Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Why do we play? - Storytelling

When World of Warcraft came out in 2004, every time you clicked on a quest giver, the quest text appeared slowly, word for word. One of the earliest macros floating around in the WoW community was for immediate quest display, then there were addons to do that, and finally Blizzard built the option for immediate quest text into the client. People simply couldn't be bothered to read the quest text, and often general chat was full with people asking where to find some location, in spite of there being a pretty good description in the quest text. Later addons like Questhelper appeared, which would automatically mark your quest locations on the map. Newer MMORPGs, like Warhammer Online, already released with that as a game feature. And in the upcoming patch 3.2 World of Warcraft will get a Questhelper-like feature in the regular client. Click quest, read only the short description of "Kill 10 foozles", get the location of the foozles marked on your map, and off you go. The whole boring story of how the foozles are threatening the farmers livelihood including the text description of how to find the foozles at the second bend of the river north of the village becomes obsolete. There is a definitive trend away from storytelling.

But Bioware announced that storytelling is the "fourth pillar" of MMORPGs, and are promising increased storytelling with complete voice-overs for Star Wars: The Old Republic. That gives us two competing theories: Either players love storytelling, and only clicked through text quests fast because the stories were so lame and badly presented. Or players don't care about storytelling at all, and Bioware will be forced to include some way to quickly bypass the voice-over quest descriptions, and just mark the 10 foozles on the map like everybody else does.

There is no doubt that that the stories in pretty much every existing MMORPG are rather bad, and badly told. That isn't actually much of a surprise. The game company hires some guy, who is not a renowned author in the first place, and then asks him to come up with thousands of quest texts of maximum 511 characters each, each giving a different story of why the player should go out and kill 10 foozles. Even Tolkien himself would have had problems to make each of these ultra-short stories engaging. Unless the game uses advanced techniques like phasing, the player is also painfully aware that the 10 foozles will respawn 5 minutes later, and the same farmer will ask the next adventurer to kill them. Often the NPC for whom you just did a big favor also completely fails to remember you. The virtual reality you see around you has no relation to the quest text, making the story uninteresting.

Beyond quest texts, there aren't many means to tell the lore of the virtual world, and not much reason to be interested in it. You don't need to know what exactly the relationship between Kel'Thuzad and the Lich King is, you only need to know the tactics how to beat him, and maybe his loot drop table. Again the experienced realities, Kel'Thuzad being always in the same location, always using the same tactics, there being as many copies of Kel'Thuzad as there are raid groups, and him being back next week after you just killed him, conspire against any meaningful storytelling.

Star Wars: The Old Republic will have to fight with the very same problems. "I am your father, Luke!" makes for great cinema, but "I am your father, all 25 of you in the raid group!" repeated to every group, and every week, has little or no impact. If we play for the story, we want to be an important part of that story, and that fails if we see everybody else being equally important. The only way to motivate players with storytelling is to make the story more believable, by having the virtual world around the player be visibly impacted in a way that is consistent with the story. That might be possible with heavy use of instancing, but ultimately it creates a massively parallel single-player game, and not a massively multiplayer game. If you allow players to have a real impact on the world, affecting all other players, you'll end up with a model like EVE Online: It can create great stories, but the number of actors in these stories is tiny compared to the total number of players. For every players who pulls of a great bank scam, or topples an alliance, there are many thousands who lead a rather boring and mundane life in which nothing special happens. Nobody has found a way yet in which everybody can have an impact, because as the villain in The Incredibles says, "If everybody is special, then no one is".

If we look at the function of storytelling in MMORPGs, or even all role-playing games, it is clearly mostly a means to disguise the fact that it is in the nature of a game to be repetitive. A RPG is basically a game which consists of a series of combats, which all run along roughly similar lines, with minor variations, and the story serves to bind these combats together. Quests encourage you to first kill 10 green foozles, then go back to the quest NPC for a reward, and being sent to kill 10 blue foozles. That is an improvement over killing 20 green foozles, even if the blue foozles just look different. The quest adds movement from the quest giver to the first kind of monster, back to the quest giver, and then on to the second kind of monster, thus breaking up the monotony. But is it the story that is being told by the quest that motivates the players to act that way, or the quest reward? Observation of player behavior points towards the latter: At the level cap in World of Warcraft most players appear to prefer repeatable daily quests that still give some reputation reward to quests that offer new stories but no reward besides gold. For a few faction points players rather do the same quest over and over, having to deal with other players camping the same spots, instead of doing quests with new stories.

But while it appears clear that storytelling is not a major part of the answer of why we play MMORPGs, that doesn't mean Bioware isn't onto something. SWTOR doesn't have to rely on telling its lore through quest texts with voice-overs. Most of the players will already have an idea of the lore of the Star Wars universe before they even start playing. Nobody needs to explain us what a jedi is, or a storm trooper. SWTOR profits from the same brand (and lore) awareness that Lord of the Rings Online has. Everybody who played LotRO probably noticed that doing a stupid Fedex quest in the Shire as a hobbit was somehow more fun than doing a similar quest in a game whose lore you didn't know or care much about. Storytelling might just be window dressing, the cherry on top of the game, but that can still make the game overall more fun, and influence a decision to buy, or to keep playing. We don't play just because of the story, but telling better stories in better ways might be a viable path to improve the genre. We'll see for ourselves when SWTOR comes out whether we follow the stories, or keep our fingers on whatever key is used to skip the quest dialogues.
I mostly agree. Storytelling can be a good thing - but it is extremely hard in an MMO to produce a credible, immersive, individual story for every player.

I'd suggest the game companies to trust the sandbox principles more. If I am the second best tank in my 70-man guild I am already a hero. I am quite good. Good story - better story than:
"You just killed Arthas." When you know it really didn't happen that way at all and everybody read the same text this second and next week you will again ..

Making questing easier and thus more attractive is a race you cannot win. The easier you make it, the less enjoyable it will be, the more easy you need to make it, so people can stand it. People might even claim that Questhelper addon makes WoW more fun - I know I do. But this is a superfical analysis. Don't trust us. We just rely on the addon, because it exists! We want to beat the game using any means necessary. Please don't allow us to cheat, because we want to be allowed to use any means necessary. We do not want to limit ourselves. You need to limit us.

You need two types of actvities in your game:

1) Really easy, time is all that matters. You have the feeling to gain something that is so easy that it's really just a grind. But the time you invest is worth something. (Whereas time invested in many (free time) RL activities doesn't bring you anything!)

2) Quite hard. You fail over and over again. You know that eventually you will succeed, because your character becomes better very slowly due to invested time (see 1).
Still - you succeed just before you want to give up. You gain something appropiate. This is one of those "RAGNAROS DOWN" moments. They only need to be a few, but they need to be there.

If I had the chance to design an MMO it would consist of one main story and no side quests. I know, they are popular, but I never understood that I had to rescue the dog of the little girl, when armegeddon was closing every hour I spend to rescue the dog.

The main quest line can consist of hundreds or thousands of quests. Just engage a good storyteller. These quests would now matter more to me, because they weren't independent, but closely interconnected with what I do all the time: Trying to beat the game.
Jeff Kaplan said some time ago on Blizzcon or wherever it was that players don't like to read stories or quest text while playing MMOs.

I guess then they also don't watch or listen to a story so much.

I think he is right, but only because I think you cannot tell a story in a MMO in the classical way of a novel or a film. I have nothing against story and lore in MMOs, quite the contrary. But you cannot tell a story with cutscenes, voiceovers over and over.

This makes for a one-time linear experience, great for a solo adventure, but not for a MMO.

I hope they do their cinematics rather Guild Wars style than being TOO enticed by their voiceacting and cinematics! Some people also fear a lot of soloing and instancing.

I wonder how much SWTOR will become a story experience on rails rather than giving players ways to create their own MMO stories and have experiences in the MMO other than what the storyline scripts provide.
Someone once said at Blizzcon, "We need to stop writing a book in our games!" I completely agree with this. The point of an MMO is to write your own character's story within a fantasty setting -- it is about you -- your struggles, failures, and successes.

Over-scripting storylines that are clicked through without being read are a waste. I usually quickly scan a quest and focus on the objectives, only bothering to properly read it if I've missed something relevant to completing it. Story? What story?

More often than not, people notice th eye-candy than the story. "ooh! nice sword," rather than, "ooh! Tell me about how often you respawned trying to get that!"

An example. I tried several times to get into LOTRO and quit. Why? Because the stilted graphics and "feel" of the world turned me off. So, the superb storytelling meant nothing in that case.

The richness of character development in an MMO should come from the diversity of character paths in the world (totally the opposite of wow where your whole character is boiled down to your +healing, +def or damage per second at level cap).

Is Bioware onto something? Perhaps. If they allow for certain flexibility within their elaborate stories, then yes. But if they confine characters to a tight path, they story will be glossed over and boredom will ensue.

In the end, game design is only as important as the marketing that follows it anyway.
It's hard to tell stories when people are trying to ding. If you want players to chill out and try to enjoy a story, you can't have a game that requires 240 hours + to get to level cap (if not more for first timers). It's ridiculous to imagine that after the first 50 hours, people are still going to want to engage with NPC's, when there is what, maybe 5 types of quest?

The Deathknight quest area was quite good, and I did enjoy the quests because they weren't the normal kill Xx10 quests, and they let you blow through the levels fast enough that I didn't feel like I was wasting time reading about it.

So basically, if you want story to matter, do away with quest hubs entirely, and have a much smaller number of quests, preferably quest lines that reward grouping, with an engaging storyline, random events relevant to the plot, and maybe (just maybe) the ability for the player to choose different outcomes besides win or lose. The choice you make in one quest impacts which quests you can do later on, and with enough branches you might just have a fairly unique experience each time you level.

Also, if you fail a quest, you should have to do something else besides drop it and get it again. That is also a major story killer.
One of the more interesting ways of handling a story with thousands of participants was through those boring daily rep grinds. The Isle of Quel'Danis in WoW is a good example of this. Even though you were basically just a grunt for the Shattered Sun Offensive, you were working towards something. Quests like these acknowledge many of the problems you mentioned:

The 10 Foozles return after you kill them: the repeatable quest isn't a one time favor to a farmer who won't remember you, it's an ongoing extermination effort to rid the world of foozles.

The farmer doesn't remember you: he does if you gain reputation every time you kill those foozles, plus, the more times you kill them, the better rewards you can ultimately get.

Not everyone can be special: in this case, you don't have to be. You are, instead, a small part of a greater story. You aren't the lead player but you are on the front lines creating your own story which, I think, is the reason many of us play MMO's.
To me, an RPG is a way of telling a story. And the combat is the way of making it a game...

Take Neverwinter Nights for instance... I got immensely frustrated running into a tough combat (Yes, there were some, Desther at the end of chapter 1 for instance) because I wanted to continue the story...

So... SWTOR concentrating MORE on story? Yes please! Mind you, I like a bit of a challenge... But 10 fails in a row give me some kind of a tldr reaction. Too tough, turn down difficulty feeling... I'm just difficult I guess :)
Understanding the pace of play is important as well in storytelling.

If I'm being asked to save the village and its an emergency, the adrenalin starts pumping and I don't really wanna read a lot of text to get started. The storytelling can be done afterwards when I've saved the day. Also, sometimes I get a good head of steam going with my character progression and I stop reading the text quest to keep up the momentum. What I need there is some way to slow things things down for me so I 'stop and smell the roses'.

Another way to introduce storytelling is through publishing books about the lore of the game. I've read most of the Wow books and they make the game much more immersive for me. There's all kinds of subtle things in the game that you would never get if you didn't read the books. Many times after reading a book, I'll roll a new toon, just to do some quests for some of the characters in the book.
I agree that the Death Knight starting area was an amazing experience and, though I often skip quest text, I felt compelled to read those quest lines before I completed them. Not only were they well written, but they really gave you a good feeling for how the class was supposed to play and why it works the way it does, not to mention the whole area worked as a primer of sorts for those of us not implicitly familiar with the Lich King lore for Warcraft III.

While I know that it is not a good budget of development time to create class specific quests (since only that class will experience them instead of all characters created), class or race specific quests always seem interesting because they make you care about your class/faction and, as with the Quel'Danas dailies, help you feel part of something bigger than yourself which is something you usually can't get in a single player game of any kind.
Saying a game has a great story is like saying a member of the opposite sex has a nice personality. My concern for SW:TOR is that a lot of people say BioWare games have great stories. A considerably smaller number of people say BioWare makes great games.

But the biggest obstacle to storytelling is probably that you typically have no effect on the world in a massive game. I think Blizzard has "solved" this problem to a certain degree with phasing, although there are more steps that need to be taken in that direction.
I only wanted the instant quest text because I can read faster than they were displaying the text.

I read every quest the first time. I do skip it on alts.

I only purchased Wrath to ocntinue with the Warcraft story. When you pipe off with some lore from Warcraft 2 and why things are they are in WoW, your guild mates are in awe. Not that aweing my guild mates is what I seek in life. :)
I think that voice-over is a huge component to being engaged in a story. Games that have it simply make it feel more real and there is more reason to pay attention to the story - because it is less work. Sure, there needs to be a way to bypass it because there will be people who don't give a rip and there will be the people who want to get through the content as quick as possible without stopping to observe the story/surroundings. But the majority of people will enjoy the fact that this NPC is willing to tell them a little bit more about what you are going to do for them.

My main purpose for thinking this is because of the game Wizard 101. Its a fun game - with a pretty horrendously cliche story that is basically Harry Potter mixed with go kill some trolls because they're overwhelming us or some magma men for their fire stones. However, because they have voiceovers, I understand the story behind the game. It engages me, even with a fairly lame story. And on top of that, it makes me feel like I'm the center of the story rather than the other person standing their getting the same exact quest.

I can also think back to playing through some Final Fantasy games (non-mmo) that had voiceovers and it made the story a ton better. I remember skipping through anyone who didn't have voiceovers quickly because it was just a painful wall o' text (like this comment).

Just my $.02, but I think that voiceover will change the way we think about story in an mmo.
Even if you like storytelling that may not mean that you want to follow it the whole time when you play.

Quests/missions in many MMOs are simply just an overused mechanic. As with many other things it can be great in small doses, but if you use it too much it can turn sour.

The only MMO-type game that I think has done a good job here is Guild Wars. Given the resources they seem to use for GW2 I think ArenaNet is likely to put the same emphasis on storytelling in the next game.

I would expect a game like The Old Republic to do something similar in terms of pacing and mission structure to be able to make it work properly.
I recently found out to my surprise that I'm not anything like so much of a click-through merchant as I thought I was.

I tried Runes of Magic and Shaiya and the extremely badly written and translated quest texts ruined otherwise interesting games. It was probably the single most important factor in stopping.

This surprised me because I thought I was someone who skipped quest texts but only found out I wasn't when the stories were jarringly bad.
I've tackled this issue on That's A Terrible Idea. My theory is that the story problem in MMOs traces back to a root flaw in their design that compromises the basic integrity of the game (that sounds dramatic, but I have backing for it in the article).

I've also tackled a way to bring story back in my article about in-game historians and journalists. I believe that the way to make story relevant is to allow the PCs to make the story as they play through the game, not to spoonfeed them some pre-written interchangable text that they'll be rewarded to ignore.
I'm with Dink above, the slowly fading in quest text was annoying, since I can read significantly faster than that. It's the same sort of effect as having someone deliberately speak at a quarter of normal conversational speed; after a few seconds you want to either go away or throttle them.

Given the annoyance factor, I don't think you can necessarily use the prevalence of quest-text-speedup addons as direct support for "people aren't interested in story". It's not really possible to work out who was using it because the slow text annoyed them, and who was using it because they don't care about story.
I love the fading-in text in WoW. I thought it was a great innovation (albeit one I only saw 5 years after the fact). Yes I could read faster than it scrolls, but I don't feel the need to, in the same way I don't feel the need to ride a mount everywhere. Slow is good.

I don't think "storytelling" is an appropriate term for what MMO quests do, anyway. The best ones are much more like sketches in a comedy show or anecdotes. Games in general are a poor means of delivering narrative, and if narrative was what I was looking for I have several better options than any game, let alone MMOs. I could read a book, watch a movie, go and see a play...

I quite like a backround story, the "lore" if you like, but I want it to be just that - background. The very best game storylines are only going to aspire to the level of popular fiction and having pop-fiction storylines meted out in small chunks interspersed by combat is a terrible delivery mechanism.

Personally, I'd go for rich. deep, complex world-making and let the players become steeped in the atmosphere, rather than trying to tell a straight narrative.
This isn't a problem in MMO's so much as in society. Some people enjoy good stories told well, the majority of people don't care. One need only look at the summer blockbuster list to see my point.

Even the best selling video games are tipically fairly slim on story. A game like Halo has the bare minimum story to attempt to explain why you need to go from point a to point b, killing everything along the way. MMO's have followed a similar path, The earliest ones forgoing a developed story and choosing instead to let the players create their own storys, Games like UO and even Everquest where remaribly slim on story.

UO in particular is a game that like (although obviously not to the same degree) The Old Republic came from pre-established lore. Ultima Online was like the 10th or 11th Ultima game to be released. Yet aside from a brief blurb in the initial book, and a little blurb every expansion the story was largely made secondary to the players story.

Quests ironically as we know them now from WoW where a mechanic to remove grinding. the fact however remains that the majority of players don't read the quests, they walk up to Farmer Ted, click him, hit accept to everything and then either useing websites, or addons are directed to the location of whatever it is farmer ted wanted retrieved/killed/escorted ect. And so really the majority of players have become no more invested in the game then back when we sat in butcher block mountains quad kiting the same 4 dwarf guards over and over.

I keep saying the majority of players, there are some who do care, myself included. I've made it a point to level each race in wow from 1 to 20 for the sole purpose of reading all the quest text in each starting area. My first character to 80 I blew through everything to keep up with my guild, my second character I read every quest text.

I'm aware I'm not the norm however, I'm one of those strange people who reads books, and doesn't watch tv. I'm grateful that ToR is placing such an emphasis on story, and if anyone can pull it off its Bioware, but I'm fearful that even if its fantastic the majority of players won't give a damn. That the game will be resigned to around 2-3 thousand subscribers, and that given that Bioware is now owned by EA, it will be judged as a failure, the company will be restructured and such endeavors won't be attempted again in the future.

Part of me wants them to not allow players to skip quest text, or quest voiceover I guess since reading is seemingly to much of a burden on the general mmo playing populice. Its a silly desire that stems from spite, and it would be a horrible game design choice but I wish it none the less.

I often find my desire to enjoy the story of an MMO conflicts with people I'm grouped with. its bad enough that I like to read the text in wow quests, that can't be any longer then 500 or so words, because the rest of my group has just hit accept and is waiting. I imagine it will grow far worse if my group who all slammed their face against the escape key 10 times to bypass some dialog is now waiting for my to enjoy a cutscean in which my character is engaging in a variety of Mass Effect style dialog tree's with the quest giver, attempting absorb as much information as possible.
The reason I play Age of Conan and Guild Wars still.

They offer me a feeling or reason to be there..
I need to accomplish a goal instead of a basic "Kill 10 x" (though no doubt these exist)...But, I have this sense of ending in each of these games, and if I complete these "endings" (Final Quest in the Destiny Line in AoC and the Final Missions in GW), then I feel like I "beat" the game..

No other MMO offers that..

Wish more MMO's had this...thus SWTOR is on my list.
I thought that Age of Conan (which got so many other things wrong) got the storytelling right in the first 20 levels.

The mechanic of having the character talk to you and then aving you respond with one of three reponses was very important. At first blush, it seemed a pointless excersize in clicking the mouse. But the act of having to select a response made you more aware of what was being said which in turn drew you into the story.

It also helped that the dialog choices broke up the quest text into digestable chunks.

Its too bad that Funcom couldn't keep that up past level 20.
Storytelling has failed in most (or all) MMOs to date because the 'story' attached to a quest is almost always pure fluff. Why read the quest text when it all boils down to 'kill 10 foozles'.

The only way storytelling is going to work in an MMO is if the story itself is integral to the quest and what the player needs to do. If you can sum up the quest activities with one phrase, the storytelling is pointless.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in the post-WoW instant-gratification world. Millions of players are accustomed to skipping quest text to get to the 'meat'. Bioware has their work cut out for them. I don't doubt that they can create stories worth listening too, but getting players past their WoW-conditioned ADHD is going to be hard.
I think storytelling is important, but the trend has been to move away from the traditional "quest text" method of storytelling and start "showing" people the story.

I can't stand quest text, but I love a good story if it's told to me visually.

Perhaps the best example of this change is shown in the Death Knight starting area. It's very visual, interactive and obvious WITHOUT having to read the quest text.
More enlightening than the question:
"What is so bad about quests?" (a lot of things),

is the question:
"What is so good about quests?"

Actually I disliked AoC when the quests suddenly became rare and I had to grind mobs without any quests at all. I didn't really read the quests before, but killing mobs without them feeled pointless and stupid. (Yes the quests were also pointless and stupid, but somehow I didn't care).

Trying to answer the question:
Quests give us some work to do. They are stupid and boring, but tell you something to do. You don't have to have any doubts, whether what you do is the right thing to do (am I farming the right mobs that give exp fastest?)

Quests are (easy) work for most people that they invest to unlock new talents, skills and content - that's where the motivation comes from. Eventually you will also get to know more parts of the world which is also a reward for the hard quest-work.
For socially connected people it's also that they need to keep up with their friends.

Trying to improve the story-telling potential of quests sounds good. But you need to remember that people are willing to do stupidly easy work to gain virtual rewards. Hard work, like interpreting quest descriptions or actually beating challenging quests is only fun every now and then.

WoW actually has some hard quests. The 2-people and 3-people quests are mostly done solo. After that you feel extra great that you accomplished something that (supposedly) not everybody could. It's also a good excuse for Blizzard to introduce a hard quest without balancing it for every class/spec. This, btw, is the real reason that makes creating challenging quests (and 5-man dungeons for that matter) impossibly hard.

Quests today mostly don't tell a story. They just give you something to do to unlock new talents/skills/content. The motivation comes from these things, not from the fun you draw from the quests.
Quests still pretend to tell a story, because even Blizzard wouldn't dare to reduce their role playing game (laughter) to such an arcade game status.

You probably *could* make quests tell stories, but their number would have to be drastically reduced. You really would have to make the player understand, that he now really has to kill those ten rats. You should only allow him to follow one quest chain at the time. It would have to fail if he skipped it, or, well, failed at it.
(I'm still in favor of allowing him to restart the quest chain)
Stories in virtual worlds are about choices and consequences. And this is not easy for a developer!

Actually I think that it is much easier to create a good framework for players to create their own stories, than to create a story driven MMO.
Re: "even Tolkien himself" I apologize for going off on a tangent from you excellent post, but I was struck that JRR was not who you would even interview for that job. In fact, if you are ever at a nice intellectual party, after excessive amounts of overly oaked chardonnay have been consumed, ask who, living or dead, you would hire to write multiple 511 character short stories: not Tolkien or any Russian writer: O'Henry? Maugham? Maupassant? I would be even further ostracized by suggesting someone like David Oglivy.
I hope storytelling wins; yet am a fast text, Carbonite person.

But I don't think you give the EVE way proper credit: relatively speaking, I have very little impact on the EVE universe. Just like in real life. :-(

But I see a *HUGE* difference between a tiny difference and absolutely zero. There is no pretense that killing the 10 wolves will change anything in WoWs. Alternatively, there may be 10,000 ships on the other side ( or 10,000 ships being manufactured or whatever ) and whether I kill 1 or 2 or 3 is not that significant mathematically. But I know if I do 2, I did twice as much as if I did one. And no matter how tiny, the universe is different because I did. And like voting, it is rare that one could say that one voter made a difference; yet most say that the aggregate of the voters does make a difference.

I just wish there were some game mechanic where what I "needed" to do actually did something. Even the before my time cloth for AQ had something in the world changing, slightly, because of what I did.
It depends on the player. I read quests. I see them as the good part of the game. The grinds and wipes and 'challenges' (also known as grinds and wipes to get gear for more grtinds and wipes, aka: raids) are not much fun for me. I used to enjoy them, but questing and lore was still what I liked most.

I'd love to see a game put more attention on lore and storytelling.
Great post.

...ultimately it creates a massively parallel single-player game, and not a massively multiplayer game.

This hits the problem on the head. In a single player game you can be a hero who single-handedly saves the world. In an MMO it's just not possible, because you know thousands of other players are all doing exactly the same thing you are. The best MMOs can do is create the illusion of impact by segregating people into different phases and instances, but that hurts the social aspect of the game.

To me the best stories in MMOs are the ones that players create for themselves. "Leeroy Jenkins wiped our raid" is a compelling story because it's unique. "I killed Edwin VanCleef" isn't as compelling, because you know that everyone else has done the same thing and that he's just going to respawn for the next group.

I'm interested to see how BioWare will handle this, but it's hard to see how they can combine individually compelling stories with the social aspect of the game. For example, will we be able to repeat story-driven instances? If we can, then the integrity of the story will be ruined (especially if we can make different dialogue choices the second time around). If we can't, then we'll only be able to group with people who are at exactly the same stage of the story that we are, making it hard to play with friends and guildmates.
Storytelling will always suck in MMOs. How does one explain the constant rekilling of the same villain every week? I also thought the first 20 levels were the best in WOW. The stories were at least build for your race, and you felt you had a stake in it. (Not so much for gnomes and trolls though). Later on the quests started to come together, and now even Alliance and Horde are basically doing the same quests. The developers have gone for the one size fit all solution. Wouldn't it be good, at some point where you're out in Northrend, find a quest or get a summons to return to your home village and root you into your race or class?

Single player RPGs have the advantage the actions of the characters will have consequences and the story can progress. For MMOs... not so much. Even the instanced sections in WOW is just a mild fix.
Much of the story talk that I see in this comments thread seems to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks. It's clear that MMOs just don't have the right incentive structures to foster immersive storytelling without the player coming into the game wanting to read a story.

What we want are stories that the players are invested in because the players make the stories by living in the world and making meaningful decisions. You can add more "immersion"-enabling features, but, in the end, you've got to change the paradigm if you want to see meaningful stories (to players) that are relevant to the game's plot.
Talking about storytelling is completely backwards. It breaks the basic principle of pretty much all media: show don't tell.

People don't like to stand around in games and have stories told to them, what they want is to have the things that they DO make up a cool story. Have the actual things that people do make sense in a cool context in the story and then you'll be on to something. Listen to someone explain a big info dump about why you have to do X is a poor substitute for doing X being interesting.
I always skip the texts in WoW and have a lot of fun reading/hearing them all in games such as SW:KOTOR (single player game). Why would that be?

I think it's because my goals are different with both games. In SW:KOTOR I play for the story. It's what makes the game interesting. The story doesn't feel like something to just let you go from one killing spree to the other but a goal in itself. Levelling or killing is fun in that game but it's only second to a good story.

Now, in WoW I don't care about the story. My goal is simply to get to level x asap. All the rest doesn't matter as much.

The problem I see here is that there is a rush to the maximum level, at which point "the real game" starts. As for SW:KOTOR reaching the end means you're done so you want to make it last as long as possible.

It will be interesting to see how the new SW mmorpg handles this. Will "the real game" start at maximum level? Will the end game be what it's all about? Or will it all go around levelling. And trying to make it last as long as possible and having fun with the story?
One of the things that really disappointed me about WAR was the lack of story, especially given the material the game could have drawn on.

As an example, it is much less engaging to talk to a generic career trainer standing in the middle of a war camp, than it is to go to the basement of the slaughtered lamb to see my class trainer.

WAR seemed a lot shallower than WOW to me, and I am still playing WOW.
"I thought that Age of Conan (which got so many other things wrong) got the storytelling right in the first 20 levels." (Squin, above)


If SWTOR is a full-game experience of Tortage quality it will become the default MMO and it will suddenly be obvious that the only way to make triple A MMOs is with full VO story.
I think storytelling is for people that look for immersion in an MMORPG (I'm one of those).

Unfortunately, the storytelling in games I have played mostly catered to male teens. "This evil dude is just reeally evil." Why can't powerful opponents be entangled in unsolvable dilemmas like is the case in real life?
Why can't powerful opponents be entangled in unsolvable dilemmas like is the case in real life?

I need to stress that. Good stories are never black/white. They are grey. Now, Star Wars is not grey - nor are most popular stories nowadays...
Something I haven't seen done since AC2 were the cut-scenes after completing instanced content - vaults. It didn't matter if I didn't know the story when I entered in the instance. Once the content was completed successfully, you had to click a portal to leave the instance and at that time you ascended into the sky and a cut-scene launched explaining the impact of you win. People skipped them after the first time but that first time, you felt like a god completing the content. The animation and having yourself injected into the importance of defeating that boss was very clear.

Their also felt like there was more story linking the repeatable quests together. WOW has great lore but I find myself and many others, just beating through the content for the rewards. AC2, being a much less gear centric game, felt more story driven despite not having the depth of lore that exists for Warcraft. You were doing the content to advance (XP) and do stuff with friends/other players. I think a concentration on gear/rewards, will always detract from story. People will just follow the shinies and you can feel it.
I agree with Hagu - EVE does let you have an effect on the game world - a little effect sure, but an effect none the less. Only a few players will have blog posts dedicated to them or become famous in-game, but everything i do (undercutting someone on the market, blowing up a pirate that attacks me) does change the game universe in a small way.

I prefer really changing things in some tiny way to the make believe of being the dragon slaying hero (like everyone else). As in real life "there are many thousands who lead a rather boring and mundane life in which nothing special happens" but that nothing special x 1000 = a real and lasting change to everyone that logs in. Just as in real life, you don't have to do much to make a difference (for better or worse) to those that meet you.

If someone could come up with a way for everyone to be (in)famous, I'd be begging for a beta key. Until then I'll be happily picking my mainly inconsequential way amongst the stars...
*New missions must be created to replace old missions. They don't have to be totally new, they could just be comestic, anything to create the illusion that you're changing the world.

Example: After a world-changing event occurs, all "Kill X Foozles" quests are replaced by "Kill X Boogles".
*All revelations must deal not with PCs but with the Game World, and with NPCs. For example, "I am NPC #9393."
*NPCs arrive during special events and are controlled by GMs. For example, NPC#9393 will arrive to talk to players at a certain date, and thereby build a rapport with players which will filter to the rest of the community.

Doing this should create the illusion of there being an actual story, which should serve MMORPGs well.
I don't play MMOs for storytelling. I've come to believe that if I want a good story (or anything better), I need to play a single player game where I *can* change the world, and the pacing is stronger. MMOs, for better or worse, are best for letting players tell their own stories within an interesting world framework.

I am firmly convinced that Bioware is barking up the wrong tree, and that they will wind up diluting both their storytelling (by needing to cater to multiple players) and the potential of a great Star Wars MMO (by focusing on cutscene-heavy instanced individualized storytelling). That they might effectively be making KOTOR sequels with subscription fees doesn't sit well with me at all, either.

The core design of an MMO just doesn't lend itself well to a strong narrative. It's great for lore creation and setting up a stage, but the play itself really needs to be the players' actions, or else there's little reason to be playing with others in the first place.

I reserve the right to be pleasantly mistaken if Bioware manages to make oil and water mix.
I mostly agree. I play on a limited schedule so reading each quest cuts into the amount of playing I can actually do. However that being said during AoC I watched every quest that had voice acting, so all of them for the first 20 levels.

A vast majority of people play games to beat them, reading the quest doesn't aid them in beating the game. Those of us who would enjoy the story are left behind because it would take us longer, so we must skip all the story lines to keep up.

2 simple solutions. Reward people for reading quests and make them entertaining.
My favorite quests are the ones that you end up NEEDING to read the quest text because you're stuck. Quests need to be developed that are more complex and have to be done in a certain way to succeed. Thus you are drawn in to the storyline. How about multiple quests that have to be done in a certain order, or kills that require use of a certain weapon, or done more quickly or more slowly or how about a "kite-this-guy-back-to-me"? Surely they can be more creative.

How about more experience if you do them at lower levels? That would encourage both the dreaded "grouping" and attempting more challenging fights.
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