Clipped from: http://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/index.php/Narrativium
To drive a world, things need a reason. The reasons can be simple window dressing for some games. Take pretty much any FPS or MMOFPS. It's either good guys versus the other guys or it's Faction Flavour One versus Faction Flavour Two/Three/Etc.
That's no bad thing, if you pressed me, I'd happily identify as Vanu in Planetside. Smurfs and Commies can suck my plasma bolt. Conflict is easy to organize amongst players. Someone sooner or later is always going to take a swing at another person. A game based on it? Well that's its own content. It also comes with its own troubles which we'll cover another time.
In the PvE world however, we need something more. We need a narrative. A reason to be doing the things we are doing. On Terry Pratchett's Discworld Narrativium is that driving force, or in his own words..
The most common element on the disc, although not included in the list of the standard five: earth, fire, air, water and surprise. It ensures that everything runs properly as a story. For example, if a boy has two older brothers, chances are they will go on a quest. The first will be strong, and fail because of his stupidity, the second will be smart, and fail because of his frailty and the youngest brother will then have no choice but to go out, succeed and bring fame and fortune to his poor family.
Narrativium makes stories go, stories are life.
The first thing to come to mind for me when dealing with the idea of a living story naturally is the one named for it. Specifically ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 Living Story. Anyone in need of a refresher should pop over here for Dusty Monk’s recap.
Now win, lose or draw, ArenaNet deserves applause and support for the attempt to bring a constant stream of new content into the world in such a fashion. It does give the impression of passing time, changing identities and inescapably a Living story.
Another game near and dear to my heart bringing out content but nowhere near as regularly... (Can anyone else keep up with ArenaNet’s promised every two weeks?).. is of course The Secret World. No one can in my mind say a word against Funcom’s stories presented in The Secret World. Wonderfully written, cleverly voiced and acted out... the scenes of story are a delight each and every time I experience them.
Whether DLC that you must purchase, an expansion or a free update, stories are what drives content. If there wasn't a need for some sort of framework to give the activity meaning, well any studio would be able to pump out vast volumes of bland repetitive content to keep you clicking. Stories are here to stay in the massively online world. Sometimes they will be the creation of the players themselves in sandbox games. Other times they will be the newest biweekly/bimonthly/biannually release from the studio.
Stories are important, but I wonder if there isn't a better way to arrange them. I've been playing through the Living Story in Guild Wars 2 when I want. Other times I end up ignoring it as something that hasn't caught my imagination. For some I imagine Mist of Pandaria was a great thing to get their hands on, but what if you really just hate Pandas and wanted something else?
Earlier I mentioned the problem with PvP games. That problem is sooner or later they run the risk of being repetitive. Some x factor can be introduced to shake things up but there is still always the chance that fans of the game will settle into a rut.
One clever fix to this that I have seen is that of the upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Eternal Crusade.
The new world may have a completely different ecosystem, new resources, new layout, and all of that to fight over. Think of it like competitive “seasons” in any sport. What’s the point of a war if no one wins? And that’s the philosophy behind having a campaign system in Eternal Crusade. Source
Eternal Crusade. As long as people are playing, well there'll always be more of the galaxy to conquer.
So if sport can inform the e-Sport of a PvP game, how about we take something else and apply it to PvE games?
Right now there is an operating Transmedia game, Defiance. However you know, I think they're missing a trick. They have DLC and episodic content, but they don't have a season arc at the moment. Maybe I am incorrect in that, please do drop a comment if I am.
Turn on the TV and check out any big show at the moment. There is a season arc. There may well be episodes of the week but over all they have a describing arc which not only helps the characters grow but brings upswings to the climactic moments of mid-season and end of season breaks.
Do I want cliffhangers in my MMOs? No thank you. I've got enough of those, both resolved and not, from my television. I do think though some games and some IPs could benefit from stealing proven story methods from TV.
Next week Guild Wars 2 will move into Cutthroat Diplomacy. There will be a period where we vote for either Ellen Kiel or Evon Gnashblade.
One will win, and players will get a bonus for it.
If this was television or a book? Well ... let's say I would be enjoying the imminent revenge plot line. Online, I hope that they remember to shake things up a bit more if they want the story to be truly living.
(Bonus Question for particular Readers. If MMOs are TV shows, does that make NCSoft the Fox of Online gaming?)