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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Kill 10 Fedex Princesses: The 10 Basic Types of MMO Quests

Posted by UnSub Tuesday February 17 2009 at 2:39AM
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One common complaint around MMOs is that the quests are all the same. You start off doing one or two types of quests and, by the endgame, you might be doing the same kinds of quests but on a larger scale. The reason behind this isn't that MMO developers are uncreative with their question design, it's because there really are only a small number of quest types that can be created, regardless of window dressing. Much like The Hero with A Thousand Faces boils down centuries of human storytelling to show that a lot of common structures exist, MMO quest design is limited by the small number of tasks you can assign players.

These quest types are:

  1. Kill X of Y: You have to defeat a certain number of the same opponent. This starts out as Kill Ten Rats and ends up at Kill 250 Elder Rat Gods.
  2. Kill [Named] Y: Some mob has gotten tough enough to earn itself a name. You are to assassinate it for rising above its station.
  3. Delivery (aka Fedex): The quest giver wants something delivered to someone else. In a time of magic or ultra-tech science, the best way of getting it there is to give it to some wandering adventurer and have them deliver it in person.
  4. Collect X of Y: A character is tasked with finding a certain number of objects of a certain type to continue the quest. This starts out as Collect 10 Rat Droppings and ends up at Collect 100 Elder Rat God Droppings. Sometimes it involves collecting the organs of creatures you kill e.g. collect 10 Rat Noses - please note that not every Rat will have a nose to collect.
  5. Escort: Lead another NPC from point A to point B. There will always be complications, especially if the NPC decides that they'd rather run straight through the most dangerous part of the zone, insulting its inhabitants and frequently get stuck on rocks / logs / their own shoes.
  6. Locate: A particular individiual, item or location needs to be found. Sometimes they will be marked on the map, which defies logic since they are already located, but is a lot more fun than wandering aimlessly looking for them / it, only to find out they were / it was around the corner from the quest giver the whole time.
  7. Defend: Defend an NPC, item or place for a fixed period of time against waves of attackers. These kinds of quests often guarantee that players are forced into one location for the entire time until the quest is complete; it also sees them get very aggravated when they fail the mission on the last wave.
  8. Interact: Slightly different to Locate in that the specified NPC / item needs to be activated by the player as part of the mission requirement. This means it involves at least one extra click. Most puzzle-solving quests (i.e. put the pillars in the right spots, align the coloured pegs, etc) are Interact quests.
  9. Craftskills: In order to complete the mission something needs to be crafted by the player (or developed by some kind of craftskill). Every now and again the mission designers remember there are other systems in their MMO outside of combat and movement and drop one of these in.
  10. Reach Achievement X: The quest is to reach a certain achievement, such as a particular level or craftskill rank or even earn a particular achievement before you can continue. Usually this is used as a gating mechanism - the contact won't even talk to you before you reach this particular achievement - but sometimes the quest itself states what achievement you have to get to before continuing.

(I think this just about covers it - please let me know if I've forgotten any.)

There are certain twists that can be added to these - you have a time limit, it is a combination of things (Kill 10 Ubermensch and Collect 10 copies of Thus Spake Zarathustra, Escort Sir Deathwish to Point Unexplored and then Defend him for 10 minutes), it can be for solo players or require a group. But these are the basic quest types.

How they become interesting is how they are presented and what happens along the way. After all The Lord of the Rings can be broken down to "Deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom", but there is a lot more to the story than that. Unfortunately for most MMOs the quest objective becomes the point, not the motivator, for the narrative at hand.

EDIT: Added in Craftskills as a quest type (about 6 hours after originally posting).

EDIT 2: Added in Reach Achievement X as a quest type and added a bit about puzzle-solving quests to Interact (about 18 hours after originally posting).

Reizla writes:

You got them pretty much all, but you forgot about a small one: Craft object X. This is one that you don't see too often. LotR uses it for crafting advancements, and in AoC it's part of your learning process.

The problem is, that generalizing RPG's into computer statistics narrows the number of options for quests. Options 1 tru 4 shows to be the most popular with the developers (probably because it's the most easy to create), and some games rely heavily on them, while others try to make a good mix of all 9 quest types. 
 

When playing pen-n-paper RPGs, you're pretty much on the same track. But because of the interaction with your friends around the table, you simply don't notice it.

 

Tue Feb 17 2009 6:14AM Report
UnSub writes:

You're right - I remembered it later (and I really should have remembered it, having just finished trialling Ryzom). I've added it in - thanks!

Tue Feb 17 2009 7:09AM Report
Azmaria writes:

That pretty much covers it, sadly.  However, I've found that some game devs put interesting spins on their average quests; my favorite quest in WAR is to kill an enemy player, coat your hands in their blood, and then open some chest in the RvR lake.  It's a combo of Kill X, Locate Y, Interact with Y, but it's more fun just cause of the fluff behind it.

Tue Feb 17 2009 7:37AM Report
fansede writes:

 I got one - the timed quests. The game gives you a countdown to do task(s).

Tue Feb 17 2009 8:02AM Report
fansede writes:

 nvm disregard my last post, I do have to learn to read after I have cofee not before

Tue Feb 17 2009 8:04AM Report
Curate writes:

Part of the "sameness" issue is that the developers need to make quests that are completeable by the widest possible audience. The more gated a quest becomes (are you a particular level, are you a particular profession, do you have a specific skill/item), the less recyclable the quest becomes.

So while "Go find ten wounded people and heal them back to full health" is still just Locate/Interact, it requires someone to have a healing ability. Less of your playerbase can use that mission.

And Azmaria's spot-on -- a lot of the time the fluff is what makes a particular quest rise above the ho-hum, another-dead-Foozle grind.

Tue Feb 17 2009 10:51AM Report
UnSub writes:

I agree that missions / quests are often hampered by how broad they have to be so that everyone can do them. Part of the reason I wrote this was in trying to think of why MMO quests can be so boring while some RPG quests can be so interesting. Obviously single player RPGs can better control the game experience, but I also think the linearity of MMO quests and that most MMO quests offer nothing but the naked mechanics of Kill 10 Rats (regardless of flavour text - single player RPGs can have you discover things by accident that relate to other quests you are on or make chance discoveries - MMO quests can't rely on players to have other quests and generally discoveries only count if that is what you were sent to discover).

Tue Feb 17 2009 5:53PM Report
DeathTripp writes:

Pretty accurate. Now , what about a solution??  =D

Fri Feb 20 2009 1:50AM Report
Curate writes:

Unsub: “Part of the reason I wrote this was in trying to think of why MMO quests can be so boring while some RPG quests can be so interesting.”

Some possibilities:

1) Resources. When developing a single-player RPG the developers can focus on the “fluff” bits of the game far more than when developing a game with thousands of people playing. Having something that simply performs IF Foozle_State=”Dead” THEN ++DeadFoozle is a lot easier than something which tracks the moods and information gleaned from NPCs at the Duke’s Barmitzvah, thus determining if you’ll get invited to the next party -- where you’ll learn the location of the Foozle Secret Lair, but earn the ire of someone you annoyed at the Barmitzvah, etc., ad nauseam…

2) Reactive World. It’s a horse that’s been flogged, filleted, and fricasseed, but I think it’s true -- an unchanging world is kinda boring. Single player RPGs allow you to permanently rescue the princess (who then can give you more quests), burn down troll camps and have them stay burnt, etc. Actions rarely have world-affecting consequences in an MMO, since that’d mess with other players, and so the quests feel flat and pointless. You will always have to capture Dr. Vahzilok, and there’s no change to Paragon City once you’ve made the arrest. Again.

3) Ulterior motives. In a single player RPG, the storyline’s often the point of the game. You’re trying to get the sword back from The Big Bad, and most of the game’s design revolves around that central plot. In an MMO, quests serve to steer the characters to particular regions for interplayer interaction, as a motive to travel rather than grind in one spot (and thus have a travel-time-sink tacked on -- I often wonder what percentage of my subscription’s merely spent on “getting there”), etc. Quests are little pavlovian nudges rather than the axis of the game.

Or... something completely different.

Fri Feb 20 2009 1:04PM Report
UnSub writes:

I agree with those reasons. I'm thinking I'll blog it up in a longer post. :-)

The key reason I think is that MMOs are very mechanics oriented - go kill 10 Hellions, done that? Okay, next bit - whereas single player MMOs are open to throwing curveballs at you (experientially oriented) - kill 10 Hellions, but the 6th one might beg for his life and promise to show you where his bosses are. Those curveballs - giving players what they don't expect - can add a lot to a game.

Sun Feb 22 2009 10:16PM Report
Mercscythe writes:

Part of it I think has to do with typical MMO mechanics, and the other part with the new breed of MMOer.

I think the typical mechanics of MMOs limit what one is possible of. You kill things with your spells or click on things to interact with them. There is not much more to it than that for many MMOs. Once the normal mold of MMOs is broken successfully (if that is possible) I think we'll see quest options open up. I would go into more specifics, but I don't feel like organizing my thoughts for that at the moment lol.

I also think a lot of it has to do with the people playing MMOs right now. Let's say that before you slay your 6/10th hamster, he begs for his life and offers you his secrets... what would be the real point? The player would just "thottbot" it to see if it is worth it. So you have these extra options, but the player is always choosing the most profitable choice, eliminating the choice altogether. You could attempt to make the paths balanced in reward/risk, but that leads to the choice not mattering, which in truth, is the biggest reason for offering the player a choice; it feels like something is being done that is different and is pertinent to the game world.

I agree with this post and your other one pertaining to this one (or is it the other way around, think I read 'em backwards). I just think with the current system now, it is very difficult stepping outside the mold without breaking something, or without having it be completely pointless due to the min/max, path-of-least-resistance attitude prevalent in todays MMOs.

Tue Feb 24 2009 6:27PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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