This past weekend in World of Warcraft was the latest “micro-holiday” that the game has sported since Patch 7.1.5 came out earlier this year. Players drifted over to Un’Goro for a little targeted monster hunting over a period of three days (which is actually on the longer side of these new events).
As I had missed the last two micro-holidays, I made it a point to get out to Un’Goro to join in the festivities. It was remarkably straight-forward: Look at the map for red Xs representing big level 113 elites, take them down with a group of players, and perhaps die a lot due to interesting mechanics. But as with most of the micro-holidays so far, there is little incentive behind such activities, just three-day buffs (called “adaptations”) that bestow interesting effects. No achievements, no pets, no permanent loot, nothing else.
And as we took down mega-fauna after mega-fauna, I contemplated on the mixture of opinions that were swirling about inside of me. Was this a wholly pointless exercise, some sort of elaborate ruse to keep players busy for the sake of keeping them busy (and perhaps keep them from their daily moan-sessions on the forums)? Or do micro-holidays require a shift of viewpoint that is alien to how World of Warcraft has trained us to date?
The thing is, in WoW and in other MMOs, most everything you do that’s designed by the devs offers progression, recognition, and rewards. There’s incentive to go outside of your daily routine to partake in these events, and while we say that we’re doing it for the fun and experience first, are we really? Or is the allure of prizes what truly gets us to show up, after which we find ourselves seduced into having fun as a bonus?
Micro-holidays are an interesting testbed for events that offer an experience without tangible reward. The activity is the reward, in other words. You do it to get a fun story (or in my case, an easy Monday morning blog post), to engage in a communal activity, and to bend your conception of MMOs as always needing to be feeding you rewards and backpats.
I’ll admit that, yeah, it’s kind of hard to do, especially when all you typically do with your limited gaming time is bent toward progressing your character in some fashion. I’ve bumped into this before when I’m invited to purely social events in-game, such as parties or concerts. Suddenly finding that my character is spending hours without anything tangible to show for it makes a part of my brain scream. It can be hard to downshift to enjoy these things.
But it’s good, too. Un’Goro Madness might have been without any big reward, but I’ll tell you that my kids all gathered around the computer as I told them about this zone and we went dino hunting (and dinosaurs are always big with the 4 through 7 demographic in our house). They shouted advice during combat (“Don’t die!” “Dad, why are you still dying, stop it!”). And we cheered when a dino went down. I also thought that it was a neat touch that the buff that you loot is used on both you and another player, which reinforces (in a small way) that you’re part of a social, communal experience. It’s not just you; it’s us.
And if nothing else, it’s something different, something new, and a welcome diversion when we get too tunnel vision in our gameplay.