Monday, 27 January 2014

The Problem of Temporary Content in MMO

In times long past, history half-forgotten there was a certain way of doing particular things. DLC did not exist, games were released when they were ready, and they were followed by either expansions or sequels. Sometimes both. But one thing was always true only for MMO games. This thing, was they were never truly finished. Never a complete game. They always changed, evolved, twisted, and turned. At times because of what developers did, and sometimes because what players made of the game.

Nothing was forever in MMO, everything was eligible for a change. You could do a certain quest one day, and then find out, that this was once in a lifetime opportunity, that only select few ever were able to accomplish. As the time went by, developers started to fashion content that majority could experience on their own. Thus, the players were not entirely dependent on their own luck and timing to experience something in an MMO.

The content became static. It became rooted. What I wrote up here is mostly what I know from hearsay. It is knowledge I got from my guildmates, friends, and Internet in general. For all I know, it could all be made up, rose-tinted view of a days gone past, and era of gaming that will never come back again.

As I was thinking, I came to conclusion that I actually like how things are done right now in my MMO of choice, with the static content. Quests all the same, daily quests here and there, and dungeon run on demand. It is all very much tailored to how we approach the content these days. This static approach also helps with introducing, nay exposing the player to the game's lore and story in general.

We could argue about that, but I am willing to claim that after you saved Crusader Kul for 50th time from the clutches of evil cultists, you remembered his name, what he did, and that he will probably try it again. You probably figured out who wants him safe, for who the damnable dwarf is working, and probably learnt something more about the everyday life on Argent Tournament grounds. All that from just repeating one same daily quest for so many times.

Alain de Botton talks in his TED conference about atheism based on religion. Mind you, he talks about religion, not actual faith, but I am already sidetracking. What is important for our discussion about games here, is that repetition does wonders. We could say, practise makes perfect.

With repeating the same quests over and over, or doing the things in the same way helps us feel familiar with our surrounding. It makes us confident, certain, it gives us a safe haven of sorts. A place where we always know how things are done. True after awhile things get boring, and this is understandable. There is limited amount of times you will go save Kul from trouble. After that limit is crossed, people would just say "Eh, let them have it, they will give him back after they see what a pest he truly is."

But, even after years, Kul is still there ready to be rescued if you wish to do so. If not for you, than for some new player that never got the chance to save him while everyone was doing it. And for the veteran player, it brings back the memory of who he was, in what context and where did they interact with him. It is as watching a film. No matter if you watch it the first day, or years after its release, it will always be the same. Everyone can experience the same film. Their experience may vary, but their platform is the same.

This is something that vanishes in temporary content. It is one of those things that I resent the most when it comes to Guild Wars II. It has such great potential, interesting lore, and nascent Personal Story. Yet it is still trying to force temporary content on its players.

I am not saying that Guild Wars II should scrap their dynamic events in favour of more static (traditional) quests. No, what I am saying is, that there should be more addition to the world, and less taking from it. I could be accused of just venting my frustrations on Guild Wars II, as I rarely play it these days. And when I do, it is such a miniscule amount of time, that it could hardly be called playing.

I am critical, because I see the Personal Story, and the developers leave it be, collecting dust in a corner, just like Lord Faren in my house. In turn they work on a "living world" that seems so shallow, that you run it once, and think of it not worth another run. Dynamics of new content should be handled differently. If anything, it should be phased, just like Personal Story is. It should be available to all no matter when they joined in. Forcing a player to either do it, or miss it not a path well made. Would you read a book if every other chapter was missing?

Temporary content limits the amount of players that experience it, thus the collective experience of community is weaker as a whole. It also dictates the tempo instead of letting the player choose for himself how and when he wants to take a look at it. It lacks the actual background behind the event that would enrich the story. And even when there is background it fades into oblivion when this temporary content runs its course. What all this contributes to is a shallow game, a hollow experience.

I will say it this way. I was much more invested in Guild Wars II when I read their lore entries on their blog, and leveling up, than I was once I hit level 80. I know that my opinion is of little value when it comes to Guild Wars II, but I think they should just abandon this Living World nonsense. They should focus on the evolution of Personal Story, and adding additional events to the zones in game.

Personal Story leaves a mark. Everyone has their own experience they like to share and compare to others. And, is always there. Available to everyone. Living Story is in comparison like a tax season. We all know it is coming, and rare few actually enjoy it. The problem of any temporary content is that it is temporary. Like a first snow. First time it is beautiful, after two days, it is ugly, annoying, freezing, frigid, not welcome, and a good riddance when it is finally gone.


  1. I have to disagree, at least somewhat. For me, a lot of my best MMO memories come from specific moments with specific people at specific times. In no way can that sort of content be made static. Temporary content does that for a larger amount of people without the need of happenstance.

    In Ultima Online, before I ever even played, one of the game's major cities was raided by an undead army. People had to go there, fight them off, and try to save the city. Instead of simply being NPCs, that undead army was led by boss mobs played by real people. Those who managed to survive the war often walked away with unique items signifying they had been there and just as unique stories to tell others.

    I hate that I missed it, but that sort of content cannot be sustained for the life of a game. People would get tired of it, for one, and over time, fewer and fewer people would come to aid newer players who hadn't done it yet. While I don't think MMOs should consist entirely of temporary content, I very much welcome the depth they can add to communities in the form of stories we tell to one another.

    I get what you are saying about Guild Wars 2 though. If the Personal Story feature mattered enough to put it in game, then they should be willing to update it just as frequently as other parts. They should be striving to strike a balance between the temporary and the persistent, though, not throwing one out only to support the other.

    Striking that right balance can be tough to do, but I personally applaud for their willingness to add truly temporary content at all. So many other MMOs are obsessed with this notion that everyone should get a shot at a piece of content designed and developed with the intention of not lasting. That's a big reason why special events like World of Warcraft's holidays got so boring to me when they were just the exact same thing done year after year.

    1. Some of my best memories in WoW are from the pre-Wrath plague event. While everyone was either infected, infecting others, or running around as a zombie, I was able to finally show what we Paladins were made of. I cleansed, resurrected others without pause. I engaged the invading undead army and earned a whole recolour of T2 that day. I destroyed it later on in WotLK as I needed space in my bank (A decision I regret to this day)... But it was a great event, and I understand where you are coming from.

      That said. This event was one-time only occurrence. I am willing to say that the reason it stayed so long in my memory is because of its uniqueness. Had it been just one among many, like in Guild Wars 2, it would be long forgotten. Which I dare say, will happen to the story of Living World in Guild Wars 2. It is too saturated, and at same time too shallow.

      In my opinion Living Story is empty, filler content serving just as an excuse that they released something. It adds very little if anything to the actual grand mythos, story, or lore of Guild Wars 2. One can afford temporary content once it has enough of the base content to rely on. I feel that is not the case when we talk about Guild Wars 2.

  2. I sort of agree with you. Temporary content is a waste of developer resources. Its experienced by the current playerbase only and no future players will likely ever know it existed.

    The tragedy is Guild Wars 2 had so few things to do that wasting resources on a short term transitory form of content alienated there hardcore wvw player base. What arguably was originally intended as the end game for GW2. I realize more of the playerbase seems to be consuming PVE content according to the devs...but thats mostly due to the departure of wvw players like me who felt neglected.

    While a truly living world wont likely exist until EverQuest Next (if we are to believe the hype) id much rather see permanent content so the game actually grows.

    1. I never really gave a fair chance to PvP in Guild Wars 2. WvW was not for me as the majority of time was just spent running around and searching for battle. As I always arrived to late, it was really depressing just seeing all the corpses of defeated players.

      As for the PvP itself, as soon as I saw they changed my armour it was the end, I simply left and that was it. I really don't like when some simple armour is forced upon me, when I worked hard to get a good looking armour. Yeah, I know, I'm vain like that.


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