In my last article, I spoke about some of the difficulties in presenting Live Events for the Matrix Online, an MMO that last Friday took its final bow and closed down. As a former Live Events Team (LET) member, I got to see first-hand some of the issues that digital actors face in the MMO space.
To many people, the MMO is the perfect place to build tools that present fresh, live content to the player - it is a virtual world (to a greater or lesser extent) and everyone knows that a world is not always a predictable place! Against this is the increasingly mechanized experience players have - the theme park experience where every player experiences the same thing in the same way... every time.
Many solutions have been offered to this, and they fall under what I would call "automated events." This article won't touch on those, except in ways they can serve an actual LET employee.
The possible solutions I offer seek to tackle many of the issues I brought up last time in my own experience building and implementing live events for Matrix.
But first, we should touch on what Live Events offer a game over automated events and static content. The goals of a LET are often not considered to the same degree as other systems. Since this article assumes a company has an interest in the more organic feel of live events, we'll assume that design discussion has already occurred.
The goals of your LET should be simple: provide content to players with an organic, "live" feel that is neither on a set schedule nor in the same automated setting. Live Events will be human in nature - these are not situations in which you want total automation. Live Events represent the human side of the game, and more importantly, work strongly to make players feel there is an immersive layer to the game that is often lacking.
So which situations are these? Let's go back to my three event types: Meet and Greet, Hear Me, Zion, and Oh No, Bad Guys. To this, let's add one more: Guided Experience. I'll talk about Guided Experiences at the end of the article. As I break down tools and means to make Live Events work, keep these three types in mind.
Tools in the hands of an empowered employee of the company are always dangerous - the pages of MMO lore are filled with rogue operatives in the company supposedly helping this player or that one. In this case, I say - OK. Give them the power, but track it properly.
An LET employee who interacts with a player flags that player as having been "evented." This event flag is visible to any other employee of the company (CSRs, LET, internal investigations) as a "do not touch" sign. This event flag prevents an evented player from receiving material rewards from a live event while the flag persists - depending on the company's plan for live events, I would imagine a week or two weeks. This flag is invisible to players and should never be mentioned to them except in broad terms of "we have a means of ensuring an individual player (or character) does not become over-represented in live events."
This tool will go a long way toward mitigating favoritism claims from the player base - even the best buddy of corrupt Joe the LET will only be able to receive the benefits of a live event during the time metrics already approved by the design of the game. More importantly, this is an automated system which serves as a check on employees trying to circumvent the rules.
The next tool is probably the one that I have thought about the most - simulpresence. For a digital actor who seeks to speak with players, being in only one place at one time is a major piece of the scaling issue that Live Events must hurdle. Simulpresent LET characters appear on all servers in the exact same place, and perform every action and text output at the same time in every server. Thus, LET members who are providing information or just "showing the flag" of a character can literally address the entire present player base through one keyboard at one time.
The power of simulpresence should not be underestimated. The vast majority of players who encountered a live event in Matrix often asked the same questions and the environment of the meeting was often so confusing that simulpresence really doesn't add any appreciable loss of fidelity for the event.
Specifically, I'm thinking Hear Me, Zion events in which an actor is addressing a crowd. Simulpresence is perfect for this. Even Meet and Greets can work this way, if the actor is on his toes and is able to see player inputs from a few of the servers he is simulpresent in.
Added to simulpresence is an array of friendly and not-so-friendly enhancements to the actor's repertoire. At the least an actor should be able to click on a player and silence or freeze them (standard GM tools), the actor should be safe from player crowding through an impassible barrier - preferably one built into the world such as a stage or balcony. The player should be able to despawn creatures nearby (not kill, which is the common, messy workaround). Finally, each actor should have an in-character means of making their own presence felt - a fiery aura, or the ability to fire off fireworks - means that passerby can quickly identify a live events actor.