To expand the conversation a bit, I think we're including holiday updates as part of the living story. It's seasonal, but it also fits into the grander scheme of providing changing content to keep the world moving and to keep players engaged. That means that what we've seen to date includes all of Flame and Frost, Wintersday, Halloween, and the Lost Shores event. Also, I guess the Super Adventure Box? I mean, it's returning and it had a lore tie-in and stuff. Maybe? I'm not sold.
A brief recap
So let's talk about what all of those entailed, just so anyone who's tuning in for the first time will have a pretty decent idea of what's afoot. The Shadow of the Mad King update in October brought Halloween to Tyria. We spent a week or so haring across Tyria in search of answers to the mystery of the Mad King, then got to enjoy the comfort of his realm in an exceptionally delightful and brief dungeon. In November, the Consortium came across a new island full of Karka, an unpleasant species of leggy crab-things. Wintersday brought with it festival-type games, an evolving dungeon, and holiday cheer. The last four months have been dedicated to the four parts of the Flame and Frost story arc, which revolved around the new and deadly alliance between the Flame Legion and the Dredge.
The trade-off for having one's best content be the shared stuff is that most of that is instanced. That's a significant factor for two reason: It means that your best content typically has to be experienced with a group (that one's kind of obvious, I guess), and it means that your best content isn't in the open world. That first thing isn't necessarily a problem for most people. A lot of folks come into an MMO expecting to, well, play with other people. Stuff like the Mad King's Labyrinth gets around the need for grouping by funneling players together so that formal groups aren't necessary but the content is still shared. There isn't much getting around grouping for things like the dungeons, though, and some folks feel that that's not really for them. This would be less a problem if more of the excellent content were out in the open world. Most of the things we've seen so far in the open world have been signs in need of fixing, refugees in need of escorting, trash-type Dredge and Flame Legion in need of killing, and things like that. Those are all great in terms of flavor, but they are not the shining beacons of gameplay that the Molten Facilities boss fight is.
The argument could be made that, had the Karka finale event been spread out over a weekend or even a full week, there wouldn't have been the same crush of players. I'd contend that it still would have been swamped with players and that once an event starts repeating, players start complaining that it doesn't actually feel alive because what's the point in taking down the big bad Karka if he's just going to respawn and need to be taken down again in three hours. And so we go back to instances so that players have direct control over how often they do or do not experience special content and devs can test with reasonable certainty that they understand what the conditions of play are going to be like.
For my two cents, I'd like to see ArenaNet continue experiencing with both open-world and instanced content for their big content. Both approaches have their appeal; it'd be a nice way to keep from falling into a too-familiar routine.
Some folks have talked about the pacing of the living story as a weakness. In fairness to those people, the first two months of Flame and Frost were pretty laid-back. From Halloween through the Lost Shores and into Wintersday, however, I never found myself feeling that the content was coming out too slowly. Those were larger and more content-heavy patches than what we saw in January and February (whereas January and February brought in a lot of features), though, so it makes sense. As we move forward, I expect that we'll find ourselves approaching a balance.
Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.