I 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.