new shinies, we keep collecting them.
I want to collect them. I need to collect them. if you give me more shinies to chase, nobody will get hurt.
There is an interesting series of articles at Venture Beat that Albert Reed, the CEO and co-founder of Demiurge Studios has been writing about their extremely successful game, Marvel Puzzle Quest.
This is a series that you should take some notice of, because this is welcome candor from a man that is focused on how to separate a player from his money, and what methods he has used to become ever more successful at it.
The third chapter (there are eight so far, and each one is extremely good reading) discusses how Marvel Puzzle Quest has really taken off by embracing being an Event Driven game. If you read it and other articles in the series and really think about what is being discussed, there are a lot of similar elements going on in World of Warcraft, but they’re not shown the same level of awareness.
They’re not even close to being the same kind of game, but we are all video game players, and most of us seem to respond to the things that an Event Driven game offers, and that World of Warcraft gives us in spurts and false starts.
World of Warcraft expansions and content patches give us a new chapter to the story, and the main instrument in that chapter to advance the story are multiplayer raids with ever-higher power loot items as rewards.
The catch is, of course, when there are no events… we are all left flailing around looking for something to do to fill that time, and I at least usually feel as though somehow I am to blame for not being able to find something fun to do in the game.
That moment, that point in the game at the end of a content patch or game chapter where I have completely exhausted the raiding by doing the same ones thirty or more times, repeatedly, is exactly the moment when a new event should begin.
The lesson that Marvel Puzzle Quest and other games is teaching us, is that those events do not all have to be major battles or world-shaking story arcs. They can be smaller stories, told on a more personal scale, with smaller rewards of a more cosmetic or even temporary nature, but because they are new to us, they keep us engaged.
World of Warcraft had that same awareness, once upon a time. There was a time, a long, long, LONG time ago, when the seasonal events in game were something new to look forward to.
The problem is, once released they have been abandoned, and rarely get refreshed for a new year.
For several years now, the only question we have is, “Did they bump up the power of the drops from last years event? No? Pfft. Well, maybe my 8th alt can use a mole machine to get to BRD.”
I get the feeling from Blizzard that they’re not looking at the upcoming calendar year and discussing what content will be released at what time to space things out right, and have plans in place to provide filler events at key droughts.
Or, worse yet, they are planning it by the week, but they are including out-of-game Blizzard events like the release of a Diablo 3 expansion as WoW content.
Content from a company that is not actually in the game is not content, it’s competition.
Break my immersion in your game with a different game and you have no assurance I’ll ever return.
I’d like to think that the developers lift their heads from the gorgeous art they are creating and the quests and NPCs and zone terrain, and have a team meeting where someone breaks down the upcoming year one week at a time.
“Okay, now we’ve got 52 weeks in the year, we’re on week 22. What do we have going on that week. How many weeks since the last new thing to do? What, 8 weeks since a big content patch with raids and Tier armor? Two months, that’s a long time to be hitting the raids for progression, people will be needing a palate cleanser. What do we have new coming to break it up? yeah, Tim, what do you have?”
“Maybe we could have a one week event where we use that great design work that went into the Argent Tournament and jousting. How about we make that week a new max-level jousting tournament? Phase the argent tournament area for max level characters only with a bread crumb from the faction leaders, add a new questline, update the vendors with some new rewards with a new currency token that expires just like other seasonal currencies. Players can joust against familiar NPC opponents that will be exciting if we tweak them right, or PvP against other players. They can use the tokens to maybe buy pieces for a transmog set of jousting armor without stats, something that will look neat for roleplayers, and a new armored mount as the most expensive reward to keep people tilting all week. By the time the event is over, people will see raiding as a fresh break from the tournament, and an opportunity to show off their new pets or mount of armor look.”
“Okay, what about week 23? The week after a jousting tournament, do we want to give folks time to recover after spending a week playing more than average to try and earn those tokens?”
It just makes sense to me that you as a game designer, maintaining a game where time played is your number one asset, would be looking at the content in your game on a week-by-week basis to make sure you have planned for each week to have something that will keep players engaged and looking forward to logging in, but not feel like it is their job to have to log in and clock in those hours each day.
So you have planned events with just enough time for the majority of players to complete everything, and then you move on to something else, and some events be intense battles and major upheavals and others be story builders and setups for the events to come.
An event doesn’t have to be the release of a full raid tier. An event cane be a fresh week of seasonal content that is actually fresh. It can be a small quest chain that is newly added that leads you to search places around the world seeking treasure, such as the treasure maps of old.
What an event has to do is give you something fresh to do, have the chance to offer you a reward no matter how small it is, and be something that breaks you free from a daily grind if only for a little while.
Sometimes, like in the first half of Mists of Pandaria, it seems Blizzard does everything right. And then we come to where we are today, and look around, and wonder… “Are they playing the same game we are? Or are they playing the alpha and have forgotten we’re stuck in the Timeless Isle, and all we want is to grab the skipper and Maryann and get the hell off?”
However World of Warcraft started, whatever the original goal, it’s event driven now.
As much as the game has grown and matured over the years, the philosophy behind content scheduling seems to be lagging a bit behind. I hope that the planning improves soon, because I’ve seen some of the new competition coming up, and while there is no such thing as a ‘WoW Killer’, there are certainly some developers who seem to be chomping at the bit to entice players away by promising them frequent content updates.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how big the content update, because when you’ve had nothing new to do for a half a year, anything starts looking pretty damn good.
If you be standing still while the lean and hungry go racing around you, maybe you be moving too slow, mon. And maybe you be the meal they waiting to eat.