"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save me a few copper pieces on postage and deliver this message."
And so the hero, message in hand, sets off on what is sure to be a fascinating adventure worthy of his status.
Well, that is the motivation for this entry, which is about quests in most modern MMORPGs, such as the (in)famous World of Warcraft, with a specific emphasis on the scope, motivation, and proliferation of them.
MMORPGs have fallen into a nasty habit when it comes to what they call "quests"; specifically, there are three problems:
- Quests are typically too short and do not interact well with the lore and/or plot of the world
- Quests are typically too menial and do not make the player feel like a hero
- Quests are too numerous and become notes in a "to-do" list
Really, most quests in MMORPGs are actually what I would call "tasks", as "quest" indicates the deed you are doing is epic and heroic, while "task" indicates what most really are - small, insignificant deeds created for structured player advancement.
Let us first examine the first point I mentioned, which has to deal with the scope of quests. My introduction, which referenced a "delivery" or "FedEx" quest, is a good example of what is wrong in this aspect. How does this quest immerse me in the game and make me feel like I am doing something useful that will have an impact? It does not.
A good quest will have a heroic scope, which involves doing something that is actually heroic. It should reference the lore and plot of the game in some way by involving you in it, and it should not take all of five minutes to complete. Our feeling of achievement is usually directly related to the time we invest in something. It is very difficult to feel good about handing off a piece of mail for some minor experience and a small reward.
The second aspect is also demonstrated well by my example. Why should a hero take the place of the postal system in a game world? Why doesn't a commoner deliver the message? I am a hero, so give me something befitting my stature. Make me use my abilities and intelligence to help you, not just run off to a marked spot on a map. Menial tasks do not result in fun nor a sense of accomplishment.
The final aspect is something you can see if you walk into any new area in Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft - there are too many quests!
Yes, I realize this sounds crazy, as I am complaining there is too much content, but it is not that simple. See, there is too much trivial content and not enough good content. Trivial quests like, "Go kill ten mutated rats" are things that just clutter up quest logs and turn the game into a grocery checklist.
"Follow quest icons to quest givers, obtain quests, run out and do all ten quests in one hour, run back to the quest givers and reap the rewards."
This is barely more interesting than not having any quests and instead grinding on monsters that just give more experience and drop better loot, which are what quest rewards are - a chunk of experience and some loot.
Now, I am not advocating having no quests, but rather fewer quests that are more engaging, more epic, and more immersive, with excellent rewards. Instead of an area having twenty quests that take four hours to do, total, and give 50 gold, total, and 40,000 experience, total, why not have only five quests that have the same totals but have some real scale? They can have a real purpose, interact with the lore, and have multiple parts that lead you along to a good reward and some real satisfaction. The multiple parts aspect is important as I realize people who can only play for thirty minutes want to be able to complete something, which is why long quests should be broken down when possible.
I do realize there is a place for minor quests, or tasks, but not at the expense of real quests. It is perfectly fine to have a few simple quests spread about, especially early on, that help you explore an area, but that is just about all we get now. Heck, it is even fine to incorporate tasks as part of a larger quest, but usually the task is all we get - it leads nowhere.
Anyway, I hope that future MMORPGs understand that quantity is not everything and that a smaller amount of quality quests can take just as long and yet be more engrossing and more satisfying. An MMORPG that can make a player feel his actions are important and vital to the story of the game, even if they really do nothing that literally changes the game, will be an MMORPG that players will flock to.