I recently logged into the newly patched Star Wars: The Old Republic and wandered over the densely populated fleet only to discover people with green wafting off their avatars. No matter, I thought, green is lovely in a giant metal spaceship. Then people started throwing up. And exploding.
Turns out, Bioware had introduced the first “World Event” in SW:TOR, but I didn’t know that, and no one else did either. The general chat in the game was full of panic and misinformation, and players were frantically posting on the forums while Bioware, the producer of SW:TOR, was silent. Players were afraid that this was another “Corrupted Blood incident,” a similar event that had occurred years ago in World of Warcraft, where a glitch allowed a disease to spread throughout the population, causing panic among both WoW staff and players alike.
The most interesting part about this to me, as I battled other players over the means to make an antidote on a distant planet, was not the event itself, but how Bioware introduced it and the way the game’s population responded to it. The Rakghoul Plague, as the disease is called, had no in-game announcement, and if a player was not on a highly populated region, they might never even know about it. Details were only available from other players or small news consoles that were easily missed in game. A player might contract the disease by being close to another infected player, and not realize what was going on, even as they were attacked by government containment officers when they tried to leave the planet.
By allowing the events to organically unfold in-game, Bioware gave the plague a sense of reality and put the responsibility of responding to the players. Details were scant, and players needed to rely on each other and independent research to find out what was going on, much in the same way information gathering would need to work in the real world. The general chat was filled with people sharing the information they’d found, whether it was correct or not. There were official announcements in the game if you looked for them, but a player might never pay attention, in the same way an average citizen might not watch the news or listen to the radio in a real life disaster.
Player reaction to this has been largely positive, but all changes in any MMO are polarizing, and many players have threatened to cancel their subscription due to the Rakghoul Plague, complaining that combating an infectious disease is not what the game is supposed to be about. That may be true, but I’d never seen the population of a game so engaged with each other, and there’s no doubt that adding this controlled chaos to the mix made SW:TOR a better game.