Saturday, July 12, 2008

MMO Feature Wish List: Quest Rewards for All

One of the problems I have with quests is that they tend to inhibit grouping. People generally don't feel inclined to run around helping other people out on their quests if they aren't getting rewarded themselves. And when there are 5000+ quests in the game, its sometimes hard to find people who are on the same quest as you. In EverQuest II, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the quests involve multiple steps (some individual quest steps in EverQuest II would be entire quest chains in their own right if they had been implemented in World of Warcraft.)

Sharing quests is a hackish way to work around this, but it doesn't work too well, since all it really does is remove the need to find the quest giver.

The most reliable way to find groups in EQ2 is to not bother with your quests; if you go on an instance run instead, there are far more people inclined to help. That's because they get something out of it too.

What if the game were designed such that all group members get some small reward (XP, AA, and/or faction) every time a group member advances in their quest (both by helping them advance one step, as well as bringing a quest to the (Completed) state)? If that were the case, I think more people would be inclined to get together simply to help each other knock off updates.

No existing MMORPG could add this type of feature, since they weren't designed around it. However, if future MMORPGs are going to continue utilizing quests as the primary means of advancement, this issue is something they are going to have to address.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

I guess I'm back in EQ2 again. Now that Akshobhya has (finally) made it to level 80 (I know, I know, what took me so long), I'm actually having fun with the game, running instances, and preparing to start the dreaded Epic Weapon quest. Last night, my monk led five stalwart Explorers of Legend into the Crypt of Agony. We were going to be six but one person disappeared. Maybe he freaked out at the prospect of a monk tanking with a templar healing him and ran for the hills. :)

But CoA is a straightforward tank-and-spank instance and doesn't require a PhD in tankiology so we easily conquered the zone. Unfortunately, nothing good dropped, but it was still fun. I had fun because we were grouping, not taking everything too seriously, not min-maxing the fun out of everything, though still putting in the effort to win, together.

I missed that -- getting from 70-80 was extremely lonely. It was one long WoW-style quest arc grind. Hopefully, Sony has something new in mind for the fifth expansion -- if they raise the level cap again and give us another ten levels of WoW-style questing and faction grinds, I probably won't make the effort. There's a reason why some of us play EQ2 instead of WoW, and it wasn't that we couldn't figure out how to install the competition.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Replaying Past Story Arcs

On MmoreInsight, there was an interesting discussion (way back in May) about having worlds where, over time, the storyline would progress. I've expressed a desire for a more episodic design to the game worlds as well, even if that means the server might be up for a few months at a time and shut down while the game creators work on the next "episode's" content (perhaps players would even pay for episode by episode instead of subscription fees.)

Kanthalos commented:

The problem with having the world change is that you are effectively cutting off a number of your customers from content that everyone else got to see and participate in.

And that's a valid concern. Many people, who are paying for the content, feel they shouldn't have to miss out on something cool, just because they happened to be on vacation at the time, or whatever. But its also clear that many of us want living, breathing worlds, and if that means quests get removed over time, and zones change, and we miss out on some of those, than so be it. And those two player demands (not wanting to miss out on content vs wanting a world that can change) are hard to reconcile.

City of Heroes has a time travel feature that lets you replay previous story arcs. I haven't seen the feature in person myself, but I wish that type of feature was more prevalent in the MMO industry. I think it would really help work around this type of issue.

One way you could implement this type of game mechanic, more appropriate for a fantasy game, might be by introducing NPC bards or historians that tell tales in taverns about heroic events from the past. The way the system might work is: the player approaches the bard and asks about an event that occurred in the past, like how a group of heroes (or villains) awakened the Sleeper. Instead of simply listening to the tale, however, the player (and friends) would get to play it out in an instanced replica of that zone the way it used to be (more or less). The zone might even scale to the size and level of your group (it, after all, is just a daydream), to keep it challenging.

Of course, loot complicates things. It wouldn't very immersive if people could bring back fabled drops from what is supposed to be a dream. But maybe another reward system could be created -- playing through instanced versions of previous realms gives you "inspirations" or "insights" or accumulate some kind of point total that can be traded in at some kind of item vendor - perhaps for consumables that give you bonuses in the "real life" zones, or even open up quests that take place in the "real world".

If the reward system was compelling enough (maybe I'm the only one who thinks farming old content for consumables that would allow me to better take on the current raid or instance du jour is a good idea), it could be a fun way to keep old content relevant as the story moves on, zones change, and the world evolves.

I think EQ2, WOW, and most other MMORPGs would be a lot better if they would just rip off City of Heroes more.