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Worst. Blog. Ever.

Where MMORPGs are deconstructed, analyzed, probed, ridiculed, and then reconstructed. If there's time.

Author: Sornin

Mission: Trivial

Posted by Sornin Tuesday January 8 2008 at 6:44PM
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"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.

Or not.

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:

  1. Quests are typically too short and do not interact well with the lore and/or plot of the world
  2. Quests are typically too menial and do not make the player feel like a hero
  3. 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.

MMOPlaya writes:

Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree 100% with you on this topic.  Make me feel like a hero and not a messenger.  There are way too many trivial quests placed into games - so many in fact - that nobody actually reads them anymore!  When was the last time you actually read the entire quest and all dialogue involved instead of just hitting ACCEPT? 

Vanguard has done something interesting with addition to the normal, FedEx, and epic quest lines they also have what they call "Missives" which can be found on a bulletin board of sorts in many larger camps and small cities - these are short missions that are placed up by local villagers that anyone within the level confines can run - over and over until an unknown limit is reached.  You get less and less money each time, and less XP each time but they add a little lore to the area and are a quick way to make some cash and XP.

Good read Sornin, I look forward to your future blog entries.

Tue Jan 08 2008 9:11PM Report
Sornin writes:

"There are way too many trivial quests placed into games - so many in fact - that nobody actually reads them anymore!  When was the last time you actually read the entire quest and all dialogue involved instead of just hitting ACCEPT? "

This is a good point that I should have touched on, too. The fact that there are so many quests in these games is actually making players read and understand less of the content, even though a lot is being presented. Players are not going to read every line of text when they get bombarded with 5+ quests in a row upon entering a new area. Like you said, they will hit "Accept" and read the synopsis that states, "Go do this" and then do it. They will never know the motivation for doing so.

I think players would be more willing to read if there were fewer quests and the quests they were presented with were engrossing and fit in the theme of the game. After all, the tired story of "My <insert family member> is sick and I need <insert number> of <insert reagent> to make a potion to heal him/her" is not something you can bear to read, yet again.

The "Missive" feature of Vanguard sounds similar to the "Task" feature of Dark Age of Camelot and is actually something I dig, and something I wish most of the silly little "quests" fell under. It provides players who wish to do something short and structured the means to do so, with a nice little reward. FedEx quests, kill X of Y quests, and some others all fit here. What is important is that it does not pretend to be something it is not - a quest. It also can be role-played in a mercenary type way - you grab missions off a board, perform them for some citizen, and get rewarded. When these same things are offered as bona fide quests the feeling is a lot different, more like you are being treated like a slave rather than a hero.

Thanks for the excellent comment and compliment, MMOPlaya - I look forward to writing more as the mood/inspiration strikes me. Be sure to comment!

Tue Jan 08 2008 11:36PM Report
BrendonB writes:

I also agree with your blog. I remember completing EVERY quest I saw because if I didn't I felt I might miss something important. Every one of them lead no where. Kill X, Bring Y to Z. There were few chain quests that even advanced your character in a deep interesting story. I'm talking about MMO's in general.

Wed Jan 09 2008 3:10AM Report
streea writes:

I guess I'm one of the few people who actually reads all of the quests, but that's because I play a game to enjoy myself... not rush through quests. I also find it interesting to read each of the "tasks" as these generally DO provide a great deal of lore about not only the area, but the state of the local NPC economy and their feelings on everything involving them. Sure, you may not play a direct part in these stories, as they are just gathering/hunting/etc tasks, but it's still interesting to read.

I also don't agree with the idea that there should be fewer detailed "quests" in place of a mixture of a larger number of quests and tasks. You'd be amazed of how many people, when asked about why you were doing something in some epic quest, have absolutely no clue why they're doing it (aside from "well, I want the xp and loot!"). People who only have an hour to play aren't going to spend their time reading up on quests... they're going to be rushing around trying to do and see as much as they can. If anything, tasks are better for these types as they don't have to worry about why they're doing it (not that I agree with this, but it's the way most are). If you talk to people in games that are quest/task heavy (like WoW or LotRO) who rushed to level up, you'll find that most roll alts because they want to actually read the quests and see all of the content they missed.

I do think that something needs to change though with the way tasks and quests are handled. When there are too many, they all end up getting mixed up together. What I'd like to see is tasks and quests separated in a log, along with a feature that lets you check a quest and actually read all of the previous objectives/stories/dialogue so that you can, at any time, refresh your memory. That way, the two don't get mixed up and people don't miss out on the truly epic things they should be paying attention to.

Wed Jan 09 2008 10:17AM Report
MMOPlaya writes:

I agree we need to "slow down and smell the roses" a bit.  The biggest challenge I'm finding is when you are LFG and you get an invite where the group is say half way into the middle quest of 4 - and you have never even been to the area - but you want the xp and gold - you go about it anyway.  Or the situation where "Ok, we are about to run-through quest B, go pick it up at X and meet us back here" and you rush about to get the quest because it isn't sharable from the quest log.  In these instances, you barely have time to read anything, save just hitting ACCEPT and run back to the group.

I also think that "Tasks" and "Quests" should be separated, and that all dialogue is again available in the journal so that in down time (mana regen, bio breaks) you CAN read the entire quest, whilst on it.

Good read guys.

Wed Jan 09 2008 11:48AM Report
t0nyd writes:

Let me start by saying that I am not a quest. I pretty much hate PvE and every aspect of PvE.

I agree that most games start off by giving you menial tasks. If you take the time to ponder the idea, does every hero start out as a hero doing heroic quests or do they start off as some stable hand or mild mannered clerk and work their way up to becoming a hero?

I do not like PvE because in the last several years it has become stale. Their are no dynamic quests and interactivity. Its hunt for some mob that gives you a quest.Now go out and kill some mob that fights with the tactics of a mentally challenged cat batting at its reflection in the mirror.

The " delivering a message " quest could be an epic quest. If you think about it in Lord of the Rings all they were doing was delivering a ring. If the journey to deliver the message was long enough to encompass levels 10-23 and it took you from one side of the map to the other while being ambushed and harassed by a multitude of villians that didnt spawn in preset locations, well, I guess thats why I dont like PvE, cause this doesnt exist....

What I am getting at is that hero's do not start out as hero's. You start off small and work your way up to being a hero and getting the epic quests.

Wed Jan 09 2008 11:14PM Report writes:
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