Home > MMO Games > Quest design – fixing the symptoms?

Quest design – fixing the symptoms?

May 25, 2009

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.

Through Wandering Goblin I found an interesting article @ MMORPG.com by Sanya Weathers about quest design in MMOs. 

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.

This is a map where the author lives, which has nothing to do with the post other than breaking up a wall of text.

This is a map where the author lives, which has nothing to do with the post other than breaking up a wall of text.

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. 


Another filler picture, this time of Reykjavik

Another filler picture, this time of Reykjavik

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.


Yet another unrelated picture, this time from Seoul

Yet another unrelated picture, this time from Seoul

Categories: MMO Games
  1. Bhagpuss
    May 25, 2009 at 10:03

    As I commented on Sanya’s original article, I like “Kill Ten Rats” quests. I also like FedEx quests. And I also read all the quest dialog. That’s a somewhat contrary view to the metrics Sanya quotes, but there you go.

    I detest epic quests or anything that takes longer than a couple of hours to complete, unless it’s broken into small chunks in a manageable chain, and I don’t like puzzles unless I can look up the solution. But I do prefer good, well-written quest dialog and I do make decisions on whether to subscribe based partly on the quality of the prose in the game.

    I’d like plenty of quests with witty, amusing dialog. I’d like part of the reward for the quest to be the pleasure of reading good writing. I don’t want to have to do much thinking, or running about, but I do want to be entertained.

  2. May 25, 2009 at 10:21

    I think that pretty much any other activity you can give a player to do is over-ruled by the grind for ‘achievements’ design.

    Single player games are less achievement/grind focused than MMO’s (usually no random drops, doesn’t take that long to level up). I think if MMO’s were made to be *much* less achievement-focused, story would seem much more interesting.

    There would also be the added benefit of the fan base realising that you’re the developer with a soul who didn’t sell out their game design to suit their business model.

  3. May 25, 2009 at 15:02

    Achievements will primarily attract achiever types. Everyone will likely have some degree of achiever in them at some point, but not necessarily that much that all these different achievement systems will be attractive.

    I do believe that players would tend to be more achiever oriented when they start to play a game, figuring out the game mechanics and how to handle the game. After all, if there were no desire for achievement at all, people would more likely play in Second Life, Sims Online or similar virtual world rather than a game.

    But once the game mechanics are more or less mastered I think people will diverge more in what they would do, given a free choice.

    But in most cases there is not really an entirely free choice, since the achievement models are central and are extended for quite a long time.

  4. May 25, 2009 at 15:10

    Bhagpuss, I am a “reader” myself, as someone called me in a team when they figured out I was reading the quest texts.
    Seen in isolation there is nothing wrong with a “kill ten rats” quest I think, if it is well written. But put it in a context or in relation to dependent activities it can become annoying.

    In both LOTRO and Runes of Magic I was quite ok with many of these quests, but only up to a point. When it becomes overused it just kills it for me.

  5. SKapusniak
    May 26, 2009 at 23:10

    I want the same story elements in both single player and MMO game. However only some story elements are things I enjoy in either type of games.

    Backstory, atmosphere, worldbuilding and to a lesser extent characterisation work really well for me in a game context as they’re discoverable and subject to exploration, I get to choose the pacing.

    What I find I don’t enjoy are plot or narrative, as these force gameplay away from me deciding to do stuff in the game (which may well be me exploring the other story elements) and toward my having to do the stuff that it has been decided by the writer fulfills the plot or advances the narrative.

    This is why the basic kill-ten-rats, fedex, and retrieve the mcguffin quests, actually work for me, any plot content is essentially vestigal and if done right just acts as an excuse for me to go and dig into the neat stuff of the other story elements lying scattered in hopefully large heaps about the gameworld.

    It’s also why Epic gatekeeping Boss fights, cut scenes, and content I can’t do because I’m deemed to have advanced too far in the story/leveling, do my head in.

    I want to discover the big and little things that are happening in the world, not be made to necessarily act them out myself to a script.

  6. May 27, 2009 at 02:06

    Unfortunately I think Sonya was dead on. Most players don’t read anything but the objectives in quests, and so it literally makes no difference whether the quests are well written or not. They might get pissed if they are forced to do too many delivery and KTR quests, or they might not. But whether a quest tries to expand your vision of the world you are immersed in is pretty much the last thing on their mind.

    It’s refreshing to actually play through some decent stories in the better CoH: MA missions. But for every player like me I’d guess there were at least two that thought “sweet, now I can get to max level super fast” based on the number of AoE farm requests I saw in chat. And CoH has no end game to speak of. It’s much worse in games like WoW or DAoC where the “real” game begins at the cap in my experience.

    In single player RPGs, you just don’t rush to the end of the game like that…because it’s quite literally the end of the game. You are also generally seriously penalized for doing so, because all of the better items generally come from side games. It leads to a very different mentality.

  7. May 27, 2009 at 18:11

    I think the important part here is that not everyone has the same taste and MMOs are really more like game areas where you can find different types of play activities. There should ideally be something for everyone.

    But the problem comes when some type of activity or gameplay is used as a filler to artificially try to lock in the players in the game.

    it has been done with killing mobs, it has been done with missions/quests – probably because they have been so easy to create fillers with.

    Just drop the idea of filling out time – just make the activities possible meaningful and fun in reasonable amounts and do not require some activity to be better or more important than others.

    I think the idea of Free Realms is on the right track there, same with Guild Wars. Cannot comment on the former, but the latter did strike a good balance of progression and freedom to pursue different types of gameplay.

  1. May 26, 2009 at 13:40
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: