Some Assembly Required, Five ways MMOs should support player events
Over the course of Some Assembly Required, we've covered a few player-run events out there that haven't been highlighted in their respective game columns. After all, we're all about PGC here, and you can't really get content more player-generated than that! But with all the the possible events across the whole gamut of games, there's no possible way to attend them all, let alone cover them here; there is only so much time in the day and space in the column. Of course, that won't stop me from trying!
From Age of Conan to Warhammer Online, a few of the events I've been able to catch are festivals, races, plays, fishing contests, tavern storytelling nights, quests (yes, quests), treasure/scavenger hunts, trivia contests, arena duels, gambling nights, musical concerts, war games, horse races, weddings, dance-offs, terraforming challenges, auctions, jousts, fashion shows, tournaments, funerals, crafter fairs, and more contests that can even be mentioned. These examples aren't restricted to any one genre, either; creatively concocted events run the gamut and include themeparks like Aion, MOBAs like SMITE, and more -- and not just sandboxes.
As you might have noticed, that's quite a bit of content, content that comes at no cost to the the studio! So why is it these events can be so hard to find? With so much free content at their fingertips, it would behoove studios to make it the norm to support and promote these events. And the tools they need to do so are already at their disposal.
First off, let me distinguish between public and private events. Sometimes player events are small, inclusive affairs, such as private induction or awards ceremonies for guilds. While some in-game tools would obviously be of benefit, these types of things obviously aren't going to need studio support like larger public events. However, there is no good reason that the events that offer content to a broad base of players shouldn't be advertised, and there are plenty of reasons they should.
Let's look at it logistically. There are way more players than there are devs (if not, that's a totally different problem). And we understand that devs have a lot to do -- they can't sit back and whip up weekly stuff for content-hungry players. But the playerbase can! Players who enjoy a game will look for and find ways to spend more time in it, not reasons to leave. Some of those players take it upon themselves to create, plan, and organize new content, giving fellow players even more things to do. And players engaged in content are happier players who stay and play longer. For games with subscriptions, more to do means renewed subs in order to do it; for games with a cash shop, more time in game increases the odds players will spend.
Game studios need to take advantage of all this! It doesn't make sense to hide content away from your players, does it? So make it easy for them to find it; a little effort will go a long way. Devs owe it to themselves to expend a bit of time to get the word out there and even offer additional support to these larger endeavor whenever possible. And no studio is exempt; a game doesn't even need to have an overabundance of PGC tools to do this. In fact, we're already using most of the tools already.
OK, so what published game does not have a website and forums? I doubt you could name many. So the first and easiest thing to do is make sure to have an events section where players can advertise their events. But I'd go a bit further than this: If there's a special announcement section for devs and moderators to use, have a mod keep an eye out and and post event details there. More players will check the official announcements first when visiting a site than anywhere else. The Secret World is already on board with this.
I'm not going to lie to you: There are players who won't visit the forums for any reason, let alone regularly. Those players would rather spend what free time they have for the game in the game. You can't fault them for that! But that means information displayed on the forums is lost to them. So how else can you disseminate info to this crowd? Use the game.
There are different ways to approach this. Pretty much every game has a launcher, and advertising via that launchpad is the best way to make sure everyone who enters game gets at least a cursory glance at an event. Of course, making it look appealing and catchy is more likely to grab the players' attention and lead them to click for more details. I'll flat out admit that I have clicked on more announcements seen on Aion's launcher than I have ever searched on the forums. And plenty of things would escape me if I didn't notice them there. It also serves as a good reminder to hit up an event when it draws near without having to dig through posts.
A number of games already take advantage of Message of the Day (MOTD), greeting players with some tidbits of information in their text-box upon logging in. Vanguard and RuneScape are among those that make use of this feature. EverQuest II goes beyond that with a great system that not only includes the chat message but pops up a screen chock-full of information every time a player logs in. Sure, it's easy to dismiss the page, but that little bit of exposure can be enough to catch someone's eye.
Even beyond that initial blurb, many games have the built-in ability to broadcast messages across the server, utilized mostly for official events and important message (like emergency maintenance). The one that comes to mind first is Vanguard, but it's by no means alone. So why not put this broadcast message to use announcing player events? It's not as if it's unheard of; Aion recently used this feature during a player's wedding proposal. Games just need to make more use of this capability to give a shout-out to player events. If they don't have this ability, they should add it. A little initial effort will lead to long-term rewards.
Now this next way to support player events is not actually very widespread in games, but it darn well should be! In fact, only three games immediately spring to mind when it comes to in-game editable calendars, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, and EQII. These calendars are an awesome way for guilds to schedule and keep up on internal as well as official events, but they can also be used for community-wide player events as well.
If you have a calendar already, awesome! Just assign someone to input large-scale player events on it. If you don't have one, put one in! In this case, I think a little bit of programming would go a long way.
Whether large or small, many games are now taking advantage of social media to promote their game, some even going so far as to have dedicated employees manning the media. So why not take a moment and use that influence to tell your players about some new bit of player content that's coming up for them to participate in? Old School RS Gold, Tweet and post on Facebook when large player-run events are scheduled. You are doing your players a service by introducing them to more content options. Heck, it can be as easy as retweeting. And with all the official Twitter accounts out there, there's no excuse not to. Plus, social media is a great way for smaller game companies to interact with their playerbases.
The final way that game studios can support player run events is by literally supporting them within the game. This can be anything from offering some kind of in-game prize -- especially for contests -- to providing a secure venue and event presence (like Aion's PvP tournament) to constructing elaborate in-game sets (as EQII does for player festivals). There are many more examples, of course, but you get the idea.
Even if devs can't do anything too elaborate because of manpower or programming constraints, a little token for a prize is always possible. Most event planners will already have goodies lined up, but any great idea could be pulled off better with something a little extra. And not all players with the creativity and ability to plan these events are rich enough in-game to fund the whole endeavor. Sometimes, even just giving a winner an official spotlight for a few minutes on forums or via Twitter and such can be a worthy prize.
MMOs thrive on community, and part of keeping that community healthy and engaged is making sure they have plenty to do. With so many easy-to-implement ways to support player-created events, why are players still scrambling to have their events noticed by the community and the staff? Build on a foundation of support. An ounce of promotion is worth a pound of cure for boredom... or something like that.
So let's step it up, studios! From here on out, there's no good reason that player events shouldn't get a heaping helping of support and promotion. It's good for everyone involved -- especially you.