Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 29, 2008
 
Public Quests

Probably the most acclaimed feature in all the post-NDA reports on Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is public quests. Even the people who reported negatively on WAR usually had something nice to say about public quests. Pretty much everyone who tried public quests found them fun, and so did I. But I didn't want to write about them too early, because I think the analysis of public quests requires some deeper thought: How do they work? Why are they fun? And could they become a standard feature of every future MMO?

I'll start with a description of how public quests work in WAR. Public quests happen in open world areas: You walk around in the open world and suddenly find that you just entered a public quest, with a big message in the middle of the screen alerting you to that fact, and a smaller message telling you about the state of that quest. The state of a public quest is, as the name suggests, public, and not private like the other quests. While a normal quests would ask you to kill 10 foozles, a public quest demands 100 foozles to be killed, but doesn't care who does the killing. Typically a public quest has 3 stages (at least I didn't see any other number): In the first stage a number of normal mobs has to be killed, and there is no time limit. In the second stage there is a time limit, typically 10 minutes, to perform a smaller number of tasks, which are somewhat more difficult. For example to destroy 8 catapults, guarded by champion mobs. You can usually solo a champion mob of your level, but it takes much more time. In the third stage typically a hero monster has to be killed, which definitely can't be soloed, and again there is a time limit.

Everybody in the same public quest area sees the same quest status. And to kill the final hero mob of the third stage, players necessarily have to work together, or at least simultaneously beat on the same target. Once the final mob dies, a treasure chest appears, and loot is handed out in a so-called Vegas Loot System. Basically all your actions in the three stages of the public quest were counted in invisible contribution points. The person with the highest contribution point score receives a "gold medal", giving him +400 on his loot roll. The other high contributors get lesser medals and less bonus points on their loot roll. Then everyone rolls a random number between 1 and 1,000, and adds his bonus from the contribution to that. The rolls are invisible, but you can click on the loot window to see the details. The high roller gets the best loot bag, and the other players get lesser loot bags depending on their total roll. If too many players participated, some will get no loot at all. Obviously getting a +400 bonus on a 1 to 1,000 roll gives you an increased chance to come out on top, but you can still roll a 1 and come up empty, while people who contributed much less roll a 1,000 and get the top loot bag. A loot bag, when opened, gives you a choice of various treasures. Even epics can be found in the best loot bags, starting as low as level 10. If you already got the item from your loot bag, or better, you can always take the trade goods or money. After distributing the treasure, the public quest resets and starts over with stage 1.

Even if you never roll high enough to get a loot bag, you will be rewarded. Every monster killed gives out some influence points, distributed among everyone who contributed (including healers). Typically killing a stage 1 monster all alone would give you 100 influence points. Influence points accumulate on a bar to the right of the mini-map showing three reward levels. At about 2,500, and about 5,000, and about 10,000 influence you can get a reward (these values from the preview weekend, not sure about higher levels). Getting the reward doesn't reduce your influence point counter, and you can get each level of reward only once, so usually it is best to gather the 10,000 points and get all three rewards. The first reward is just a potion or so, the second a green item, and the last reward a blue item which is better than anything you could get as random drop or regular quest reward, albeit not quite as good as the best reward from the Vegas Loot System for the same public quest.

Usually there are several (2 or 3) public quests in the same zone, and they share the same influence point counter, but as far as I know have different Vegas Loot tables, so after winning the top loot bag you might want to move on to the next one. Or if you are in a group repeat the same one and hope a friend wins next time. There are even some RvR public quests, in which for example the orcs have to kill 100 dwarf NPCs, while the dwarves have to kill 100 orc NPCs. Only of course that doing so will flag you for PvP, and enable the players of the other faction to kill you and slow down your killing spree, so they can finish theirs first. First faction to kill their 100 enemies advances into stage 2, while the other faction can only try to sabotage them from completing the next stages.

If you are alone, you can solo the first stage and then usually fail to do the second stage, but will certainly fail on the third stage. So no solo epics for you, but at least you can grind influence points. A decent full group working together, or slightly more people if they don't cooperate, can finish the third stage (again this is observation from tier 1 and 2 from the preview weekend). But there is no way to limit participation, so sometimes there are 20 people or more in the same public quest. That finishes the public quest quickly, but of course you only have a 1 in 20 chance to get the best loot bag. And you'll have to decide whether you join a group (usually there is at least one open group going in any public quest), or just let everyone fight for himself. Groups are usually more effective, because influence points are evenly distributed between them. Not sure about contribution points, as they are invisible, but I didn't have the impression that they were evenly distributed in groups. Dirty little secret: Healing appears to give a lot of contribution points, my healer in one big public quest with over a dozen players came on top of the contribution list 4 times in a row.

So what makes public quests so much fun and so much different from lets say World of Warcraft gameplay? In WoW in the open world, other players are basically your enemies: The last thing you want if you are on a quest to collect 10 foozle ears in a certain area is to arrive in that area and find already half a dozen other players there hunting foozles. They'll kill "your" foozles, and force you to wait for respawns. Even if you could persuade them to group with you, you'd end up getting your quest items slower than if you had soloed with no one around. In a WAR public quest, other players are automatically your allies. The open group system makes it much easier to join them in a group, but even if you prefer not to group it is better to have those other players around, so there is a chance to kill the stage 3 boss and get some loot.

But shouldn't WAR public quests rather be compared to WoW dungeons? Lets do that! A WoW dungeon has an upper limit of players you can bring. And it is usually balanced so that you need a good mix of classes and talent specs. It is totally possible for 4 players to be looking for a 5th to start a dungeon, and then rejecting somebody who wants to join them because he doesn't have the right class. WoW is exclusive in forming groups, you want to exclude certain players to have a chance to succeed. In a WAR public quest the 4 players could already start killing mobs in stage 1 instead of stupidly standing around the meeting stone. *Any* 5th player joining them would be welcome, because there is no upper limit to people who can participate. Even if the person joining is contributing very little, he will contribute *something*, and have only a lower chance to win the final loot. Last guy joins the group and there is still no healer? No problem at all, lets turn the group into a warband, which is like a raid, only that you still gain xp and everything. At some point the group will be large enough to kill the final boss regardless of group composition. WAR is inclusive, you want to include as many people as possible into your public quest group to speed things up. You *could* make a closed group, but that wouldn't prevent other players from gaining contribution and influence points, so there is no advantage to it. Forming a big group is usually better, because it helps with healing and buffing.

Are public quests perfect? Certainly not. One problem is that they aren't marked on your map before you stumble upon them. So of the several public quests in the same zone it is totally possible to have one overcrowded, because it is closest to a road, while some other public quest is standing empty in some corner. Of course you can transform that into an advantage if you are playing with friends and guildmates, by leaving the crowded PQ and looking for the empty one you could have for yourself. There are some minor balancing problems, with some public quests being noticeably harder than others in the same zone. But of course the main problem is that you have very little control about the number of participants, and can be stuck either with not enough people to complete the last stage, or with so many players around that your chance for good loot is slim. But fortunately at least the overcrowding tends to auto-balance, with people leaving out of frustration or because they got lucky with the loot, or just filled up their influence counter to maximum.

So, if public quests are so great, what are the chances that lets say World of Warcraft just copies the idea for their 3rd expansion? Not as high as you might think. One obstacle is that you can't just borrow part of the concept. Imagine a public quest in WoW where the first group to deal damage to the final boss gets all the loot, with everyone else coming up empty; it's clear that this wouldn't work. The contribution points and Vegas loot system are integral to the public quest system. Even the open group system is, if not necessary, then at least a strong contributor to the overall fun of public quests. That's a lot of new features to add, especially since Blizzard already demonstrated that looking for group systems and contribution systems (in battlegrounds for example) aren't their strong suit. Another problem is that public quests are great if you have them from level 1 to the level cap, because they are a good alternative to solo questing if you want to level and gear up. How would WoW do that? Rebuild all the old zones to introduce public quests in every zone? That would be a huge amount of content to add, most of it barely used, I doubt even Blizzard would have the manpower to pull that off. And if public quests only existed in the new zones of a new expansion, lets say only from level 80 to 90, then their impact would be much diminished. They would also pose a risk to standard dungeons of the same level, as people might prefer getting their gear in public quests instead of wasting time looking for a group for a dungeon. In short, public quests are kind of incompatible with World of Warcraft in its current form, and I don't see Blizzard completely changing their game just to introduce them. We might see public quests in WoW2 or World of Starcraft, but not in some WoW expansion.
Comments:
One thing I haven't seen an explanation of yet is how the PQ system can avoid exploits. For example, what's to stop a gold farmer working 10 machines making a tiny contribution with each and still having a good chance to win the loot roll?

Has anyone seen anything about how Mythic intend to address this?
 
That is a pretty solid analysis of the public quest system as I experienced it.

I will warn everyone that they should take the occasional complaining about which archetypes place better in the contribution with a huge grain of salt. I played public quests with melee DPS, a healer, and a tank, and managed to get 1st place contribution at least once with each archetype, with a decent number of players around me.

I just shook my head at the "melee dps never gets top place" comment as I topped the chart with my witch hunter. I thought I had left that whining back in the battle grounds in Warcraft.

I think I got top place with my Warrior Priest at least as many times as I did with my Iron Breaker. All before the roll, mind you ;)
 
Public quests are anything but new. Except for the reward system, WoW had some kind of public quests during the opening of AQ and the attacks of the Scourge.
 
That were world events, not public quests. And even if you insist on counting them as "public quests", that would only prove my point that the reward system is integral to PQs working and being fun.
 
One thing that I suspected after going through a bunch of PQs on preview weekend, was that latecomers to PQs or small contributers could win top roll, but the chance of a high quality loot bag seemed to improve if you'd contributed more.

Not sure how far that's true.

The melee dps thing is funny, because I was running a Chaos Marauder around, and feeling awfully guilty for seemingly "always placing first" (or near it, top 1-4, and then lucky rolling away the prize loot bag.)

The amount of constant dps one can generate by 'backstabbing' a mob a tank type is fighting is amazing.

Good to hear there are mechanics that support both tanking and healing contributions as well. I was thinking it was horrifically skewed to DPS' favor for a while.

And for the PQ stages reliant on items, nothing stops any class from contributing, the player just has to be fast enough to snatch it from others. :)
 
You mean the like the Nax event where I was desperately trying to avoid other people, and tag mobs before someone else did because every mob they got made it harder for me to get my quests done?

Those aren't public quests.
 
I am not sure how much besides healing and dps is counted, I've read other things like using guard and taunts are counted but not sure. But that is why the random part is important, since no method of counting contribution is perfect. Somewhat random encourages people to join in, while weighting by "contribution" gives people incentive to help each other.

I can't believe the whining on the forums about "I got #1 I should be guaranteed an epic!" talk about the fastest way to kill incentive for people to join in.

Also note only the top 10-15 or so contributors even get to roll. Sometimes I've gotten the message "you did not contribute enough to roll" when I was in a really large group.

Also jeromai I think if you have less people competing then the loot is better. I got an epic item once in t1 during the preview weekend from a "gold" bag when there were only 6 of us, but usually even if I roll the high score I'd get a "massive" bag or some other bag.
 
I don't think it's possible to compare public quests with anything in WoW. Comparing dungeons and pqs are like comparing apples and oranges. They're different game mechanics.
 
My buddy on offered up this quote about PQs over Vent during the preview weekend, he said “It’s like a spontaneous 10-man raid at level three.” While nothing like a real raid in length, the fact that you can experience such a thing at such a low level is a real testament for how epic feeling the PQs are in design. They are fabulous and there really is nothing like them in WoW.

One thing, Tobold – I don’t completely agree with you that Blizzard can’t fit these into WoW. At some point, I think that Blizzard will see something incredibly similar to this introduced as a Daily Quest at some future point. They’ll never make it retroactive throughout the game, but adding six or seven of these as Daily Quests is not out of the question. Secondly, I also think that Blizzard will adopt some form of an “open group” system even if it’s just the addition of being able to freely join a group in your immediate vicinity.
 
Just like to point out a couple of things about PQs:

*PQs difficulty has been reduced so that six players can defeat it.
*PQs get more difficult as you work your way through a zone (says in PQ description the difficulty).
*There are usually PvE quests that take you straight to each PQ in zone.
*There is a minimum contribution amount required to be included in final loot roll so you can't just jump in and hit the last boss once.
*Some PQs go to seven or eight stages and can last 15-20 minutes.
*Have seen loot bag rewards up to sixth place in some of the more advanced ones.
*The shared PQs with other faction in PvE areas do NOT flag you PvP.
*Loot bags reward you with items your class can use.
 
The server I was on was crowded and there were too many people doing the PQ's. They went wayyy too fast and thus weren't much fun, because I could barely target any of the mobs before they were dead. They need to be harder.
 
I enjoyed the ones I did months ago. But if there are too many there, it does make it hard to contribute. And being 1st and gettting outrolled by someone who contributed the least can be frustrating as it does happen.

overall though, they were pretty fun. There were usually a series of 3 for each zone and what people didn't understand was they would stay at the first to max their influence and then get to the other two and have no influence rewards, just the chest roll. So try the pq 1-2 times and move to the next, don't play it 5-10 hoping for the chest.
 
Sounds like a pretty nice system and might be better than some public quest type mechanics that other games has.

How much of the quests in general are public quests vs more traditional quests?
Just the mechanics of a public quest itself will not be enough to make it a success over time I think, but also a good distribution of them (not too few, not too many).
 
Imagine it's 6 months after WAR has opened, and your leveling an alt. Will there be enough fellow lowbies around to do these quests with you? Once most people have moved to the level cap, the answer is probably no. Hopefully the WAR team will introduce some "auto-balancing" to these things.
 
It does sound like a nice system, except for the potential flaw The Nickster just pointed out (and other bloggers/devs I've read). It's all dead code if there aren't enough players.

Those who cautiously wait six months to see if WAR is worth playing (not unreasonable after all the much-hyped flops like AoC, Vanguard, et al) may have a very different view of public quests. As may those who like to play alts and those who play on off hours for their server.
 
If, at any time, the game had less than 6 players per tier, then it would be doomed anyway.
 
Just like CoX has points for your supergroup, your low level WAR players will be able to contribute points to level your guild through their actions. I am not sure how much this is in relation to high level players.
However more importantly guild flags can still be planted at T2 keeps and I have not read anything that says their effectiveness is lessened at lower tiers. This means if your flag is planted you get buffs to the amount of guild points you gain through player actions, as well as other buffs. It would be rather foolish for a guild to ignore the 12+ keeps at the lower levels and not try to take one to get those buffs.

So for now it seems there are some incentives to roll alts to keep playing at least the t2 and t3 levels.
 
I think Dirtyboil nailed one VERY important design change that WAR got right:

Loot bags always give you loot.

If you're playing a Shaman, every loot bag you open will give you something the Shammie can use. Assuming you're doing appropriately leveled quests, it IS an upgrade. No getting gear for another class, rather little useless trash items which are obsolete before anyone reaches them (e.g. the majority of WoW instanced loot prior to max level).

Another thing I like is "repairing" items. In WOW, this just means money sink. In WAR the paradigm is completely different -- a "broken" item is something you loot and take to any vendor, pay a trivial amount of coin for, and then get a class-appropriate magic item. The stats of the item you'll get are shown on the tooltip. It doesn't matter who gets the Broken Foozlebob, because the vendor will always turn it into something they can use.

Sort of like a token system, except integrated into the game nice and VERY early (got my first broken thing around level 4), so that casuals can enjoy in the "Don't get stuff you can't use!" goodness early.

WAR also contains standard items which drop and, due to class restrictions, you can't use. They're every bit as annoying as they were in WoW. A lot more common, too, considering nearly everything is class-restricted.
 
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