Quest design – fixing the symptoms?
Summary: Blogger read interesting article about MMO quest design, but do not agree with that the right conclusions has been drawn from player behaviour analysis. Discuss among yourselves.
In that article she mentions that it used to be that MMO designers thought that players really wanted story content, as they did in single-player RPGs, but once they started measuring player behaviour, they noticed that people skipped long texts and just went on with the the task, so that they could progress to the “real” content (“end game”, “elder game” or something similar presumably). Hence game designers now tend to put in short and basic missions/quests, i.e. the all too familiar “kill ten rats” and its relatives.
I am not surprised at all by this. But I do really wonder why it seems that the conclusion was reached that mission/quests should become more basic and just something on the way to reach the “real” content?
- Apparently players of single-player RPGs are more story oriented. Is the player demographic very much different here between single player RPGs and MMORPGs, or do they same player want entirely different things because they are playing an MMO? Since many single player RPGs would be offline games I am not sure if they actually can do some reliable measurements for those games to compare.
- Since it says that players mainly want to progress as fast as possible to the “real” content, would that not really be a concern to question the whole design of the game from the start to this “real” content? Maybe it is not the presence of a story that is the problem here, but when it is presented and the size of this gap that the story intended to fill.
- Missions/quests with real story content is still put in the game, but that seems typically to be put in in the later parts of the game (with later I assume at higher levels in a level-based game) and the early levels will mainly be filled with the simple and basic quests. So this seems to indicate that people are not really against story content, as long as it is presented in reasonably sized chunks and at the right time.
Perhaps MMO companies have come to the conclusion that they still will need that long time to reach these “other goals” and that the time up to that goal should be filled with “content” that is cheap to make, but still somewhat fun or attractive from time to time, enough to keep players around. Shorten that time and the players might be leaving too soon to get the bills paid. The simplification of missions/quests makes sense from that point of view.
I quite agree with that there is not room for hundreds or even thousands of story-focused missions/quests during the progression of a character in a level-based game. But I think what should be addressed would rather be these gaps and significantly shorten the progression time (if levels or similar is used) – not fill it with “content”. Give the option to experience the story-focused missions/quests at any time instead of at a certain point in the progression path.
Give people incentives to stick around after they have “won” the game and give many different incentives – one being story-focused missions/quests. Some but not all players will enjoy that. Other players will enjoy other parts.
The progression should only really be enough that the player has mastered the fundamentals and then let the players decide themselves what content they will consume and when this will happen.
This is perhaps going on a bit of a tangent from the area of the original article, but when I read the article I really wondered if there had been a more in-depth analysis on player behaviour or if it really was just fixing the symptoms rather then the cause of the issues – which was my impression from reading the article.