Friday, February 22, 2008
Is exploration still part of the adventure?
Supa wrote me an interesting e-mail saying: "Remember the day when you did not know where a quest ends or where an items drops? The days before sites like wowhead showed you all that stuff, and mmo-champion showed you the models of new characters before they came out. The days when content was new and you had to socialize with other people to find out where to go or what to do. Do these sites spoil our “newness” of a new environment or is WoW just getting old?" That touched a nerve, because I was just following advice from Cameron's infomercial and installed QuestHelper. That is an addon for World of Warcraft which shows all the quest locations on your map, and even suggests a shortest path for which quests to do next and in which order. That suggested path totally spoiled the game for me, following it felt like playing on rails. I haven't uninstalled QuestHelper yet, but I turned off the path with the "/qh ants" command. The thing bugs me, but I agree with Cameron that "It will change the way you play World of Warcraft."
The reason why I didn't uninstall it was the same that Cameron mentioned: Like everybody else, if I get stuck on a quest and can't find the quest object, I go to a site like Thottbot, Allakhazam, or WoWHead to find coordinates of where I have to go. Much more practical if I don't need to leave the game to do that, and just need to call up the map to find the location. Would it be better to "socialize" as Supa said, and ask other people where to go? Most of us are reluctant to be the looked down upon guy who is asking for the location of Mankrik's wife in Barrens chat. Looking the information up on Thottbot carries less of a stigma.
But whether you ask around, or use QuestHelper, or use a quest spoiler site, the result is always the same: exploration stops being part of the quest. It is because a million other players already did that quest before us that searching high and low for the location doesn't really make sense. Mankind kind of rules over the other species on this planet because we developed the ability to pass on knowledge, instead of reinventing the wheel every time. It is in our genes to apply the same to virtual worlds, even if it effectively diminishes part of the interest.
Another part of the problem is the quality of the quest descriptions, which varies in WoW, and is often even worse in other games. If the quest text just tells you to kill 10 foozles without giving you any indication where to find those foozles, no wonder you'd rather look the location up than waste time looking everywhere. So I think one good way out for future games would be to have a minor QuestHelper functionality already included in the game: your quest journal could show not only the text, but also a small map with a red circle in the general location where you need to go. Not the exact coordinate, but at least the area where to look.