Holiday Events: Diversions or Disruptions?

Holiday events in MMOs are fun little diversions. They give us an excuse to revisit older, usually low level zones, do something light and silly, and get some cool cosmetics. A lot of games use these as a way to get people back into their game, and it often works. For instance, every May the Fourth, I log back into SWTOR to pick up that year’s recolored astromech droid. If not for that event, I probably would have gone years at a time without logging in, and, of course, once I’ve gone to all of the trouble of patching, I usually poke around in the game to see what’s new.

But lately I’ve noticed a pattern of holiday events having the opposite effect on me. They disrupt the gameplay routine by taking me out of the zone I was working on, taking up a good chunk of my playtime, and making it urgent that I do my daily holiday quests, because if I don’t, they’ll be gone before I get all of the stuff I want. I think every time I’ve wandered away from LotRO has been right after a holiday event. I know I haven’t been back to SWTOR since I binged all of the content to get that XP boosting armor from the Dark vs Light event. And I’m sure I could think of many other examples.

I’m not alone, either. Just as I was thinking about this, Ben (aka Braxwolf) over at Massively OP wrote about ESO’s recent rash of events and its “more is better” attitudes toward festivals. Go read it now, because he describes the problem in that game really well. I especially like this part:

Many MMO players pride themselves on being completionists… They can’t pass up an opportunity to log in and try to accumulate whatever is available at the moment. This mentality is partially what attracts people to MMOs in the first place, but it’s not always compatible with ‘more is better.’ The accumulation has to be reasonably obtainable, else a feeling of hopelessness and burnout can soon follow. I’ve heard some of the biggest cheerleaders within the community complain about the sheer number of events we’ve seen recently. The ‘I can’t even’ is real.

It’s hard to complain about more things to do in your favorite MMO, but time limited events, combined with rewards dangled in front of players, make us feel not only forced into a certain activity, but also rushed through it. And, even if your main MMO isn’t overloading you with events as ESO is, if you bounce around to multiple MMOs like I do, it can be somewhat anxiety-inducing to try to get around to the festivities in all of the games you play, let alone grab all the cosmetics you want, before the season is over.

Games shouldn’t be an obligation. I have a job. They pay me. I shouldn’t feel like I’m paying a game company for the privilege of working a second job in the digital world. I am by no means advocating that games get rid of holiday events, but games like ESO need to be aware of the fact that, while they may bring some players back, they create an exit point for others.

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WildStar Events

Hoverboard RaceAs if to make up for the fact that WildStar hasn’t had a single holiday event in its nearly one and a half years of existence, WildStar is currently running not only its Shade’s Eve Halloween event, but also a Back to the Future themed hoverboard racing event.

I’ll start with the Halloween event. I guess I’m not really that big into Halloween. I mean, I’m looking forward to dressing up in my new Jedi robe and custom lightsaber (both of which I spent way too much money on), but other than that the whole thing is not that exciting to me. So when a game like WildStar gives me outfits out housing decorations that I can really only use in October without them looking out of place, I’m not as thrilled as other times. Christmas stuff I can at least put up in a winter/arctic themed house, or costumes on a character who’s supposed to be in or from a cold place, but I’ve never been tempted to make my character live in a haunted house or a graveyard. That would be depressing, and I don’t think of any of my characters as moping around in a ruined gothic cathedral when I’m logged out. It makes me appreciate games like LOTRO, who comes up with items that don’t look obviously halloween-ish. For instance, my theif wore that Mask of the Raven forever, and I loved the Cloak of Falling Leaves and used it on several characters. I’m sure there are plenty of people that are excited about WildStar’s Halloween giveaways, I’m just not one of them.

Uninviting rewards aside, I did enjoy the holiday dungeon. The maze section was a little bit frustrating, especially the first time, but fortunately they eventually just show you the way out if it takes you too long (and yes, I know from experience). The whole thing has a uniquely WildStar feel to it; the maze and its flickering flashlight and the insane cultists were both very mature horror themes, but Jack Shade and the shadelings that pop up everywhere were so goofy and over-the-top it dispelled any real fear. It was a good call to not only make it an Adventure instance (formerly known as shiphands) that scales to fit parties of one to five players, but also bump all players to 50. I hate it when events like this end up either being something that has no actual combat, which makes them seem disconnected from the rest of the game, or has combat that higher level players just roflstomp all over, while us mid level players have to slog our way through.

Apart from the dungeon is a variety of dailies that take place around your capital city, which hit a good middle ground between giving you something to do and just being a chore. My favorite is one that has you collecting floating plant fibers that turn you temporarily translucent.

WARNING NO ROADSAs for the hoverboard races, I really like what they’ve done with them. Games like LOTRO and Guild Wars 2 have done races before, but usually end up feeling a lot more awkward and gimmicky than what WildStar has put together. And the “WARNING: NO ROADS” notification that pops up when you hit a big jump is just awesome. I love the Back to the Future cosmetics and housing decor; you will definitely be seeing burning tire tracks if you visit my housing plot. It’s surprising how many games did homages to the Back to the Future hoverboard on October 21st. WildStar was unsurprising (they gave away a McFly-style hoverboard as a beta test reward, so we knew they were fans), and I guess Secret World isn’t terribly surprising given its modern setting and its recent inclusion of other, similar mounts, but Star Trek Online came as a surprise (a shame you can only use them on Risa).

DeLorean Hoverboard
I snapped up the limited edition DeLorean hoverboard from the cash shop as soon as it was released. It’s pretty disappointing that, given its $15 price tag, it’s not an account wide unlock, especially since they’re saying they have no plans to ever bring it back. I actually thought maybe it was a typo, but alas it was not. I don’t feel bad about it, though, because I’ve had a lot more fun in WildStar’s free to play in the last few weeks than in a lot of games I’ve sunk a lot more money into, so it’s worth splurging on a cool cosmetic, especially one as awesome as a DeLorean hoverboard.