The Living Story is meant to be one of the big selling points of Guild Wars 2, in that it presents customers with an ever changing world in substantial regular updates. The idea of treating game updates like a TV show is an intriguing one, but does it actually work?
In my opinion, no, and putting my gripes with the execution aside that are well documented by others, it’s as much to do with how our expectations with TV have changed even over the last few years. In my lifetime (and I’m under 30) TV has gone from something that you see when it’s on, record to watch later or maybe buy the VHS to watch when you like, to something you don’t actually need a TV for. The On Demand format has put end to the days where you needed to wait until the TV channel deigned to release the series on a physical format. These days not having a good way to catchup is just a recipe to be the most pirated tv series in the world.
As things stand, the Living Story is executed like TV scheduling was in the 1990s. If you aren’t in at 8:30pm on Tuesday, sorry you missed the show. Being able to record TV helped with some of the issues (if you could work the VCR) but there’s no such luxury with gaming. And even if the various documented problems with the Living Story are addressed, and the changes outlined a couple of weeks back are introduced, this central issue won’t be resolved.
If you catch episode 5 in a series and like it, chances are you want to go back to episode 1 to see how it began (unless it’s Star Wars. Don’t do it with Star Wars). If the TV station doesn’t have on demand, other services are available. In Guild Wars 2, players who are joining in half way through or take a break have no means to catch up on the story, the main reason for this delivery system. I think that is a real shame, both for the players and for the developers whose work has been relegated to the delete bin.
Things have really changed in TV in the last 2 years, with social media becoming part of that “first watch” experience (TV speak for this is “second screen” if you haven’t heard that banded around yet). This phenomena highlights how much of storytelling is a communal experience, and this is something I strongly think that all storytelling has lost sight of.
For all the technical hardship of the karka invasion in November, it was memorable amongst those who attended because it was communal. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with your friends, making new ones, is meant to be something that MMOs do best and is something I think Guild Wars 2 has lost sight of. It’s hard to feel like everyone has been through a great event when you’re the only player character there. Guild missions are a point of where the game gets it right, especially when you run into another guild doing the exact same thing as you and everyone benefits.
My other problems with the Living Story have already been expressed brilliantly by Sypster so I’ll refrain from retreading that ground here. I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve and while there’s indications that some elements may be improving, I feel like there’s a massive gap in the plans when it comes to fitting in with the individual schedules of players.