Being part of the blog community, and spending a decent (read: too much) amount of time reading other blogs, you pick up on trends and common rants. Having been around the MMO block since UO, I’ve also seen my fair share of MMO launches and the general response to them. No matter how similar or different two games may be, a few common themes from the player base generally pop up, and today I want to break down one of those, questing.
In many ways questing has evolved a great deal since UO. Actually since EQ, since the ‘quest’ in UO was to get from point A to point B without getting ganked. (best quest ever IMO) EQ was not quest driven like most of today’s game, but rather the quests were side tasks you attempted while making your way to the level cap. In comparison, in WoW 1-70 almost every mob you kill, or location you see, is due to a quest goal. It’s very rare to just wander out and kill stuff for the sake of killing, be it alone or with friends. Different games today have varying degree’s of ‘must quest’, but almost all of them place a much greater emphasis on quests than EQ or UO ever did. EVE stands out (as it usually does) as the exception here, because much like UO, it’s skill based rather than level based, but even EVE has a questing system that many players participate in.
Along with an increase in importance, the overall quantity of quests has increased dramatically in today’s MMOs, with many games today having more quests than one character can complete before out-leveling them. With this increase in quantity, you very often see a complaint about quality. ‘Too many kill x, collect y quests’ is something you hear and read about constantly, the most recent example being AoC. Before a serious amount of content was added to LoTRO, a common joke was that each area featured its own ‘kill boars’ quest, each time for a different piece of boar, the quests being almost identical with the only difference being the size or color of the boar. PoTBS at launch (and maybe still?) did a copy/paste job with their quests, as each starting area had the exact same set of quests, making creating an alt rather pointless.
All that said, I sometimes wonder what exactly DO people want from quests? Almost everyone skips the flavor text in the quests, no matter how well written, so a better story would be rather tough. Any kind of tricky ‘go find it’ quest gets Googled rather than attempted, or just skipped if the reward is deemed not worth it. Tough group quests are bashed for ‘forced grouping’, so we can’t have that. Travel quests are old news, and we want instant travel now anyway, right? Well we want instant travel while still maintaining a worldly feel, but that’s another topic. So that leaves us with our good buddy the kill quest. Simple, focused, generally short, it’s not hard to understand why the kill quest is the most common type of quest we see in MMOs.
But is the kill quest really that bad, even when it’s for boar parts or rat tails? And what the hell would we do if suddenly all MMOs removed all kill quests, what would fill that massive void? Meaningful travel! Kidding…
The fact is MMO’s are generally one big grind, broken down to many little grinds in order to bleed $15 a month out of us. We love the abuse. And while we bitch and moan about kill quests, the fact is we love them as well. We love killing something and seeing our little quest tracker go up by one, or opening up the loot window to pick up one more tail/hoof/eye. How cool is it when you have 4-5 quests all revolving around boar genocide, and with one mighty kill you progress all those quests at once. Exactly, it’s awesome. We are MMO gamers, we are sick, and little numbers going up does it for us. The more +1 we get, the better we feel.
The key to questing, as well as life itself, is variety. If you do the same thing day in, day out, it’s going to get boring and old, no matter what the activity. Good quest design is not about removing kill quests, but pacing them correctly. If I just devastated the local boar population, the last thing I want Mr. NPC to say is ‘go kill more boars’. But I’m very OK with killing them in step one, then finding some boar relic, and finally facing off against some uber boar to finish it all up. And while I’m doing all that, if I also have a quest to discover some boar shrine, which just happens to be along the way, bonus for me. Just be sure to mix it up in the next area a bit (but not too much, we are creatures of habit remember), and I’ll happily continue to grind away.