Tag jeff kaplan

All your quests suck (almost)

questingI just wrote a long version of this entry, it was just too bloody long so I decided to edit it down. Instead of going through Kaplan’s keynote point by point (Scott Jennings did such a great job of that already) or coming up with ways to improve quests by improving the game world (Dusty Monk has done that for me), I’ll just sum up my thoughts on quest design with stating that quests in a MMO suck. They are a cheap way of creating immersion. And very, very frail.

  • Quests are a great way of creating content and control where you want the player to go and what to do. It’s a good way to teach people the game and lead them towards that magic place called ”end game”. But if you don’t have enough quests on the way there, the player will get confused and angry. Here’s looking at you, Age of Conan. Quests might make ”easy” content, but you will also teach players to rely on quests for fun.
  • Quests are very sensitive to changes in the game mechanics, such as changes in the levelling curve. If you don’t change all the content when you start to offer more XP per quest or kill, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and your game (while perhaps entertaining to a lot of people) will be broken and not working the way you intended from the start.
  • Quests can kill immersion. Quests to kill certain named characters become pointless when that character will respawn a few minutes later. Kill-quests can become annoying if the mob that you are supposed to kill has a really frustrating ability. Collection quests are a huge pain in the behind if they don’t make sense (the good old ”why doesn’t this bear have paws”-problem).
  • There can only be so many quests. Players that play a lot will run out of quests to do. Daily quests are a good cop out, since you can sneak them in as ”real content”, but sooner or later the player will be bored with them as well. Then they will cry for more quests. You have a constant desire for more content to fill, while more and more players become confused and bored.
  • Did I mention that daily quests are a cop out?

If you make a list of problems with quests, you should always have a solution at hand. If you don’t, you’ll get flamed (”rofl, try making a better game yourself, nub”). Luckily I do, a solution that I find quite elegant.

Simply, design your game primarily without quests. Make sure that even if you take away the quests, players have something to do. If you want quests in your game, for story reasons or because you know that’s what some people will expect, do it after you got a solid game without them. That way, if the players do run out of quests, they will still have a lot of stuff to do. If you do break them because you changed the levelling curve, or don’t have enough of them to carry a player from his/her first step in your world to the level cap, you don’t have to worry that much – you can always take your time and fix things for the better without having the community breathing down your neck, jumping ship to find new quest based MMOs to bitch about.

Some people will always complain about a lack of new content, so even if you skip quests completely or do not put much focus on them you will need to add stuff to your MMO continously. Of course, of course. But if you look at games like EVE Online, Ryzom or Darkfall, people are enjoying themselves without having to rely on the developers to constantly feed them new updates. The missions in EVE are mainly a way to make money, the missions in Ryzom are horrible and can be skipped 99.9% of the time (you really only need them to level your fame with various factions, they don’t pay nearly well enough or give XP worth the hassle) and Darkfall was never intended as a questing game – it’s built for players keeping themselves occupied by, well, chopping other players to pieces. Or “interacting”, whatever you want to call it.

Without quests in, for example, World of Warcraft there really isn’t much else to do. Battlegrounds quickly become repetitive or a grind, crafting isn’t immersive enough to stand on its own (EVE, Vanguard and Ryzom really got WoW beat there) and just doing rep grinding over and over isn’t very entertaining for long. Quests used to lead to raids, like the quests from the Hydraxian Waterlords or the Onyxia quest chain in Vanilla or the Vials of Eternity-quest in TBC, but Blizzard decided to not implement any in Wrath of the Lich King. Confusing? Yup.

Build a world first, then spice it up a bit with quests. Don’t rely on the quests to do the immersion work for you.

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I’m in your game, stealing your subs

rogue

As predicted, Kaplan moving from World of Warcraft to the new MMO did stir up some new speculation in the MMO-blogosphere about what IP Blizzard’s next-gen MMO might actually be based on. Tobold didn’t speculate much, but did mention that there is a chance that it will be pretty raid- or achievement-heavy. Stropp did some more thinking on the subject and weighted the various options against each other, guessing that it’s actually a new IP in the works.

One of the reasons for Stropp’s theory is that Blizzard will be aiming for new subscribers, instead of taking subs from World of Warcraft.

I strongly doubt that either Diablo or Starcraft will be the subjects of the new game. Diablo is too similar to WoW in too many ways, and will be too much of a competitor. I’d think Blizzard would want to open up new subscriptions, not take from World of Warcraft.

Starcraft on the other hand would offer a different experience, but could still steal WoW subs. But the problem here is that Starcraft 2 is still in active development and will be for years to come. I doubt Blizzard want to jeopardize that.

Even though it makes sense, and even if I still believe that the MMO is based on Starcraft I am open for the possibility of a brand new IP, I don’t think Blizzard fear taking subs from World of Warcraft. In fact, I think that we might be jumping the gun a bit. Some have speculated that the new game will be revealed at Blizzcon this year, but I think it’s highly doubtful – I personally think that they will announce the new expansion, waiting at least another year before revealing what their next great project is, allowing the next World of Warcraft-expansion get as much publicity as possible.

I also think there are a few points to consider, points that Blizzard themselves are probably aware of.

  1. At some point, World of Warcraft’s popularity will peak. I’m not saying it’s happened or that it’s even close, remember that Wrath of the Lich King hasn’t even been released in China yet. But peak it will and at that point it will slowly start to lose subscribers.
  2. At some point, World of Warcraft will start to really show its age. It will celebrate its fifth birthday this year in the US, which in the fast-moving games industry means that it’s really starting to get old. Ancient, in fact. It’s still a great and popular game and Blizzard keep evolving it, but sooner or later it will hit a brick wall when the engine can’t go much further. At that point Blizzard have the choice to either update the whole thing, which has been mentioned by Kaplan in various interviews, or settle for what they currently have and just build upon that.
  3. At some point, another game will start stealing subscribers from World of Warcraft for real. It hasn’t happened yet, even though many of us did believe Warhammer Online would be the game that could seriously put a dent in WoW’s gazillion subscription numbers. Sooner or later it’s bound to happen, even though I can’t really see a currently announced game accomplish that (perhaps Star Wars: The Old Republic, but probably not).

The new MMO won’t be released in a long time. We’ll see Starcraft 2 (the whole trilogy) and Diablo 3 before that and World of Warcraft will at least get one more expansion before the next-gen MMO goes into beta. Taking the points above into consideration, I don’t think Blizzard sees anything wrong with stealing their own subscribers – it’s better that they do it than someone else. World of Warcraft, which will stay the top dog in the MMO-genre for a long, long time, will sooner or later start to lose its current subscribers, and I think that Blizzard will be there to pick them right up again with a new game.

Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo or a new IP – it really doesn’t matter. Of course, this is all speculation. Somewhere at the Blizzard headquarters is a design document, a formula, that reveals all their hidden secrets and plans. We need someone to break in and steal it and leak the whole thing to the press.

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Tigole moves on to…what?

"When I snap, I kill him first." Jeff Kaplan, Leipzig, 2007.

"When I snap, I kill him first." Jeff Kaplan, Leipzig, 2007.

Jeff Kaplan, also known as the blue poster Tigole and Game Director of World of Warcraft, has left WoW to work on Blizzard’s upcoming, still unannounced MMO, leaving Allen Brack and Tom Chilton to deal with operations. It’s not really strange to see him go – it seems like Blizz has been phasing out him out during the last couple of months, getting ready to move him over to the new MMO full-time officially when the time felt right (probably around the same time as the community has gotten used to, and already fed up with, Greg Street/Ghostwalker).

It’s nice to see Blizzard making the move in the open, though. It proves that work on that mystery-MMO, which we’ve hungrily been waiting for information about, is in full swing and that they feel that they can be open enough about it to openly admit that Kaplan is involved with it (if there ever was any doubt that he’d be). Suddenly, the next Blizz-MMO is back in the semi-spotlight, and speculation is once again free to stir up the Interwebs.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what I will do after the jump. Speculate, that is, not stir up any Interwebs.

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