World of Warcraft just launched their winter holiday content, aka the Feast of Winter Veil, and that got me thinking about how enjoyable seasonal content can be to develop. But as usual, there are also some caveats. So here, in no particular order, I present my tips for seasonal content development. Note that these are not limited to the winter holiday events — they can apply to summer festivals or independence celebrations just as easily.
- Develop a consistent philosophy of seasonal events. Most modern MMO games treat seasonal events as generally light-hearted activities accessible to players of all types and levels and with a strong roleplaying component.
- Make a yearly schedule of events. Work out which seasonal events you will be celebrating — before launch if you can. This way you can schedule the necessary resources from the beginning and space out your events so they don’t all clump up in one part of the year.
- For example, EQ2′s largest seasonal event is Frostfell, their winter celebration. Unfortunately since that game has settled into a once-a-year expansion launched in mid-November, and much of the team is traveling and on vacation starting in mid-December, Frostfell has become a real scheduling problem.
- Plan to reuse much of your hard work each year. Develop a basic event that meets your goals (for example, accessible content for all levels, if that’s your goal) and then vary this slightly every year. New players will find the entire thing interesting and new, while players who have been with you awhile with appreciate both the lasting traditions of the event and the new tweaks that keep it fresh for them.
- The variations each year can be relatively simple. Have a few small side quests and rotate them, one or two in and one or two out each year. Or do the same with souvenir items: this year you can get a red Santa hat or a green Santa hat, but next year it’s red or gold and the year after that red or silver. Remember that rotating items out is just as important as adding new ones, but it’s also fine to bring an item back after a few years.
- Many teams give an event to a favored designer and turn them loose to “be creative”, but be very careful about that. Seasonal events are fun to design, which means that unless your designer is very disciplined, you’ll soon have sunk more time and effort into it than you have planned. And if the event becomes ‘Bob’s hallmark’ then next year some other designer will want to top it to prove their worth — and there goes your careful plan of efficient reuse.
- Don’t make the event too short — you need to give the majority of your players the chance to participate. Generally I’ve found that a full week is the shortest appropriate length for a seasonal event. You can easily extend this to 10 days (from Friday morning to the following Monday morning) if you want to encompass two weekends.
- And there are exceptions: April Fool’s Day, for example, is generally best handled as a single day of festivities.
- Don’t make the event too long. Jolly music and silly buffs begin to wear rather quickly, and a shorter event will help keep the enthusiasm for the holiday high.
- There are exceptions here also, of course — because so many players will be traveling during the winter holidays, extending that one to cover three to four weeks may be the best approach. (On the other hand, this means that you need to be even more careful about content that gets wearisome — especially those Christmas jingles!)
Even with such a seemingly simple topic as seasonal fluff content, there are a lot of factors to think about. But a modicum of planning up front can make the holiday just fly past smoothly, with no muss and minimal fuss.