A Cure for Questing

It is interesting to see in all these new and old MMO’s how the main mechanics for levelling have continually changed over time. Sometimes we see new developments and other times they seem to take back many of the older mechanics and gameplay styles. Looking at the market now, there is a huge variety of gameplay styles on how people and yet I can’t help thinking the more I play these MMO’s the more I believe that the simpler times, those before all these fancy new mechanics provided the better, more engaging experience.

Even though it seems the end game gets more of the focus after launch it is the levelling system that really gets people Interested. It creates that initial impression of a game, creates engagement either to the lore mechanics and community and helps people understand this new world. It is this system that new MMO’s rely on for gaining long-term players. If it fails at points then it hurts player retention. Now while I think the newer gameplay we have does give off a better first impression, especially to gamers outside of the genre, it ends up detracting from that special something the genre has.

What I’ve noticed with the development is that, until recently, there has been continuous development away from group style questing. Making the whole process easier for the individual and lessening the need and engagement with other players which is a shame really because it is these player interactions that make any MMO that much more enjoyable. The behemoths that spawned the genre have this initial social connection to thank for gaining the long-term playerbase it has. It is community that keeps people playing a game far longer than any amount of mechanic or content style and yet it is this that is slowly being corrupted in the path of questing “progress”.

mmo questing

The bell curve of questing as I see it.. a vast downward spiral. Of course all this development has been done in the name of fun; newer funner mechanics to keep people interested long enough to at least suck a few extra  pennies from but is this really the better way. You get some initial engagement but after a time this goes away in place of a resounding sense of loneliness and boredom. Two extremely bad combinations if you want people to keep playing. Now I do see a certain amount of improvement towards providing more opportunities for player interaction but with how self-sufficient we’ve become and the predominance of mechanics like shared kill credits they are interactions that are over in an instant. With everyone dispersing and going back to their own little, insular worlds. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Those simpler times and simpler mechanics just worked because they let people play together mostly how and where they wanted. The further we get with these newer, fancier question mechanics the more restrictions constantly get placed in between this required function. Then there is how Developers seem to be constantly cutting out any sort of gameplay that doesn’t fall within there design, like grinding mobs because it’s apparently no fun. I would rather a hundred hours of grinding with others than another session of being stuck, alone with this terrible story based questing. Enough with the focus on Fun, lets aim for engagement instead.

This does seem to be improving by adding more world elements that allow people to meet up and the advances with scaling characters has been great but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Those that have a slower pace to levelling, which is most players these days become isolated from the others. It is this space we need to see more improvements. I’ve talked before about removing character levels especially as a restrictive mechanic but I’m sure there are other ways to enable people to play together, if not well… then I think MMO’s risk becoming completely irrelevant in the current gaming environment wherein more and more mainstream games are providing a place for quick, easy cooperative play.

It makes me wonder where exactly the genre is going with the future though. Mob design is slowing improving and with the advances in computing we might get the next evolution of questing. Everquest Next and the storybricks design seemed an interesting proposition and I’m sure someone with iterate on the design of Guild Wars 2. Then there is the predominance of sandbox style gameplay that leaves it far more open to the player as to how they progress, I want more of that. Where else can the genre go now?

#MMO #ArmchairDeveloper #Questing

16 thoughts on “A Cure for Questing

  1. I don’t know. I think there’s a cadre of highly vocal, very articulate advocates for the “group” experience in MMOs and also for the “social” aspect of MMOs. The whole picture is hugely distorted by WoW, which, through a whole set of unplanned synergies that will probably never be repeated, formed the first and formative impression for a mass audience of what a real-time, online virtual social life might look like.

    Consequently we have a powerful received wisdom, promulgated by a very particular interest-group, that states that the be-all and end-all of Massively Multiple Roleplaying Games is social interaction and the true worth of those games is the friendships they foster. I don’t buy that. It doesn’t match my experience and I don’t believe it jibes with the way we’ve seen the genre develop over the last 15 or 20 years.

    I very clearly remember how strongly many players disliked the requirement to group with others back when it was deemed to be the best, if not the only, way to level. The changes on your graph did not, at least in my opinion, come about because developers had any dislike for the systems and practices that preceded them. Rather, they were an attempt to stem the tide of disapproval and dissatisfaction coming from the players, a very large number of whom appeared to want both to be able to solo more and to be better entertained.

    That said, I agree with most of what you’re saying. I like leveling and I believe it is integral to the genre. I like getting together with a group of people and just killing stuff. I find it intensely irritating when divisive game systems work against co-operation between players. On the other hand I *like* quests. What we need isn’t for quests to go away. It’s for games companies to hire writers who can write. We know it’s possible – look at TSW.

    In the end I think we just have to accept that MMOs cannot be all things to all players, any more than we expect to enjoy all movies or novels equally. We need games developers to make MMOs for specific audiences not just to throw in everything and hope for the best. That might mean all-quest MMOs, level-free MMOs, grinders, FFA PvP, anything. Make the games for an audience not for a demographic.

    Or best of all, let’s have designers who make the MMOs the way the creators of the genre made them – for themselves.

    • All my evidence is anecdotal and based on my own experiences. Can’t say any more than that. ALL I see is that those more social experiences tend to last longer overall. Looking at people talking about wow it regularly seems the only thing keeping them there, or coming back after an absence is a connection to the community and when that breaks down is when people leave for good. with raiding and such it’s also a more group focused experience although that has been subverted by the prevalence of group finders.

      The more I’ve seen this social connection lessen, the less these newer mmo’s seem to last.. hell we’ve gone from a 3 monther term to a 1 recently. And I’m not saying it is the most fundamentally of all things in an mmo, it could never be that although, I do kind of think it has an important part in the equation.

      When it comes to commercial viability though, especially in the short term is where I think the difference lies. A lot of people do like that model of content delivery and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done away with, just not treated as a replacement for everything in mmo’s. I do agree that mmo’s can’t be everything to everyone but the do try, and they certainly market them that one but so far they mainly seem focused on this more solo demographic.

  2. I do agree that the quest “path” thing is a bit railroading.. I’m also all for removing levels! 🙂
    Need to get the balance right between non-railroaded open world quests vs story telling and getting people to do stuff together vs letting people solo content. In my opinion all content should be solo-able, but it should depend more on player skill than character skill. End bosses should feel like you are playing “I Wanna Be the Guy’ level of difficulty if you try it alone. Outside Mabinogi (go solo the G3 final, 3 floors filled with horrors that can 1 hit you – death means starting again) I’ve not really found an MMO that does this.

    • I agree you need balance there. It’s good to provide that guidance and such which quests do, and do well. I’ve said as much before haha. And yeh there definitely needs to be a balance within the content as well, having places for groups to go as well as those just after a bit of solitary time

  3. I think the system Rift uses, to be able to mentor down to play with lower friends, is ideal. At least for PVE. I myself are a group player and hates playing alone. And i dont like grinding so I only level via pvp nowadays :):) I hope Mmo will thrive, love the genre ❤

    • That’s definitely a great model of theirs although, people tend to stick around at end game, especially for a while after they reach the cap. I would like their to be ways wherin those lower can go up… or maybe having more open ended zones that are completely devoid of levels where everyone can go together and earn on par rewards fr their character levels.

      There are so many other things they did right though. Those rifts are just everywhere and draw players towards them well, the.. hmm are the called adventures? that take you around a zone with a group.

      And I do actually like grinding, when it’s with others. It gives you a lot of time to talk together and even make friends from elsewhere too. I loved Firefall for this when Thumping was the main content for resources, placing one down would draw people to it and you’d start chatting with each other.. then go on to the next spot. After a night you’d know this person well and had made a friend to catch up with at other times.

  4. Grouping up when done right (and more so with the right people although that can add a thrill to the proceedings as well…)can be one of the most rewarding experiences in MMO play, I have also found it is also a very unnecessary tool nowadays, I would say I solo 95-99% of the time…if I could group more often I would. The biggest block to this is level and now, finally in an active kin, most other players are at cap or near and I am halfway! But boy do I enjoy the ‘leveling’ and ‘grinding’ and the sense of achievement that imparts. I enjoy quests and well written quests are even better but raids/instances can also be fun when grouped…

    MMO is a smorgasbord of possibilities and unfortunately most players seem to prefer the boring commercial white bread and cheese sandwich triangles to the many other flavors on offer and this looks to have taken over the majority of play whether that is commercially viable for game companies to solely cater to is another question…

    Look at how successful craft markets and high end food products do nowadays and then tell me that the world will be swamped in plastic cheese and tasteless soggy white bread!

    • I enjoy that too, it’s just a shame there is so many restrictions in place to stop people form playing together.
      I am definitely hopeful for the future though, so many amazing games in development and soon to be released. MMO’s I’m really excited for

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  9. I can’t believe I missed this post when it came out. Sorry I’m so late to the party. This is a topic near and dear to my heart as it’s one of the main selling points of MMO’s that many recent MMO’s seem to forget.

    For me, a lot of what makes an MMO good for teaming is how well the team mechanics work. Being able to level down and level up so that my friends and I can all play together, should be a basic requirement in EVERY MMO. Shared mission xp that’s just slightly better when teaming is a good thing. Not enough to blow through the leveling process, or make solo’ing a terrible grind, but enough so that teaming is considered a good way to level. Solid chat functions are a must. The ability to auto complete missions that multiple team members have, that way you don’t have to choose to team up to do the content over running it solo. Scaling difficulty sliders for instanced missions, that way you can set it to steam roll with a big team or up the challenge level for the more hardcore. And lastly, ease of travel to help get a team together and play. None of these are hard or crazy things to do. Many MMO’s have variations of them now but don’t seem to get them right.

    When Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, I recall that open beta didn’t have the option to invite to team in the first few weeks. It really set the tone for me for what they thought about teaming. Given that almost all of the leveling content was geared for solo play it could not hold my interest. I need my community to take my bad jokes!

    • You’d think the social and group mechanics would be extremely important feature of mmo’s but the do often don’t get enough attention. Makes a huge difference, even if it is only that first period as that almost sets the tone for the entirety of the game.
      There are a lot of great things out there, just not screwing groups for a start by giving that shared xp and not increasing quest goals based on numbers.. Maybe just difficulty.

      Gw2 was funny in the beginning as, due to the broken overflow mechanic you couldn’t even play with friends which was a shame considering the more open style of questing.
      ESO was very instanced, screwing groups and there’s do many more recent examples.

      I think the more important element is having content that, no matter the level people can group up and enjoy. Also, chat functionality like TSW where you can make your own channels as well as a few other elements is great.

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