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What Ever Happened to Live Events?

Lewis Burnell Posted:
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The MMO genre has huge potential to make use of live events. Orchestrated by developers for players to enjoy - even if for a limited time - they offer seemingly spontaneous content (despite requiring months of planning) that’s both original and unexpected. Live events also offer respite from the predictable roadmap we’re often fed.

With Halloween fast approaching and with many massively multiplayer games already theming their game worlds accordingly, I groaned at just how little time and effort is spent on a feature we used to almost exclusively rely on. To be presented with the same themed content, year after year, is beyond monotonous. As a fine example, Guild Wars 2’s Shadow of the Mad King has been playable since 2012 and while it has been updated and re-released multiple times, it’s maddening to think we’re still fed the same content year on year; with the flick of a switch, ArenaNet have provided a free sense of dejavu.

It was during a brief moment of personal rage at this lack of seasonal effort that I thought back to some of the live events that have cropped up over the years. A personal favorite and likely one shared by many of you, was the Corrupted Blood incident in World of Warcraft. Although it wasn’t directly masterminded by Blizzard, the epidemic, as a result of Hakkar the Soulflayer, would soon have a huge impact on the game world. While low level players were quickly wiped out as the debuff spread, high level players (myself included) frantically attempted to remain virus free. Multiple patches by Blizzard and a handful of resets finally quelled the virus.

I still remember the “event” fondly and it still makes me laugh at just how much carnage something so simple caused. While far from intentional, it exemplifies just how much potential live events have and proves they don’t need to be complex in order to entertain. Simply being different from the day to day is often enough to occupy players for hours on end.

Many years ago, while playing Neocron, developer Reakktor was ramping up for the release of its first expansion pack. As part of this and as a live event, they randomly spawned Dome of York soldiers around the game world. It transpired that these heavily armed platoons had the chance to drop a rare ammunition known as Spirit Ammo. Usable in a unique sniper rifle (Silent Hunter) the bullets would instantly remove all shielding from an opponent. Considering the reliance on such shielding in player versus player, the ammo was devastatingly effective. The fact the ammo was a rare drop, combined with the limited duration of the event, instantly created a lucrative, demanding market for such a commodity. My Clan and I merrily profited from the bullets and spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to stockpile as many as we could.

Once again the event wasn’t grand, it wasn’t even time intensive for Reakktor to implement and yet it single-handedly changed the landscape of the game for many months. The last time I felt something remotely similar was during Guild Wars 2’s launch when Living World arrived every two weeks and genuinely appeared as though fresh bi-weekly content would become ‘the norm’. Despite the slideshow that was the Lost Shores Karka event, it was damn good fun and made you feel as though the game world was truly alive.

The continued pursuit of developers attempting to create and implement fixed, repeatable content is likely the reason why live events have - for the most part - died a death. A developer likely looks at the time and cost of developing something that might only be experienced by a certain percentage of its player-base, in a small window of time, and sees little value in pursuing it. I’d argue the value of a live event is vastly superior to anything a update can provide.

Live events create a buzz. They get the existing player-base talking, media outlets who might have long turned their noses away will look in and players who are seeking something new - who might not yet have dived into said game - may have their interest peaked. Large updates certainly do the same but live events, typically, are the wild card; no one knows what direction they’ll go or what we’ll get.

New World by Amazon Game Studios looks set to utilize the live event system and place them in the hands of broadcasters. It’s likely going to be far more scripted and limited than anything a developer devises (unless it’s truly robust) but at least we’ll be back to seeing something reasonably organic. That’s a prospect that excites me, especially if I have to keep playing the same bloody seasonal events over and over again.

Do you miss live events in MMOs? Do you think live events are important? Are live events even needed to keep your attention? Would you prefer regular live events over content updates? Let me know!


Lewis Burnell

Lewis has played MMOs since Ultima Online launched, and written about them for far too long.