Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 12, 2008
How many of you are lore fans?

The closest I ever got to living the lore of a MMORPG was questing in The Shire as a hobbit in Lord of the Rings Online. Most other games I simply ignore the lore. In many cases it is far too generic, with no great story telling. But a reader sent me a question about how many percent of players do follow the lore, and I frankly don't know. I know it's more than 3, apologies for a snarky remark earlier, but I don't know how many more.

One problem with lore is that MMORPGs play on persistent worlds. Persistent not only in the sense that the world is still around when you log off; but also in the sense that monsters respawn, and five minutes after you rescueing the damsel in distress she'll be in captivity again and waiting for the next hero to free her. Many quest texts aren't exactly great fantasy literature. And even the best told story quest lines suffer from often being set up in a way that you are doing parts of them in between a dozen other quests, and by the time you get to the next part of the quest chain you don't remember the previous part any more. There are very few examples of engaging quest lines, like the book quests in LotRO or the destiny quest until level 20 in AoC. World of Warcraft gets something close to a destiny quest in the next expansion for starting Death Knights, but more often than not a quest line in WoW just means not being at the same step of the quest when you want to share it with others.

I think, but have no numbers whatsoever to support that, that a majority of players just click through quest texts without reading it. There is anecdotal evidence to that effect, like Blizzard having had to introduce a fast quest text option after a fast quest text mod turned out to be one of the most popular addons in the early game; or people in general chat asking for quest help which is contained in the quest text they didn't read. But I'm not sure if people ignore the lore because they don't like lore in general, or whether they, like me, just don't appreciate the current level of quality. I'm certain that MMORPGs could tell stories better, because I've seen better examples. There is a lot more that could be done with (optional) cut scenes and voice overs and using instances to simulate something changing in the world.

It somewhat reminds me of the early days of cinema, where movies were just "moving pictures", with not much story being told. People watched because the medium was new and interesting by itself. But soon they got used to the novelty, and demanded more, and then films started to tell stories. I still hope that story telling in MMORPGs one day raises to a level where I'll feel engaged with the lore.

So how about you? Do you enjoy the lore in its current state or do you just click through it? What are your examples for good and bad storytelling?
Asheron's Call in it's first couple of years had the best lore I've ever seen in a game. They tied it in to the monthly patch system and really turned the game into something I haven't seen repeated in an MMO since.

One of their best writers during that first couple of years was named Stormwaltz. He works for Bioware now and I think worked on Mass Effect.

It's hard nowadays to locate the pieces he wrote for the game, but I found one that was about 6 months into the release of the game when the story started to heat up. You don't really need to know the game to enjoy the story as fiction. It's long but worth it IMO:
Personally I skip the text, but not because I'm not interested, far from it. I just feel that regardless of how into the lore I am, I don't have an actual lasting impact in the game world.

Why should I care that the giant in the Arathi Highlands wants to break free? I know for a fact that my next alt that passes through will do the same thing. The fact that feeling of that awesome kill is lessened by the fact that another group will roll in and do just the same thing.

Part of the fun of an MMO was that a player could plop down a house (SWG, UO), create a guild of thieves or killers (in pre-Trammel UO this was a blast) and in essence add to the lore around them by merely existing and doing what they love.

Frankly, in order for me, and possibly many more people to care about the lore it has to actually have a feeling of ownership.

Who seriously wouldn't love to announce to the world "We were the ones to finally knock down Ragnaros and take his hammer. We were the ones who held up the people in the Ironforge trade area causing havoc and the potential loss of thousands upon thousands of pieces of gold."

That is what the people talk about years down the road, not their 50th dungeon run for more gear.
It's very hard to actually get into the lore of a game, because when you get right down to it, everything boils down to the age-old kill ten foozles.

As much fun as I am having the WAR, the combination of tome lore unlock spam in the first few levels, the exceeindgly self-referntial nature of the lore, and the fact that I never got into the Warhammer universe previously all combine to make the lore just a smattering of names I don't know being bandied about and me just skipping through everything.

Even WOW's lore manages to draw me in, but WAR's really hasn't.
I like to think of myself as someone who enjoys the lore but...I really don't very often. Now that you mention it, I guess it is because I feel it isn't worth the time. There were some quest lines I read and enjoyed a lot in WoW, although even though I say that I can't remember what they were, indicating the truth about that.

Usually it is a matter of time. One thing I keep telling myself is that my next alt will read through the lore at the end of uldaman, when you talk to the image. But I never do. I skip through that text as fast as I can to finish the quest.

Wow, this post and subsequent thinking about my reply has caused me to realize how little I really do care about the lore. I realize now that when I play character is a bag of numbers to me. In the end, I am a munchkin to the core. I used to love to roleplay when I was younger throw stats into the mix and I suddenly go into min/max mode. I don't see any of my characters accomplishing anything. When I play the game, I am all about crit rate, mana efficiency, and DPS. WoW is a numbers game to me in the end.

I think I am depressed now.
I think the problem with players ignoring the story is not the "lore" itself but how it is presented. Few prople, myself included enjoy reading walls of text in a highly interactive real time game.

The way to make the story satisfying is to immerse the player into it via audio and video using in-game scripted events. My favorite example of immersive stotytelling is Half-Life 2. You're simply thrust into the story without any background knowledge and left to discover what's going on with the help of numereous in-game characters and events. The story never takes away your control over your virtual self. Instead of being told to you, the story HAPPENS to you. This is the benchmark all games should be shooting for.
What are your examples for good and bad storytelling?

My personal highlight still is the Guktan event in EverQuest, the only example were developers showed some courage to change their world, without fearing players outcry. Instead of creating a new city for the frog race, they wrote an event for the frogs to conquer the troll city and stay there. I got a Shadowknight friend. When he logged in he got his butt handed to him by the frogs. I can still laugh about that. As long as he plays games, he won't forget that change and that's what it's all about. Players were so shocked about this, that everyone almost was forced to dive into the lore about the Guktans. Bruteforce storytelling at it's best.

I still wait for studios to really change their world in a way that it affects player. Imagine the outcry if you would pull something like this today. There are so many limits for todays "good" MMO design, that we won't see something like the Guktan event for a long time to come. And that's sad. You can't impress people with walls of text, but you can with breaking their habits.
I would not call myself a lore fan, but if written well and situation permits, i read all the quest text and stories..(yeah, i know its weird :D ). When in a group this doesnt always work obviously. For me the ToK is a great tool which helps me actually get more into the game. It allows me to read up on what i missed at a later time, when waiting for a pq/scenario/whatever.
The issue I see with quest texts is that most quests simply use one of X different mechanics:

1a. Kill X Foozles
1b. Kill Foozle Chieftain
2. Collect Y Foozle-Ears
3. Escort Person X to Place Y
4. Collect Quest item A from somewhere
5. Combine Quest item A with object B
6. Klick object B

Did I miss something? If the underlying mechanic is understood, people only look out for the actual task the mechanic requires them to do.

Personally, I try to read through the LOTRO quests, I read through the WoW quests once. I actually liked the WoW Alliance Storylines of Dark Iron Dwarves / Onyxia / Ragnaros / Nefarian and the Silithids / Ahn'Qiraj / C'thun quest line and raid dungeons. Those gave me the same epic feeling as the LOTRO Fellowship epic questline.
It seems to me that the problem generally speaking isn't the lore itself, but the nature of questing in most MMORPGs. There is some superb lore in WOW, with many of the early quests focused on helping you understand your place in the world, but the practicality of producing enough quests to keep people going through the levels means that there are still a lot of "kill 10 foozles" out there.

My favourite questline so far has been the Kojani human starter area in Vanguard. Whoever wrote that has obviously seen a lot of Kung Fu movies, with the player starting off doing quite unpleasant things in the name of the emperor before finding salvation through a wise old monk. I can't help thinking that whoever wrote the DK starter area in WOW was influenced by that.
For the most part I just scroll rapidly through the the quest text to get to the "kill ten foozles" bit.

On the other hand the whole ambience and setting of the game is hugely important to me. I like all the details to be there so I can really immerse myself in the game and "believe" I am a dwarf wandering through Middle Earth or a Starship Pilot flying across the galaxy.

Perhaps it is not correct to call this sense of immersion "lore" yet to me it is strongly linked to story. Its just that the story that is important to me is not the endless sequence of kill ten foozles quests, it is the epic adventure I am creating for myself in the environment provided by the game.
For me the problem is twofold. Firstly, I have the memory of a goldfish, I like to read the quest text, and get involved with the story, but the problem is you have quest hubs, so you run around and grab say 6 quests, read the quests, then go out and do them all. By the time it comes to handing in the first quest, I have long forgotten who person X was and why he asked me to kill the foozles in the first place. So when I read the follow up quest, if there is one, I really struggle to remember what it was all about. Then when you get to 15 or 20 active quests the problem just gets more and more exasperated, combine this with logging out and sleeping and coming back the next day or two days later to finish the quest, I have absolutely no idea why I am doing it other than the quest summary says 10 foozles. Of course I can go back and reread the quest text, and with WAR the ToK will tell me too, but really, do you want to go and reread every quest you have every time you log in just to refresh your memory on why you are killing the foozles ? Me neither.

Problem two for me was that I never knew the lore. I was never very into Warcraft before WoW, yah I played Warcraft 1 (never finished it) played 2 a bit and 3 I think I got the furthest, but never finished any of them. So I had little knowledge of the lore. All WoW lore knowledge was gained from the US site where they had that time line thing, which was great, and explained a lot to me. Same thing with Warhammer, I have never played any Warhammer game, in any form, let alone read one of the books, so the lore means little. LoTRO was the only game where I knew the lore very well, but again, the quest problem mentioned above prevented me from really getting into it. The only enjoyment I got as far as lore was concerned in LoTRO was from going to familiar places and meeting known characters, i.e. "woah I'm on Weathertop" or "Cool Tom Bombadil!" etc. But again, once you have 20 quests in your quest log you totally forget what you were doing for who. The epic book story in LoTRO was great for this though, provided you did them in one go, and were with a group who was prepared to wait for you while you watched the cut scenes or read the text, which was rare indeed.
Fast Quest Text: I suspect this has more to do with the fact that a) the scrolling was very slow, and many people read very fast, and b) reading scrolling text is really, really annoying. I mean, if you had a Javascript plugin that made your blog posts slowly appear, I'd be looking for a way round that, too.
I read quest texts the first time I'm doing them. And while there's plenty of "kill x foozles" quests, WoW does have it's gems:
Tirion Fordring questline
Sylvanas' locket
Releasing Hakkar the Soulflayer
The downfall of Ras Frostwhisper
The fate of Andorhal
Dearest Natalia
Battle of Darrowshire
The Mana Bomb in Terokkar
Whispers of the Raven God
Death's Door
Black Temple attunement

In addition to those, I have to say that Silverpine, Westfall, Eastern Plaguelands and the Barrens in general do a decent job in slowly building up the atmosphere until you enter the dungeon to resolve the conflicts. Blackrock Mountain didn't feel epic just because the dungeons had something specific, they felt epic because the game had been building up the atmosphere for the last 40 levels or so. Blizzard admits that they made a mistake in not using Illidan enough in TBC and the less said about Hyjal, the better. From what I've heard, they're doing a better job with the Scourge and the Lich King.

But lore is not just about the quests, the zones or the dungeons. IMHO, a game is doing a good job with lore when it's strong enough to keep the suspension of disbelief alive and you subconsciously start to identify with your character. In other words, when it promotes roleplay.
I got into Warcraft Lore by playing the RTS games.
Once you have played Thrall, Arthas and Kaelthas in Warcraft 3, for example, you have a much better appreciation of who they are in World of Warcraft.

Of course the problem with all such games, is that they are stuck in one moment in time.
The Defias have been rioting in the Stockades ever since WoW came out, and will continue to do so, until that particular instance is closed.
Onyxia will still be in Stormwind Keep, even though you freed Windsor, chased her back to her lair, and took her down.
It is hard to develop Lore from that standpoint.

Now people keep talking about the Lore in LotR, but as a Tolkien fanboy for 30 years, the game's version of the Lore puts me off the game; it does not encourage me to play it.
Armies of Hobbits running round Middle Earth trying to overthrow Sauron is definitely a turn-off for me.

As for WAR, I always found the Warhammer lore, whether in its Fantasy or SF setting, to be quite ridiculous, so that would not encourage me to be immersive.
I think there are 2 issues here: 1. how should the lore affect the game, and 2. do you read quest text. These are actually separate for many of us.

There is a phenomenon in theater and film called "talking heads". It refers to when you have the characters sitting around talking to each other instead of actually doing something or advancing the plot.

I think this is similar to quest text. We don't play games to read, we play to interact with other people or objects in the game. Especially since the quest windows and interface buttons are all meta-game and pull you out rather than suck you in. Even in LOTRO I only read the epic quests and not the others.

As Mr. Gamer says, it is more interesting when it's part of the encounter, or presented some other way. Even short popups on the screen when you find an item will be more likely to be read than long text passages. Look at comic books, the heroes and villains don't stand around talking or reading, they talk while fighting.

But outside of quests the lore indeed can make a game more interesting. After having read some WoW books I felt more immersed, the quests meant something and I understood their "significance" (even though ultimately everything resets). Before that the names meant nothing to me.

So lore can definitely influence and make a game more immersive, but interrupting the "game" to force people to read long passages only pulls people out of that immersion. There's got to be a better way. The ToK I guess is a little better better since at least you can go back and read later, though it would be really good if you could access your ToK unlocks from a browser.
I like the stories behind the game. I actually love it, but I find that what happens more often than not is my friend is 3 levels higher than me and I am just trying to keep up. or lets say he came back to me to help me with some quests. No one wants to wait around while you read quest text. Many times you might need a group... that quest text doesn't matter when you find a group that is ready to do your quest.
I used to be an avid quest reader in DAoC. Irritated my friends to death! They'd click through the quests and I would sit there and read every line.

These days though, if a quests story doesn't catch my attention I'm guilty of just clicking accept and not reading it.

If a quest's story really could tell me the lore, I think I might be more apt to read it thoroughly. Especially in Warhammer, since I'm not totally familiar with the lore already.
It's funny. I was watching my father-in-law play WAR the other day. He's got a book collection the size of a public library devoted to sci-fi and fantasy. He loves to read... and yet in his MMOGs he skips the quest text.
I do tend to read into the backstory for a game, read quest boxes, etc. I don't tend to care as much when actually doing the quests, but reading is fun to do a lot of the time.

WoW quests were often quite bad in terms of keeping me interested in why I was doing the quest, since they pretty transparently fell into "kill 10 ----'s", "collect 13 _____'s", "kill boss", etc., and several of these in a row makes it worse for holding interest.

Guild wars missions are probably the better storytelling methods I've seen. Even if the story is quite bad at some points, the stuff to do in the missions (fighting, talking, exploring someplace, events and changes that happen to the mission area, etc.), are often pretty heavily influenced by what came before in the game, and the general backstory. Nightfall and Eye of the North do a better job with this than earlier guild wars games.

It does seem that the back of interest in backstory comes heavily from the lack of the backstory's effect on the game. In WoW, the quest boxes often seem an excuse for killing the closest set of appropriate level animals, or appropriate level humanoids, and the backstory matters little for knowing what those things to kill will actually do, or how ot kill them.
Only in two circumstances. One is in special enough quest lines, like some of the Thrall quest lines in Nagrand. Two, if they have a lot of humor. I like to read some of the funny and devious things the undead guys in the Apothecarium say.
I'll read the first link of a quest chain and then decide if I care to continue reading the subsequent links. The moment I read "collect 10" I'm hitting accept and moving on. It's the quests that require some action on my part other than mass killing that keep my attention.
I made a Blog entry on an alternative Questing method not too long ago, that if adopted might help with the Lore, but it would require mature players who don't mind reading a bit. It would not be quite as popular with the players with the short attention span.
"Kill 10 Rats? Gotcha!"
I read the quest text all the way through. Asheron's Call was my first game and as ockham said it had the best lore I've ever seen. That experience made me a lore junkie and I'm still taking the time to read the lore text.
Another one of the issues is that actually READING the text for a quest typically doesn't give you any inherent BENEFIT such as:

1) Getting the quest done faster
2) Getting more xp/gold/whatev
3) Making the quest easier

Really there needs to be quests that have multiple ways to 'solve' them. I'd love to see more logic oriented quests that you can't find a 'guide' or 'walkthrough' for on the internet.

Unfortunately not everyone is equally intelligent, so if you don't process challenges/puzzles a certain way you could find yourself banging your head on a brick wall for hours before going 'screw this' and trying to google it, or just logging off.
Ok so, in wow i only read raid quests otherwise I just click through them. In Lotro I read the quest text more often, which probably is because I shine up everytime it involves a famous character or place.

But I have to agree with others that it's really hard to get into the lore in a persistent world.. it just doesn't feel worth it.

Just to want say that DDO probably has the best storytelling of the mmos I've played. While in the dungeon the story is told by events and a voice that is talking, which I think is better then a wall of text.
For me the lore is more about cross over references. I've read a ton of Warhammer novels and play the table top game... so when WAR has a reference to places and events such as the Chaos Waste or the Blackfire Pass, I immediately have context that adds to my immersion and enjoyment of the game.

The opportunity to explore all these places I've read about is reason enough alone for me to play WAR. The great game mechanics are just gravy... :)
In fact I have been faulted in the past for not using the "fast text" option in wow by other players who don't want to read the quest text.

When the developers have gone to the trouble to either develop an IP (as in Activision/Blizzard) or adapt an IP (as in Turbine or mythic) and done it well, I find it a very large and enjoyable part of the game.

In fact I have been a warhammer fan since long before anyone thought to put "online" after the first name. This is perhaps why I enjoy the game were others do not.

The caveat on all this is, of course, that other than writing reviews and columns I also write episodic stories and novels. So I may be the exception to the player who just wants to "play the game" and max out the level cap.

Julie Whitefeather
AoC and the cutscene system did make myself and my wife stop and read or listen to the quest text.
We felt less of a need to "click ok" like we may do in WoW, LOTRO, etc..
The "Tortage" experience is quite good in that respect.
The whole Destiny Quest line just worked.

But once.

Just like a single player game.

No one will care about that lore afterwards.

Guild Wars accepted this. You have a story, you have an ending. Then if you want to continue playing? If not, no issue. I am not paying 15 bucks a month for someone to come up with a reason to kill 10 more foozles.
I think we just need a new model of payment is all.

Maybe it needs to be accepted that standard MMO's (WoW, EQ2, WAR) are just lore fodder, and leave the "stories" to single player games.
You can have good lore and crappy quests. POTBS had some of the best quest text I have seen in any game. The Map of Destiny, Sommerset and the 7 deadly sins arcs were Fantastic.

The quests themselves on the whole were crap and repetitive, but I still found myself doing one after another just to find out what happened next.

I think WAR have good idea. Separate the lore from the normal quests. In WAR for example you can skip all the quest text but still go back and read through your TOK when waiting for group members etc.
I love “action-driven” lore.

Lore typically comes in two flavors – quest text or encounters. I never read quest text, but love encounters. It’s the difference between reading about it, or participating in it. I don’t want to read about how the village got burned down; I want to burn down the village.

Text driven lore is boring and badly written. If I wanted to read a story, then I would read a book. I play in online worlds because I want the experience.
I never read the lore, frankly don't really care.

I suppose I should, in theory, but I tried to read some WoW lore once... very rambling, very uninteresting. Ultimately WoW is all about breaking into some harmless guys house, killing him, and taking his stuff. Really, that is the heart of the game. Everyone is a mass murdering thief. I mean, what did Ragnaros actually do to anyone? He just chills in his lava pit and threatens people. If you kill him or not, nothing changes.

My pet idea for an MMO is a faction that is controlled by a game master. His job in the game would be like movie villain; to drive dramatic tension by almost losing and then lose in a really cool way. That would create lore unique to each server and would probably kick a fair amount of ass.
er, almost winning, then losing in a really cool way.
Hey Tobold, 1st time I write here but I found that there isn't much ppl on the side of the lore here lol. (Btw, I really enjoy this blog. Keep up the good job :D)

I am a big lore fan, as many of my friends. I found that actually, there's a lot of people knowing the lore in games (more than you might think). I do think that the lore makes the diffence between each kill 10 rats quests.

Just to reflect on some of the previous posts:
- Tabula Rasa lost me because there was so many quests in quests hubs that it does turned out to be just 10 kill ten rats quests without any lore.
- I play wow for long chain quests that power levelers and casual find annoying, since you can't share them with other players. ( it is sad, but actually, these are the quests that I love the most).

While some people do say they don't care how the dwarves were created in WoW (chain quests that ends in Uldaman, but start early in the dwarves leveling sections), the fact that I wanted to know more about the dwarve people made me do all the quests and I was really having a good time all through it. In WoW, there is various quests that gives you hints about the lore, and that interconnect with other quests, even if they aren't chain quests.

I can tell you right now that the reason various games lost me was because they didn't knew how to transmit lore correctly, and while some people don't think wow pulled it off, I think they did. (They reason I was employing the mod to show the quest text faster, was simply because the quest texts weren't showing fast enough, and not because I was skiping... )

Yes, lore appel more to Pen and paper RP gamers and Console RPG player (like Final fantasy... that the only thing they actual had, was a good store... Frankly most Console RPGs have an horrible gameplay... turned based, and often not fun). There is alot of people that play the games only for the numbers because they are great game.

Lore alone won't make me play any game tho, I better like to read a book if the gameplay sucks.
I am interested in the lore behind the game.
I generally read the mission/quest text the first time at least, but most games do not do a good job of actually telling a story.

I think perhaps the best effort I have seen here is Guild Wars where the story has a prominent position and there is not much "kill ten rats" type quests that interfer with the story.

Tabula Rasa has some good story elements, but there are far too many "kill ten bane" type of quests in between and there are issues with running som of the story missions IMHO.

City of Villains (and to some extent City of Heroes) has some pretty good story arcs, but they are not that team compatible, since many teams tend not to give much time to get into the details of the story.

In fact in general I think MMORPGs do a bad job of telling a story to a group of players. If you want to follow the lore and a story you are often better off to solo.
Lore is very important to me. I read through everything the first time - it's part of what makes the initial experience with a game so nice.

It's all skipped the second time, through, of course.
I skip about half of the lore, participate in the half I find engaging...

Regardless to what degree you follow the lore in a mmorpg, it is an essential component because it provides a structure and a rule set to all of the different variables that exist in a virtual world.

I personally think of lore as a mmorpg's gravity. Along those lines, I've become concerned that WoW has begun to re-locate to the moon.
Good point at the end Tobold, about ppl getting tired of the novelty of virtual worlds, and demanding more story as time goes by. I'm sure it will come. All you need to do is hire writers & story designers to create more engaging stories, and throw them into the mix.

I personally enjoy the bigger lore stories from t5/6 content more than the levelling quests. I want to know why I'm killing Illy and Archy, and what they've done that's so awful. They're big time glam bosses and so much of the fun of the content is knowing the lore, and knowing why they yell the things they do.

Some of them are kind of pathetic attempts at epic stories though. Do you remember that whole thing in Zangamarsh, about how the naga are draining water for some "mysterious purpose"? Wooo-wooo. When you finally get up close to Vashj, she tells you she's draining the water because water is such a scarce commodity in outland, and they want to have more power by controlling it. Sounds like a computer programmer wrote that story line.
I do enjoy reading quest texts for the storyline and such. I detest reading the same one over and over to figure where I have to go; thank goodness for questhelper.

My favourite game of all time story-wise: Starcraft. The storyline was great, and each quest further involved me in the storyline.

WoW has many great storyline, but you have to go deeper then quest texts to find it. Sometimes I see a name in WoW of an NPC that I don't recall hearing about. Go to WoW wiki and it's totally fascinating the level of details you can find about a lore character.
Speaking of lore, should I read any books before playing WAR?
Does it take place at any certain time in the WarHammer universe?
I was most impressed by the lore in Guild Wars. In particular, the way you actually experience the "searing" and see the world change. The cut scenes for the dungeons ( I forget what they were actually called) were all interresting and helped me feel that sense of being part of a story.

My favorite moment in all of WoW is the caverns of time old hillsbrad scene that plays out the backstory to the Ashbringer. The fact that you feel like you are actually witnessing an important historical moment was really exciting for me. I was also impressed by the new addition of the Magister's Terrace, and the little cut scene/preview along with the appearance of the dragon from the comic book. The marshall Windsor stuff was also great. Beyond that, it was hard to engage with WoWs story, because most of it was buried in raids I could not do, or in quest lines they never finished. That is not a fault of the genre so much as a failure in their execution. Up until that point, I had never encountered a game that was so very conditional about how you could experience the story. Planting the main story bits in the raids was a terrible mistake in my opinion.

So far, I am loving the lore in WAR. The fact that I can sit down and read it at my own pace, and have an uninterrupted look at what I am doing is tremendous. Even if I only have a vague idea of what the quest is about while running around with friends, I can go back and pick up the story and get all the details without being distracted or feeling like I am holding anyone up.
"Look lady, I'm really sorry about your whatever, but if you could just tell me what you need, I can finish it, you can pay me, and we all get what we want faster."

You can only 'listen' to so many go here to kill this speeches buried beneath 2 paragraphs of generic sob-story or ye-old-english "I'm hungry, kill my dinner" before you just don't care anymore. Compelling lore with fun quests attached do exist, but the sheer volume of content MMOs seem to need necessitates some very generic filler.

I adore the High Elf tailor in Alerian Point with her "can't have the farstriders running around naked" speech. But gloomy Mr. Ironjaw-vendetta I couldn't care less about.

And a cut scene isn't always the best solution. I remember playing Guild Wars and seeing way too many cut scenes filled with talking heads that took more time and was less interesting than reading a quest log.
WoW has actually gotten much more compelling from a lore standpoint in WoTLK. There are a number of quest chains (e.g. Wrathgate, Tirion Fordring's chain, Mattias' chain, the Death Knight starter chains) that are really immersive and really get you involved in what, infact, is actually *going* on around you. They introduce backstory and set a real feel for the zones.
Personally, I always get more interested in lore when something spurs me to *be* interested in lore. For instance, back in vanilla wow after Sylvanas' locket quest, I was suddenly like "Hmm... so what's Sylvanas' deal anyway" and i went and gobbled up all the information about Sylvanas I could find.
I think making the lore accessible within the game for those who haven't necessarily done all the Warcraft campaigns actually compells people to become more involved in looking into the back story.
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