Once More, With Feeling

Allow me to revise my previous post a bit. The fundamental question I was asking was:

“Is it a good use of designer resources to specifically construct one-time events (in MMOs)?”

The traditional sort of knee-jerk response would probably be “Yes.” My answer is No.

A one-time event is essentially the most extreme example of planned obsolescence in MMOs. If you get upset at the idea that nobody does Tier N content when Tier N+1 is released, then you should be grabbing pitchforks at the very mention of one-time events. Were you upset when ToC made Ulduar irrelevant? Were you sad when Cataclysm redesigned the entire leveling experience, including removing your favorite quests? Do you support attunements as a means to make all raids relevant through the duration of an expansion? Are you sad about how fast leveling has gotten in WoW, or how many dungeons are being “wasted?” If you answered Yes to any of those questions and yet still enjoy the idea of the AQ gate opening just the one time ever, then you have some serious cognitive dissonance going on.

A raid being rendered moot by the next patch’s 5m heroics is just another form of planned obsolescence; it is another form of one-time events, same as the leveling speed changing, dungeons becoming empty, and so on. The only difference is one of duration, e.g. months/years versus an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

There is, however, an important distinction to make here.

When ToC made Ulduar irrelevant, Ulduar still existed. In fact, you can still zone into Ulduar today and go have fun. Will it be the same experience as it was when it was the new hotness? Of course not – you can never cross the same river twice. The difficulty changed quite a bit following the months of its release, to say nothing of the changing abilities of players, the higher level cap, and so on. But fundamentally the place is still there and still capable of generating new memories. The planned obsolescence was social in nature, not structural. Blizzard did not simply remove the raid portal, or leave all the bosses dead. Few people wanted to do Ulduar after ToC was released because better gear was available elsewhere, they had gotten their fill of Ulduar content, they wanted to tackle new challenges, or whatever.

This brings me to a smaller point I was trying to make yesterday: social obsolescence happens naturally, automatically, and inevitably. If ToC was released with just sidegrades available, there still would have been fewer people raiding Ulduar; the exodus might not have been as abrupt, but it still would have occurred. Even in horizontal-progression games, you do not see an evenly distributed population. People generally crave novelty, and will mob whatever new content is introduced, leaving barren ghost towns in their wake. Nobody cares that you have got the Kingslayer title yesterday.

And so now we have arrived at my larger assertion: making events only occur once adds little to nothing to the experience.

Liore and Syl in the previous comments said that the AQ opening would have been less epic/less people would have showed up if it were repeatable. Based on what? Did those people know, for sure, that the gong would never be struck again? Would the significance of the first opening have been diminished in any real way if the event was available the very next year? Or weeks later? I have a hard time believing that could be the case, because Firsts are always special. Neil Armstrong is the first human to step on the moon; his accomplishment is in no way diminished by the fact eleven other dudes have also stepped on the moon. Have you heard of Eugene Cernan or Harrison Schmitt? Those are the last two people to have rung the gong on the moon, so to speak, but no one really cares. Neil still is/was the man.

Ultimately, to me, it comes down to a question of where best to utilize limited designer resources. When new raids and dungeons are released, there is always a special moment attached to it. A camaraderie that exists as thousands and thousands of players try something for the first time, race to the top, and otherwise share an experience. Undoubtedly that is the same goal of one-time events, to evoke those same feelings and perhaps pretend that this is a game world that is always changing (at 12:00 PM Pacific Time/19:00 GMT this Sunday only). The difference is that with the latter, the content is thereafter removed, generating no new experiences, no new memories, and no lasting history beyond the recollections of an ever-dwindling veteran playerbase.

I want game worlds to get bigger by having more things in them, not less, and not temporary things. Designers should stick with making the tools and toys; let the players bring the dynamic themselves.

And if you need something to only happen once to enjoy it the most, 1) I feel bad for you, and 2) the first time only happens once already. Enjoy the feeling as it lasts… don’t just take the ball and go home.

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Posted on November 2, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. As far as I’m concerned it is not a question of what decision is better, so I don’t understand why this is such a big discussion. If you ask “Is it a good use of designer resources to specifically construct one-time events (in MMOs)?” then my answer would be yes.

    For special events, occasions and celebration days it is very nice to have something out of the ordinary. If you are there, you can first hand experience it, if not, you can watch the video.
    It’s similar to the opening ceremony of the olympic games. It is a huge (I don’t want to thing about the money invested) event that tries to attune the viewer and participants to what is to come. It’s not necessary for the sport events, but its a nice flavour added.

    A gaming world where every event is available for an unlimited time is just nonsense. You got halloween/christmas/easter decorations all over the places, zombie invasions during valentines day, summer bonfires burning beside dancing snowmen, new areas being opened and introduced that you have been roaming for the last year and raid-dungeon-gonging at the same time as the slaying of the villain is announced world wide.

    Imo gamers get the most out of it if there is content added long term, content permanently changed to represent a new situation and short time changes for seasonal/special occasions.

    • I will conceed the “necessity” of seasonal events coming and going.

      But the fetishizing of adding content and then removing it immediately to simulate what already happens socially is a tremendous waste of resources that could have been applied expanding the world outward.

  2. I don’t understand your argument. You say designers shouldn’t create one-time events because social obsolescence happens anyway and functions as a sort of parallel to the once-off event. But if the obsolescence effect happens anyway, then what is the harm of just making the event one-time and having done with it? As you say, there is really no incentive to go back to Ulduar today. The experience won’t be the same, there isn’t much of a material reward aside from gold/transmog, so the only reason is to do it for the average player is for the sake of completeness. If Blizzard had simply closed the doors when Cataclysm released, it wouldn’t have had much of an effect on anything.

    What makes it more confusing is that you do, correct me if I’m wrong, support the current design philosophy of isolated raid tiers as opposed to the more integrated experience of Vanilla or TBC. So, you in effect agree that Ulduar or whatever being a limited time event is a good thing, and shouldn’t be changed to where people were forced to run Ulduar throughout WoTLK. But then what could be the objection to one-time events, if they simply parallel this approach of planned obsolescence while also having a much weaker incentive to participate (i.e. ringing the gong gets you a title and mount, rather than a legendary that is, say, best-in-slot forever)?

    • But if the obsolescence effect happens anyway, then what is the harm of just making the event one-time and having done with it?

      The “harm” is having spent X hours designing the one-off event instead of X hours on something that actually adds durable content to the world. Maybe there is an argument that one-shot content is quicker to pump out for whatever reason, but all time still adds up.

      If you believe that nothing would have been lost by removing Ulduar at the end of the expansion, I have to ask: where does that line end? Why not remove it by Icecrown? Or when ToC was released? Or, hell, why not just delete the place after the first guild kills Algalon? According to some of the people around here, that would have made Ulduar even more special, amirite?

      Just delete every raid outside of Pandaria, and they automatically become epic forever… somehow.

      I do indeed support “isolated raid tiers” insofar as I recognize that social obsolescence makes that a reality no matter how progression is structured (nevermind the inherent design flaws when beginning bosses are always easier than last bosses of prior tiers, etc). The distinction, again, is the fact that these old raids still exist and can continue generating new memories on into perpetuity. Guilds can have “old raid night.” The nostalgic amongst us can take a walk back down memory lane. New players can see those massive structures in the distance and imagine themselves participating in things like that some day.

      • One thing to bear in mind is that expending resources on something extremely temporal is a demonstration of power. “Look, we can spend *this much* to do something that only lasts *this long*!”

        Part of your objection rests on the idea that resources are scarce. Events like this may be partly intended to demonstrate that resources are far from scarce.

  3. A dynamic world will have resources changed or destroyed . Everything is destroyed can be considered a ONE time event. Some players experienced it before it is changed or destroyed, the players that not experienced it will not have a way to experience it if it not return.

    The Lion Arch’s fountain is gone. Not returned after the halloween event ended. The dev that built it (Josh Foreman) have some reason to bitch:

    “I worked way too hard on that thing to throw it away! That would make me cry. Haha… spent a lot of my free time on it actually. You know it has 4,000 frames of animation, and I had to hand track every single frame that a splash happened on every single fish for the audio guys to sync it up. Not that we will never permanently destroy anything. In fact… well, I can’t say more than that. But NOT the lion statue. It’s the symbol of LA. Like the Statue of Liberty is for New York or the Eiffel Tower is for Paris.”

    Now, there are dead whales coming tot the shore of Lion Arch. They are hints about the 15th november event coming.

    Azuriel, if you want a dynamic world, designed resources will be changed or destroyed. If that resources don’t change, it is a static world. So, or you want a dynamic world or you go play a static world. but stop to bitch that GW2 is not dynamic.

    • Surely by your own definition every MMO must therefore be dynamic, as every game should, at some point, change its world and remove content (if only because it’s terribly designed, but the reasoning doesn’t matter so long as it changes the world, right?)

      Besides that, removing the lion isn’t meaningful dynamism because a player’s experience, and the things they can actually do in the game, will not change at all because the lion’s gone.

      • My “experience” has changed because the Lion has gone. The Lion was one of my favorite pieces of content in GW2. I spent a lot of time there, watching the way the fountains played and how the mechanical trickery worked. I took dozens of screenshots of it. I just wish I’d taken some video.

        I am more than a little pissed off that it has gone. It’s destruction has affected me emotionally more than is probably rational and it has materially affected my enjoyment of the game, albeit negatively.

        For my money, changes to in-game infrastructure generally have more impact than changes to “gameplay”. I care more about the architecture and the landscape than I do about “stuff I can do” in pretty much any MMO.

    • People make worlds dynamic (even static ones), and they do it a lot better than any designer ever could.

      You feel these events make the world dynamic. I don’t. Did the statue disappear by player activity, or because some dude flipped a switch in ArenaNet HQ? Has the world (outside LA) or storyline change in any way? Can it happen on the fly, at any time? It is fake dynamism, and players play(ed) no part. Maybe this simulation of a changing world is enough to press your buttons, but it falls into the uncanny valley for me.

      Given the choice, I choose static world with a dynamic playerbase. Give the players a place to stand and let them move the world.

      • Frankly, I don’t give a toss about what players do in any MMO. Players are set dressing. Even I am only a visitor or a tourist.

        NPCs are the real people in all MMOs and Devs are the real forces of nature. What Devs do and what happens to NPCs matters to everyone. What players do and what happens to them is of interest only to those players directly involved.

  4. I agree that from a logical, content-driven point of view one time events are wholly wasteful and don’t actually mean anything. Whilst a part of me goes “but one time events are really good!”, if I look at it objectively they don’t really work a lot of the time.

    But, having said that, I think they do have a time and place where their use is, in the grand scheme of things a benefit for the game. Namely, before massive changes (i.e. expansions). If the game is going to change dramatically, especially after a long period of content drought and the like, then I’d say that from a cynical point of view, they bring back subscribers (because hey shinies that will never come up again) whilst also putting a good taste in the mouth of players for the upcoming expansion, provided they’re done effectively. Whether or not the events are actually cash flow positive is something I can’t speculate on with any knowledge, but my bottom line would be: the Halloween one times were pointless, since the event will come back next year, and weren’t very interesting anyway. However, if the game was releasing an expansion instead, I wouldn’t be as quick to condemn the notion of an event.

    • Thank you. I was seriously over here questioning my ability to form coherant thoughts, but you essentially summed up what I was attempting (and failing) to get across.

      And perhaps it really does come down to the fact that most one-time events aren’t done effectively, thus reinforcing my cynicism that they are cheesy attempts to gin up interest in a world that isn’t producing them organically.

  5. At this point I still feel like some over-generalization is going on here. The one-time event was the brief cinematic of the king popping out of the ground. This probably took a few animators a few days. I mean, it is not as though they spent a large portion of their development budget on something only people online on a Sunday afternoon would see. Compared to the Gong this was nothing; the Gong ringing and Silithid invasion was a huge piece of content that went on for days and now is only relived on Youtube and on private servers.

    So IMO this analysis is missing the critical component of scale; it’s one thing to say Developers should not spend a large amount of their budget/time on something few will say, it is entirely different to say that they can never have any events that do not recur. Frankly I see this as no different from WoW Halloween events. They changed each year, there were some rewards that can’t be obtained anymore.

    Using the Moon analogy, Neil landing on the surface was the experience people online in Lion’s Arch got when the King popped out. Viewing it on youtube was people seeing recordings or the later-astronauts. They CAN still experience it.

    • The moon analogy was more about the fact that the accomplishment itself is still meaningful despite being repeated later. It is meant as a rebuttal to those that suggest the impact of one-time events is lost when they are brought back/repeated.

      You are correct in that the scale is off… for now. As this teaser page demonstrates though, one-time events are likely GW2’s shtick going forward.

  6. One-time events can be effective at winning over potential new players that are on the fence.

    Imagine if you were considering whether to buy GW2 now, or to wait until Christmas. The chance to be able to ‘be there’ and later tell you story to jealous late-comers has a good potential to stop people from deferring their purchase.

    One-time events are expensive but they tend to grab headlines and as such can be considered a marketing tool rather than pure ‘content’ on a par with permanent raids or quests.

  7. I am sure Azuriel will go crazy bitching mode when she knows about the one time events at 16-18th…

    But I am sure GW2 at XFire will go up that weekend.

  8. The AQ event was pretty drab when looked at from a pure content point of view. BRD was an infinitely better use of dev resources from a content perspective. The thing that made the AQ gates opening special was the fact that 1/2 the server was there. MMOs at this point feel smaller and smaller and are trying to cater to so many tastes that not many of them really feel “massive” anymore. One time events seem to be the one place left where people get so excited about being swept up in the crowd that they are willing to overlook thin content and bugs galore in order to create player driven stories. Steering players to write their own stories if the most efficient use of dev resources available in the industry.

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