Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
MMO vocabulary inflation

The Oxford dictionary defines a quest as "a long or arduous search for something; (in medieval romance) an expedition made by a knight to accomplish a prescribed task". They define heroic as "admirably brave or determined; grand or grandiose in scale or intention" and epic as "heroic or grand in scale or character". Somehow all these definitions don't really fit with a typical description of a World of Warcraft play session like

"I first did some daily quests, then ran a couple of heroics, but only found epics to vendor".

If we'd use a less inflated vocabulary for the same actions, it would become

"I first did some daily errands, then ran a couple of instances, but only found vendor trash".

Ferrel from Epic Slant is complaining about quests, and also remarks that they are just "chores". So he suggests to get rid of quest hubs and "stop making it inefficient to level by slaughtering monsters", going back to how it was in the original Everquest. Been there, done that, doesn't work.

Whatever you call them, quests, errands, or chores, they do fulfill one fundamental function in a MMORPG: They distribute players. If you can level just as fast by killing any monster without a quest, there will *always* be optimal spots to level. Whether those are monsters that are relatively easy to kill for the xp they give, or whether the spawn is just conveniently timed, or whether the monster camp is just closest to the next village, there will be *some* reason why it is better to kill a specific group monsters over and over and over and over and over and over and well you get the idea.

That doesn't mean that quests are "necessary", or that they are the only way to achieve that goal. It just means you can't simply go back to the time before quest hubs, because it would mean going back to the time where people entered the Commonlands zone and would shout out "Camp check", and get shouts back which of the most favored monster spawn locations were already camped.

So how do we design a game without quests? That is incredibly easy: Use diminishing returns. As we already call them "experience points", it makes perfect sense that the experience you gain from killing your hundreth orc is less than that you gain from killing your first orc. Then people can roam the virtual world freely to kill monsters, without the game turning back into Evercamp. Thus we get rid of stupid NPCs with golden symbols floating over their head giving us stupid errands to kill ten foozles with a stupid justification in a quest text nobody reads.

Afterwards we just need to rename the current "heroics" as "group content", and the current "epics" as "gear", and then we can think about how to add content in which player *really* go on a long and arduous quest full of heroic deeds and with an epic reward. I hear Blizzard is already thinking of making epics less common in Cataclysm.
Blizzard should really differentiate between "quests" and "tasks", with the quest marker being reserved for what really are quests.
Things like the old Onyxia attunement chain would be a single quest consisting of lots of tasks, the wrathgate chain, the tier 0.5 upgrade chain, the warlock mount chain, and others that I'm sure I could remember if I thought hard enough.
It would help bring back some of that original WoW feeling whne things were actually hard.
To clarify, you're saying to still get rid of quests (or missions or errands) and have the game consists of timed camping, only killing up to a certain point in the curve where the exp gain goes below optimum for the area?

And to have this system along with the parallel of advanced levels receiving less exp from kills of lower level mobs?

I just wanted to clarify what you thought would be better, flat out killing only, or properly naming quests as errands.

I agree.
I just wanted to clarify what you thought would be better, flat out killing only, or properly naming quests as errands.

More like mat said. Completely eliminate "errands" of the "kill X foozles" type from the game. Make the general way to gain xp a system in which you hunt monsters for xp, with diminishing returns for camping, and of course for lower level mobs.

And then create some REAL quests, tasks a player needs to work on for a longer time, and feels some sense of accomplishment when he finally succeeds.

And those quests could actually be tied to their rewards, like the warrior questing for the magical sword because he *wants* that magical sword. Not the warrior clicking on some random NPC quest giver who gives some random kill X foozles quest which opens up another random kill X foozles quest with the magic sword being by chance the reward for the final quest of the series. With the mage getting the same magic sword and vendoring it as trash.
Uhm, that solution has been done also before, well similar at least. DAOC had/(has?) a camp bonus where you got a xp bonus for a time while camping the same spot. It disappeared after a while. It still was MUCH too grindy compared to doing quests. Trust me, anything where you just have to kill mobs by the hundreds is much more grindy than quests. But sure, have it as a relatively viable option besides questing for those that want that.
Trust me, anything where you just have to kill mobs by the hundreds is much more grindy than quests.

No, I don't trust you on that. :) I'd argue that it is just a question of numerical parameters. You can set up a diminishing returns anti-camp system which ends up with players killing EXACTLY the same amount of monsters and getting EXACTLY the same reward as they would get if they had done a series of "kill X foozles" quests.

And that system would be better, because it avoids the famous "bears, bears, bears" problem, where you killed a mob and get the quest for it later.
I agree. The difference here is that tasks can be completed with time and effort, and without fear of failure. A quest should have a pass or fail qualifier much like timers, escort encounters, or chain events that lead to un/successful completion.

But changing the reward mechanic in a DIKU like WoW will still be next to impossible.
Where does storytelling fit into all this?

As I mentioned in the post on Murder, I like to have a reason for killing poor foozles.

Quests provide a basic structure to my playtime and make me feel that killing foozles has made a difference.

You could argue that there should be real-time changes to the game world according the foozle murder rate. You win on immersion but perhaps lose the sense of individual heroism.
Where does storytelling fit into all this?

The story telling fits into the part where the designers design stories.

Legendary stories, epic adventures that start out easy, become harder and harder. Contain surprises, hate, revenge, betrayal and yes: Killing mobs.

With Everquest 2, Guild Wars 2, SW:ToR, this is the new direction for MMOs. To give me a lengthy quest in a fantasy world that means something to me. That at times is hard - and at times is easy.

That in the final end awards you with some nice gear upgrade that feels unique, because it is quite unique.

Even Cataclysm moves into that direction, although very slowly.

Make no mistake: This is no step back. It is three steps forward after we made two steps back in recent years.
You'll be happy in Cataclysm, then. At least maybe happy :)

Let me elaborate: with varying degree of success, Blizzard has eliminated most of the "kill ten rats" quest. Oh, they're still there, but they are the minority. As a replacement, all zones have now what amounts to a single quest chain, telling a story and supported by heavy use of phasing to have the world affected by your actions. Some areas are so good that I kept questing just to "see what would happen next", which is definitely a success and a step forward compared to grind-questing.

Unfortunately there's a down side: unless exp gaining is very finely tuned you risk ending up with too little exp when you complete a zone, and thus unable to move to the next; or overexping a zone, i.e. finding yourself doing "gray" quests just for the sake of the story. And since exp gain can change a lot (heirloom items, running instances, a friend rushing you a dungeon), things are really hard (impossible?) to balance.
Another problem: as much as phasing allows you to have quests which really impact the world, it kills group questing completely, as you won't even be able to see other players who are not exactly at the same advancement as you are.

Still, it's sure that I'll level a reroll on Cataclysm by pure questing from 1 to 60 :)
Adding something (one more comment was added while I was writing :).
With a few exceptions which will probably be nerfed, quests in Cataclysm are EASY. What it means is that you never find yourself being forced to rerun the same combat many times to finally kill the boss.

I agree with this approach: storytelling is lost when you need to grind 100 kobolds, but is lost as well when you have to try 20 times to kill the final baddie, until you find the right combo to win the fight (not to mention the "I go somewhere else to level and will be back when I one-shot it").
"You can set up a diminishing returns anti-camp system which ends up with players killing EXACTLY the same amount of monsters and getting EXACTLY the same reward as they would get if they had done a series of "kill X foozles" quests."

But how would you inform the players, without forcing them to have a spreadsheet opened at all time during the games? WoW quests give very specific goals - "I'll kill 15 bunny rabbits, get my reward and move to the guy that'll give me a bonus for slaying little lambs"

If understand your idea then players would constantly need to work out if killing fluffy bunny number 16 will be worth it or should they move to another location. Plus it's somehow more intuitive for me to think "I'll just log in to do a couple of quests" than "I'll just log in to kill 30 baby bears".

That said I really like your idea, although I'm not sure that numbers can be tweaked to make it work as easy as the current quest system. Maybe replace all the "kill x number of" quests but leave some small "go to location x and do Y" errands, which would also direct new players to some good new camping spots.
I have just completed the D2 quest chain which was great fun and I hope there will be more of this in Cataclysm.

WotLK not having blue dungeon sets was a big mistake in my eyes, BC had two usable sets per class sadly without a quest chain to upgrade.

Also I have fond memories about rushing with 10 man pugs through Scholomance and Stratholme while also having to 5-man them for quests which took a bit more effort. The first completed 45 minute Baron run back in the day was a thrill.
i'd say it'd be good to remove the "kill foozles" quests from MMOs, the poor beasts are already nearly extinct by now. With all those adventurers killing them as they spawn, long time i didnt see any in wow, tbh.
Sounds like Ferrel needs to learn what the LFG tool can really be used for. I haven't done a quest in 30 levels on my Shaman, I just sign up for a random spot and can get about half a level per run that way. I am basically just grinding, but with higher level mobs (more xp) and the chance for an upgrade.
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Maybe I just don't understand this post... What's the problem, and what solution are you offering?
I'd be up for a lot less quests, but have the quests be a lot more interesting.

But then, if it were up to me, leveling to max would basically be the DK start zone spread out over 24 hours of play time.

Experience/skill should come from doing stuff. Such as hitting stuff with your axe, exploring, picking locks etc

Rewards such as money and gear should come from quests (chores if you like).
Rather than diminishing returns, remove static mob camps. They are a by-product of preview gen tech limits that should no longer apply. Wandering mobs = wandering players = 'exploration' back in an MMO, and the elimination of "go here, grind, then go here, grind, then go here, grind, etc until you reach the 'real' game" problem too many MMOs have today.
Malthan brings up a good point that I would be interested to hear Tobold's response on:

How do you *inform* the players of the optimal time to stop killing one mob and move on, or at least an approximation?

I am intrigued by your idea and am having trouble coming up with a streamlined an unobtrusive, and hopefully thematic way of doing this.


That seems like a really good idea as well, and would most likely be combined with sporadic "camps" and perhaps roving Elites or travelling caravans and such that begin a "miniquest". Sort of like GW2 is doing I suppose.

Also the camps that are there could become actual *camps*, as in heavily fortified bases that are in the centre of an area being patrolled by certain mobs. So a "Goblin Zone" might have a big camp in the centre, with roving bands of Goblins all around and perhaps even raiding out of the "Zone" into other ones. Or something.
No, I don't trust you on that. :) I'd argue that it is just a question of numerical parameters. You can set up a diminishing returns anti-camp system which ends up with players killing EXACTLY the same amount of monsters and getting EXACTLY the same reward as they would get if they had done a series of "kill X foozles" quests.

And that system would be better, because it avoids the famous "bears, bears, bears" problem, where you killed a mob and get the quest for it later.

But the big problem is that it's almost completely mindless. When you are doing quests at least you are partly aware (even if you don't really read the quest text) of what you are doing and why. Just camping around in different spots has your mind at most on figuring out the optimal order of camp spots.

Of course it's a question of taste, which is why I probably shouldn't have said "trust me" on that. It's just that I hated the old camping way of MMOs and thought that it was a huge improvement when quests became more popular. I can live with the "bears bears bears" problem if I must, but it would be nice of course if it really worked like Paul explained it. :)
I have to agree with the other responses: I like quests as a means to put a solid limit on the number of foozles I have to kill. Sometimes the story is nice too. It's a user interface issue. I'd rather not have a spreadsheet or addon telling me how many foozles I have to kill before moving onto the next type of mob; I'd rather have an NPC do it.

About the general problem of vocabulary inflation: how about the term "honor" you receive from ganking other players?
Everquest wasn't the only example of using mob grind for leveling and I don't think was even a very good example of how to do it. Lineage 2 also has this setup but I think pulls it off much better. The world is huge, there are many hunting grounds for the various level ranges. Some hunting grounds are nicely setup for solo or duos and others, having larger clumps of aggressive mobs is better for larger groups. You do have quests that will point you a certain direction but the exp and coin from the quest is incidental, you gain most of your exp and wealth from the mobs themselves. One nice effect of this is that you don't mind killing mobs that are not on your hit list so much. Instead of weaving in between skeletons to get to the ghouls because the ghouls are really only slowing you down from your quest, you are more likely to just go after all of them. More fighting, less weaving is nice sometimes.

I have also noticed that much of the "game" to this kind of grinding play is in finding a nice sustainable pace and pattern to your hunting. How fast do you go and what attack pattern do you use so that you can keep moving and not have a lot or any downtime. This goes for groups as well. Taking advantage of the various buffs and talents of all the members, what becomes the most efficient way to hunt.

This kind of play doesn't turn out to be such a bad way to play so long as the game itself supports that kind of play, making it enjoyable and social but not tedious. In L2 I think they make it work well given the environment and how rewards are structures and so on. In Aion the grind was much less but turned out to be more jarring. I think because they were trying to have their cake and eat it too and didn't structure things well to support either a mob grinding game or a quest grinding game.

But I think it is important to note that just because you are doing quests doesn't mean you are not grinding, you are, you are just grinding quests one after the next, perhaps trying to find the most efficient way to complete the tasks as well as the most efficient way to travel between the quest location, completing several at a time.

Certainly quest grinding tends toward more variety, especially in terms of what you kill and where you go but it does also tend to lean you more heavily towards traveling around either within or between zones. You can spend a lot of time moving from the place that had 12 feathers on the ground to the place that has 15 bears to kill and so on.

What would be nice to see would be a game that supports both types of play nicely. If you just want to hunt thing, do it, if you want to grind quests, do it. But I especially like your idea for keeping people from stagnating in a particularly efficient spot. Having diminishing returns for grinding certain mobs is a great idea. Perhaps let the diminished return wear off slowly over a few days. That way, hunting a variety of creatures in different areas has an advantage.

I also don't see any reason why questing, or rather, daily tasks couldn't be integrated with a certain amount of mob grinding.

But to take mob grinding to the next level, I would really like to see the mobs learn to react to what you do. Especially intelligent mobs. Why should they always and forever be simply spread nice and evenly thoughout the field waiting to be slaughtered, be it for quest or not? If you come back hour after hour or night after night to kill 20 dark hunters, they should start hiding or ambushing or something. At the very least they should run grab some friends as soon as they see you coming. Let the mobs in an area become more difficult to deal with over time if you keep farming them consistently. Granted this would take some serious mob AI work but it would be a pretty cool feature to run into.
I'm not sure I understand. What is your objection to quests? At worst, you seem to be arguing that you don't feel they add anything to the experience. But you already admit they serve their function, and you don't seem to have any reason why they detract from the game.

It sounds to me like you still want to "kill 10 foozles," you just don't want an NPC telling you to do it.
Well, one problem I have with the current setup is that I don't feel like a hero, I feel like a vermin exterminator. What is so adventurous about running minor errands for every farmer you meet?
@VikingGamer while I think L2 is definitively one of the better games of it's time. It *is* a horrible grindfest, that people escape botting to the extreme (especially for anything crafting related). Didn't people even bot the raids in the end?

I think it played tons better on the private servers with changed loot rate. Maybe NCSoft should have licensed it out or run different server settings. Especially since it is a beautiful game with a lot of things to do and explore.
Most of my point Samus, is that quest grinding is still a type of grind and not so spectacularly different from mob grinding in the end. Both become tiresome after a time. And my remarks on the subject really only come from Tobold's mention that we have moved past the days of mob grinding. I am just bringing up the idea that, at best, quest grinding is not all that far beyond mob grinding, and quite possibly is not superior to it at all but only different.

Questing is probably better at telling a story about the world and it nice in that it breaks up the fighting into bite sized morsels mixed with non fighting elements.

The down side of questing is that it tends to be less social, people usually solo grind out those quests that can be soloed, which now days is most and approaching all of the quests. The other down side of questing is that it pushes you to spending more time traveling from place to place rather than spending the amount of time you feel like in a place possibly killing what you want. You need to kill 5 spies. 4 is not enough and 6 is wasting time on 1 extra.

Perhaps the solution is to find a way to structure quests to be more like, "go and find some spies, kill them for me, let me know how you did." Then when you return he says "wow, that's great to hear, let me know if you kill more." That way you spend how much time on the quest that you want. I don't know, just kicking round the idea. I just like flexibility.

yellobird, yes L2 has a lot of grind, a huge leveling curve by western standards. Nobody in the guild I was hanging with was level 85, their max level. One guy had just hit 83 but most were 79-81 with a few alts after years of playing. It takes 4.2 Billion exp to hit 80. (yes that B is correct) But I don't think you can so easily compare it to a western game. In wow you get to lvl 80 in a few months of being a casual but persistent but not hardcore. Same is true about getting to S grade in L2 which is lvl 76. Then you might take another month or two to nicely gear up which in L2 is getting to lvl80 and getting your S80 armor.

All in all I would say that yes, L2 takes a little bit longer to get to the end game but not by much and end game in L2 is not getting to the level cap. That idea that you get to the level cap and that is the start of end game appears to me to be a particularly western conception. In L2, you get within 5 or 10 levels of the cap and you are at end game, doing endgame raids and pvp. Of course you do better at all those and can do the hardest raids once you are closer or at 85 but then an lvl 80 that is ICC geared in WoW can do more than a lvl 80 that is just barely geared to start heroics.

The question is really about where the end game exp really begins but either way you are still looking at grinding something. In wow's case it is grinding rep or badges, in L2 it is grinding the last few levels.

As for L2 botting, that was a bigger problem in the past, they finally got around to banning the botting but literally years too late. But appearently this has much to do with the politics of a Korean company treating its western division like a red headed step child. A long time observer, player and Korean speaker explained some of the dynamics to me. It really gets kinda complicated but simply put, the botting among other problems had much to do with NCWest getting ignored most of the time.

It is also important to note that as westerners playing an eastern game, we often bring our very goal obsessed culture with us and so for some, being the first to reach the end becomes overwhelmingly important. You can see this in the way that some guilds will eventually acclimate to the more drawn out pace of the game and other guilds, usually hardcore pvpers will turn in to notorious bot guilds. We just tend to have trouble getting used to a game that is essentially not designed to be finished.
Oh and Tobold, I agree with your annoyance at how things are named. At the least, most quests should be called tasks. Quests, real quests where things like the Ony Quest chain in vanilla. So maybe the terminology should be that a quest is the chain and that its parts are tasks or missions.

Heroic instances are really just "Hardmode" instances but now they are even using that term on top of the raids and instances so I think those terms are hopelessly confused.

Epics, well, as has been pointed out again and again by many and for years, how can all your gear and everyone else around you be completely epic. Legendary is the new epic. Epic should mean, maybe just maybe you get 1, someday, but only if you walked to school in the snow, up hill both ways and never complained about it. I must admit that L2 calling their "epics" S grade items was a lot more sensible. S meaning superior as opposed to A, B, C or D grade items. They aren't rare or epic when all your associates have them but if it is expensive and works well you could certainly claim that everyone in your outfit has superior gear, at least when compared to where you used to be.
Great post. I've always been a fan of quests, but way they're implemented can be a bit too inflexible; i.e. everyone has to do exactly the same set of (mostly trivial) quests. Ideally, people should be able to progress by doing whatever they like the best, whether that be questing, grinding, raiding, exploring, etc.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how the GW2 event system works out. It looks like they're trying to accomplish what traditional quests do, but in a more dynamic and social way.
"Well, one problem I have with the current setup is that I don't feel like a hero, I feel like a vermin exterminator. What is so adventurous about running minor errands for every farmer you meet?"

Imagine that right now, at your house, someone comes knocking on the door. A pride of lions has escaped from the local zoo and is now making its way through town. The person at your door happens to be a sword collector, so he hands you a claymore and asks you to take care of the lions.

Most people would not be willing to accept this task. It is clearly beyond the capabilities of a normal person, the lions would kill them. However, I think it is interesting that you view this exact same task to be beneath your virtual character in stature.

I think your problem is that in an online game, everyone can do this task with ease. I'm sorry, but that is inherent to an online game. They aren't going to make quests that only one person can do. Everything you can do in the game will inherently be something that everyone can do, and lots of people DO do all the time.

And I really fail to see how your idea would make the feeling of being a "vermin exterminator" better. It seems like it would make it much worse, you are cutting out the middle man and doing nothing but vermin extermination. Lots of different vermin, but still just blindly killing stuff for no apparent reason.

What you want is an idea that tricks you. Phasing can do this, somewhat. You clear out the orcs in a small area, and they are dead forever. When you show up to the area again with another player, the orcs are gone. He thinks it is because he killed them all, you think it is because you killed them all.

Of course, this runs into a lot of problems with grouping, and with players who have cleared out different things. But conceptually, it's a start.

I can certainly see what you're saying. I like quests, I think it is a substantially better system. On the other hand, I can see that others would view them as simply no better than grinding.

However, I still contend they are no worse than grinding, either. I don't see quests as a problem, so much as unrealized in potential. There's probably a better way.

One thing I can say which addresses your concerns is how they do missions in CoH. It is all instanced, so they can just tell you to "arrest" every thug in the instance. There's no number to hit, after which you walk off, inexplicably ignoring the remaining criminals. You get them all. It makes more sense, and it's more gratifying.

Of course, this simply becomes the old argument of open world versus instancing (or phasing). The open world has to respawn, your accomplishments aren't going to feel very heroic because it doesn't feel like you did anything.

I will be curious how SWTOR plays out. It will have much more instancing, and the voice acting will mean people start paying more attention to dialogue.
And I really fail to see how your idea would make the feeling of being a "vermin exterminator" better. It seems like it would make it much worse, you are cutting out the middle man and doing nothing but vermin extermination. Lots of different vermin, but still just blindly killing stuff for no apparent reason.

If you were defending your village against an orc invasion, wouldn't you try to kill the maximum number of orcs possible? Why would you want to kill exactly 10 of them, carefully selecting those with the red armor, then go back to base camp to get the quest to now kill 10 of those with the green armor?

And in your lion example, there are actually 20 escaped lions, and you're being asked to kill exactly 10 of them. How does that make the task more realistic?
Again, I don't think quests address that issue, but your suggestion was no different in that respect. It makes no difference if you kill some and move on by yourself or because some NPC sent you.

What you are arguing against is static spawns. I once again point to phasing or instancing, where you can kill everything in the phase or instance.
Of course it makes a difference! To what Nils would call "immersion". If you have a larger, epic quest of "drive the orcs out from the land", and you can proceed to fight them at your own pace, ultimately killing their chieftain and burning their village, it will *feel* to you as if you drove the orcs out. A checklist of "kill 10 red armor orcs, then come back to camp, then go and kill 10 green armor orcs" doesn't give you that same heroic feeling of achievement.

The very structure of the quest hubs, with going back and forth, and getting the quest to kill the chieftain only after having returned to camp twice for the red armor and green armor orc killing quests breaks up the flow of the game. And it leads to the bears, bears, bears problem, where you might already have killed the green armor orcs and the chieftain while hunting the red armor orcs, but then are told that it doesn't count and you need to go back.

Furthermore having these sort of killing check-lists makes it impossible for the same quest to be solved in several different ways. Why not have a quest where different classes have different solutions, like the warrior killing all the guards, while the thief sneaks past them?
Ah, well, now you are arguing for better quests, rather than the elimination of them in your original post. And that I can definitely agree with. Certainly, quests could be a lot better.

Again, I point to phasing. You run into an NPC, and he tells you to take care of the orc problem. You go kill all the orcs, including their chieftain. The orcs are now gone when you go back. When a new player shows up, he gets his own phase and takes care of all the orcs himself.


You run into an encampment of orcs. You slaughter them to the last, including their chieftain, just because you hate orcs. Once again, to you those orcs are gone forever.

Now, when you finally reach town and that same NPC sees you, instead of offering a quest, he says something along the lines of "are you the one who killed the orcs? Thanks!" At which point he gives you the same reward he would have for the quest.
On this last point, one simple way to make questing feel more natural would be to change the way the flags work to allow players to sart quests in the wild. Rather than requiring the quest to be picked up from a quest-giver, let the player optionally start the quest by interacting with a quest object in the world.

For example, if the quest is to rescue the king's daughter from the tower of an evil wizard, allow the quest to start either by clicking on the king (who would ask the player to rescue the princess), or by exploring the tower first and clicking on the princess there (who would ask to be returned to her father). That would give players more flexibility to explore freely rather than having to go through a sequence of quest hubs.

I'm not a big fan of the phasing/instancing approach, because it doesn't really solve the problem and also segregates players from one another. The moment you talk to other players, you discover that you haven't *really* killed the orc chieftan because he's still alive in other people's phases. I'm hoping that devs will think about ways to make the *shared* world more dynamic, which is what GW2 and Rifts to be doing.
Samus, reread the last paragraph of my post. I have been suggesting replacing tedious "errands" by *real* quests which fit with the definition of the word all the time, not just in my last comment.

I do want quests in my games, but I want them to be QUESTS, not chores or errands I run twenty times a day for every NPC farmer I meet. I want them to be really EPIC, really HEROIC, instead of the boring common tasks and rewards we are currently being offered under the misleading labels of "quests", "heroics", and "epics".
Supplementing this post and the GW2 news, I wrote down a example of dynamic questing.
I'd go into a long defense of how "kill mobs is no different than a quest grind" but I did that a while back in an article and Tobold did a great job of expressing the same thing.

A grind cannot be defined by how you gain exp. It can only be defined by how long it takes you to earn it. People associate "Grind" with killing monsters because of EQ1. If EQ1 had taken five times less killing per level I imagine we wouldn't tie the terms together.

At any rate, great comments and great discussion on the subject!
There are easy ways of creating quest-like content in an MMO that would matter. I wanted to implement the below in an neverwinter nights server I was running, but lack of develpers and my own time prevented that quite effectively.

First of all spwnpoints for mobs in public areas should be generic, maning thay can spawn anything depending on some more global settings and as defeult spawn some mobs.

Then, there's a requirement of keeping the status of the world affairs in a database, and by the status I mean - which zone is currently occupied by the arc army and which currently under attack by the undead forces. While an area is occupied it spawns enemy forces, so a group of players would need to capture some point of the enemy camp in order to regain control of the area. The players can do this on their own or go to the area owner (king of City1 or the coucil in City2 on the server) who will actually ask them to do this and help. This will not increase exp reward for the mobs at all, but will score points on the player reputation in that particular City and grant additional items.

The areas in the server are in a sort of tree when it comes to invasions so an area becomes under attack, then after 24hrs it is occupied and another area in the tree gets under attack and when it gets occupied, the previous area will start spwning more powerful mobs.

Players can fight back regaining control of areas, and the system will clear areas if the players break through them and take control of the root invasion area killing the boss there. The boss always spawns the caliber of items no matter how long was the invasion reach, but more gold is retrieved by players.

Areas have functions like a Mine or a Woodcutter which needs to be restored after an invasion, so the moreas were taken the more money there is to redeem in order to be ableto restore more land.

The invasions come from three sides - an infinite desert, infinite mountains and an infinite forest ocuppying the three sides of the world with the 4th being the ocean. The infinite parts are occupied by undead, beasts and orcs and the farther away from in the infinite a player gets the more powerful mobs he get, with increasing the amount of XP as the difficulty grows. Of course, NWN has a level cap of 40 and the XP system also decreases the XP for creatues with lower level then the player, so one must go really deep into the 'wild' to camp, and it will not be easy at all.

There are different other faces of the invasion system not discussed here.
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