Apparently it was never really feasible to have an ever-REALLY-changing world as proposed by Atriarch (which, while technically still in development, I don’t expect to see anytime soon?). It’s not a huge surprise — the maintenance and attention that kind of thing would require, let alone the over-arching, constantly-amended plan for how the game would progress and how you’d keep newbies and oldies happy… Probably not something anyone wants to take on, not when they can make another static WoW-clone and do much better than if they wept blood and actually created something a little different.
Still, several games have had some measure of change in the game world, and I don’t mean simply the addition of new zones or the “many many years have passed, the world looks like this now” you get in EQ2. One town in Asheron’s Call was nuked to oblivion not long after the game launched… and a few years later, was in the process of being rebuilt. Another quiet, bucolic, mostly ignored town got nuked later on. There were bad guys, and they were serious about their nuking.
It wasn’t really a world in which what the players do change much of anything — the same monsters would keep spawning in the same dungeons and drop the same quest loot, but at least it wasn’t entirely frozen in amber. Adding wreaths and baubles for holiday-weeks doesn’t count as “change” by the way — that’s the MMO equivalent of getting a Glade plug-in: it’s not fresh, it just vaguely smells like it.
I’m not sure it’s possible to have an MMO world where player actions continuously and forever impact the world in major ways, since that could mean having to make content for almost every player individually, and not even Warren Buffet could pay for the legions of staff that kind of thing would need. Hell, my friends and I had a hard enough time coordinating a couple of tabletop campaigns with at most a dozen players that we decided to set in the same world — small actions, butterflies, DMs freaking out as their side of the world collapses around them, and so on. Not good.
Another thing Turbine did a few times in Asheron’s Call, however, was smaller events. Big enough to draw lots of players — “Quick, the Clantons have ridden into town! Asheron commands you!” — but small enough to have a rapidly diminishing impact-ripple. Fun if you were there, no big deal if you missed it.
That, I admit, I would like to see a lot more of, even though that also implies a great deal more on-the-spot work from the game staff. Which makes me realise — back in the day, we’d see Devs (or their non-player-side ilk) in game on a fairly regular basis. Sure, they were like Visitations from God, but you did occasionally get to see them and even *gasp* talk to them, or get stomped by them, or both. Maybe I’m just not playing the right games, but in my experience the only time you get that kind of interaction anymore is during betas (not counting QA-interaction on test servers, which is usually pretty consistent).
My point isn’t that I want to be visitationed by Devs, but rather that the reaching in of the Hand of God in the form of mini- (or mega-) events is something you won’t usually see players complaining about. Yes, it would have to be carefully designed. Yes, it would have to be carefully carried out, too, because one bad thing that tends to happen at these is that Joe McGratify-Me starts whining that Ben AverageGamer is getting all the Dev attention, that he’s a filthy teacher’s pet, and that these events are just little clique gatherings for the select few (from which the whiners are excluded or, presumably, they would be less busy whining and more busy trying to prevent anyone else from getting in the clique).
Yes, it’s probably utterly unrealistic in the current day and age of MMOs. What, have staff actually interact with players? Who am I kidding? Most MMO companies seem to want less and less player interaction, unless it’s through the much safer (and still combustible) medium of forums or some such. Lots of us crustier gamers remember the various “scandals” involving volunteer and/or paid in-game staff, as though one juicy (and possibly entirely made up) tidbit could cancel out all the GREAT community work and help those people provided. I guess the feeling these days is that any direct interaction with players is only asking for some kind of lawsuit, or at least a giant 187-page whine-fest thread.
Which is a shame. MMOs were a lot more fun and surprising (hence, you know, fun) when the membrane between players and makers in-game was a little more permeable.
(Thanks to Spinks for inspiring the thoughts that led to this. I may steal, but hey, I credit. ;) )