WINTER IS COMING HERE! Holiday season is upon us and pretty much every game out there is cashing in with special events. Aetolia and Achaea have Celesmas. WoW has Winter Veil. Even Team Fortress 2 has a (surprisingly) somewhat-roleplayed Christmas event. But what part do holidays play in the overall game world?

Many games TRY to give a semblance of backstory to the holiday celebrations. For example, WoW does a pretty cool job of translating Halloween into the game world: the Foresaken get a giant wicker man to burn (sadly devoid of bears and bees) and the classic fairy tale archetype of a headless horseman gets a lich-themed twist, as the horseman is a reanimated paladin confused over his own state of life (though I don’t really understand why we never just…show the guy a mirror or something).

Christmas is no exception. WoW slaps some drunken dwarves and dancing gnomes on it and makes it religion-neutral: bam! You got yourself a Winter Veil. It’s one of the least complex of the WoW holidays (check out the backstory for yourself – the Harvest Festival has more going on in the lore department)…but it’s definitely one of the most FUN. Free stuff! Free stuff! More free stuff! I honestly think the popularity of this holiday inspired the  Blingatron.

santa

“Have you been naughty or nice, little girl?” “…I’m a freaking Twilight Cultist, dude. What do you think?”

But how do these holidays fit into the game world itself? Let’s look at the obvious, first. While it’s not as noticeable in WoW, many games don’t use 1:1 calendar systems, and instead have accelerated time scales. An event that matches real-life holidays will have NO correlation to the in-game calendar, and will highlight the biggest “detraction” of holiday-based events: they aren’t based in the game world. Even with attempts to pretty them up, the events are based on real world holidays, and some players find this to kill immersion.

In MUDs I’ve played, this immersion-slaying was as ubiquitous as dragon slaughter (granted, we didn’t have that many dragons; they were rare spawns) and rather vehement arguments sprung up around the holidays (kinda defeating the point of a fun event). Both sides had very valid points, to be honest. For example, for Valentine’s Day, Aetolia holds an events where players pretend to be Cupid, shooting arcane bows at each other to collect “hearts” which they could turn in for prizes. The people playing the event basically ignored most of what their character’s motivation and actions would be, and tended to just run around doing what they needed to in order to win prizes (highway ambushes, kidnapping and breaking into houses all included). The roleplayers, on the other hand, often were stuck as targets (or at least in the crossfire) for the event traffic. Chatter and shouts would often be inane. People couldn’t emote more than a few lines without someone busting in on holiday event business – and the people trying to do the events kept getting frustrated by nonparticipants getting upset at being shot, as if their characters were the ones being hit. But weren’t their characters the targets? For the roleplayers they were – for the people participating in the event, they weren’t…which was the crux of the problem.

Another example from MUDs are holiday giveaways. Certain holidays in the Iron Realms games feature a NPC named Ironbeard who will randomly visit a player and toss a giftbag at them. Inside may be gold, a potion or two, or fabulous prizes. Players soon figured out that being online increased their chances of getting a random visit, and soon nearly every player was logged in 24/7…most of them afk. Guilds would have dozens of members online, but nobody actually around to help out a newbie’s cry for help. People started getting angry at the rampant afk and some people even started attacking others, merely for being idle.

As we can see, beyond just the badly transmogged holidays themselves, reskinned events can trump normal gameplay, on a fundamental level. Many players view holiday events as “OOC” (out of character) activities, because they are based on real life holidays. And, as mentioned, games which do not have a 1:1 time scale have an even more jarring inclusion of external holidays.  Even in WoW, this happens: think of battlegrounds and how drastically they change when Children’s Week rolls around. Players who don’t even PvP are in there trying to get the achievements – the big fans of PvP would be the roleplayers from my example above, irritated at the achievement hunters clogging up their gameplay. Rogues around Thanksgiving also make gripes about holidays and their constant turkeyfication.

However, holidays are a great inclusion to a game world – any developer should strive to include some types of events like these to punctuate normal gameplay. In Avalon, there were no holiday events, and their lack of presence was felt. Players would put on their own activities, and anything an admin/god did was considered a big deal. That burden for excitement should not fall on the players, however. A well planned persistent gameworld should include holidays and/or seasonal events, as these punctuated bursts of activity “outside of the norm” can really spice up play, giving players something to look forwards to and log in for.

So how to reconcile immersion with events? My thoughts:

– Base events off in-game lore. A game which values IC immersion will already have a lot of lore and backstory to find a way to base holidays off something within the game world.

– Base awards on participation. Simply logging in is fine for a “You were here!” recognition, but any sort of random giveaway should have a basis in actual player activity.

– Consider ramifications of event participation. Adding NEW things to do for the event is good. Reskinning existing content (like children’s week battlegrounds) will lead to normal gameplay being invaded by event traffic.

– Make em fun 😛

 

So. My thoughts for now. All that said, I love holiday events. As someone who’s travelled alot and moved to strange places and isn’t the best at making huge groups of new friends, it’s been nice to be able to log in to the games I play and have my own little version of Christmas if I can’t be at home with my family. So, in that regard, I absolutely love that games have special recognition of these special times of the year.

Let’s just make sure it doesn’t involve mobs of PvErs trying to cap all the flags in WSG, ok? Sheeeesh. >_>

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