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Community Spotlight: Handholding in MMOs

Posted by MikeB Friday December 31 2010 at 5:17PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Handholding in MMO" by bastionix. In the thread, bastionix asserts that all the handholding in today's MMOs make him feel like a "helpless baby" and wonders why things have changed so drastically from the past:

MMO used to have no quest markers, maps, minimaps, quest updates (0/10).

What happened?

Let me put this into terms of how I experienced this:

EQ: No handholding.

WoW: Maps, Quest markers, Minimap, Quest updates

Rift: Maps, Quest markers, Minimap, Quest updates, Range to NPC, Direction to NPC, Area of mobs to kill highlighted, Marker over their head

What's next? A homing device and a tricycle? Is this really the future of MMO?

I'm supposed to be a hero who can save the world, not a helpless baby.

Dameonk notes that prior to all the built-in quest help players were creating guides and using database websites such as Thottbott anyways:

I'm actually with zymurgeist on this.  I remember when first playing WoW I would have thottbot open on my 2nd monitor and every time I got a new quest I would look it up and see where the mobs are I needed to kill.  Really the way the games are doing it now just cuts out the middle-man for a lot of people.

LOTRO just recently added this to their game, it was something the players have been asked for.  Companies don't just add these kinds of features on a whim.

Rydeson is more inclined to agree with the OP, feeling that all the help has indeed become a bit ridiculous:

     Agreed.. the hand holding is getting rediculous anymore..  do this, do that, then this, then that..  I like questing, but questing should be with a purpose.. A SERIOUS and meaningful purpose and not just used as a breadcrumb trail.. Anyone else remember EQ1 epic quest?  Those would take weeks or months to complete.. Remember the Coldain Prayer Shaw questline?  I remember questing the wisdom shield that was in Luclin.. I cant' remember the name of it, but it had a lion's head on it... Those quest actually gave me the sense of accomplishment..  These go kill 10 X task are over played and over used..  I don't mind repeatable if done right.. Sometimes camping a location in the zone is a good thing..

donkeys takes things one step further, noting that players have been getting around exploration going as far back as the days of the original EverQuest, where players were apparently known for drawing up maps on pen and paper (my how far we've come!):

No, people made their own EQ maps with pen and paper:

Players would be crying to mommy if they had to do this now.

I have mixed feelings on this whole situation. I can agree to some extent, I mean I've found myself feeling the quests I've been doing in many contemporary MMOs (Rift included) to be kind of going through the motions and pointless, and I do blame the handholding. I recall playing LOTRO back in the day and seriously having to read the quest text and refer to the landmarks and direction from which I should proceed from those landmarks to find my objective.

I don't take joy in long-winded scavenger hunts to complete a quest, I'm not a masochist, but not being led around helped me actually appreciate the game world and veer off the beaten bath. If I saw something in the distance while searching for a quest objective, I might go ahead and take a detour and check it out. But when I have so much information pointing me to where I need to go I feel less inclined to look anywhere but my UI and simply head from quest marker to quest marker, so on that level I agree with those of you who are frustrated by all the handholding.


It doesn't mean I don't want quest tracking or information of any sort, as looking around for two hours for a needle in a haystack isn't something I want to repeat again. Things could certainly stand to be toned down a bit, or at least have options in the UI to disable certain elements of the tracking (as long as the quest text/cutscenes are also adequate enough to provide solid directions).

What do you think of all the handholding? And what do you propose as a solution? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Liltawen writes:

At least in LotRo you can turn off all the markers if you want to. Much less cluttered maps that way.

Altho even in the old days before all this: as a Hunter I would occasionally use 'Track Animals' if I spent too much time blundering about.

Fri Dec 31 2010 6:01PM Report
Zippsn writes:

i used the markers in rift and i would lie if I said I wouldnt love them. 

For the Roleplaying and (what's called) a Hardcore gamer the handholding are surly a point to say: "decadent like the romans". And for them it will take away the sense of adventuring a mission.

BUT.. then they want a real mission like the article said it were in Everquest and not kill 10 monsters here and there, it would be a real quest.

For this casual quest nowadays and for casual players like me it is very helpful, because i dont wanna spend much time in surching for a flower, a mob or something else. The quest is there to give me experience and new equipment.

So i only can say, i like it very much, but the possibility to switch it of should be there, like Litawen said it would be in LotRo.

Fri Dec 31 2010 6:51PM Report
pathiean writes:

Im all for a little assistance myself, I dont need to have autorun directly to my quest objectives or anything, but I also remember a time where you had to talk to every single NPC in the game to find quests. After you leveled up or finish said quest, guess what? Go talk to every single npc in the game again to see if there is more. I never want to see that again.

Things 2 things I like the most are-

NPC's with a quest icon. (lets face it talking to every npc is a drag when they all just say the same 2 lines over and over)

The option to have a location to the area your quest objective is. (I remember back in the days of EQ1 running entire zones searching for that 1 mob and never finding it cause the quest was so vauge that it simply said "north of here")


Aside from this, I really dont see the need for autopathing like some games have, I dont need the exact distance for everything (though sometimes I will admit I use it and it makes me lazy) I think what it really comes down to is the dev's not having enough imagination to write a detailed quest object. Most the time it just says go kill 10 of whatever and they are somewhere...outside the city. (which could freakin be anywhere)

Fri Dec 31 2010 7:34PM Report
xxantiheroxx writes:

I kind of agree with OP. Most new MMOs these days feel like you're playing a tutorial all the way to level cap.  There's really no thought process involved. It's just follow the shiney arrows.

We need a happy medium. Though I'm sure that's easier said than done. A suggestion I had was to allow the option to play with or without the quest helper.

Now obviously most games have this option, but I think they should give you extra rewards, experience points, and/or money for completing quest without the quest helper on.

Fri Dec 31 2010 8:09PM Report
ericbelser writes:

As with many of the "improvements" to MMOs over the years, it is a mixed bag. Do I want more tools *in game* for tracking quests and tasks than were present in EQ? Heck yeah, playing a computer game in 2010 and having to scribble notes on paper like I was playing my first computer rpg in the early 1980s would be just silly.

Do I want the level of brainless handholding moron-proof "questing" that is the norm today? Heck no. I should be able to map in game, take notes, sort and organize quest info etc and *share* that in game with team/guildmates without being handed the quest on a dummy cord. If I choose to go beyond that and read 3rd party site spoilers that is my choice not forced on me by the game.

Fri Dec 31 2010 9:30PM Report
b1iz writes:

i agree with the OP but unfortunately most of the things the "old school" gaming communities look for in a game are not what the newer generations (that most MMO companies target) want. Being from the old school of things a lot things that i loved in mmo's has been thrown by the wayside for more mass friendly game play. Like exploration, death penalties, challanging raids(not run through instance and kill 1 hard boss but more like Vangaurd APW raiding when it first came out).


While it is totally seeable from a business standpoint why these "changes" are common place in the current genre, it does leave us hardcore oldschoolers wanting more and more with each new release

Fri Dec 31 2010 10:00PM Report
japo writes:

Hate it.

It's sad, that as a society, we've become lazier than anyone could ever imagine. 

Sitting on my butt playing a game in which I have to read a quest, pay attention to the directions, and hold down a key so my character can run (not me mind you,  my avatar) too much work for a person to handle. 

Apparently....I require help.

Sat Jan 01 2011 2:59AM Report
TheMaelstrom writes:

I, like many of the posters before me, think all the hand-holding sucks. Quest-givers with a mark over them? Fine by me.... I remember talking to every damn NPC in the world in EQ1 and I don't really wanna do that again.


Highlighted areas on the map bug the crap out of me. Why can't quest writers simply say, "Northwest of here, before you reach the mountains," or "In the Southeastern Boogermist Mountains near Knobgobble Lake"?

All this highlighting on maps just kills subscriptions, if you ask me. I mean, if you have to *GASP* figure it out and find stuff on your own, you'll play longer to reach level cap. It doesn't need to be overly tedious, but it shouldn't be as frikkin' easy as it is now. As it stands you can load up on quests, never read a single damn one of them, and blaze a trail from highlight to highlight on your map and bust out all the quests. End result: faster level cap, end of subscription unless the end-game totally kicks ass.

I'm loving RIFT, and plan to play on release, but that part of the game really makes me sad. As someone else already said, it's sad that we're treated as if we're all so stupid that we require help for even the most meaningless tasks.

Sat Jan 01 2011 3:32AM Report
k44cv9 writes:

When i play lotro i turn off all the quest markers since i want to read the quest texts so i get more into the lore in the game. But then i also play on a RP server.

Sat Jan 01 2011 4:24AM Report
Isane writes:

Have to laugh the handholding means devs have to produce 10 times the mindless content , to replace one non handholding quest.

A kill 10 mobs or NPC asks you to get hold of 10 hides , when you then have to track the mobs and don't know where they are meaning you have to scout the area with a small clue from the NPC makes a quest meaningfull.

Whack a mole MMOs with paint by numbers are not games anymore in my opinion , they are for people who have no ability to play or think a real shame.

Sat Jan 01 2011 8:04AM Report
Herodes writes:

I remember doing a quest in DAoC. I searched the whole fking Campacorentin Forest for the quest mob for hours. I guess this deserves the name "Quest", but I was fed up after this experience.


On the other side: I recently tested WoW again. You soon get the feeling that the Mobs are only there because they belong to a quest.

Atlantica Online does even have Autorun-to-location or quest. While it was kind of luxury, I had to think why even start this game if it plays without me.

Sat Jan 01 2011 8:25AM Report
Silverbranch writes:
Maps and quest markers mitigate several competing factors in a game-world to ALL the players, not just a few with exhorbitant amounts of time to sit parked on their butts staring at a flatscreen:
“Excessive handholding” is the NERFING of the world environment and mobs.  Elites no longer elites, mob abilities removed or altered, mob HP chopped.  That’s “excessive handholding” we could do without.  Blizz nerfed mobs all over Azeroth at one point, and it was sad to head out in an alt and see all those challenging areas a simple walk through a kids park anymore.
Maps, quest markers, etc., are to me standard artifacts a game should have to begin with.  “The Grind” is excessive enough in MMOs without rubbing salt in the wound.  Knowing how to get from point A to point B, having a map (perhaps marked) levels the field in dumb logistics between those playing 80 hours a week and those with 5 hours or so and have to get up at 3am to go to work.  Otherwise all one is really saying is “making dumb busy work even dumber, more frustrating, and even busier” makes the game good for everyone and encourages population growth! (which it wouldn’t).
Maps, quest markers, etc., to some degree, level the playing field between Beta players and non-Beta. At least as far as dumb walk-around knowledge. We have enough problems with children (and immature “adults”) with elitist attitudes mucking up game worlds at times.  No need to make it more global at a basic level, particularly when a game first releases or a new patch comes out.
In my opinion the gaming community does too much development work for development houses to begin with.  Specifically, manuals, strat guides, maps, etc.  On the one hand some level of this would be natural to expect given how many people play, and the % of those that would have the motivation and ability to put together good documentation.  On the other I believe dev houses MILK that dynamic because of the cost reductions the accountants see on yearly budget plans. 
In short:  A sign of a well made MMO that doesn’t conflict with it’s being challenging or fun is a complete and solid set of infrastructure services (which, for instance, AoC didn’t have and was a key point of failure for that game):  e-mail, bank, auction house, MAPS, quest assistance/markers, etc.
Conceptually there is a fit for maps and quest help in the face of an obvious condition:  Given an MMO is supposed to be a “persistent living world” (or where they are supposed to be going), interaction with the game worlds have been rudimentary.  NPCs are basically deaf, dumb, and blind, with no wills of their own, no way to initiate intelligent Q and A.  Manikins.  Thus, maps, quest markers, and other help artifacts fill, at least to small degree, that gigantic void.  Examples would be: 
In WoW you could question city guards about the location of shops in-town and get a map marker to it’s location.  Generally speaking, zone/world maps fill the gap of not being able to ask anyone how to get to the zone to the west, etc.  Quest location markers fill the gap of not being able to ask real questions of “real” people in the world around us, such as asking people in a besieged town where the camp of the nefarious bandits is, etc.
In short, maps, quest help, etc., mitigate the drudgery embedded in an MMO, and thus is a good thing.  Drudgery isn’t a positive factor to gaming, and doesn’t contribute anything to the true challenges in the game that test you.  Learning your class, working out crafting and item enhancement, making money, fighting well and knowing how to pick apart single bosses and packs of mobs, how to PvP well and outthink your live opponent.
You want a better complaint of too much hand holding?  Go back to my first example:  Nerfage of the world and mobs just to make a zone easier to bomb through.
Sat Jan 01 2011 10:11AM Report
Silverbranch writes:

Clarification on my comment to AoC:

AoC does have maps and quest markers.  I was referring in general to AoC's 1/2 finished infrastructure (bank, Auction house, e-mail, with too many buggy quests and unfinished crafting).

Sat Jan 01 2011 10:19AM Report
Hluill writes:

I see some of this hand-holding as laziness on the part of game writers.  Instead of giving Quest NPCs an animation beckoning one's character (like a few in EQ2) they just give them an icon.  Instead of writing an accurate quest-description, or the ability to ask follow-up questions, they just give us arrows and markers on our maps.

And boy do I have issue with MMO maps.  They are like satelite photos, which are almost useless for real navigation.  And then the labeled landmarks may be of no interest, or importance, to the character or the quest.   I would prefer to make my own maps, modifying them based on NPC interaction.

Part of the need for handholding is the need to grind quests, not just mobs for experience.    We have to kill ten of a specific mob -- not just orcs, but ravaging berserker orcs. First we are told to kill ten rats.  Then we are told to kill ten, rabid rats.  Then we have to kill ten, giant rats.  Then we have to kill ten, rabid giant rats.  Then we have to kill Big Squeak,  the rat boss.  Then we move to another quest hub where we'll be killing lizards.  Without all the icons and arrows and highlighting, we won't find the specific mob or the next quest hub and our character's progress through levels and gear will be handicapped.

Sat Jan 01 2011 11:16AM Report
SoftKitnz writes:

Personally i like the help we are givien.   Not knowing where I'm going and what direction I'm heading just makes me frustrated.   I have spent time cirilcling an area trying to find where to go and then when i get furstrated I'm not enjoying the game.  it becomes a chore rather than fun.  Then I just don't want to play.   Also if quests were more descriptive I wouldn't need a stupid quest finder thing.  I find a lot of quests say some thing like "Okay, now that you have this ingredient go and give it to Mr. Smith."   Okay where on the entire map of that world would you find this person?  Mostly I would assume it's near where I am and in the same town.   You know how many thimes that is not he case and the person your to find is in a different zone altoughether.   Some are good thought and they say stuff like "It's south of this field" .   At least i know what direction I'm heading.  Also having a map that lets you know where to go to finsh a quest lets me plan out a route to follow to finish all my quests.  

Sat Jan 01 2011 11:35AM Report
winterlion writes:

Why not set up a game wherein you could accept a quest and choose the level of information available....i.e. complete the quest without all the bells and whistles and receive high xp, gold, loot, etc. ....choose to use map markers, less xp, gold, etc.......choose all the extra guides and get minimal rewards or none at all....that way the player could choose the experience they prefer.  That way if you get stuck trying to find that lone mob somewhere deep in the forest you could decide yourself how long you want to search for him or just run in and faceroll him and move on to the next quest.

Sat Jan 01 2011 4:05PM Report
Siergen7 writes:

I like having maps show me the general area I need to be in.  There were a few times in early games where I spend days trying to complete a quest, only to learn that I was waiting at the wrong "large flat stone" at midnight each time.   I do like silving puzzles at times (it took me weeks to figure out all of Portal's levels), but when I'm playing an MMO, I want to do the quest and experience the stories, not search for a needle in a haystack.

Now, could a modern MMO "turn off" al the hand-holding for a few, special quests?  I think they could, but because of on-line game guides, it would require:

  • The quest objective(s) are randomly located - where your is located is different from someone else's is located on the same quest.
  • It is only visible to you (or maybe to your party members).  This means you need to search for it - you can just ask in chat for someone to report the location of "Bob's blue quest objective".  COX has demonstrated that their old game engine can hide NPCs from palyers based on your quest history, so more modern engines should also be able to this.
  • It has to be an optional quest - you don't want a player(customer) who hates solving puzzles to quit because he needs this one, specail quest to reach level 50, get his first mount, etc.
  • The special quest should give a special, recognizable reward for people who complete it in addition to the standard exp, money, etc.  For example, you might get a mount that is no faster than others, but maybe looks a lot nicer.
Sat Jan 01 2011 8:46PM Report
gaeanprayer writes:

Sorry, but I like this so-called 'hand holding'. It does go a bit far, I admit. Those Perfect World games for instance; frequently you can just click the name of the mob in the quest list and walk away or watch TV as the game literally moves your character to the spot for you. To me, that's a bit much, but you know what? Other people like that, and I see nothing wrong with them having their slice of the pie.

But in the case of having an actual map and a quest list? Are you seriously saying that's a bad thing? When you're trying to get somewhere in your car, do you just wing it, or do you bring a map? Sure, there are times I hop in a car and just go for a joy ride, see where my gas takes me before I need a refill, but more often than not I have an actual destination in mind. For that, I turn to mapquest, or my gps, or a good ol' paper map like them old days. In console games, I get world maps, and in MMO's I get the continent map. It makes sense.


Same thing with a quest list. If you get a list a quests in a game, what did you do way back in the day? You wrote it down. You wrote down the quest, the name, what you need for it and maybe even the date to took it, the NPC and the quest text if you were as thorough as I was. How is this any different than what we have no, except that part is so nice and conveniently placed right up in-game, where I can reference in an organised and concise way. And you want to remove that, why?


This is no different than the people vehemently FOR super-casual questing. You devalue your own opinion when you make yourself a zealot and scream for the absolute black or white when even YOU know damned well there are shades of gray that should be considered. What we have now is progress, and while what's happening in games like Rift and PWE's games isn't exactly moving forward, going backwards isn't the solution either.

Mon Jan 03 2011 12:58AM Report
Maziken writes:

I think that the amount of "hand-holding" is also relevant to the setting.  For instance, I don't have that much of a problem with it in a game like DC Universe Online seeing as how that setting is a fairly modern and technical setting.  I would expect that Oracle or the villain's equivalent to be able to provide precise directions to key locations for missions.  I would expect that there would be some sort of technology to overlay an NPC's health and status onto my character's visor or eye implants.  It makes sense for the setting.

Now where it doesn't make sense is in a setting that has the technological peak of aqueducts and fashioning statues using stone tools.

Mon Jan 03 2011 8:57AM Report
astoria writes:

I like some hand holding but it can get excessive. I appreciate Fallen Earth on this issue. Some mission arrows point you directly there, some don't. If it is a go talk to this person, usually it directs you right there. Sometimes kill missions just tell you general areas. While the tutorial explains how to craft, it does little to hold you hand in leveling this (or even your powers). It makes people learn from each other. I just ran with a couple guys yesterday and one asked 'how come you two have three times the buffs I have?' and we were able to make this guy's day. He apparently had just followed the quests as they came and hadn't gone poking around at all the trainers to explore his options and was having a tough time even in PvE.

Mon Jan 03 2011 10:57AM Report
z80paranoia writes:

i like the kind of hand holding they are doing. i liked it in freerealms. it almost tempts me to buy rift

Mon Jan 03 2011 2:51PM Report
Thebozz writes:

I would like a map that is hidden other than the areas I have already explored.  I see no reason to need to make my own map on paper, but I do not really like knowing what the world looks like and where every quest takes me when it takes me to a place I haven't been.  I do also like quest lists. It helps when you start a quest but do not have time to work on it for a while.  I don't really mind the game telling me who I can get a quest from, but would rather semivague explanation of where to find what I am looking for.  I think this would allow for more exploration, which a lot of people like in these games.

There are sites dedicated to just about every MMO.  If for some reason the quest is too vague to figure out then it should be able to be found online or by asking in game.  If quests are well written though there should be no reason to have a big icon saying go here to complete this quest.

Tue Jan 04 2011 12:32AM Report writes:
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