Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Player-created quests

Julian wrote me a proposal for player-created quests in WoW:
So, how's about this - let players create quests, with rewards for both the quest creators and normal XP etc for the quest takers?

First, creation would work something like this: Each major location has an NPC you can submit your new quests to. There are a limited number of active quest slots for each player level in that location, so quests go in a queue and have some kind of lifespan (which can itself depend on how many people take or complete the quest). Each day, rewards for the quest creators are posted up - for instance rare items, or gold - and each day the quest creators get to choose their reward (appropriate to their level, of course), with the most successful creators getting the best rewards. Really popular quests could stay on the list for quite some time.

Quest creation would naturally have to fit into predefined categories, but it should be possible to make these flexible enough to make the quests worth doing. Kill this many mob A, this many mob B, bring me so many lots of item C. Do it in a time limit. Complete the quest in a party with another player on the same quest. Complete normal in-game quest Q within a time limit. You could even simulate escort quests, by creating linked quests - quest A is to take a lower level character who is on quest B to location C, killing a number of whatevers on the way, keeping within a certain distance of each other all the way.

The level of the quest would have to be automatically calculated based on the types of mobs being killed, and the XP for completing it would be whatever XP is appropriate for the level. At quest creation time, a random list of items could be available for the creator to post as rewards for completing the quest.

To pick up a quest, a player goes to the same NPC as I mentioned above and is given a list of quests appropriate to their level, maybe ranked by popularity. To get the quest, the coolest thing would be to have ghosts of the creators standing around as quest givers - or if the creator is in the area, have a question mark over their head :-)

Now, I'm quite aware that the chances of Blizzard actually implementing something like this are approximately nil, but it could be made to work even without them, albeit nowhere near as well, using an add-on and with cooperating guilds using bank characters to hold rewards for both the quest creators and takers.

The main thing that would be lacking using an add-on is the XP for completing the quests, but you could get around this by creating meta-quests which consist of variations on existing Blizzard quests - complete Blizz quest A and B in under 10 minutes for a reward, or complete quest C while in a party with someone on quest D in under 20 minutes, and so on.
I don't see Blizzard adding something like that, but maybe it would be possible to implement in some future game, right from the start. What do you think?
Sure, why not? Along the same lines, why don't we have some sort of game forum, where players can voice their concerns over the game and make suggestions for improvements and to submit bug reports. The forum would attract those players who are keen to improve the game and help to make an overall better experience. It could even include feedback from game devs, so that sensible discussion would follow.
And people say *I* am jaded and cynic. Compared to Elf I'm a believer in human goodness and intelligence. :)
Pff. No.

"I got fourteen thousand manuscripts in the first five days. Of those fourteen thousand, I and members of my staff read about five hundred. And four hundred and ninety-eight of those five hundred were absolute trash; hand-scrawled, laboriously written, therapeutic pieces of writing from sick people. Of the two remaining scripts, both of professional quality, neither fitted the show."

--Rod Serling, on fan submissions to The Twilight Zone
Doesn't Rhyzom have that already?
And you thought gold farming was bad? Why would any game developer bother setting up a system that can be gamed from both ends? This comes back to the "ecosystem" point I keep making. There simply isn't a real in-game reason for players to create these quests, so all tacking this kind of thing on would accomplish is to drive inflation further through the roof.
I think... that for any system, such as a player-made quest system, to be implemented, it must first be tested by attempting to break it down and exploit it. There are a ton of nice ideas that would work - if you could trust people to follow the spirit of the original idea, but that's not going to happen. If a system can be exploited, it will be. Either because some people actually want to exploit it, or because they didn't understand the dev's original intent; take your pick depending on how cynical you're feeling.
That said, I could see need for some kind of quest-ish system. Think about how in WoW it is now virtually impossible to find 4 others do to a low level instance with. Fairly regularly now I see someone saying in trade chat "WTB run through SFK, 20g" or some such.

There could be some sort of semi-formal quest system, whereby the player advertises needing help on an elite quest or a dungeon run, and sets a reward. XP wouldn't be rewarded at the end, but gold could be. Maybe there could even be a way that the player needing help could link the quest they need done to the quest-ish system, and place the gold in the system beforehand. Then once the quest is complete, the gold goes to the person who accepted the quest. Or something along those lines. The devil is in the details of course.
EVE Online's contract system has something very like this. The more I think about it, the more I conclude that a fantasy version of EVE would be my ideal MMO.
I've been thinking about this, however, in a slightly different way.

Somehow, I think that some method of this will be the 'next generation' of mmo's - a combination of the traditional MMO and second life.

In the context of WoW, I was thinking that it could be a profession. Something like a 'storytelling' profession. You'd get different mobs that you can add to the quest, like with different enchants or whatever. The quest creation process would be simplified greatly to help hopefully improve quality. As an example, there'd be a few different types of quest - a kill/gather quest, a single 'boss' kill quest, a messenger quest. From within those types, you can add different types of mobs and whatnot.

To limit the amount of quests that would be created, and hopefully improve quality further, the quests themselves would cost gold to create - like 500g. Not a huge amount, but not trivial either. Perhaps the gold use is related to the mobs that you create for the quest or something. (like, it costs 3g to place a murloc for a kill quest, but you have to have at least 20 of them for a 5 kill quest)

Quests would then go through a 'trial' period wherein x number of players would have to do them, and then they'd rate the quest. If your quest doesn't rank high enough, it goes away. You don't get your gold back. (I've also considered that you'd get a certian amount of gold every time your quest succeeds)

There'd still be a certian saturation level for quests, but, perhaps, they could be rotated and randomly reviewed and disappeared after so long. Something in the context of a 'daily' so you could only do so many of them.

Essentially, I think it's possible. They wouldn't be standard 'blizzard' quests, but, something like a daily with a reasonably tightly controlled method for creating the quests. Making it cost gold to create quests, limiting the amount of quests done in a day, and limiting the rewards would help make it more difficult to exploit.
Any player-created quests would need to use standard world mobs or items, because creating new content, either mobs or scenery, would alter the game world and have the potential for spoiling what has already been crafted. Using standard mobs would end up in having players kill ten rats, and that archetype of quests has been admonished by just about every player at some point. Adding a time limit adds little to the quest, and also makes spawns more important. There are time-limited quests in Loch Modan, and if other players are doing them at the same time you can fail the quest simply because there aren't enough mobs spawning.

What you would need are instanced zones for player-created content, so that mobs, items and scenery can all be controlled without altering the game world itself. And what you have then is Neverwinter Nights. That game had a thriving player-created module scene, and was successful because each module was effectively instanced, and peer-reviewed, in that only the best modules were recommended and propagated through the community. It's possible such a system could be added to an MMOG, but there would be the added problem of balancing items and money in relation to the rest of the game. Removing the 'massive' mitigates a whole load of issues, as seen in NWN and other mod-friendly games like Unreal Tournament.

So, sure, it could be possible, but it would also be easy to abuse in a massive world. If it were made so that risk of abuse was significantly lessened, the quality of quests would be compromised too much.

And Tobold, you should see me on a bad day. :-)
The concept is a solid one, and can, indeed has, been implemented in both Ryzom and SWG. Face of Mankind (ugh what an utter piece of garbage) had exclusively player-created quests, which of course meant that since no one played the game, there were zero quests. Which is a prime example why I feel a 100% sandbox simply won't work in the real world. I think we would be much better served by the combination of dev and player-created content.

The other issue is player content doesn't really fit into the scope of every game either. Two games come to mind -- and I've written this elsewhere, probably -- that I feel this could be implemented easily would be City of Heroes/Villains and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

CoX has a fairly limited set of instances for missions, so having a somewhat watered-down version of the dev toolkit available for players to simply set which instance map to use, include some scripts and populate it, and have a specific door in each level zone for player quests.

DDO would also benefit from the same concept. Give the players the tools to create, texture, populate and script the adventure. The game engine itself would handle the loot tables and xp.

How do we distribute these custom quests? The first idea that came to mind was using the FPS genre where the map was hosted or linked on the server and if you didn't have it, the map would auto-download before you could enter. The problem here is that player content is quite the mixed bag -- all too often it is complete and utter trash. Not to mention some would try to cheat the system and build super easy quests to give uber drops or xp. Again, the engine should handle that, not the players.

Next there's implementing each player quest into the game itself in a patch. But then, since it's now in a patch, does it become "official" content? Probably a poor idea then.

The devs could host the files and simply put links to the quests and when you choose one, it will download for you, which perhaps may be the simplest option.

So there needs to be some type of QA for player content. Do we want to take up dev time playtesting this stuff? How about a player (or player + dev) elected body, similar to what CCP is doing with annual player audits of EVE Online? This group can playtest and vote for the quality, and the final submissions could be implemented into the game.

Note: obviously I'm talking of full-bore instanced player-created dungeons or whatever, not simple "hey, do this for me and I'll reward you with this" task style of quests. The toolkit would be watered down to not include custom content like the raid zones, bosses, uber gear, etc. Only normal textures, architecture, mobs, or lower-end bosses would be available.
Let's cut to the chase. Player run events have proven to be extremely popular in spite of the fact that developers have given players very few tools to work with. I don't think an mmorpg can be 3rd generation unless it offers players a way to design instances and patch them into the game/server.

Tobold talked about SOE willing to try anything (if only out of desperation) - a feature like this is way more likely to be included in EQ3 as opposed to WoW2, for that very reason.
Elf is right when he says that the inability to create new content would kill this idea in any existing MMORPG, but if you could combine it with second life stylee content creating tools and a a good peer review system for what stays in the game and you'd be on to a winner.
As others have said, any player created quest system that relies on templates will become stale very quickly, amounting to little more than Anarchy Online's original random mission generation.

It'll be cool the first few times, and then you'll have seen it all.

The ability to create content would improve this, but then you'd have to deal with players creating (and potentially breaking) in-game content being hosted on the company servers. Think about the WoW forums, or 'Barrens Chat' and imagine the type of quests those people would create. So much moderation would be required that the company might as well have a staff to constantly turn out quests on their own.
Which they should be doing anyway honestly . . .

Blizzard's pace of content creation is lackluster to the point of criminality. One content update all year . . . or is it two. Its been so long its gotten hazy. Even City of Heroes adds content faster.
There was a kind of player created quest thing happen back during the AQ event on my server. A few of the top guilds basically said "help us open the gate early and we'll run you through molten core". As I recall some had a winner a week - the winner would get the loot they could use from an MC run.

Effectively this was a quest that said "Send us as much X as you can, if you send us the most we'll get u epics".

Any other occasion out there with this player inspired quest/task?
Are we really sure we want a quest where your mission is "Multilate 10 uberpwnage robots, and bring me their diaphrams" - in a fantasy rpg? If that doesn't worry you, replace "diaphram" with a body part that would be sure to give the ESRB a headache.
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