In the early years of the MMO genre, developers and game masters routinely ran special once-only events to immerse the playerbase in a game's storyline. Storytelling has always been one of EVE Online's strongest features and in the early days of EVE developers showed a significant commitment to immersive events. These events unfortunately became plagued with difficulties and inadequacies, leading to the eventual shut-down of events altogether. Of course EVE isn't the only game hit by these issues, it forms part of what I consider to be a very disappointing trend. In recent years, many MMOs have opted to replace authored events with predictable seasonal festivals or have even eliminated events altogether. EVE's storyline is now simply a collection of stories and the news items tell tales of in-game events which never actually happened. In my opinion, this was one of the biggest mistakes the game's developers CCP Games have ever made.
In this article, I grapple with the problems EVE's events have had and find potential solutions in some unlikely places.
In days long since passed, the term "Game Master" referred not to someone that answered your support tickets but to a person whose job it is to design, coordinate and run events for players. In recent years, the tendency has been to use the term to refer to customer service representatives because very few MMOs have active events which need to be specially coordinated by someone. While EVE Online has now subscribed to this modern convention, at one point they also had specialised events staff.
The AURORA department of ISD was composed of volunteers whose job it was to design, create and host events. The teams of volunteers were then coordinated and overseen by a developer. This went on for a number of years but unfortunately it didn't alleviate the problem of low event participation. The final nail in AURORA's coffin was when a few bad apples in the volunteers were reportedly caught leaking information about events to parties in-game, who then profited off it. The department's shut-down came just after they had promised to increase activity and signalled the end of in-game events for EVE.
The main problem with events as far as the game developers are concerned is that they'd have to pay employees to author and co-ordinate events but only a very small portion of the playerbase will ever experience them. As the size of the playerbase grows, percentage participation in events tends to decrease because there are only so many people in the right place at the right time to get involved. Although EVE Online has over 300,000 players on the same server, events were located in a given star system at a certain time, leading to there being less than a hundred participants in many of them.
The second big problem is that events can't be truly open-ended. If the event creator can't control how the event will progress, they have to create at least one contingency storyline that won't be used. This leads to an increase in workload for organisers without a corresponding increase in content. The overall result is an undeniable yet disappointing truth – it's too expensive to run enough one-time events that get a lot of the playerbase involved.
Solutions: Long-term events:
The ideal event is one that allows all players a chance to participate. One-time events lasting only a few hours aren't really acceptable as they rely on players being in the right place at the right time to participate. If announcements of the location and time are made, it could place undue strain on the server if several hundred players or more turn up. To raise participation In a way that the servers can cope with, events should be conducted over the course of several days or a week and multiple concurrent locations for the event can be considered.
Read on to page 2 where I speculate on how this could be achieved.