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.