But I don't want to constantly make epic events to keep changing my storyline
This is another mistake that many developers do when making their live events. They believe that an event has to be epic and it has to draw the entire population in to be successful. Well, the only thing these events do is create a disgustingly large lag-fest where no one has any fun and everyone's confused as to what's happening.
Small, targeted events are great ways to pass on information and keep your world in flux. Most of these events don't require new monsters to be added, new particle effects to be introduced, or even changes in information. They shouldn't even require your programming team, unless someone on your programming team wants to do some acting on the side.
"It's like reading a book -- once you get involved in the story, you'll want to keep flipping the pages to find out what happens next."
What am I talking about? Well, how cool would it be to see your king give a speech on the state of the world in the town square? How cool would it be to find a real dying soldier in the forest, and told in his last breaths to take a message to the leader of the town guards, who is also being played by a real person? How cool would it be to come face to face with one of the game's arch-villains, only to be stuck in one of his traps and mocked until he completes part of his plan and leaves you?
These events, no matter how small, are now unique to the people who participate in them. That gets those people excited enough to tell the story to their friends, who talk to their friends, and so forth. The information in these events will get passed on to other members of the community because, well, everyone wants to gloat about their "special event," no matter how simple it was. For just a minute, they were in the spotlight of affairs greater than they were. And now, their experience is documented in the changing history of the game, and gives all players a sense of context.
Players will say things to one another like, "Oh, where were you when the king gave his speech?" or, "Did you hear the rumor that said the leader of the guards was being bribed by that evil faction of sorcerers?" And, even if the player didn't directly participate in it, they'll feel connected and compelled to find out what happens. It's like reading a book -- once you get involved in the story, you'll want to keep flipping the pages to find out what happens next.
History, more than a boring class in High School
Long story short, personally involve your players in the world that they play in, and they'll stick around as loyal customers. Why? Because you're finally giving them an epic new feature -- a story that's unique to every single person in your game. You'll give them events to remember, tales to tell, NPCs to truly love and hate, and that evolving world that so frequently gets flaunted on the back of the retail box.
But, most of all? We'll finally get to be the heroes you say we are.
Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who has way too many awesome, unique stories from The Matrix Online to count. When she's not writing here for Massively, she's rambling on her personal blog,The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an e-mail at seraphina AT massively DOT com. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.