Is faster always better?

Currently in Rift to zone into a dungeon one member of the group has to actually travel to the portal. Is this meaningful travel? Is it nice that only one person has to do it or a pain just for that one individual? Is it a plus that, with the LFG tool, you save yourself that time?

To pick up the daily dungeon quests, you have to travel to the tavern in the back of Sanctum. Is this meaningful travel? Is it a plus that, with the LFG tool, you can pick up the quest without visiting the tavern?

Inside some dungeons there is an orb you can click to teleport further inside, useful for when you wipe and have to run back. Does this reduce meaningless travel? Why don’t all dungeons have this? Why does the orb teleport you to a specific spot, rather than the last encounter you wiped on? To go one step forward (get it?), why do we need to run to the bosses anyway? Why not take a portal from one encounter to the next?

When questing, you need to travel to the location of the kill/collect 10 target. Is this meaningful travel? Is it a plus that in most modern themeparks, the quest hub and kill/collect locations are nearby? Would meaningless travel be further reduced by simply taking a portal to the exact location?

Rift has portals between zones, and some zones feature more than one portal per zone. These are faster than WoW flight paths. Is this better? Would the game be better or worse if you removed the portals and made everyone walk/ride to the outer zones? Would it be better to have a portal at every quest hub or point of interest, further reducing travel time?

One of the main flaws in discussing something like travel in an MMO is we all too often do it in a vacuum. Which is faster: instant portals or flight points? That’s not debatable. Better method? Well that depends. Is the flight point showing me interesting locations to later explore, or allowing for social time, or adding something else? Is it REALLY just a timesink?

At what change does your MMO stop being a virtual world and start looking like an online lobby with activities to pick from a list? Is it the change from flight points to portals? Is it when the Dungeon Finder starts teleporting everyone? Is it when you can queue up for a warfront/BG from any location rather than from one NPC out in the world? Does it even matter? Do you want your current game to be more worldly, or do you just want to reach the next short burst of content asap?

And if that the answer to that last question is worldly for some, and instant for others, aren’t we talking about two vastly different games, to the point of talking about different genres?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Rift, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Is faster always better?

  1. bhagpuss says:

    If I had a free choice I’d have no teleportation, instant travel or flight whatsoever.

    I’d have mounts, boats and runspeed enhancements. If you wanted to get somewhere you’d go by land, sea or river. If you didn’t like that you could stay where you were!

    Since that would probably leave me playing the game on my own, I’d unbend as far as limited teleportation nodes (which would have to be opened, per character, by reaching them on foot). I’d also have one or more class that could teleport. Basically, I’d have EQ’s travel system circa Velious.

    But in fact you are absolutely correct. The whole thing is generally an appalling mess of compromises and probably always will be. Like almost every aspect of MMOs, it doesn’t stand up to even a few seconds of rational thought.

  2. Warsyde says:

    I think the travel needs to be meaningful, or it might as well be instant. For example, back in the day in WoW it took a good 12-15 minutes on a flight path to go from the southern end of Kalimdor to the northern end. That was not meaningful travel. You could get up, go make a sandwich, take a bathroom break, say hi to the significant other, come back, and STILL be flapping away across the continent. They might as well have had a teleport between the two extremes because flying was a huge pause in gameplay with no meaningful purpose. There was often good reason to make this trip, so it just became a huge timesink.

    In contrast, in the original EQ running from Qeynos to Freeport was a huge endeavor and took a lot of time (I don’t recall how long it took when I did it, but it was a long trip). This, however, was meaningful travel. You actually had to pay attention to what you were doing, did get to explore the game as you were going, and the travel itself was gameplay. This was also a trip you probably only had to do once or twice in your character’s career, so it taking a long time wasn’t a negative.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that travel can add to gameplay, and does play a role in creating a world versus just a game, but making routine travel time consuming is just a pointless time sink.

    I think Rift has a pretty good balance with the portals, in that it saves you the tedium of travel between the zones, but forces you to travel and explore naturally within a zone. No flying mounts or shortcuts once you step out of the portal.

    I do dislike the instant teleport-to-dungeon-as-soon-as-someone-enters-it thing though. I don’t think traveling to a dungeon from the zone portal is too much to ask for. From an immersion standpoint I also dislike the teleport-to-warfront-from-anywhere aspect of the PvP game, but it seems like a necessary evil to keep queue times at least somewhat under control.

  3. Nils says:

    And if that the answer to that last question is worldly for some, and instant for others, aren’t we talking about two vastly different games, to the point of talking about different genres?

    Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better.

  4. Dril says:

    As ever: I’d rather have a world (but not a galaxy; it’s a personal cosmetic and scale thing mostly, but distance means nothing if all you see is the white dot getting a bit bigger.) If I wanted to play a lobby game I’d either be a) getting destroyed by pr0s in LoL, b) doing averagely in BFBC2 or c) roflstomping people in MB:W.

    Would I go to the extent of no fast-travel? No. I’d have short hearthstones, and the odd gryphon here or there. No teleports, though, and nothing that takes you immediately to a point of interest. Everything would stem out of towns, and to actually get somewhere you’d be walking.

    Still, COD sells amirite? Just copy it and WoW, make monies, and show profit.

  5. Scott says:

    I think the travel needs to be meaningful, or it might as well be instant.

    Instant it is then, because there is no such thing as “meaningful travel.” You’re at Point A. Your goal is Point B. “Travel” is what’s keeping you from being there. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Mind you, I’m all about having “true” virtual worlds (which we don’t have in themeparks) *however* when it comes down to gameplay (ie. getting everyone together for group content) then the game should include ways to get everyone there NOW to avoid wasting even more time than MMOs by nature are prone to. When I’m soloing or exploring or goofing off with friends, give me mounts, boats, ship routes, you name it. Let me choose how to experience the game and world at that moment, both actively (walking, riding, boating, etc.) or passively (automated travel routes, eg. flight paths). But if I join a group for a dungeon and they all use the instant travel but I say “I’ll be there in 20+ minutes so I can maintain my ‘immersion’ with ‘meaningful travel'” if they don’t boot me from the group for being a douchebag who is intentionally wasting their time, I’d be shocked.

  6. Pai says:

    The conflict here is the result of the change in what an ‘MMORPG’ is nowadays. It’s not about roleplaying or pretending you’re actually IN another world (which is the purpose of slower ‘physical’ travel that’s supposed to give a tangible feeling of size/physicality/etc of the place you are moving through, and is a part of immersion), it’s now a label for a multiplayer action-RPG videogame.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with action rpg videogames (I love them myself), but the two types of play styles and philosophies do NOT mesh well. And since the roleplay/immersion-type people are the minority of players compared to those who will pay for an action-RPG videogame, they’re irrelevant to the game development industry. It’s a painful change for the oldtimers whose definition of ‘MMORPG’ is now obsolete, and who keep being disappointed in all the games calling themselves ‘RPGs’ which offer little to their preferred type of play.

    • Pai says:

      In other words, there is no reason why instant travel should not be in a modern MMORPG, since slow travel (and most other immersive elements) conflicts with ‘playing the game’. Taken to the extreme, making any kind of large world rather than a lobby leading to instanced dungeons/raids technically conflicts with ‘playing the game’ — something you heard for years from the WoW ‘hardcore’ who whined about having to levall that ‘story’ and ‘immersion’ is just an obstacle to suffer through.

      • Pai says:

        Gah, that last part should read: ” — something you heard for years from the WoW ‘hardcore’ who whined about having to level in order to get to the ‘real game’. To that kind of player, all that ‘story’ and ‘immersion’ is just an obstacle between them and the ‘real gameplay’

  7. Rast says:

    It depends on the game. In a themepark like Rift, there’s no reason to make it a giant pain in the ass to get to the rides.

    I also played EvE for a few years though, and making it difficult to get around one of the major keys to getting the playerbase to spread out and develop the entire game world rather than all piling into one place.

    But sandboxes and themeparks have about as much in common as apples and oranges – they’re both fruit but that’s where the similarities start and stop.

    • Pai says:

      Yes, exactly, but I think some games don’t get that and try to mash the two together, with varying levels of failure. I think the more modern MMORPGs will drop the pretense of a ‘persistent world’ all together, and be better off for it. The only ones left out will be the folks who yearn for the type of game that is just not profitable enough anymore to get made by the majority of companies.

  8. Anonymous says:

    And if that the answer to that last question is worldly for some, and instant for others, aren’t we talking about two vastly different games, to the point of talking about different genres?

    Umm… rather cavalier assertion no?

    Did the flying griffins so wow indicate that wow was “vastly different” from EQ?

    Did the portals to main cities in TBC-wow make it “vastly different” from vanilla wow?

    Does public bus transportation make a city “vastly different”? Does a subway? What about HOV lanes? Water taxis? Heliports?

    Come on… it’s a convenient way to get around nothing more nothing less. I mean we don’t show the malnutrition and disease that existed in medieval societies… so why model the months it took to get from place to place?

    • Saucelah says:

      When I was young, eons ago, in an era where children were allowed to ride their bikes far and wee and not have to remain in the yard, I knew every inch of land and every tree in the few square miles all my friends lived in, whether near a road, far from a road, through some stranger’s yard, etc.

      Now, though my range is much farther, I have very little idea about what lies beyond what I can see from the road, and for some areas, little idea about what lies beyond the highway. So yeah, I think transportation changes, at the very least, our perception of a city or place.

      This is not necessarily an endorsement of removing all fast travel options. My answer to that would vary from game to game, I think.

      • Angry Gamer says:


        I get the “road less traveled vibe” here

        I would tell a bit of a different story. There was the woman who wrote in 1980s about a trip to Tibet where she saw some monks who were on a pilgrimage to Lassa. They stepped 3 steps forward prostrated themselves upon the ground then got up and repeated over and over. When she asked about their travel they said they wanted to experience every inch of their journey to Lassa and feel the pain of the journey.

        I tell this story to give some perspective on “experiencing every inch” of a virtual pixel world. And while we may indeed feel nostalgic about the days of carefree biking… we biked every inch BECAUSE WE HAD THE TIME TO KILL. If someone has the time to manually travel every inch of a large modern virtual world… perhaps much like the monks you are doing it for personal punishment on personal spiritual reasons.

        • Saucelah says:

          Possibly. Again, not endorsing. Road less traveled should not be the vibe here.

          Just saying that travel method does change the perception of the area. I don’t know about “vastly,” but I do know that “different” is certainly the case.

          I’m also not saying that everyone should be forced to walk every inch a la those monks, or that even knowing every inch is worthwhile. I’m just saying that it is a factor that will affect players’ perceptions of the game world. Devs should consider this effect and choose according to how they want their world perceived.

          I suppose just the statement that I would have to consider this on a game to game basis reveals that I do feel virtual worlds and themeparks are becoming distinct sub-genres of the MMORPG.

        • Angry Gamer says:


          Thanks for your well considered post. Your input certainly makes me pause and think.

          I believe that the Virtual World vs. Themepark is a false choice however.

          My take is that Themeparks are the _way_ we currently experience virtual worlds. So much so that Virtual Worlds would not really exist in a mass-market sense _without_ themepark content keeping the tourists busy.

          [this is my opinion mind you… I make no claim about this being mainstream thinking on the matter – yes Second Life is a virtual world example but I would counter it is not economically viable]

          Anywhoo, I understand the need to experience a virtual world and the need to not “blow through” content a furious turbo traveling speed. But, I mainly see that without “griffin buses” to take our toon from zone to zone I personally would get frustrated and bored pretty quickly.

          Does that mean I am anti-Immersion? Yeah probably I am also the kind that want to kill my 10 rats and then play with my kid too.

        • Saucelah says:

          False choice — I like that. I’d probably go with “false dichotomy,” but that’s the pretentious lit geek in me.

          I’ve also been known to say I’d like to see a themebox or a sandpark. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how to execute such a thing, but I do think there’s no reason why there can’t be both in the same game. I had originally hoped TOR would go that route, with the single player stuff as more themepark and the rest of the universe as a giant sandbox. Obviously, that’s not happening.

          I might have to start a blog, hmmmm.

  9. Angry Game says:

    btw the above was an Angry “Anon” Gamer

  10. Ardwulf says:

    I don’t think it’s about “meaningful,” I think it’s about quality of experience.

    Take WoW’s flight point system, for example. Keep it exactly the same, only instead of the exact route flown being the same every time, have several route for each point-to-point. Whenever you take a flight path, which route you get flown over is determined randomly. One of them might be rare. And all of them might show you different scenery, maybe different interesting things in the world. Mix it up some, and maybe fewer folks would get up to make that sandwich.

  11. Pingback: Meaningful travel time – passengers and drivers » The 'mental Shaman

  12. Dave says:

    Rift NEEDS zone portals otherwise travelling to an event before it finished would often be impossible.

    The dungeon summons seem a little unnecessary though, porting to a zone and riding to a dungeon doesn’t take that long.

    • SynCaine says:

      Does it? What if one of the major rewards for actively being in a zone and defending it the invasion event that you get to see start/finish, while those who have to travel over only catch the final boss? Wouldn’t this make the choice of where you bind more important? Wouldn’t this also require zones to contain more than just quest hubs and some dailies?

      Sure, it might lead to a very different game, but is it really a must that all players are able to instantly arrive at a zone event?

      • Angry Gamer says:


        When these kind of “does it” questions come up. I always come back to ask “is there an example of what you are talking about in a live game”?

        The reason for this is simple. EQ-WOW-Rift etc all have an evolution of game thought that seems to be driving to meet a majority of our gaming expectations.

        Many players expect the following now:
        Quest Hubs
        Quick regional transportation

        If we were to dismantle some of this we would be outside the well worn stream of commercial consumer expectations. If you vary too far from this stream well… you don’t sell games and no one will see your wonderful innovative virtual world.

        I know there is the desire to conceive of the “perfect” game. But much like dating partners “perfect” don’t exist. We want to have a wonderful gaming experience for about 60 bucks and a 15 buck subscription. We as a collective group here do not want to pay 100 million for the perfect game.

        [And oh by the way no one good would want to build the 100 million self expression game for you … because if it had 1 player the uber developer and designers would not get bonuses for subscription numbers!]

        This $60 to $100,000,000 dollar spread (for me) makes me very happy to take what the marketplace provides me and say thank you with my continued subscription patronage.

        Economics of the marketplace dictate harsh choices… And developers are to be congratulated when they choose wisely and it yields revenue.

        • SynCaine says:

          Many ‘MMO gamers’ have only played WoW. They don’t know better, just like they don’t know what they really want and should, for the most part, be ignored when it comes to design.

          And I’m pretty tired of the “if it’s not WoW-like, it won’t sell” garbage. If WoW-like titles were setting the genre on fire and holding millions (or hell, close to 500k) subs for months/years, it’d be one thing. The fact that the WoW-like market has more $100m failures than WoW-like success stories says something.

          And last I checked, a $100m budget gets you voice acting and missing capitals, not more content and better games.

  13. bonedead says:

    I was told there would be punch and pie.

  14. Spidubic says:

    I am still using my original 60% mount in Rift with no intention of getting the faster mount. Doesn’t really bother me except when I see people getting to rift’s faster. For me I would say limit instant travel to main cities, say one per zone. The rest of travel is either by foot or mount. I have found the world seems larger when you have to run places rather than instant travel.

  15. Kcoram says:

    I remember back during Vanilla WoW that I would take the time to park my character outside the raid instance the night before a scheduled raid. I knew that with my play schedule, that I wouldn’t have time to get to the instance any other way. It didn’t bother me (much) to do so. Although at times, I thought it would be nice if I could log out anywhere, with a “while I’m not online, have my character travel to XYZ raid instance entrance” to save myself a bit of work.

    It would not break my sense of immersion to have a “do something simple and time-consuming like travelling a long way while I’m offline” option for an MMO. Instant teleportation, flying mounts, etc, while I am online can break immersion, however.

    The problem I see with removing fast-tavel-while-online options, are quests that force one to run halfway around the world, only to have to run all the way back. Such quests were a tedious time sink that I absolutely hated. It wasn’t “meaningful travel” in any sense, because I would avoid all combat along the way, just to get the quest done faster.

  16. Andreas says:

    Love your blog posts! I couldn’t agree more. Please keep them coming. :)

  17. Winterpine says:

    I would like travel to be more
    1) optionally engaging. You can fly or port quickly to the destination if you want, or you can walk, but the walking involves some sort of challenge – mobs are okay, but something more epic or unusual might be fun. Too high/low level mobs = not fun.

    2) immediately rewarding. Rather than trying to get to the destination ASAP or using travel time to craft/read a book/use the bathroom/get a snack, etc., on top of engagement, I want loot. Rare world drops. Achievements. Wandering venders with valuable items for sale. And so on.

    3) communal. Have the challenges require a party. Or maybe your friends want to go along for the rare world drop along the way, too. There is rarely a social element to travel at this point in the game, but travel might be more fun if it wasn’t a solo activity.

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