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News & Features Discussion  » General: Is Story Necessary in MMORPGs?

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Managing Editor

Joined: 7/28/06
Posts: 2209

OP  7/20/11 6:18:48 PM#1

In this week's column, Managing Editor Bill Murphy takes a look at the recent focus on story-telling in today's upcoming MMOs and whether or not that's a good thing for the industry as a whole.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Pretty much every big game on deck over the next year or more is promoting itself as having a tremendous story to go along with all the other MMORPG trappings. Star Wars is doing it, The Secret World is doing it, and even Guild Wars 2 is focusing a lot on voice and unique presentation. Heck, 38 Studios hired one of the most well-known and revered fantasy authors of our time to create the world and shape the lore for its game. It seems like everybody and their mother jumped on the ship once BioWare claimed that story was the piece of the puzzle missing from MMORPGs. But here’s the question: do we really need stories in our worlds? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who make the stories?

Read more of Bill Murphy's Is Story Necessary in MMORPGs?


Novice Member

Joined: 10/22/10
Posts: 978

7/21/11 8:30:55 AM#2

call me crazy but I am not convinced that todays MMOers really know what it means to role play (aside from the small groups of people who actually RP), and I believe that setting (and thus, lore and story) is one of the things that draws in players that might not generally be attacted to RPing (its not for everyone after all).

I used to TL;DR, but then I took a bullet point to the footnote.


Novice Member

Joined: 4/12/06
Posts: 182

7/21/11 8:33:15 AM#3

do we really need stories in our worlds? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who make the stories?

In themepark games, yes you need the story, in sandbox games you are supposed to make the stories. So its themepark contra sandbox realy. Reading a novel vs writing one. 



Joined: 12/12/04
Posts: 1409

We live for The One, we die for The One.

7/21/11 8:40:55 AM#4

i think that personal story is not only unnecessery in mmorpg, but imo it is bad idea, while world should have progression based on player actions (usually not on actions of 1 single player, even tho it can happen, but on actions of big groups (defeating invasion, capturing enemy king etc.))


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Currently playing EVE, SMITE, ArcheAge, and Combat Arms

7/21/11 8:42:34 AM#5

Is story necessary? No. However, context is necessary and one of the best ways to do that is through story.

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Posts: 3189

7/21/11 8:57:58 AM#6

It's certainly one way of going about doing your gaming, I don't think it's the only way mind you. but its certainly a direction the genre can take. With that note i'd love to see the genre split in many different directions, but i'm not in control of where that goes or even if it does.

Though i will note that i see the same as you do, since Bioware made that statement about story being important everyone basically jumped on the wagon with them..curious.

Help me Bioware, you're my only hope.

Is ToR going to be good? Dude it's Bioware making a freaking star wars game, all signs point to awesome. -G4tv MMo report.


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Joined: 8/06/08
Posts: 2370

7/21/11 8:58:41 AM#7

Originally posted by Loktofeit

Is story necessary? No. However, context is necessary and one of the best ways to do that is through story.


Well-said! Notice how he said 'one of the best ways', meaning not the only one. There are many games that are heavily driven by gameplay and focus less on the story. I doubt many people that play LoL give a damn about the story, it's all about the gameplay. Mind you that's an RTS, but in my experience most people that play Lineage 2 don't know anything about the story either, save what they've seen from the pretty cut scenes.

"There's like...a girl...and she cries blood or something....and stuff"

Is probably something like the reply you're going to get if you ask for L2's storyline. Otherwise people are driven by competition, not the story.

I really don't feel story is necessary in an MMO. There are so many other elements to focus on, too many other things to achieve, and namely too many alts to create. I barely care about the story the first time around, I don't care AT ALL the second and third time. Hell I've played through City of Heroes' content dozens of times, over 4 years, and I still don't know what the hell is going on. I know absolutely nothing about any of the heroes or why anything happens. The fun for me? Getting new powers, trying new power combinations, getting large-scale raids together, fighting new bosses with their new challenges and new tactics necessary, decking out my character in purples, etc. The story? Don't care. Whenever there's a cutscene I practically fume at the ears at my inability to skip past it.

Context however, is important. But while story is a good way to deliver that, it's not the only way. Think of it this way; if there was no over-arching story, would the game be less worthwhile to play? Not necessarily. What if it worked like a sandbox, but played like a themepark? Played like WoW but let you make your own story, choose your own path, like a sandbox. I think that could work just as well as something driven by a storyline right from the beginning.

That said, I'm not knocking storyline. Guild Wars 2 is one of the first games where I actually do like and care about the lore. I think the reason for that however, is that the first Guild Wars offered up the story in such a palatable way; in short bursts. I wasn't constantly fed bucketloads of quest text, there were attractive cut scenes I could enjoy the first time and skip the next, and the story was weaved INTO THE GAMEPLAY rather than just have me kill 50 boars then stand in one spot for 5 minutes reading through paragraphs of text. It didn't feel as tedious, it felt fluid and part of the experience.

So clearly, if done well, storyline can be a wonderful thing to incorporate into a game. It should not however, lock people into a specific path, it shouldn't force its dribble down the players' throats, it shouldn't be the most important factor, it shouldn't be long and drawn out and it BETTER be really damn good. The problem is all of that is seldom the case, thus why I'd rather it just be skipped altogether.

"Forums aren't for intelligent discussion; they're for blow-hards with unwavering opinions."


Novice Member

Joined: 11/23/10
Posts: 364

7/21/11 9:08:01 AM#8

we need story and it is important.  now I dont know if we need as developed a story as bioware is gonna make it, but we need more than running from quest hub to quest hub like a crackhead looking for a fix and running off to kill a few mobs for some boring text and a measly quest reward.  mmorpg games need to bring back excitement, quit showing us the quest givers with a big gold mark over their head, make people actually go around town finding the quests, turn off quest helper and make people go explore to get their quest done.  or get away from quests completely and make exploring and hunting and things like that more lucrative in terms of leveling.  And by all means get rid of gear gating and gear grinding and running dungeons 1 million times for a loot drop.


Novice Member

Joined: 10/18/04
Posts: 3247

7/21/11 9:35:44 AM#9
Originally posted by Loktofeit

Is story necessary? No. However, context is necessary and one of the best ways to do that is through story.

I agree with this. I like a general backround for a world. I enjoy interesting questlines, but to me, the best stories are the ones I can create myself, or am able to collaberate with other players in. I like to use my imagination, and I believe too much story inhibits that to a large extent. A good example would be The Witcher 2. I really like the game, but it's more of a movie than a RPG, in my opinion.

Vault-Tec analysts have concluded that the odds of worldwide nuclear armaggeddon this decade are 17,143,762... to 1.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/18/11
Posts: 24

7/21/11 9:58:14 AM#10


What about the quality of the story? If the story is bad will it ruin the whole MMO?


I know that for example if a movie has a bad story then the movie is ruined for me, no matter how good the actors, the special effects or other things in the movie are. I'm afraid that it will be the same with MMOs: no matter how good the MMO is, if the story will be bad then the whole MMO could be ruined for me.


The next thing that I'm afraid of is the genre of the story. I don't like melodramatic-romantic-soap stories about relationships, growing up, family problems ... What if the stories in MMOs will be like that. The big MMOs will try to attract a very large audience, to be commercially successful. And that means the stories must be liked also by girls, women an mothers. It's like making a successful movie: the movie is mostly a movie for the whole family, it has a little bit of everything. If the stories in MMO will be made for the whole family then I will probably stay away from them.


Novice Member

Joined: 8/03/10
Posts: 51

7/21/11 9:58:20 AM#11

A recent F2P I played had a story early on where you went searching for a young man's fiance only to find her ghost where she had died.

This story was presented with very little text and a series of very dramatic locations and characters.

The overall effect was stunning but was done with no giant text blocks.  Just great design and direction.

I can do without novellas as the driving points in MMOs.  Just give me good design and characters that intrigue me enough to CARE about what I'm doing.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 6/22/11
Posts: 55

Theres only one solution:

7/21/11 10:00:24 AM#12

Story in mmos  can serve multiple purposes in mmos .

be it  just a simple backround information,  be  it vast  lore  to uncover and understand your role, be it vital  knowledge necessary to ensure your progression...ect ect.

is it necessary ?...i agree with the op its not. But it depends on what setting the game is ...for example:

A fantasy mmo would be bland  and dry without a proper story and lore .

post apocalyptic themed  mmos could easily make it with some plain backround information.

but in the end it boils down to what the developer has in mind.

final word :

its not necessary  but often way better to have one



Novice Member

Joined: 11/09/10
Posts: 394

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7/21/11 10:10:43 AM#13
Originally posted by gaeanprayer

Well-said! Notice how he said 'one of the best ways', meaning not the only one. There are many games that are heavily driven by gameplay and focus less on the story. I doubt many people that play LoL give a damn about the story, it's all about the gameplay. Mind you that's an RTS, but in my experience most people that play Lineage 2 don't know anything about the story either, save what they've seen from the pretty cut scenes.

"There's like...a girl...and she cries blood or something....and stuff"

Is probably something like the reply you're going to get if you ask for L2's storyline. Otherwise people are driven by competition, not the story.

That is very true. Actually, most L2 players I've met don't even know the game HAS a background, and they don't even know the names of the seven gods (Einhasad, Gran Kain, Shilen, Pa'agrio, Maphr, Sayha and Eva). I can't really blame them since the game itself presents its lore like pieces of a puzzle for you to arrange together, but it shows that many people can play without knowing a thing about the game besides how to play it.



Joined: 6/02/04
Posts: 3154

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7/21/11 10:13:30 AM#14

In the end, I can’t come to a conclusion on whether we need stories to be the focal point of MMORPGs or not. I think what I can resolutely say though is that the stories we’ve seen so far have been subpar in most cases, and the future of motion-capture, voiceover, and sweeping arcs is something I can get behind. But once I’ve played through all those tales, you’d better still have another reason for me to keep playing or I’m off to the next “playable novel”.


They don't. But the majority of the gaming media has put what Bioware is attempting up on a pedestel that other companies immediately jumped on board with the idea such that that is what you're going to get out of the upcoming MMOs. For better or worse. More than likely you will be off to the next "playable novel" 2 to 3 months after each of these games launch. Take out the fact of your gaming job pretty much dictating this, it has been proven time and again that comapnies can't keep up pushing out content and "story" (especially voice acted story) at the rate at which it is consumed.


TOR is trying to avert this by pushing folks to play their characters again and make "different choices" or to play an totally different class. I don't see that working as most people have one or two classes they like enough to roll (sorry, you altoholics are not in the majority) and most probably aren't interested in "choosing differently".


Story is a quick, convienient way to produce MMOs today as MMOs today aren't made in mind with keeping players for more than a few months at best. This is why the flexible tools we've seen in past MMOs that allow players to make their own stories aren't prevalent in the current MMO. Companies are comfortable with getting a box sale and a couple months subscription OR charging for individual content. This too is why you don't see tools to let players make their own as you used to. More directed approach to design allows the companies to charge as they please which they haven't yet figured out how to charge for player created content.

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Novice Member

Joined: 12/27/03
Posts: 611

7/21/11 10:14:16 AM#15

Story, no. Setting, yes. If a game is not going to tell its own story, it needs to give the players the tools to tell their own. 


Novice Member

Joined: 8/05/04
Posts: 225

7/21/11 10:25:54 AM#16

I think that some form of story is important, as it gives you a reason to be playing the game. Take an RvR model like the one used in DAoC for example. There's a lot more purpose to getting 50 or so people together and going and taking over a castle if you've got something that makes that castle a threat to you. If you're just storming castles for the fun of it, it'll get old pretty quick, but if there's a reason you should control the castles, and a reason someone else should try to stop you taking it.

For PvE objectives, it can also help in building interest in a land. Yes, a lot of people will be drawn in just for the promise of loot, but if you've also got a story to it, that leads you on to more and more dangerous lands that you need to be kitted out for, it just provides that extra drive to make you want to progress.

The tricky part is realising when you've got too much story. In an MMORPG, the whole objective of most games is that you are a hero, a great adventurer, working towards some ultimate good in the world. If you have too much story thrown in, your path becomes set. You don't really go out adventuring, you're just following a path already set out. It's like comparing freehand drawing to dot-to-dot pictures.

Personally, one of the changes to WoW that put me off it was the amount of story they started to put in. It always had a lot of lore, but it used to be that it was just text you read, go on and do the task, then choose where to go next. Now though, you have to start at point A, complete all the objectives, then move to point B and complete all of those, and so on. You can't pick and choose which parts you do any more, you can't just drop that quest that went grey and move on to the later part of the zone that still gives exp, you're trapped in the story.

Having a story behind quests is nice, but having some choice for the player is even nicer. It makes you feel like you're actually that epic hero, making their striding steps in the world, rather than just some actor, mimicking the path some hero took before, to emulate them.

Currently playing: Rift

former player of: DAoC, Everquest 2, Guild Wars, SWG (pre-NGE), WoW, Warhammer online, LotR:O


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Posts: 2115

7/21/11 10:31:46 AM#17

story is such a broad term.  I hope I didn't miss a clarification by not reading the actual article, but I'm pressed for time.  In some sense of the word, mmo's do need story.  But like I said, it's a very broad term.  Many people would say that Fallout 3 didn't have a story if you don't count the main questline, but that's not true.  It's just a different kind of story than the spoonfed kind.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 1/24/11
Posts: 884

7/21/11 10:39:24 AM#18

MMO's need a rich detailed and enabling backstory. IMO however we should not be part of a storyline as a default. A mandatory storyline that pre-defines your char's role in the gameworld is antithetical to what I want from an MMO.


Elite Member

Joined: 10/29/07
Posts: 17701

7/21/11 10:40:40 AM#19

I think story is very important for all kinds of MMOs, but there are different kinds of story.

The most important story any game must have is a background story. Without a good background story any game including sandboxes is just a bunch of random content placed all over the map. The background provides us with a logical world that feels alive, and give us reasons why things are like they are. Even sandboxes where players build everything needs a good background story to explain why the players are arriving in a empty world and so on.

Then we have the typical themepark story that you learns by playing quests. It is not a must for all games but important for games like EQ and Wow. A good story there make leveling feels less like a grind and more fun.

We have the story that players themselves creates of course, and while the devs don't make that story they can give us tools to make the story better. 

And some games have player created modules as well, loke City of heroes and Biowares Neverwinter nights. If we have the right tools then some of them can be very fun, I remember making modules for NWN, that was a load of fun. :)

Story is more than Biowares classic thing, it helps us make sense of the world. And roleplaying is all about stories, both experiencing stories and creating them. 



Joined: 3/05/10
Posts: 7792

The middle road is the place to be!

7/21/11 10:40:55 AM#20
Originally posted by Khalathwyr

They don't. But the majority of the gaming media has put what Bioware is attempting up on a pedestel that other companies immediately jumped on board with the idea such that that is what you're going to get out of the upcoming MMOs. For better or worse. More than likely you will be off to the next "playable novel" 2 to 3 months after each of these games launch. Take out the fact of your gaming job pretty much dictating this, it has been proven time and again that comapnies can't keep up pushing out content and "story" (especially voice acted story) at the rate at which it is consumed.

This is nonsense. Both the GW2 devs as well as the TSW devs have had their MMO in development a lot longer before BW's 'story' statements, in fact GW already had its own story heavy cutscenes, the ANet are merely building further upon that story premise that they already had to a lesser degree in GW. Also, Tornquist is game director for The Secret World, and he made Dreamfall and The Longest Journey, so of course his design preferences would be a more story immersive design approach: they have been creating internet based ARG story heavy puzzles and 'quests'  for TSW since 2007.


People should see implementing 'story' in those games as 'making the quest based leveling/progression process more interesting', and of that I can definitely say that that's a good thing. However, it also has its limits of course of what it can achieve, story (or context) is not a replacement for gameplay but an addition and enrichment of it.

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