The Think Tank: The desirability of world-changing game events

GW2
World-changing events can have a huge impact on MMORPGs, both positive and negative. Guild Wars 2's living story, which laid waste to Lion's Arch and face-lifted several other areas in the game, is well-known for its permanent plot-based world changes, but EverQuest II, World of Warcraft, and many older games have also dabbled with brazen alterations to the landscape... and players aren't always happy about it. For today's Think Tank, I asked the Massively writers what they think about such content: Are we fans of permanent, comfortable, unchanging worlds, or do we prefer game worlds to change over time and in our absence, even if that means virtual places we once loved can no longer be visited?

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: I love 'em. There's just something really cool about knowing that a game world isn't static and locked in time, although Guild Wars 2's experimentation with it has shown that there are some logistical issues to work out when changes happen for everyone: It can be a little wonky to do a personal story chapter in the current Lion's Arch map alongside characters who were written back when the city was intact, for instance. Even with the awkwardness, though, it's worth it for moments where players are all running around together documenting changes and reacting to them. It's the one great thing Guild Wars 2 has done to encourage interactive roleplay.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: Before Guild Wars 2, I'd seen this type of event used to best effect in Ultima Online (the razing of Magincia), where the players were given a choice in helping to save or destroy the town from a demon invasion. After the players destroyed and plundered it (because what else?), they got to rebuild it, and now it's an island full of player homes. On the downside, I really liked Old Magincia, just as I liked Lion's Arch, and it seems a waste of dev time to build it and destroy it and build it again. On the other hand, building new spaces dilutes the playerbase, whereas wrecking old spaces gives the illusion of impermanence and history. I suppose I'm in favor of a little bit of both, as long as the world-changing is done without caprice and the unchanged bits aren't left alone purely out of laziness.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: The problem with world changes is how they're handled. World of Warcraft unleashed a lot of changes with Cataclysm, but then it left major locations still sitting damaged for years after the event was over. It felt less like "dynamic world" and more like "now we have Partly-Ruined Stormwind forever." Changing from one static state to another isn't quite the same thing. By contrast, GW2's destruction of Lion's Arch felt like something organic that didn't just get ignored five minutes later. Final Fantasy XIV has been consistently updating Revenant's Toll and other areas as the story progresses, creating a world that moves and changes along with outside events. Yes, it sucks missing out on content (which is why City of Heroes' flashback system should be, like, everywhere, right now), but having the world change as the game progresses is good for both new players and old: It creates a sense of continuity for veterans, and it shows history to people just getting into the game anew.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: Sure, I like world-changing events. Virtual world mechanics are the only reason to play MMOs because they're the only thing that MMOs do well. If all you want is a Progress Quest number treadmill and some fake virtual achievements, plenty of other genres do that better, along with combat mechanics and production values that put MMOs to shame.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: I used to be a big believer in world changes for MMOs, but over time I've found that they are stressful and not well received. Usually the problem is taking something that is familiar and loved and either (a) changing it beyond recognition or (b) blowing it up. It also puts pressure to be in the game so that you won't miss these changes instead of allowing you to play without worry that what you love in the world might go away tomorrow.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: I'm torn on this one. I like to see a world that's constantly on the move, but I also feel deep nostalgia for the things that were. World of Warcraft is my prime example of how to ruin a world with unnecessary changes; I don't know many people who prefer the current iteration of Orgrimmar over the original. Then again, change isn't always pretty, and perhaps hate for new capital is exactly what Blizzard wanted us to feel.

The Guild Wars 2 Lion's Arch update was pretty amazing. It takes serious confidence in the story you're telling to completely demolish a game's primary hub. I guess in the end this question translates to, "Do you like when developers take risks with content?" and bold plays are always something I can appreciate in a world where safe is the normal course of action.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: While I do have personal issues with missing content (must haz ALL THE CONTENT), I love, love, LOVE a world that is ever-changing, that grows and develops alongside player characters. This is why I am beside myself with giddiness for EverQuest Next. A static world has only one story, and once you've been through that, the wonder of discovery is lost. A game that is constantly evolving through world-changing events is more alive, more immersive. Sure, I totally miss "what used to be," but that just lends itself to the feelings of nostalgia and adds oomph to the personal stories of "back in the old days."

And that brings up another point: It also allows for players to have more ownership over stories that truly are personal and not just something that every single player throughout all history of the game will experience. It gives the world a history. And hearing stories of daring-do from the past I feel lends to feelings of wanting to go out and see what adventures you can find now so you can make your own stories and add a little personal touch to the overall history of the game. So yeah, bring on the world-changing events!

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
This article was originally published on Massively.