Ever get tired of other people ruining your quests?
I'm not really suprised. Unless the MMO you are playing involves "instancing" (which I discussed last week), you are likely to run into multiple solo and group adventurers trying to "kill the boss" or loot the area.
We've already identified that instancing has some value: It takes some load off the server, especially when the MMO has high graphics(e.g. Age of Conan) and gives the player exclusive access to quest-based content(e.g. World of Warcraft and some others). But what if instancing wasn't necessary? What if the server-load wasn't an issue? For example, let's assume your MMO had adequate graphics and could handle your subscribers? Does that mean you still need to create instances so that they can have exclusive quest access?
There is a method I have been conceptualizing that would likely provide an exciting alternative to instancing for exclusive content. Basically, the premise is to create an adventure that has a life cycle: Birth, Youth, Maturity, and Death. By adhering to this cycle, the adventures (or quests) rise up in a spontaneous manner...They create adventures.
The "Living" Quest, or Instance
Among your travels, you are onset by orcs. Surviving the encounter, you rummage through their belongings and acquire a treasure map. Across the map (in orcish scripts) you specifically see a route that you can follow...perhaps these creatures accumulated treasure and decided to store it. Quickly and quietly, you gather your tools and contact some of your associates. You leave for the mountains as quickly as you can, preparing to reap the benefits of your secret knowledge.
The travel is winding and difficult, but your team arrives at the cavemouth. Your tracker quickly spots orcish footsteps and verifies that this must be the place. Within a day or two of work, your team survives the quest by raiding the orcish holdup, bypassing their traps, and otherwise destroying the enemies.
Note these following phases of the life cycle, which I will discuss later:
Birth Phase: Character gets a treasure map from loot. A Cavemouth springs into existance.
Youth Phase: Orcish raider beset travelers along a certain route and accumlate wealth in their cave.
Maturity Phase: The Orcish raiders gain levels, better weapons and more recruits.
Death Phase: The cave is fully raided and cleaned out. The orcs are destroyed. The cave collapses.
In the city, rumours have been persisting of a Thieves' Guild, long since banned and outlawed. More and more, people are complaining of pickpockets, late-night thefts...the store-owers are crying out for official intervention, but the social elite are not even acknowledging this rise of skulduggery.
You would ignore these whispers, except for the fact that you are a citizen of this locale...you own a house in this city! Lately, you have noticed shady figures casing your HOUSE. When you approach them, they run off. One night, you go inside and realize someone has tried to jimmy the lock to your door.
Enough is enough, you gather some of your associates, and head to the lower quarters, shaking down the beggers and cutpurses. One of your friends manages to "bribe" some information from a street urchin...
Following the clues, your party begins to slowly uncover the Theives' Guild, revealing certain corrupt city officials in the process. Eventually, their hold is overthrown and they are dispersed...
Note the following phases of this life cycle:
Birth Phase: Rumours spring up randomly. Beggers and shady characters begin to amass in the city. A small theives' guild is established in a remote location deep in the city.
Youth Phase: More rumours. Players are followed, sometimes pickpocketed. Player houses are cased. The thieves' guild gets more recruits.
Maturity Phase: Stores are broken into and inventories are emptied--Store items are harder to acquire. The thieves' guild is stronger now and acquired a powerful Theif Lord. Player's houses might be broken into...perhaps the smaller insignificant items, such as a painting or a piece of art is stolen.
Death Phase: A team of players find the location of the thieves' guild and infiltrate it. The guild is dispersed, looted, and banned once again.
Why a life cycle?
Basically a life cycle adhere's to key elements of roleplaying adventures:
Exclusivity - For one, it creates a layer of exclusivity. If the adventure exists spontaneously and randomly, then it can't be camped. Circumstances dictate where such an adventure might occur. And even though there might be a chance that other people find the same quests and attempt to raid it at the same time, it is extremely likely that these competing forces will contribute to the overall quest experience. For example, while you managed to acquire a treasure map, perhaps a miner stumbled upon the cave mouth. Now you and he are in a race...
Timed Requirements - Now you have to work for you treasure. Sitting around is not the stuff of adventurers. As well, you have choices. The longer you wait, the stronger and more difficult the quest becomes.
Level Ranges - Because a living quest has phases of maturity, it can appeal to a broader range of players. The early phases of growth would server the younger level players, while the mature phases would be of interest to the larger level players. A multitude of quests would ensure that some would has a "young" phase for 10-20, while another might have a "young" phase for 40-50 level characters.
Death and Destruction - To keep an instance unique, it may someday have to die on its own. What if no one ever defeats the thieves' guild example above? In those cases, the policy is to have a living quest mature to the point that it collapses on its own.
Mystery and Player Mitigation - Randomness and uniqueness of setting, levels of maturity, and intervention of the daily lives of players ensure a more mysterious quest. The players can be affected, even when they are busy doing something else. This creates a fluid environment and a quest that may never entirely be the same.
All in all, I'm very interested in seeing something along these lines developed. There are a multitude of ways to create living instances and quests for the benefit of players who DO NOT LIKE to go into the same cave to beat the same boss, over and over.