Dynasty -- also a "deep continuity" story

Geeks have a tendency to embrace fictional worlds that reward obsessive attention with what I’ve heard called  “deep continuity.”

On TV, that means serialized shows set in expansive fictional universes, recurring characters and ever-more-Byzantine personal histories. I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon.

Part of the appeal of  “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Battlestar Galactica” is their inaccessibility to outsiders. To fans accustomed to having been the outsider in the rest of life, being a master of impenetrable arcana offers a sense of power and safety, I guess.

But television networks have become leery of serial stories. They’ve learned that if that kind of show isn’t a fast hit, the sprawling fictional world becomes an impenetrable mess to anyone trying to start in the middle. The very thing that so attracts the geek repels people with less obsessive attentions.

I’m not breaking any new ground here. It’s obviously no great revelation that geeks like things that let them geek out. And what the hell does this have to do with massive games

Here’s what: Blizzard is essentially trying to counter this tendency among geeks with its endgame raid structure in recent content.

Traditionally, raid content, like “deep continuity” genre fiction, requires a player to start at the beginning, slowly improve her character and then move on to another tier of content. The process is then repeated, with each tier building an ever higher pancake-stack of separation between the raider and the average joe.

Although this system rewards committed players, letting them climb ever farther from the madding crowd, it sets a barrier of entry to someone coming in late. The late-blooming raider has about as much chance of getting to the newest content as someone starting “Battlestar Galactica” in the middle of Season 4 has of understanding what’s going on.

But Blizzard, in its latest content, is scaling back the “deep continuity” model. In the coming 3.2 patch for the game, players will essentially be allowed to enter the newest, top tier of raid content after only a very brief amount of preparatory work.

Lower-tiered instances will award tokens that can be exchanged for gear that is suitable for using in the very newest, most difficult raid content.

It’s really as though Blizzard has embraced non-serial television as its newest model: You might understand a little more about the fights, or have a bit better understanding of how a fight works, if you raided previous tiers, but progressive gearing is no longer going to be an obstacle toward new players enjoying the newest raid content.

It’s “House, M.D.” or “Monk,” not “Twin Peaks.”

Might this change make the content less rewarding to the people who are heavily invested in it? We shall see.

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