Thursday, May 12, 2011


Wolfshead has one of his posts online; a strong opinion that inspires everybody who agrees with him anyway, and alienates anybody who doesn't. If he were the leader of a political party, this were the kind of speech to mobilize his followers and frighten his opponents. It were a bad speech to convince undecided voters.

As usual, I am more a follower than an opponent of his opinions. And I can understand his change of mind very well, because I also changed my mind.

Quests seemed so great! Ten years ago nobody would have dreamed of a game with thousands of quests. And then World of Warcraft proved to everyone that you can do it. You would just need to invest enough money and time and it would pay off. So nowadays all MMORPGs offer quests like crazy. And, as it happens so very often, we should have been more careful about what we wish for. Those quest-genies just don't want to get back into the damn bottle.

In contrast to Wolfshead, I don't want to get rid of quests completely, and maybe that is not even what he wants. Quests are great. If they are memorable.
My problem with quests nowadays is that I care so little that I don't even remember them when I try. My brain is just too good at filtering unimportant information and every try to convince my brain that these quest-texts actually matter is .. slammed. My brain just seems to know that the quests don't make any difference at all and focuses on what is important: .. mmh .. in the past the "rewards" were important, but that's not true anymore. I honestly don't care about them and I regret this. What is important for me nowadays is to tick off my to-do list. How long until my brain decides that this is totally absurd, too, I wonder?

So how do we make quests memorable again?
1) Telling a great story. But Blizzard tried this and failed with Cataclysm. Maybe Bioware will succeed, but I wouldn't bet on it.
2) Making them matter. Great suggestion, but how? Phasing is too immersion breaking (and my brain is too smart for it, anyway).
3) Cutting down on the number of quests. If there were only a few, you would remember them.
4) Making the player choose between which quest he wants to do: mutally exclusive quests. Maybe this could work ..

Any other ideas? Because, I don't think just removing quests is the solution. "Farming" enemies in groups was a nice gamey community-strengthening feature, but it never made much sense to me. I want an immersive reason to kill 'em. I just want a good one. And I still want to play the MMORPG for hours on end for years .. *sigh*.

It seems to me the only way is to depart from the themepark MMORPG and make a sandbox.


  1. I've held the belief for a while that quests (as they are currently) need to be abandoned as the main source of content. They really aren't very good.

    In a rare circumstance quests might have some clever writing. The majority of the time a player skips any writing because it's almost always tedious, boring, and requires having read/followed/remembered some other tedious writing from before. Often times quest writers write way too much for the sake of it, nevermind the lack of weight that most quests have.

    The example I usually give for how a "quest" should really be done is Shadow of the Colossus. "Quests" aren't really meant to be petty tasks to go through on a check list; they're meant to be... quests.

    The whole system is stale: talk to the npcs with '!' over their heads, click through to find out how many of X to kill, and return to the '?' for a prize. It's mechanical enough that it becomes acceptable, just turn the brain off and go through the quest checklist to get exp/goodies.

    I would abandon the whole '!' needy-NPC system entirely. How about players post real requests on a bulletin board for eachother for an exchange of real items? How about if I go on a quest it's actually a quest, like killing one of the colossi is in SotC?

    Perhaps have the player actually have to prepare, go out and navigate the land, find and hunt down some extraordinary beast taking several hours of quality time, invested in the experience, rather than walking over to the field of respawning monsters all at Y level, and being locked into the same zone to do a chain of petty tasks over and over again.

  2. I always agree with Wolfshead in spirit, although getting rid of quests doesn't seem like the answer.

    To me, the problem is that quests have entirely taken over the game and in many MMOs there really isn't much else to do. One solution might be to add lots of non-quest content like exploration, building, crafting, trading, PvP, Rift-style world events, and so on. You could even use quests as a sort of transition to sandbox content. For example, EvE courier missions involve hauling materials from one port to another, which is a role also useful in the sandbox/economic aspect of the game.

  3. I think I wrote the same thing almost two years ago, only without trying to insult anyone. Although now I wouldn't fully agree with my 2009-self and push more for simulation aspects and overarching context (as well as warn of phasing and cutscenes).

  4. Quests seems necessary for a level-power-based game. They act as directions: here are enemies that are of the appropriate level. In that way, kill ten foozles is the most sensible quest, since it tells you that foozles are the right level to fight. But perhaps ten is the wrong number. If quests are mostly just pointing out foozles, we might as well kill a hundred foozles and cut out some of the chatter of multiple quests.

  5. To follow up on Rem's excellent post, I agree that the way quests are implemented can have a serious effect on the incentive to explore.

    The problem is that in many modern games the world is designed to be non-interactive until you have a specific quest that requires you interact with it. For example, if you're wandering through the woods and come across a patch of athelas plants, you usually can't pick them unless you have the right quest. That's enormously frustrating to explorers, because it means there's no point in going off the beaten track.

    A simple fix would be to change the way quests are flagged to make quest items interactive before you have the quest. In the athelas example, let the explorer pick the leaves and then find the quest giver after the fact. That change alone would be a big improvement for Bartle explorers.

  6. @Tolthir

    I remember Paul Barnett touting that Warhammer Online would do this before release. But, it never made it into the game. I suppose that one reason might be that if you do quests without having being assigned them, then the quests no longer act as time sinks when you do get them.

  7. @rem

    If your approach (in your blog post) was adopted one would never dare to discard anything in case it should prove useful to some NPC for experience, which would make inventory management more of a nightmare than it already is. Further, without quest indicators, you'd have to go around clicking on every NPC to see if they needed it whenever you found some new item.

  8. (Rem vs. Blogger, part 3. Sorry for possible comment spam in your system, Nils. It's not letting me post with OpenID again and making me split up my text, and then garbling it all up. Evil Blogger!)


    Fair point, if considered isolated, it's a problem. The bigger picture, as suggested, needs to deliver solutions.

    For one, as I wrote, no trash loot - that already frees your bags up a little, as well as ridding you of the ever-beloved sifting through greys to figure out whether there's something useful in your bags.

    For another, it's not like we need a specific item type for every single mob species. For example, just go with "animal hides" and classify them into light/medium/sturdy/exceptional or something. For example in LotRO you didn't need to be a skinner to get hides, you just looted them off animals the same way we loot cloth off humanoids (something we grew to accept as "normal", but is somewhat weird if you think about it).

    Or you could go deeper into the simulation aspect and make (gathering) professions actually matter and limit skinning to skinners, butchering to butchers, etc. Does it make sense that you need to be a herbalist to pick a flower? No, but only a herbalist would know which flowers to pick (i.e. are useful) - a concept that gets obliterated when gatherable flowers stand neatly on their own and have a tooltip explaining what they are, so, you know, don't do that.

    Certainly everyone can go through the pockets of a slain humanoid, but in other aspects, you could make gameplay and game experience actually vary slightly based on profession choice (instead of the tired principle that trained soldiers for some reason also have a tendency of learning and perfecting the art of blacksmithing). Are you a killer or a hunter or a gatherer? How you play could be influenced by who you are, rather than by a predetermined quest path.

    That unique plaque you picked up from the brigand leader? Yeah, it's taking up room in your inventory, but you know (no trash loot) that someone is going to be interested in it, so you wonder who that may be. Bang, exploration. Give a hint (not "the sheriff of so-and-so might be interested to see it", that's not a hint, that's the solution) and follow logical principles (usually local brigands won't be of interest to someone who lives on the other end of the world).

    Further, without quest indicators, you'd have to go around clicking on every NPC to see if they needed it whenever you found some new item.

    Yeah. That's precisely what a lot of us have been asking for though. Remove the indicators, let us figure things out, because figuring things out is fun. Not in a puzzle sort of way, not in a hide-the-solution sort of way, because that just gets crowdsourced on the internet. But if things follow logical and consistent patterns - shanks go to the butcher, hides go to the outfitter, check with sheriff about threats, check with mayor about other issues - and the game world gives you appropriate clues and feedback, then you could actually navigate a village instead of making a beeline for the marker on the minimap.

    Most importantly, something a lot of people have said many times: we're not talking about changing WoW. The topic of posts like this is not "add this feature to WoW". Or even "take the currently standard set of MMO features and add this". That's not at all the point. Of course just taking WoW or RIFT and replacing the quest system with the above mentioned would freak everyone out and make inventories burst because it wouldn't make any sense in the larger picture. No, what we're talking about it making a different game based on entirely different principles from the ground up.


  9. (continued... at least if Blogger un-eats the first part of my post, otherwise this doesn't make much sense and appears pointlessly argumentative *sigh*)

    Sure, if your "actual content" is levelcap-endgame and everything before is just a timesink-drag; if you can't sensibly group with anyone higher or lower in level than yourself so everyone kind of rushes to level cap because that's the only place where you can effectively play together; if you condition your players that an activity is only as worthwhile as its reward; then yeah, quests are great, they let you direct where your players go, allow you to focus on designing what your quests tell your players to do, get your players to level cap with zero chance of getting stuck, and let you collect subscription fees in the meantime. It works, and that's okay.

    But what about an entirely different approach to how the world is designed and presented? The thing is: not being professional (paid) game designers, we often lack time and ability to describe the entire thing, so we talk about a set of features and kind of imply that the game in its whole would have to accommodate it.

    @Tolhir: great post, and just two months before mine. Yep, that's exactly the sort of thing I meant as well, fully agreed!

  10. Thanks for the effort, everybody! One thing about Blogger ..

    If you see your comment appear for a very short while and then disappear, your are a victim of the not-disableable spam protection.

    To be certain that I find out about your omment, just drop me a line at (the email on the bottom left of the blog).

    Do not repost, because this will convince blogger even more of the fact that you are a spammer ;)

    I am sorry, but least of changing to wordpress, there's not much I can do about it ;(

  11. @Rem

    Interesting ideas, but ... If you know who you are meant to give hides too etc. then it's not really that much different from the NPCs with exclamation marks over their heads, just more confusing. Actually WoW already has something like this - for instance there are/were NPCs in Ironforge standing around collecting wool for blankets, for instance. That hardly comes across as an interesting game innovation, rather it has the same sort of boring connotations as daily repeatable tasks...

    Also, I still think your system suffers from a basic problems with collect quests, which is that in what is meant to be an MMO these quests are basically solo content and actively discourage grouping, because materials are assigned individually.

    What ANet is doing with GW2 looks interesting; although they appear to have discarded quests in favour of "dynamic events", my guess is that what they have actually done is to put the quests and quest instructions into each players personal story. I think the idea is that the personal story acts as a quest guide, but the actual content in the dynamic events, which the story leads into, is dynamic events which are at least group friendly - and perhaps may even be enhanced by groups (although exactly how scaling will work is not yet clear). The neat idea here, for me, is the separation out of the solo parts of quests so that they don't interfere with open world gameplay.

  12. @Roq:

    Once again, I think you are (I think inadvertently/subconsciously) considering it as "taking an existing MMO (e.g. WoW) and replacing X with Y". That's really not the point. I agree that when you want to make WoW better, you need WoW-compatible ideas and not just some random "hey, would XYZ not be awesome?".

    But my ideas take place in an entirely different (game) world. One where visiting a village is an interesting experience in itself. Sure, you know that you want to see the butcher, or the innkeeper, but you don't know where they are, so you look around - in the game world, not on your map - and the game provides you with serviceable feedback, i.e. the place you're visiting is actually structured like a real place, not just a collection of textured functionality.

    Then you may be able to ask people who go about their business for directions. And they won't put a marker on your map, but tell you "down the street, second house on the left", the idea being that there's an actual street, and he actually points you in the right direction and the description is actually useful, because it matches with cues provided by the game world (aside: did you notice how games gradually and by now almost completely gave up on even trying to give you directions, completely relying on map markers?). Now imagine that less people roam the streets at night than by day, and that you spot the best lit building which, when you approach it, turns out to be the inn (which makes sense), so you ask there, and generally try to hit villages by day, because then there are more people around to interact with and they're generally more suspicious at night ... and you made another step towards simulating an actual world. In other words, why not adapt the interesting aspects of single player games, rather than the railroading.

    Re: collect quests, true, except it's ridiculously easy to fix. RIFT for example simply drops a collect-item for every group member who is on a collect-quest ("pick up stuff from the ground" remains awkward though). That's one solution. Another, more simulation-oriented one would be to just roll with it and thus encourage people who like playing together to diversify their professions. Pondering further, since you don't have a quest to "collect 10 hides", it doesn't actually matter all that much, you can simply split the bounty when you reach a village and all progress equally through the ensuing hand-ins. Or you can take things further and develop a "group-hand-in", where you act as a group of adventurers and are rewarded as a group of adventurers. Sky's the limit, as long as you can disengage yourself from the "adding feature X to game Y" notion and move over to "designing a completely different system" area.

  13. @Rem

    I think I see what you are getting at: In the first Elder Scrolls (Arena) there was a primitive version of this sort of "grapevine" idea - the idea being that the NPCs knew progressively more about the location of an event/dungeon/unique weapon the closer they were to it. It's a great idea and I wonder why it hasn't been progressed further. One can imagine hearing a town crier: "Oh Yeh! Oh Yeh! a dragon has been sighted in Xytia!" then as you got progressively closer the NPCs would direct you and finally you might see clouds of smoke from burning villages; ... or on the crafting side you might go to the local dwarven geological society and get a message: "reports are coming in of a new gold strike in..." and similarly get zeroed in.

    I don't think I'm really being hypnotised by trying to see how these features would work in WoW (in any case I'm unlikely to go back to that game unless they do something drastic to alter the endgame or I get desperate); it's just useful to have a shared frame of reference and WoW, like it or not, is it. But, it seems to me that the context of your questing ideas is what's interesting and not the actual mode of questing that you were suggesting, which could just as well be swapped out for something more dynamic.

  14. @Roq:

    Agreed. In fact, my entire point was initially "stop bombarding me with meaningless errands, give me very few, but meaningful quests instead", and the whole Quest System proposal was just a way to pre-empt the outcry of "but then we'll have to grind!" and make a point that if "quests" are nothing but XP-boosters, you may as well replace them with a barter system.

  15. I think Quests needs to be cut where they are an option game play and not THE game. The problem is Quests are working as a rail road to content-spoon-fed kingdom which is why we're burned out.

    What should happen is make quest to come in between other designed content. Set people free to roam the world quest-less but then add random, yet important, quests which takes a long while to be done and can be done at anytime the player wishes to. (Example, EverQuest Epic Quest). You don't have to put down everything you do with the game and just focus on the quest (you can, but you don't have to).

    We need more freedom, less hand holding. More content-driven options (Interesting Dungeons) and less quest-driven options (quests on rails).

  16. I haven't played any of the Elder Scrolls games before Oblivion, but those looking for an example of interesting quests should go play that for a while (ignoring the weird player/enemy leveling system). The main questline is very good story-wise (at least considering it's a video game), and parts of it feel downright epic (like when guards from all the cities gather at this one town to hold off a demon invasion long enough for you to enter Oblivion and steal a special orb thing). You can buy houses in all the towns, and in one town the house turns out to be haunted and starts a fun quest to cleanse it.

    Things to note about the quests is that they are distinct (because there's not as many as in an MMO), not related to leveling, and usually not reward-oriented (i.e. you do them because it's in-character or fun, not because you'll get some purple pants out of it.)

  17. I think an interesting option would be to increase player dependencies on eachother so that players would make their own "quests" for eachother. By "quests" I mean replace the petty errands that npcs give players with actual meaningful tasks that players request of eachother due to their dependencies.

    As far as legitimate quests go, they should be actual *quests*, eg questing in Shadow of the Colossus.
    A player would have to navigate, trek across foreign lands, look for information, and prepare for difficult battles. None of the petty, chronologically-zoned, mind-numbing chains of quests that most modern MMOs force players through for leveling.

  18. Apart from some things you already mentioned Nils, I'd really like to see quests to put a lot more focus again on cooperation. group quests that are actually hard and undoable by one person alone, have a lot more epic feel. and at the same time you can then justify a good reward too.

    What I resent a lot with current quests is also that they are so easy to spot. the exclamation marks etc. might be handy, but they're a total atmosphere killer. I want to find my quests by myself, by exploring and having to talk to NPCs and needing to follow a storyline (just like you used to talk to everyone in a classic rpg). it doesn't have to be super hardcore, but already spotting your questgiver from a map away is a complete joke.

    and: I think that any MMO that cares for solid narrative will have to absolutely steer clear of repeatable quests and dailies (one exception I can see is for professions, but no other).

  19. The ability to have player created quests, ones that actually have a bearing on the game world/economy, is one of my favorite ideas. Creating a billboard or classifieds section of a newspaper (depending on setting) for, say, material requests or dungeons runs would help things along quite a bit.

    Another one that I enjoy is branching quests. Give players choices in which way they want to proceed on a battlefield. Maybe the warriors would prefer to charge head on, and the rogues are given the option to sneak around and take out the leadership. Or the mages could coordinate a magical artillery strike. Not all the choices have to be class based, of course, but it's a fun alternative.

  20. "group quests that are actually hard and undoable by one person alone, have a lot more epic feel. and at the same time you can then justify a good reward too."

    MMOs seem to be moving further from this. Problem is that because players are spread out over levels it becomes impossible to find groups to do this kind of thing, after the initial levelling phase has passed an area by. This leads to frustration on the part of the people who can't find a group - particularly if the quest has a good reward!

    "I think that any MMO that cares for solid narrative will have to absolutely steer clear of repeatable quests and dailies (one exception I can see is for professions, but no other)."

    I hate these daily quests and tasks, but some people must like them. I reckon it's an indicator that MMOs are trying to cater for at least two completely different play styles and currently falling between two stools in that they don't do either well.