I recently read an interview that Richard Garriott (Father of the Ultima Series and modern MMOs). In this interview (sorry can’t remember where I saw it), he mentioned how MMOs haven’t really changed in the last 10 years. And though I didn’t think he was particularly correct (more like 6 years as UO was drastically different than EQ), he was on to something in particular. The three main points he brought up were quests (and how they are normally meaningless fetch quests), AI (or lack thereof), and player choice (which I think has generally changed for the worse).
He then went on to describe his quest system for Tabula Rasa where choices that you make in the quest will make you branch down various paths in the quest line. So for instance, two merchants will give you pretty much the same quest, and depending on how you chose to complete that quest, only one merchant will give the reward…. and then let you go further down his track, whereas you will never be allowed to return to the previous merchant and get more quests. Now this isn’t really that different than some quests in modern games, after all, EQ2 has a few quest lines that you can only get by raising your faction with a group to a certain level. And by raising the faction of one side, you are lowering the faction of the other so you can’t get the other’s quests… (sometimes you can go back and reverse faction to get the other side, but is usually too time consuming and not worth the reward but this isn’t always). This is the same basic premise, however, I think his is more indepth than just a few random quests that do it. I think he wants every quest in the game to work this way and to really give the player a truly unique feel in the story of his character…
This really got me thinking about numbers… what marketing guys love to tout. I think EQ2 probably has around 3500 quests currently in the game. Most of them aren’t really worth the time, but also there are race, city, class, and faction specific quests. In all, the average EQ2 player likely only does about 650 quests by the time they hit level 70 (the current cap). For percentage freaks, this is 19% of all quests that a player will do, and I would bet somewhere around 66% can be done by an individual without switching cities, or factions. This is really a staggering number, and I think fairly accurate for most MMOs… I bet WoW % is higher, but they emphasize the racial/city differences more than most games and likely have similar completion numbers, though more lik 40-50% completable quests by any individual character, thus players are doing more on average, just not getting as many to chose from with each char.
The problem is that all MMOs these days don’t give the player to choose which quests he does other than “this one is worth it, this one is not” most choices are really tied into class and race, which if you ask me should have little to do with the quest lines (yes I think having class & race specific questlines are nice, but not at the expense of choice). So instead of choosing to split up the player population amongst all the cities that they tend to do, why not minimize cities, start players off with the same quests, but have them fork in different directions. So that two 70s may not have as many overlapping quests. This creates an issue of finding groups as people like to group for quests, but what if everyone who works on a quest gets the reward for it or not? Regardless of if they actually had, or even could have, the quest. Maybe just reduce the reward a bit.
This type of handcrafted story play could be immensely more rewarding to players, not just for more interesting and unique characters, but also you could choose to have much larger rewards for those quests to reduce grind. Current MMOs (even WoW to some degree) intend you to do many quests so they give you lwoer rewards and thus lower the worth of them. However, if you are setting up the quests from the beginning so that players will only see 20% of them with each char, then you can plan your quests accordingly and make each individual reward much better.
Food for thought at least.