Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One thing MMORPG players have surprisingly little difficulty with is cognitive dissonance: Most have no problem whatsoever to hold two or more conflicting ideas in their head. This shows up very well in the recent discussion in the blogosphere about quests: Complaining that World of Warcraft ruined the MMORPG genre by introducing a heavy reliance of gameplay on quests does not change the complainers opinion that WoW didn't innovate at all and is just a well-made clone of previous MMORPGs.

The truth is that World of Warcraft is considerably more innovative than most players give it credit for. And a lot of that innovation is in the area of quests. In spite of the name, players didn't "quest" in Everquest, and Ultima Online didn't have any quests at all, except for one gameplay element you might call an escort quest.

Now the people who dislike quests claim that without quests player would have infinite freedom to explore the world in whatever way they like. That is a noble sentiment, with absolutely no base in reality. Whether there are quests in a game or not, most players just want to advance in the fastest possible way. In a game with quests, the added reward for finishing the quest makes feasible to move around, follow the quests instructions to find and kill certain mobs, and then return to the quest hub for the next quest. Players end up visiting every corner of a zone, as long as all of those corners are covered by quests. In a game without quests, there is no incentive to move around. You gain experience points by killing mobs. And somewhere there is always a spot where killing mobs is slightly easier or more comfortable than elsewhere. The knowledge of those spots travels quickly, and then people set up camps in these spots and kill the same mobs over and over, without ever moving. That is the reason why EQ was also known as "Evercamp".

Now it is totally possible to solve that problem without the use of quests. But simply removing quests from MMORPGs will not lead to enjoyable games, but would be a step backward to static camps. Before you can remove quests from MMORPGs, you need to come up with another solution of how to keep players moving. My favorite solution would be replacing static spawns by dynamic spawns: If too many players kill wolves in the forest, those wolves will respawn slower and slower, until camping that spot becomes unprofitable. Another possible, and more individual solution would be diminishing returns: The 10th wolf simply gives significantly less xp than the first one.

Thus yes, quests can be improved upon or removed from MMORPGs altogether. Just don't claim than introducing permanently quest-guided gameplay wasn't a major change in the industry, or that you could remove quests without replacing them by something else.
Dynamic event system that will be used in Guild Wars 2 seems interesting at least for me, what about you? Haven't heard of it, or may be to similiar to current questing philosophy for you?
Dark Age of Camelot worked like what you mentioned. Mobs had a group bonus XP, this would slowly get less and less until it stopped. So what inevitably happened was people would move from group to group to keep the group bonus as high as possible.
I'm also quite interested to see how Guild Wars 2 fares. Though I think there will be problems with the system, I hope that it might in some way allow for player curiosity to discover quests (events), rather than simply following a predetermined breadcrumb trail around the virtual world.

Whether that will happen in GW2 I know not, but exploration and the joy of discovering something unexpected with out being hand held and spoon fed, is something I desire a lot from MMORPGs. And in the most part, it is something that has been missing from them in the post WoW world. Somewhat excerbated by having every little secret laid bare on hundred of sites around the web.

I agree WoW has innovated questing, making levelling up in MMO's much more than just camp grinding mobs. But we have lost a little bit of freedom to explore (especially with zone limiting you to small areas).
The dynamic spawning/ecosystem idea was explored in UO, and it failed because camping was accidentally encouraged by spawning dragons who relied on those wolves for food.

Likewise, Rift escalates the incursions when the mobs are killed and even spawns a bonus boss if the killing was done quickly. But at least incursion's end is fairly obvious so that players don't hang around for too long.
I'm sure the dynamic GW2 events will feel like quests after awhile.
It's a nice idea Tobold but I wonder what it would look like after people have optimised it.
I think one difficulty with dynamic events is that extending the quests in time means that you need to multiply the amount of content by the depth in time, massively increasing the required amount of content.

Ideally a dynamic event wouldn't reset to starting conditions during a single gaming session - say 6 hours. But, that's a bit of a tall order - It's not all clear to me what the average cycle time will be.

Apparently when Anet experimented with player curiosity they found their guinea pigs just walking past the action: "Oh - so the rats are beating on that poor villager, but he doesn't have an exclamation mark on his head - so good for them!" so they are putting in an optional scouting system to direct players to content.
Vanguard had a whole list of wonderful quests spread across the world. Those quests took you to all corners of the world. But it was not the efficient way to level. Repeating dungeon A till lvl 10, then repeat dungeon B till lvl 20, etc. was the quickest. So that is what most players did. It worked really good, I think. Unfortunately the game had all kind of others issues, but that is besides the point.

In my view quests are a great addition to the MMO world. But along the lines they got abused. A quest should be a tool to guide people around the world, but it should not be the only, or even the most efficient way to gain level/power/gear.

Quests are the perfect tool for the more casual player that wants to have a nice challenge packaged in a (flimsy) story. Those that only care for xp and endgame can repeat the dungeon, farm the superrats, buy the potions.

The weird thing is that both sides questers and xp junkies seem to need each other. A game that only caters for one of the two fails because either side is moaning so hard on the internetz that the other side decides to skip the game all together.
pre-wow ffxi quests are either for specific equipment or the plots of the main game and expansions. The plot quests typically involve a LOT of running around to get cutscenes and the occasional instanced battle. The plots are pretty cool though.

More recent innovations such as "trial of the magians" for endgame weapons take the kill 10 foozles quest type to EPIC proportions.

The one i'm on a the moment for 1 type of endgame dagger is like this:

-kill 4 unique mobs with varying spawn times 3 times each
-kill 400 arcana type mobs
-kill 300 hippogryphs
-kill 500 amorph type mobs
-kill 600 planetoid type mobs
-kill 400 peistes
-kill 600 dragon type mobs
-kill 450 buffalo
-kill 700 arcana type mobs
-kill 700 lizards

each kill mob has to give xp but you can team up with other people requiring the same kills. Ones base trial weapon does improve slightly after each part of the trial.
You know, I bet if humankind got rid of electronics we would be a lot more social too. Electricity may streamline living, but back in the 1800s humankind were more social and had to rely on each other more. People would probably be less mean to each other and we would feel stronger bonds if we tried to bring back the past!
Also reminds me that I really liked the deeds in LotRO, although mind you, I didn't play that game very much (Just a couple of months). I had incentive to go out and just grind mobs that weren't intrusive questing and didn't reward EXP. The rewards it did offer were pretty cool though. I mean, the system had some problems, but overall it was enjoyable.
If I remember correctly Ultima Online attempted to have diminishing dynamic spawns and that utterly failed as the players swarmed across the world like locusts killing everything before the spawns could recover.

Asheron's Call had a good system of region based dynamic spawns that was very effective of keeping people moving in the outside world but since the spawns in the dungeon instances were static people simply went there and ran in circles killing the same things over and over instead of searching out desirable mobs outside.

DAoC had diminishing returns on mob kills and bonus xp for killing mobs that hadn't been killed for a while. This generally meant you sat in one spot until the bonus xp was farmed out before then moved to the next spawn point then back again.

If I make a product containing a few hard to find foozles and you later make a similar product containing hundreds of easily found foozles does that re-use of the feature really make you an innovator?
I've just finished Illusia, an Action RPG on my Droid and it really drove home how innovative WoW is with quests and narrative. Illuia has two kinds of quest: Kill X Rats and Kill Rats until you have X foos in your inventory. At no point is there any kind of story justification for killing 15 monkeys other than "I don't like monkeys, go kill 15 of them and I'll tell you a secret."
Actually there is a third option for leveling content besides solo-quest-grinding or camping: dynamic missions.

This was pioneered in AO and I'd say perfected in COX, where it forms the primary form of gameplay. You get a mission somewhere, a dungeon is randomly created (and yes, they do tend to look alike) and you go in and lay waste to what's inside--usually with the kind of fast paced zerging that people seemed to like so much in late WOTLK random dungeon groups.

Missioning has always been my favorite form of leveling content, but it's fallen out of favor simply because WoW didn't bother to try it.
Maybe the two groups of people you mention are in fact, you know, different people. Not everyone is Wolfshead. As a matter of fact, only Wolfshead is Wolfshead, but that's beside the point.

Also, "ruined" is not necessarily the same as "fundamentally changed with long term consequences we grew to dislike". Again, not everyone is Wolfshead.

Also, not all of us are just saying "remove quests, period", some are actually suggesting or at least thinking about alternative systems. Even you did. Not everyone is ... you get the point.
Is the problem questing or levelling? If there were no levels, then achiever-types wouldn't race to level up via quests. If the quests are there, then some people will do them simply to have them done, regardless of actual levelling gain (like your previous post about slowing levelling to enjoy). There are different motivations for different players.

To remove quests (like Darkfall) is to also removes visible tasks from a player's view. "There's nothing to do!" would be the first complaint. It seems clear that Blizzard understood this and opted for the trail of peanuts approach for it's customers.

People complained that killing 10 foozles quests were boring. Even the word quest was silly since it was more of a task than an epic storyline. So they have innovated quite a bit by adding bombing-runs, drake-captures and other ideas to the quest model. But no matter what, it always starts with an exclamation mark over some NPC's head.

Yes, they perfected the theme-park model alright and it sure feels trite now. We want something "imperfect" again, lol!
"In a game without quests, there is no incentive to move around."

I enjoy doing quests ... but I totally disagree with that statement of yours. Some of my best memories in WoW are from the original game when I discovered on my own how to get to the top of Ironforge, or when I figured out how to get below Orgrimmar.

Admittedly those weren't places the devs intended me to get, but I think the possibility of hard to reach places and hidden content is more than enough incentive to move around. I like quests, but there's a lot of fun that can be had by simply exploring.
I'm wondering, what's the difference between dynamic and static quests? I mean, obviously dynamic quests would appear dynamically, but in terms of gameplay, it's still the world just giving you a quest and telling you where to go. That's no different from a static quest.
Ryzom actually did this, too.

Dynamic mob/herb populations affected by amount of player farming, ecological balance (predators vs prey), seasons and weather.

...Pity no-one played it.
I'm wondering, what's the difference between dynamic and static quests? I mean, obviously dynamic quests would appear dynamically, but in terms of gameplay, it's still the world just giving you a quest and telling you where to go. That's no different from a static quest.

The difference between a dynamic quest and a static quest is that dynamic quests come to you. It doesn't give you a quest and tell you where to go, but rather the other way around: you go where you want to, and there are things there for you to do, wherever it is that you go.

Ideally a dynamic event wouldn't reset to starting conditions during a single gaming session - say 6 hours. But, that's a bit of a tall order - It's not all clear to me what the average cycle time will be.

Apparently the cycle time will vary between hours (minutes?) and days/weeks to not cycling at all (weather/interaction-dependent).
Personally I prefer the camping we did in EverQuest than the solo-grinding we do in WoW. In WoW I made a personal simple test and I found out that I used to run at least 40% of my game time, the running was not even voluntary but a mandatory because of the quests. I didn't want to spend 30 minutes of my time running, I was forced to. I don't hate running but if I am always told to go here and there and spend 40% of my game session running then the game has big flaws.

In EverQuest at least you got the freedom to do what you want and choose which spot you prefer. We weren't always ALWAYS camping one spot I remember moving (crawling) slowly in a dungeon trying different things. While I agree the majority of the time we were "camping" but to be honest I'd kill for a "camping" game over a "quest" game any time. I'd pay $30 a month for it if there's a new one.

However, we don't have to exactly copy EverQuest system why not expand on it. You offered a solution which I think is flawed because in a non-instanced zone you only hurt other people if you camp one named/boss and leave it at a 300% longer respawn time then another group comes and have to wait that much time? Does it reset? How do you reset the resapwn timer?

Why do we want to "force" players to move. Why do we have this urge to make players play the way we want. Just let them do whatever they want. Give them the options (Big intersting dungeons) and if they want to camp then let them be. I never complained about camping, in fact all my good memories were in camping places chatting with friends and these odd repops + trains which make things challenging and away from the invisible hand of the developer who wants me to play a balanced and convenient game.
What I liked in EverQuest also is the idea of increasing the difficulty in a snap. Not by going to an NPC and choosing the difficulty setting or entering a "heroic" version of a dungeon (that's just a sad game design...).

We increased difficulty by heading to a certain direction where we know things might or will get harder and more challenging. The differences are obvious and drastic, they are in one place one dungeon... unlike in recent games like WoW you can't do that. The content doesn't escalate rapidly based on which direction in a dungeon or even outdoor you head to.

I'm tired of artificial game play. I'm tried of having everythign convenient. I'm tired of patterns in zone progression, itemization and character progression. I'm tired of all that. I need random, I need freedom of choice where to go, I want variable and unpredictable difficult situation everywhere.

I don't want to enter a level 10-15 zone I want to enter the "Bad Ass Castle of Doom" and whatever is there is just individually designed, random, you don't exepect what kind of challenges you might face. I like to have dungeons that have a content for lower level players and in some part of it there's content for higher level players.

I guess my role of thumb is. Less hand holding, less convenience. More random, more danger and more freedom.
I think Shawno was closest to my feeling; this driven by leveling not questing. Getting rid of quests would work a lot better if you got rid of levels as well.

And random opportunities spawning around might be interesting. Random interruptions where I was in zone 17 to explore or mine or get reputation #13 and can't because of a Zombie invasion is fine if this is EVE or Darkfall and you expect to be killed soon anyway anytime. But some players of games with only consensual PvP probably would not appreciate non-consensual PvE popping up.

You can have games with
No leveling per se (EVE)
leveling is important (EQ)
leveling is required but not a significant feature (WoW, unfortunately)
You can start/buy max level

As long as you have levels you need to slog through, quests are a pretty reasonable roller-coaster way of doing it.

So I give WoW a lot of credit for their questing refinements. (But do count off a bit for the linear phased Cata zones. I at least want some freedom and control over what I do or not.)
I disagree with those who claim "Without quests there's nothing to do" clearly they are living inside WoW's box. This is how bad WoW changed MMORPGs (to the best or worst is a personal opinion).

I played EverQuest for 6 years without quests and I never felt "There's nothing to do" ever. Unlike the recent MMORPGs where I don't feel tempted to even login. Do you really believe a pre-defined quest driven and hand holding content is better than static content? How many years players need to realize this thing? look at how many bloggers/forums are finally realizing the flaw of Quest Driven content.

With enough static content (Dungeons, places to explore) and enough game mechanics to keep the player occupied and a good economic system and you get plenty of things to do. Throw in random tools like Quests, Faction, Skill System, Leveling, Off Line leveling, Jobs for your character..etc and you get even more things to do.

Make it so character progression goes vertically and horizontally. Vertical example is for monks; they need to kill the 5 dragons in every continent to get their Dragon Kick skill. This will keep them going with a goal. You don't need to switch the quest on, it's there and that's how you progress your skil. Medium and Long term goals aside from the zillions of short term errands.
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