Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
How can we discuss the viability of public quests?

I have a blogging conundrum: I am very interested in MMORPGs in general, how they work or don't work, how they could be made better, and what features or design decisions are good or bad. Thus I would very much like to discuss the viability of public quests in level-based games. The inherent problem I see in this feature is that people "outlevel" zones, and with time lower-level zones become underpopulated, leading to there not being enough players around for the public quests. The problem is that I can't possibly discuss that theory without a certain recent game coming up in the discussion or in the sources I'd link to. And then the fans of that game turn up, accuse me of being biased against their game, and being a fanboi of a game I just quit (as if that would make any sense).

How can we have an intelligent discussion of game features without descending into tribal warfare? What I really want to know is whether public quests are something you'd think would improve some hypothetical future MMORPG, not whether "your game is better than mine".
yer screwed, people like to complain :D

If levels weren't so widely spaced, maybe this wouldn't be such an issue. In WoW, there is a HUGE difference between a level 20 player and a level 30, but its artificial.

Why not make it so that the difference between level 1 and level maximum are less about stats, and more about what the player experienced. For example, a naked level one player fighting a naked level 40 player would be a fight that the level 1 COULD (but probably wouldn't) win. If you are playing a level 40 character you (hopefully) have a better strategy and have your keyboard setup correctly, sit in a comfy chair, have your UI JUST right, etc. You will win.

The level 40 prolly has better gear because they have been playing longer and have accumulated more "stuff". But maybe a rich level 3 could get the same gear.

A level 40 SHOULD know more spells, but why should their INT (or strength) be so much higher? So the point is don't just say "well, you have been playing long enough to have 6 million XP, so we will make you God like", instead say "you have 6 million XP, hope you learned something in all that in game time." :D

Anyway, if levels were less meaningful, and actual USER EXPERIENCE was valued, then maybe you could have zones that appeal to a wider level range.

maybe not. Just a thought.
create public quests that encourage lower level characters.

"ok, we need three level 40+ for the mob, but we also need 6 players to handle the adds" and design the adds and the encounter such that the 6 players can be any level.

"hey, level 4 can kill the adds, BUT, if two adds get within 10 feet of each other, they double in power, so be quick!"

this (fabricated) mechanic also allows for higher level characters to say "can't find 6 low level guys, lets just get 2 higher level and do this."

Also, if level spacing is tighter, maybe the lowbies can say "We cant find three higher level players, so lets get 10 lower level and gang bang this boss"

I think that having tighter levels allows for interesting things like this.
I think public quests are a fine idea. However they are limited by the factors mentioned in the post you linked, as well as the fundamental ways that most MMO's operate. Public quests are a wonderful idea in theory. And for a short time they tend to work very well. But two problems quickly set in.

The first is simple human nature. Over time we become bored, distracted, and disinterested. Public quests are no different than any other type of content in an MMO. Over time it becomes repetitive and redundant, and people lose interest in doing them. You can create new scenarios. You can tweak the themes. But at the end of the day, people eventually get tired of it and stop participating.

The other major issue is just a consequence of how MMO's work. As the bulk of your players progress past a certain zone, public content in that zone is going to become more and more difficult to do. The fewer players there are in the zone, the fewer players you can gather to confront the kinds of scenarios that public quests create. This can cause complications for the players who are in the zone. Depending on the game mechanics, it could slow their leveling as the public quests are part of the "curve" the developers were counting on. Or it could be highly disruptive as NPC's totally take over or destroy quest hubs, towns, and other vital resources because there are no players to oppose them.

Developers can combat apathy to a point by trying to keep the content as "fresh" as possible, but they have to ask themselves if the effort is worth the inclusion of public quests. As far as player population goes, there really isn't anything they can do about that. If Cataclysm taught us anything, it is that it doesn't matter how "shiny" a coat of paint you put on it, old content remains old content and will not entice the majority of your players to attempt it again.
Not sure there's much to discuss other than they are working perfectly fine already in 'that other game'; they scale well and can be completed in a group or solo. What exactly is the point of this post other than to poke a stick at the very commenters you are trying to avoid?
In my opinion, the main problematic of dynamic content is that it needs to be carefully adjusted and balanced to the number of people actually participating in it, not just to the number of people in the zone or close to the event.

If to gain access to a quest hub you need to fight back an event, a single player of appropriate level needs to be able to fight back the event on his own, and in a reasonable time frame. The moment you require more players to beat that event than are currently interested in participating, is the moment the game has beat the players and it stops being fun.

In the end, and as nice as it is to see changes and dynamic events in the game zones, I feel that this sort of content can only work well in max-level areas where players still go do repeatable quests and adventure in. At lower levels, players will move on and leave the areas forever, and the smaller number of new players and alts may find itself having a hard time beating an event and simply being able to enjoy their game.
It is much easier to discuss game mechanics without triggering tribalism if you try harder yourself to be a bit more neutral/ objective when you discuss games and why you did or didn't like them.

Now, you're screwed :) Try to discuss public quest implementation in Rift vs WAR and you're already discussing two games you said you didn't like so even if PQs are your thing, they weren't enough for you personally.
but Dave,
others are saying that it doesn't work perfectly fine. I feel like your comment (and my reply) may be the type of thing that he was trying to avoid.

That's exactly why I added 'What exactly is the point of this post other than to poke a stick at the very commenters you are trying to avoid?'.

Current implementation would be a better discussion rather than 'viability'.
In my opinion, the solution to the less-controversial part of this post is to compress the character power progression.
"The inherent problem I see in this feature is that people 'outlevel' zones".

I am a fan of the game you are mentioning without mentioning and I have stated the exact problem.

The problem I have with many of your posts is that you won't give anyone an inch it seems. People try to explain how this or that game is trying to overcome the looming issue and you try to say it doesn't matter. Well, yes it might matter.

Constantly telling others they are wrong is not a discussion, regardless of whether it is you or your commentors who do it.
As for how it is working in "that game" right now?

If Trion continues to release world events that have quests associated with them, then it can continue to work. Higher levels are helping with lower level public quests currently because they need to do so to complete the quest (not public) to get their nice item. So if Trion can release these in a timely manner, it may keep them viable.
In my opinion, the solution to the less-controversial part of this post is to compress the character power progression.

Agreed. My post on that is already written and will be published tomorrow.
Try to discuss public quest implementation in Rift vs WAR and you're already discussing two games you said you didn't like so even if PQs are your thing, they weren't enough for you personally.

In WAR I liked public quests in the beta. But when the game was released, most people realized that they'd level up faster in scenarios, and PQs were rather deserted.

In Rift I get widely differing reports. Various bloggers I respect say that Rift has a problem with deserted low-level zones and rifts, while Dave here claims that everything is perfect. Who should I believe?
Public quests work fine, for a while at least, and are a lot of fun while they do work. They definitely are viable for at least some period of time.

But, as others have pointed out, if the devs think that people will always engage in the public quests they developed just because they are there, they are wrong. Public quests, by themselves, cannot be THE major content draw for a game.

There needs to be a smorgasbord of options for players to choose from, with the almost constant addition of new and varied content, to hold player's attention in the long run.

WoW is suffering right now because there are limited options for players - at least at lvl85. Rift will begin to suffer also, if it hasn't already begun, if the devs don't provide a reasonable variety of play options for their lvl 50 players.

Persistent MMO game developers have to treat their games like TV shows. They HAVE to keep providing new content, new twists, almost constantly to hold player's attention. WoW is starting to fall behind in this regard.
Tobold: Clearly you should believe me even though I haven't written about it yet :)

It opens another question though, which is how do you want to write about games or mechanics that you don't personally play? One way is just to give space to every point of view that people have expressed and ask for more comments. Or compare with something you have played. I dunno.

I don't think the low level /rifts/ are an issue. Yes there are fewer people in the zones, so the rifts dynamically scale down so that you can solo them.
I don't usually read the comments here, largely because about half of them are people insisting all your thoughts are dismissible because you didn't like Their Game. I come here to read what you think, not to read your thoughts after they've been reduced to a thin gruel by an intellectual sieve of angry fanboys.

Ignore the people who demand absolute objectivity from you. Literally ignore them. This is your blog. Just talk about the games.
Maybe players could recruit local NPC guards to assist them if the zone's PC population falls below some threshold? Sure, it could start to look an awful lot like all those single-player games in which you collect a menagerie of NPC hangars-on, but empty zones look a lot like those games anyway.
Well talking about RIFT specifically, there are a couple of small modifications I think they could make in order to prevent random rifts and invasions from causing major disruptions. First, have rifts close on their own a bit more quickly. Right now, if left alone, a rift stays open for 100 minutes. And throughout that entire time, it can be spitting out invasion groups to assault quest hubs and towns. Cut that time down in underpopulated zones. I would think 30 minutes would be more than sufficient for someone to come and close it themselves.

And secondly, every quest hub and NPC camp should be able to hold off a single invasion without any player help. Anything more than that should rightly overwhelm them, but a single invasion should not be able to wipe out a quest hub all by itself. I think these two changes would at least prevent any major disruptions to play in underpopulated and low level zones.
"Ignore the people who demand absolute objectivity from you. Literally ignore them. This is your blog. Just talk about the games."

This would be fine if he had not stated he wanted a discussion. Anything else is masturbation. And he can do that here if he pleases, but if so then he shouldn't whine that his comment section isn't filled with objectivity either.
Ignore the people who demand absolute objectivity from you. Literally ignore them. This is your blog. Just talk about the games.

He already does ;)

In Rift I get widely differing reports. Various bloggers I respect say that Rift has a problem with deserted low-level zones and rifts, while Dave here claims that everything is perfect. Who should I believe?

"I don't think the low level /rifts/ are an issue. Yes there are fewer people in the zones, so the rifts dynamically scale down so that you can solo them."

Not all bloggers then... Dave speaketh the truth :)
If you are dead-set on not playing Rift, my suggestion would be just leave the topic alone. Noone would be likely to contribute usefully to a discussion of, say, how the WoW dungeon finder could be improved without having ever played the game.

They would just come up with some plausible generality which might make sense to others who haven't played it, but is obvious nonsense, not even wrong, to those who have.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
yes, rather that talk about public quests, lets talk about how good/bad rift is.

I firmly believe (and I might be wrong) that having tighter levels would at least ALLOW for better public quests. At that point designers would be able to use mechanics that encourage public quests.

And tighter levels would also make the game much more enjoyable. A TERRIBLE level 40 (say an 8 year old that has been playing for a week) can defeat a level 20 twink. That doesn't feel right to me.

We're talking about 'Rifts' not 'Rift'. Rifts are public quests within the game and are working fine, even at the lower level zones as they scale to allow players to solo them.
And as several people remarked, the problem isn't with the rifts, but with the invasions they spawn.
From the blog post
"What I really want to know is whether public quests are something you'd think would improve some hypothetical future MMORPG, ..."

And thats what I was trying to discuss. I would love to have this conversation, but I guess not. I haven't played Rift, so I will just lurk.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

There are several problems with that rule:

1) Who decides at which point one is qualified to say something? I did play Rift, so am I allowed to speak about it? No, you'll say, you didn't play Rift for a sufficiently high amount of hours. You can always find a reason to disqualify somebody from being allowed to speak.

2) If I followed that rule, I would be the only MMORPG blogger to do so. Syncaine once even got into a list of the top 10 WoW bloggers, in spite of not having played that for years, because he posted so many hate posts about that game.

3) Blog posts usually aren't inspired by a game just sitting there, but by some news or the post of another blogger. Would you want no blog to be able to write posts linking to news or another blog post unless they have experienced the news itself? Would you for example forbid everybody to blog about the war in Libya, unless they've been in that war?

In short, I believe your rule is a one-sided attempt to somehow disqualify the opinion of anybody who happens to be not a fan of the same game you are.
Public quests are a phenomenal idea on paper, but as WAR has shown so adequately, fail when it comes to real life. If you're not involved with the game as folks level through zones en masse, very few folks will bother with them writ large for alts or catching up to max level friends.

So what's the solution? Some sort of downward scaling sidekicking system with some implementation of EQ's AA to get folks involved with older content they enjoyed. FFXI implemented something similar to this to help newer folks stay involved by making it worthwhile for max level characters to go hang out in lower level zones.
And thats what I was trying to discuss. I would love to have this conversation, but I guess not.

You and me both, pal. The Rift Fanboi Police will never allow it.
Why don't you just get down to it and have the discussion instead of talking about what you might do if you had some hypothetical debate at some undetermined time in the future.

Just get on with it already and kick the tribals out if they can't be objective.
I tried to discuss, but no bites. maybe its a bad idea. :D

Imagine that EVERYONE was level 10. Period. No advancing your level. Your int, str, agil, are all static. Sure you might find a dagger that gives you +3 str, but thats about it.

Ok, NOW you can make zones that everybody can play in. NOW do public quests work?

It seems like public quest work when there are enough players (WAR) but as user advance to the next zone, it falls apart. So I feel like tighter levels and quests designed to be public would go a long way towards fixing the problem.
And as several people remarked, the problem isn't with the rifts, but with the invasions they spawn.

Again, perfectly soloable, I've cleared many to allow the NPCs to respawn at at various quest hubs.

So I feel like tighter levels and quests designed to be public would go a long way towards fixing the problem.

They're already working, what exactly is 'the problem'?

Maybe a better starting point would be to define something you (Tobold) think is currently broken or missing, but I'm guessing that would involve discussing one or both of the games you don't want to talk about?
'Would you for example forbid everybody to blog about the war in Libya, unless they've been in that war?'

No, but a blogger who wasn't aware of, say, the name of the capital city, the language spoken, the outlines of it's colonial history and so on would be very unlikely to say anything of interest.
Dave, you really seem offended at the thought of a discussion about public quests without it being about Rift.
I see three main issues with public quests.

First off you have to have the players available to coordinate together to complete the quest. Scaling is fine and dandy, but when you make a quest that is possible to complete by one person or fourty, the quest loses something. There should be a threshold where if you can't get enough people the quest can't be completed. Otherwise it's just a vending machine. A public quest in a x - x+5 zone is eventually going to lack players to do that quest if it is just tailored for those characters.

Second is the reward structure. Does it do me any good to participate, or am I going to just ignore it and go my own way. Are there consequences if the quest does not get completed, are there consequences for me individually if I choose not to help?

Finally is the repetitiveness of the quests. Even the most interesting tasks get old in time.

I think to address the issue of having players available making the quest accessible for more than max level or a specific level range is a good idea. Using a city invasion as an example, sure you have the people in the trenches fighting off the invaders, but you also have supply lines that could need maintaining, repairs that need to be made, messages that need to be courried to advance the event, etc. These tasks could be handled by characters of lower levels. Doing something along these lines also helps address issues with rewards. A player who has no need for rewards on his max level character might choose to use an alt instead of having to use a main. Rewarding a currency that can be traded for items benificial to multiple levels of characters would work.

Repetitiveness is still a problem. You can have x scenarios that may randomly ocurr, but you're only linearly reducing the repetiveness of the quest. You'll also certainly have some scenarios that the players prefer, and some they hate. Allowing characters to preform different tasks reduces this somewhat, but still at some point it gets old.

What I would really love to see in a game is what some MUDs used to have in GM controled improv events. Is this feasable in a game the scale of a MMO today? I'm sure it could be done, from a technical standpoint, but there's a lot more to take into account than there was in some MUD run by a CSCI group or individual. When do these events occur? Will they over-tax the server hardware? Will they interfere with someone else's enjoyment of the game? Whether its someone who couldn't be there for the event or someone who is upset because they got turned into a zombie when they were trying to use the auction house, not everyone will be happy. When you're dealing with paying customers it's not as simple as 'this is the way it is, deal with it.'
"How can we have an intelligent discussion of game features without descending into tribal warfare?"

Er.... We can't have an "intelligent conversation" Tobold

Because - public quests ARE a signature feature of the "Game that must not be named!".

For perspective... think of how a conversation in 2006 would have gone if the subject of "OPPOSING MMO FACTIONS" came up.

Do you think that people could calmly take an academic slant to the pro vs con?

No... they would not... you would be lucky if every other comment did not have "For the Horde" in it.

It's like discussing a Star Wars game but saying "let's debate the need for Jedi to be a playable class".

In reality this problem has been covered by others.

In technology, core differentiable features are to a happy customer what religious mantras are to a true believer.
It's a perception issue in Rift (it was a mechanics issue in WAR).

Early release zones were packed and major rifts were being closed quickly (let alone minor rifts). When the masses move on, the dynamic changes. More minors, less majors, you now need to get a buddy to reach the final bonus stage of a minor, a group for a major. You can solo close a minor but won't reach the final bonus stage (usually).

In WAR if you did not have a group, you could not finish a PQ and got nothing, hence they were totally ignored.

So again, in Rift, it's a perception problem. Groups are no longer around every rift that pops up, but you can complete them with just a tiny bit of social effort. Even if you 'fail', you still get something. Invasions go one step further and do most of the social work for you.

In that regard I still think rifts work across all zones; they just work differently than they did in beta or the first month of release. That was expected, and credit to Trion, planned for.

Now if someone wants to argue that dev time for PQs/rifts should only be spent at the at-cap zones, that's another topic.
What they should do is give players the ability to turn a quest they are on into a public one, which will then scale the quest up to the number of people in the vicinity.
To continue the discussion Paul started, a short continuum of power between high and low levels would make repeatable content more repeatable. Combined with scaling environments to population, it would seem to solve the theoretical problem of "too few people to get these quest givers available/dynamic content closed"

Another solution I've been tossing around in my mind is scalable player power. What if there was a mechanic in game that, strictly for PvE events, allowed a player to increase or decrease his power to meet a challenge on equal footing? Suppose there was a level 10 challenge and I found myself at level 40. By scaling down my power to 10, I would then join in with this challenge without nullifying it. Provide sufficient rewards / make such scaling compulsory and you have infinitely repeatable public quests.
@ PaulC: Maybe it's the fact that you're so heavily focused on trying to "fix" public quests when an active player in a game with public quests sees nothing to fix? You yourself have said that you don't play Rift (just come out and call it what it is guys), so you're just trying to armchair theorize stuff, but theory and practice are always wildly different.

In any case, the topic was about whether public quests are actually a good thing for MMOs in general.
WAR did them better to be real honest. And it just fit with the zone better.

Rift versions of PQ's are pretty boring unless it's a major invasion. I've come accross one or two zones that the major invasion actually makes sense (both the level 20+ zones actually) the rest are just pretty much big guys with lots of invasions that's about it.

To the point where I don't even bother doing rifts at the moment as they are boring as hell at lvl 50 (i'd rather go do a dungeon tbh)
I'd wait until Guild Wars 2 is at least in Open Beta before you try to discuss this topic in depth.

If they don't get it to work we can probably forget it for a few years.
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Minor Rifts in lower level zones can be solo’d, however you probably won’t reach a bonus stage unless you out level the Rift. You can’t solo a Major Rift, you need a group for that. The types of Rifts do seem to scale based on zone activity. The more people doing Rifts the more Rifts spawn and the more Major Rifts start to spawn. This part of the game works pretty well. A lot of people do ignore Rifts but for the most part if you want to close one, you can… just no one seems to want to unless you are in a 45+ Rift exp group.

I will echo Ghiest though… I felt the majority of the PQs in Warhammer were more fun than the Rifts in Rift… even the invasions in Rift. From a PvP perspective a lot of PQs in WAR pitted you against your enemy, while in Rift you can ignore them or even work together to close them. Furthermore WAR had a larger variety of PQs and they just felt more… logical in the world.

I think PQs are a good thing for MMOs. I think they highlight a growing issue in the MMO community, and that is Character Power Progression, as Nils has blogged about.
To the point where I don't even bother doing rifts at the moment as they are boring as hell at lvl 50 (i'd rather go do a dungeon tbh)

Expert rifts, raid rifts, ring any bells? Also I see plenty of 50s closing rifts so there are clearly good reasons to continue doing so.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned (apologies if I missed it) is the effect on the community that Rift's public quests have - they encourage open grouping and player's helping each other out which becomes a fundamental part of the game, and that can only be a good thing.
@paulIC you've just described the very first mmorpg i've ever played, character experience wasn't there, lvls weren't there, only thing to "level" up was your weaponskill wich you could simply grind in a few hours on a dummy. Gear improved your character a lot, but only shortly as it had a durability and would break after using it too much. ( not from dieing, from using it ) a veteran player could in 4 hours play time have a toon that he could achieve top ratings with. the 4 hours being needed to grind on a dummy for your weaponskill.

However, it did not work for the community. The only thing that kept it together was insanely immersive roleplaying from player to player. Quests have no meaning since they give no reward, raids have no meaning, again, since they give no reward. once you've done them once there is no reason to do them again, unless you create one. Wich is what the roleplaying did.

In the end i don't see that as a good solution, yes it will allow every player to play together, but the type of play required to keep it interesting and working, will also alieanate a large portion of the mmo playerbase. Deep immersive roleplaying isn't for everyone, and if there is no outside motivator to do content in the form of a reward, one that stays rewarding for multiple times. Then in reality there isn't much reason for players to visit the content. And since they don't "lose" anything by not killing a boss, and actually gain something ( no repairs ) most players will not return to content much.
I see it a different way than most I guess. I don't think it's because of the lack of players in any given zone, nor the difficulty of each individual public quest, nor the difference in player levels.

I have played the most recent game with public quests (PQs), but not the older game. From what I'm gathering is that PQs are generally a thing you group for, not solo (hence the term "public"). Yes, you can technically solo some of the weaker ones, but the best rewards (and the most fun) is gained from doing the larger, raid-size events.

I think it's a clash of game design. It ties in to your Saturday's post regarding how "there is no use for playing together with one other player". You can expand that by saying, "there's no use for playing together with other players," excepting of course content that's specifically designed for groups.

Leveling in today's MMOs is a solo experience. Unless they want to change that, I don't think PQs will ever really thrive.

It's fun to do every so often, maybe once per play session or so. But expecting players to go solo->group->solo->group every 15 minutes is asking too much I think. "Now what was I doing?" "What quest was I on again?"

"Group content" is almost always separated from solo content (instances, etc). When you enter an area, there's no confusion as to how many players the content is designed for. When you enter a dungeon, you understand that you should have 5 players (or 10, or 25, etc). You aren't expecting to be able to solo some of the dungeon. Why would you expect to need to group for content that's almost always labeled as "solo"?

Trying to find ways to stuff more players in similar zones will likely band-aid the problem just by sheer numbers and the law of probability, but it doesn't fix the root - group content in the middle of a solo experience.
In my opinion a good game should focus on the journey of your character and not the impact you have on the world. Because in a world with millions of other heroes you won't have a meaningful impact.

Those are the enjoyable quests, where you help a lone elf at the end of the world to find her father or something like that. Not the stupid story element where you cleanse the world of all evil with 9 friends, like millions of other people...

That's why I think public quests can't work. You won't be able to create enough meaningful lore relevant to the journey of your character for all those public quests. Public quests will just be repeating elements without a meaningful impact on the journey of your character. It's just a treadmill you do again and again and will be as much fun as a WoW daily after the fifth day...
Speaking as someone who Currently plays WoW and has played both WAR and Rift(was excited for both too) I would love to see a game where PQ's work.

I personally enjoyed the PQ's of WAR the most but they had far to much reliance on a set group size, anything over made it easy and anything under became to hard so people stopped trying.
They made this worse by having so many in the some zones. When you have only a handful of alts wanting to do PQ's it is not a good idea to spread them between 4 different ones.

The PQ's in Rift while more dynamic feel less involved than the WAR PQ's.
Its always just another Rift with possibly a different art style, and at the end you get mostly meaningless loot.
Now granted that loot can later become awesome gear but its far more rewarding to finish and see a minor upgrade than grind them out and eventually see a massive upgrade.

What I am interested to see is if Blizzard try to add PQ's to Titan because lets face it, despite what you think of WoW as a company Blizzard are good at taking others ideas and polishing them into the gem they should have been.
I think in their hands we may see a dynamic PQ that scales well to group size, possibly has some ability for scale down max level characters so they can earn additional bonuses.
If they found away to mentor down max level toons and gave them away to grind faction rep or cosmetic items/pets/mounts from low level PQ's we wouldn't have to worry about power differences.
PQ's would still be fun for those at level since no one over powers it and there are always max level players wanting rep and pets etc even in old content.

If they cannot make it work or don't even try then I don't think we will see them in the future of MMO's. PQ's are the kind of idea that we all love but will not support when done badly and we have a game or two max left before we as a culture give up on the idea.
On the subject of drama I think you must acknowledge that if you're going to discuss the pitfalls of PQ design it helps to have at least some understanding of how an existing game attempts to overcome those traps. Which is not to say that you're not allowed to criticize things you haven't played, but an effort to achieve more informed criticism would be better taken, I think. Right now the dialog seems unfold something like this:
Tobold: PQs have unfortunate pitfall A, which is why Rift doesn't work.
Rift Player: Yeah, Rift attempts to solve that problem by using design strategy B.
Tobold: Why can't I just have a discussion without irrational fanboy shouting?

To the actual content of the post...
Your player population outleveling group content is a perennial problem of MMO design, but it's not insoluble.
2) Rift's solution is to scale the PQs. On my first character, I closed major rifts to stage 5 with the initial leveling rush. On my second character, I'm closing minor rifts to stage 3-4 by my lonesome, or occasionally to stage 5 if a friend wanders by. In addition, to mix things up, zone-wide and world events tend to inject a shot of activity into otherwise deserted zones. I think the problem with zone invasions right now is poor player messaging, as you must be IN the zone to be informed of the invasion. There are plenty of high levels and achievement hunters who are still looking to do the lowbie invasions, but they're not going to sit around in a lowbie zone to wait for it to pop. Zone invasions would work better as an activity instigator if zone invasions were broadcast world-wide.
2) Personally I think Rift's solution is imperfect. My preferred solution to this problem is to compress power progression and design so that all players in fact engage the same content in the same zones. To some extent EVE has done this with varying success over the years. When CCP gets the balance right PvP fleets are filled with everything from frigates to supercapitals, each contributing their unique capabilities.
I think everyone has to be careful here. Ultimately, we are talking about trying to design a game so you replay something more. Yes, we are talking about a system that inherently has re playability, but it isn't absolute. I'm just afraid that if you try TOO hard in keeping players together, they are going to be playing the exact same content over and over, which WILL burn you out.
Specifically, it feels to me that Public Quests are essentially PvE battlegrounds. And all the problems that battlegrounds have, Public Quests of any form will have, with the added caveat that the opponent will never be as smart as a PvP foe (and all the other little quibbles between PvE encounters and PvP, I can't name them all, go find a PvPer they tend to take the issue very personally and could rattle off a 30-bullet list at the drop of a hat)
Right now the dialog seems unfold something like this:

More like:

Tobold: I think public quests have inherent design problems.

Rift Player: How dare you to attack Rift!!! And anyway, all the people commenting or blogging that they have problems with rifts are liars, Rift is the perfect game and there are no problems at all with any feature Rift has. And you aren't allowed to talk about Rift because you have played it less than 100 hours.

I think in the future I'll just delete any comment telling me what I can't write about.
This comment has been removed by the author.
imho, public quests are really fun.

To counter the level-issue either remove the level-system.
be dynamic on the "aoe" effect.
Instead of absolute dmg give a percentage on that toon, so a lowbee won't get insta-killed by some serious damage..
In all honesty, the fact that something _does_ exist is rather good evidence for the possibility that it _could_ exist. Any discussion that ignores an existence proof is going to be rather pointlessly hypothetical, and I don't see how deleting comments that point that out is going to help.

A better question might be 'in 2011, is a new game _without_ some PQ-like mechanism viable?'

For example, I could be wrong, but I don't think SW:TOR has anything of that nature. Will that cause it to basically fail-to-launch like WAR or FFXIII? Or do they have something planned that is a viable alternative?
Maybe I am blind. But I just don't see all these fanboys. I read every comment and the vast majority were carefully expressed opinions.

Some in favour of Rift, of course. But can somebody, who gives reasons for why he likes PQs in Rift, be dismissed as fanboy? I don't think so.
Darrell actually got it very right.

Right now the dialog seems unfold something like this:
Tobold: PQs have unfortunate pitfall A, which is why Rift doesn't work.
Rift Player: Yeah, Rift attempts to solve that problem by using design strategy B.
Tobold: Why can't I just have a discussion without irrational fanboy shouting?

This is also how it looks to me.
Tobold, I think the short answer is to post what you want to without worrying too much about the comments.

I like Rift but I'm very much in the club of people who tend to run past.

The design/PR conundrum is how to make dynamic events matter without impacting players' experiences negatively. I think the short answer is that you can't.

Either the monsters can rampage and burn down the bank (at least denying you access to your loot, possibly even destroying it) or mobs don't matter.

Item destruction like permadeath is something for the hardcore. Joe Casual doesn't want to go on holiday for 2 weeks and return to find his bank cleaned out and his house burned down.

So dynamic public quests can't matter in a mass market game because they would only matter if they were threatening, if the monsters could win.

I do think Trion sees this as a line that they can walk and that they will slowly and cautiously ramp up the impact of the dynamic world on players but they're committed to "listening to their players" which means caving in when people start whining. Which they will as soon as some players are even remotely inconvenienced.
So this morning, soloing in my half hour of pre-work time. I started killing the mobs at the edge of a Rift--an equal level rift. Another person joined me, quite to my surprise. We finished up the waves and only faltered when we got to the second bonus boss. It was a great way to meet someone and had I not had to log for work, I'm sure we would have done some questing together.

The essence of a public quest is that it's basically a big zerg. And that should allow a company to adjust the challenge based on the population of the zone or even the local region of the PQ.
I think Runes of Magic does an excellent job with the daily quests.

10/day and you get Phirius Tokens used by all levels of players at any time during their leveling.

The quest "hubs" are always filled with muli-level players. Endgamers or higher-than-content players can be found anywhere, while mostly level appropriate players make up the rest of the locations populations -- depending on the level of the area. The game world and hubs(with their player amenities) are well laid-out so that at any given time you will fine a delightful spread of players over the whole world(amongst all the zones). You'll still see hot-spots, but not nearly to the extent of, say, World of Warcraft.

Incidentally, after reading a commenter speaking about the huge difference between levels and wanting to make the difference less about stats, it got me thinking. RoM is more about stats. It's so much about stats, that 2 players of the same level can be drastically different. I could get whomped by someone 10 or more levels below me.

Ironically I think this does what the commenter suggested, only inversely by actually making the game more about stats.

There's arguably more of a "skill"(for lack of a better term) involved because with stats allowing such drastic differences, a level 10 "could" beat a level 50. It's all because stats can be modded onto gear to an extreme.

So, from strictly that standpoint, "user experience" could be said to have more value in Runes of Magic.
I swear I am late to every one of these discussions. I wonder why people only seem to focus on the PQs as rifts in Rift. Many of the wardstones have an NPC that will spawn that triggers a public quest. I don't even see these mentioned. Maybe because you are then flagged pvp, and pvpers don't come here often.

So tobold, I encourage you to try rift again, get to early to mid 30s where you can activate more wardstones, and check those quests out. Some are not public, some are. They are not an invasion type, one of them was just myself and another walking standard mobs through traps. Pretty simple, but he and I both did it and got credit for it without being in a group together.
I was discussing a related issue with a friend of mine the other day. The problem isn't really with the "public quests" themselves, but rather that populations thin out over time and what was amazing content in the beta/early release becomes impossible or grindy as the game ages.

In my opinion the best solution is not to change the quests, but to change the server structure of the game.

What if instead of 30 servers you had a serverless structure where potentially the entire population could play together. Have each zone in the game be an instance, and have new versions of that instance spawn to meet population demand. This sort of thing has been done in several games already, but imperfectly.

The advantage of this system is that if there are only 27 players in the level 21-30 bracket in zone X in the entire game, they'll all be in the same version of the zone instead of scattered over 30 servers. This keeps population concentrated and makes public quests much more viable for a much larger portion of the time.

The caveats of course are that this sort of system has yet to be done very well. Moving between zones needs to be seamless, with loading done behind the scenes so that the game doesn't lose that open world feeling. If you group with friends the game needs to automatically funnel you into the same version of a zone. Essentially it should be behind the scenes as much as possible and not interfere with normal gameplay. This last aspect is where most implementations have failed. Star Trek Online came close in design, but the implementation never really worked properly (or the population is just really really low).
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