Good post from Ravious over at KTR about zone/world events in GW2, and what some of the possible scenarios might be. He in particular talks about failure scenarios; what might really happen should the players not be successful during a phase or battle. I would questions things a bit further, and ask how much impact success or failure really has on the world, versus how much it matters on an individual basis.
Consider the impact of an ‘event’ like a siege in Darkfall, which itself is a fairly common and repeatable event. If the defenders are successful, they retain their player city for days/weeks/months/years (depending on when they finally lose it), and that impact is felt by every member of that guild, along with anyone who visits the city, be it for a raid or for trading.
Furthermore, if you siege and kick out an active PvE guild from a city with great fire elemental farming nearby, the effect could be felt server-wide as the price of fire elemental drops increases, while the price of whatever that PvE guild farms next drops.
In short, one event can trigger world-wide ripples, big and small, to not only players directly involved with the event, but also to those who were not. The total number of players affected is a very important factor when considering the impact of an event.
On an individual level, losing or winning said sieged is important, but it’s not as personally game-changing as, say, getting the best-in-slot weapon from an event. Once you have that BiS, you not only stop chasing other weapons, but that event itself is now ‘done’ from your perspective. You have also gained a significant amount of permanent (until the next gear reset) power, which you can leverage to progress through tougher content or dominate others in PvP. If that item/ability/whatever is ‘required’ to progress, said event must also be available to everyone; otherwise you create a massive content bottleneck.
There is no doubt that the events in GW2 won’t have the permanence of something like a city siege. If an NPC dragon was satisfied once it successfully beat the first group of players to fight it, everyone else would feel cheated from missing that content, and from a content delivery perspective, that would be a huge waste. So the dragon has to come back, and the players can repeat the battle over and over. At some point, the zone/world is going to be in exactly the same state as it was before. If that loop is hours long, the impact of the event is pretty minimal, and the buy-in to fight back would be low. This is exactly the effect Rift events had; they at most impacted the zone for an hour or so, and whether the mobs were defeated or ignored, the zone returned to normal.
This also makes any kind of ‘failure state’ not matter nearly as much. If the impact is Rift-level, where failure leads to a quest NPC not being available for a few minutes, no one is really going to go out of their way to fight back if they don’t need that NPC or any of the rewards associated with pushing the event back. MMO players don’t care about the feelings of NPCs, and so we won’t go on a heroic quest to save a village just to give those NPC farmers a safe home (while we would if said farmers were players farming stuff that we actually need – see EVE conflicts over high-value mining areas). We do it because said NPC farmers give us epics, and once we have those epics, we let them burn. And by design, those farmers NEED to burn so that the next solo-hero can come along and ‘save’ them to collect his epics. Actually making saving a village have impact would create more problems than benefits in a traditional PvE MMO.
While I believe the events in GW2 will be longer and more complex than what Rift offers, I don’t see a scenario where they matter more. GW2 has levels, so when you out-level content, you automatically stop caring. GW2 also has permanent items, so when you out-gear content, you stop caring. GW2 has ‘zones’, once you are done with an area, you are done. It does not matter how many branches defending a village has, or how long that chain might last; if the highest mob/reward is level 20 for that branch, someone at level 25 or with better gear than the best reward is not going to care if centaurs overrun a village or not; it simply has no impact on them.
Now it’s entirely possible that GW2 players are not looking for real impact. If the expectation is simply to go on a themepark ride with the option to make the rail go left rather than right around a pond, GW2 might very well deliver exactly that. It might even have a fountain in the middle of the pond to make you go ‘ooh, pretty’. For me that falls far short of the kind of impact I’m looking for from an event, but I believe the left/right choice is all the ‘impact’ the average MMO player today expects or wants.
The ‘real’ solution is to make the world an actual world rather than a collection of zones, but that gets you down the path to a virtual world and niche-MMO territory, and that’s not something AAA studios or the average player are signing up for these days.