A Revolutionary Step?

There is a lot of discussion when a new MMO pops in on whether its advancements to our beloved genre are iterant evolutionary steps or something revolutionary.  World of Warcraft was often seen as the perfect evolutionary game coming off of the Everquest-type MMO.  I think there was one revolutionary step that World of Warcraft had that is often overlooked: quests.

Lots of RPGs and MMOs had quests, but World of Warcraft took the concept and ran with it.  It changed the MMO landscape forever.  No longer were people supposed to go grind and putz around in the zone made for their level.  They now had a keen purpose.  The quest-based MMO design demarcated a term called grind.  If a player had to go out and kill ten rats to gain a level it was grind.  If an NPC rewarded a player with quest text and a quest reward for killing ten rats, it was not.  Could the MMO genre imagine a PvE-MMO with purpose that was not saturated with quests in every zone?

ArenaNet can in Guild Wars 2.  In a EuroGamer interview Eric Flannum (who brought about one of my favorite sleeper hits, Sacrifice) says:

I think I can safely say that you won’t see a single exclamation mark floating above a character’s head in Guild Wars 2.  We actually don’t have a traditional RPG/MMO quest system.  Instead what we’ve got are Events. Think of them as group-orientated activities. This is one of the many things that will encourage the player to explore the world – you can wander through and never quite know what you’re going to see. You might come across a fortress that’s being attacked by centaurs, or it might be that the centaurs attacked half an hour before you got there and they hold it now. You might start walking along a road you’ve walked a hundred times and suddenly there’s a caravan travelling along that road that you may not have seen, and you can go help that caravan out.

Could this be a revolutionary step to PvE MMO gameplay such as the one World of Warcraft brought us?  It’s purpose without focus.  Instead of figuring out who is on what quest, a player just looks for Event activity. 

The similarity to Public Quests is not lost on me.  Yet, it seemed that Public Quests never really broke the shackles away from a World of Warcraft-like quest system.  The Public Quests were static, repetitive, and did not affect the world.  Allied NPCs in Public Quests were usually disappointing garnishment that really did not help players.  With Guild Wars 2, Events will be discoveries where the Event’s story is told organically through NPCs and changes in the world.  They have even been hinted to be scalable to a degree.  (The completist in me does worry that I might not get to experience them all.)

If the Event system comes about as depicted, it will be a new hallmark in PvE gaming.  Players will be expected to sign on and just play.  If the Event system is well designed players find themselves in a zone crossing story depicting the centaur menace or a dragon’s siege.  A player would not waste time with grouping and planning out a course to efficiently tackle quests.  They could just flow.

like Kane, from Kung-Fu

28 thoughts on “A Revolutionary Step?”

  1. So… the world might be more “alive”. Sounds good on the surface. I wonder how it will actually play out.

  2. Does indeed sound like moving PQs, which is certainly not a bad thing. I think MMOs are going to be moving away from ‘tasks in my personal quest log’ to ‘do focused stuff in a world, with whoever may be around’. Quests, due to chaining or pre-reqs, just limit the whole ‘multiplayer’ part of MMOs, and it’s good to see that the PQ idea is moving away from that.

  3. It sounds interesting and I want to see how it gets implemented, but that buzzing in the back of my head is a reminder that we ended up with exclamation points over the heads of NPCs because a good chunk of the population didn’t want to spend their limited game time hunting around trying to find something to do.

  4. Yup, it’s all about direction. Can the system/UI/NPCs direct players toward action?

    One of the big suggestions in WAR closed beta that I kept hammering and hammering was to give players better direction towards the PQs. Give them reason to seek out PQs… even just something simple on the map showing an “active” PQ.

  5. Honestly I don’t really see many people actively roaming across the world trying to find if there’s something to do. But:

    1- It could be the -only- thing to do, more or less, so that’s the game.
    2- I could be wrong and the E’s will come out of the woodwork.

  6. One tricky thing about global events is that they’re generally balanced for X participating players. If it’s midnight and there are only Y players on, does the event just autofail?

    You could imagine the developers adding some sort of balancing code: if there are X players in the zone, then have X centaurs show up to attack. But what if only half of those X players are participating in the defense?

    What if it’s an Alterac Valley type of thing, where the players’ side starts losing, and players get demoralized and stop helping, and then the players’ side starts losing more, and it’s a death spiral? (Or, conversely, the players’ side starts winning, and everybody joins in, and you can’t find enough monsters to kill?)

    It worries me that I can’t think of a good way to make this work properly.

    1. I would design it such that it was cyclical and NPCs could be used to “balance” things out. There are better things for the system to watch than how many players are about… like how fast the centaurs are mowing down NPC defenders, how fast are the centaurs dying, etc.

      If nobody helps and the centaurs win the town, so what? Eventually NPCs will retake the town, and the cycle would begin anew. The goal is to get players to want to take back the town instead. Direction…

  7. If they can pull that off effectively (it would be easy if they stick with the instanced world of GW) it will offer the cure to my current mmo meh. Everything else sounds incredible – dragons and undead as enemies, old enemies now banding together as playable races – awesome.

  8. If events are abundant, then I doubt direction will be a big problem. Players will be guiding each other to current events, afterall.

    I love the basic idea of focusing on happenstance and accidental experiences. The basis of all great adventures stories is how characters deal with unpredictable events, rather than how they conquer fore-known challenges. It should feel more adventurous.

    The challenge is to tie many, if not most, of the player’s experiences together. The events and experiences have to be connected somehow for them to feel like a story, an adventure.

  9. It does sound interesting, though hopefully it’s more than just a castle switching between two states of Contested and Under Siege

    [quote]The Public Quests were static, repetitive, and did not affect the world.[/quote]

    This is one of my big disappointments with WAR’s PQs. I had hoped that the world would actually have some dynamic bits. Unfortunately, WAR is just as static as WoW.

  10. If done right this could make a huge stride in the direction of next generation of MMO’s.
    But will it be the ‘revolutionary’ step? No, I don’t think so.
    It’s just not that easy. WoW did more that just quests that made it what it was.

    And as such, that next generation of MMO needs to do more than one single step.
    But this is a step, non the less.

    But in my opinion MMO’s have to jettison levels, classes, and other baggage from years long since gone, other restrictive game mechanics in favor of ones which do the job better.

    Like this one as an example.

    But we are getting there, slowly, but surely.


  11. Maybe it’s just me, but the hype machine is going a little mad with this game, and is not really showing much. Until the trailer, we hadn’t seen more than concept art, and the trailer may have ingame footage, but without gameplay we don’t know what that is like. The footage in the trailer looks mainly like environments and some minor character movements. The comments on massively are going ape for this, and we are only getting hype (just like with warhammer) from the company. Hasn’t this game been in development since 2007 or so? It’s not like i want it to fail or people to not enjoy it, but i’m tired of game companies talking about how awesome and ground breaking the game is without more than talk. That said, the “discovering” quests does sound just like public quests, and if it’s in an open world, will it be camped? People will look on the net for info, and if there are rewards worth it, they will wait for it and camp it. If only one person/group can do it, then it will worse than public quests.
    Sort of off the subject, has anyone else noticed the public quest like areas in Champions Online? Part of a quest, but many can do it and it can also be done solo, just faster and easier with more people.

  12. “But in my opinion MMO’s have to jettison levels, classes, and other baggage from years long since gone, other restrictive game mechanics in favor of ones which do the job better.”

    There are many level-less, class-less and baggage-less games out there right now, and there have been around for a few years. Few people play them, comparatively. Surprisingly most people are quite comfortable with levels and classes. This is not an appeal to the power of the masses, but observable fact.

    We’re barking at the wrong tree. Levels, classes and most of what we call “baggage” are not the great evil rotting the core of MMOs. They’re not “restrictive” mechanics because all mechanics can be (and usually are) “restrictive” by definition.

    Public quests, live events, the sort of free-range event-seeking exploration GW2 is suggesting, Blizzard’s phasing tech, etc… are all attempts to tackle the main overarching problem, which isn’t levels and classes, but the pure incompatibility we’re having between the ideas of persistent and dynamic worlds. It’s not a problem that’s gonna be solved by brute force, more storage space, more bandwidth or better code; it’s gonna be solved by design, but we haven’t done it yet.

    1. How many times have you not been able to play with somebody, simply because of levels?

      How many times have you gotten your arse kicked simply because of levels?

      How many missed opportunities and friends lost does it take for it to become a ‘restrictive’ mechanic?

      It is clearly self evident that levels cause problems, unnecessarily so. Don’t you think it could be done better?

      And yes, I realize some games have level-less systems, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. Not only do you need a progression system that actually works, but it has to be implemented correctly too.
      Thus far, nothing has quite measured up.

      While everything is to some degree restrictive, and everything could be better, levels, and too a lesser extent classes, stick out like a sore thumb.

      (note: I’m only talking about levels and classes in multiplayer games, as the goal is social by in large, in which they a ultimately unsuited for.)

      My point is, why keep ANY mechanic that causes such evident problems if it can be avoided?

      I’d rather someone try a different mechanic and fail, then go with a mechanic that everybody knows is broken. At least then we have the possibility to learn something.


  13. Ravious wrote:
    If an NPC rewarded a player with quest text and a quest reward for killing ten rats, it was not [a grind].

    No, it didn’t seem like a grind.

    Back when I started playing text MUDs around the dawn of time, I didn’t mind slaughtering things wholesale. It wasn’t until later that people started to tire of “bunny bashing” and wanted something different. This sentiment reached a critical mass around the time EQ1 became old hat.

    Questing is the same grind at the heart, though, just broken up a bit more. Some developers are pointing this out, saying that the new grind is the same as the old grind once you get into it. Hell, the name of this blog is mocking quests, because in EQ1 people killed a lot more than only 10 rats.

    Ravious also wrote:
    If nobody helps and the centaurs win the town, so what? Eventually NPCs will retake the town, and the cycle would begin anew.

    So, why take back the town if it’ll get taken back anyway? What is the motivation for taking the town? Why am I even in the world if it’ll run just fine without me? Yeah, sure, Sharpbeak will get saved even if I’m not out there saving him, but there was at least the flimsy illusion that I was important to the process.

    This type of system reminds me of Tabula Rasa‘s bases that could get captured and overran by the enemy. Frankly, this was more annoying than indicative of a “living, breathing world” because it could happen at pretty much any time. It was really not fun to grab some quests, go out, then find that my quest giver had been slaughtered mercilessly in the time it took me to go across the map, added to the fact that a single person couldn’t take back a base.

    Not to slag on GW2, just a few thoughts that came to mind. Hopefully the designers will keep things like this in mind.

  14. @Yoh:

    “How many times have you not been able to play with somebody, simply because of levels?”

    Myself, personally, very rarely. I’m an efficient player and I tend to progress faster than average, if time permits. In addition to this, as far as “playing the game” (aka, going out, questing, etc) I’m a solo player so it doesn’t affect me. My socialization usually comes through roleplay, which bypasses levels entirely.

    “How many times have you gotten your arse kicked simply because of levels?”

    I don’t keep an accurate tally. I’m not a great PvP player on MMOs (but good at FPSs, that’s the flip). Whenever I get my ass kicked it’s because of evident lack of mad PvP skillz rather than the levels involved.

    “How many missed opportunities and friends lost does it take for it to become a ‘restrictive’ mechanic?”

    If someone de-friends me because we can’t do stuff together in-game, I’m probably better off not being friends with that kind of fickle person. I’m not being facetious, I mean this.

    “It is clearly self evident that levels cause problems, unnecessarily so. Don’t you think it could be done better?”

    Of course I do. I think -everything- could be done better -by default-. But I disagree with the rest. I think the only truly self-evident thing is that some people and some types of players clearly have problems with the idea of levels but (to me) this is because of their own issues (lack of free time maybe. “must-group-or-nothing-makes-sense” playstyle, very slow levelers in general, etc…. all valid issues, incidentally). It’s clear the game doesn’t fit them, or they don’t fit the game.

    What I suggest is that since it’s also quite clear that most players, by far, don’t have this problem with levels, only a subset of players do, is it really a problem with the mechanic itself? Or with the players being unable (or, hell, unwilling) to try and adapt to it better?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that games should be for everybody, and the more people that plays games, the better. But I also know you can’t take this too far because by trying to please everyone you’ll end up pleasing no one. So yeah make it better by all means. I’m all for that. But what’s the point of retooling or eliminating a proven mechanic which 75%+ of players have absolutely no problem with? Just to be different? For variety’s sake? Yeah, variety’s sake has some value, but not that much.

    “My point is, why keep ANY mechanic that causes such evident problems if it can be avoided?”

    Because the problems might not be evident, or because for a large portion of players, they’re not even problems at all. What some people rightfully see as aggravation, some others rightfully see it as challenge; to me the best option would be to try and strike a balance between the two, and this is something that historically has been done. The common solution seems to be to compromise for both sides, as in “Don’t get rid of levels, but make leveling take less time and be less painful”(*).

    A happy medium.

    This is a bit of a pointless argument (levels are evil because they separate people) because even if we got rid of levels there will always be something that will differentiate players and characters from each other. There will always be a metric, an element or a mechanic to differentiate and distance players, because without that distance you can’t have progression and if you rip progression the game dies.

    Fine, take levels out, but then it will turn into money being the differentiator, or skills, or items or crafting progression, or player skill or time spent or whatever you want. One of the big meta elements of these types of games is that players do very much like progressing, being different from other players and feeling superior to other players. Leveling is the symptom of this, not the cause.

    I feel for the people who are left behind by friends as they level because of lack of free time, other obligations or what have you. I really do, because it sucks when RL intersects like that, but the solution is not to blame the game or demand sweeping changes just so these people can keep up, particularly when sweeping changes aren’t needed. At that point you can either suck it up and accept you’ll be inevitably left behind and you no longer have 14 hours a day to play like you used to (something we’ve all done), or find some more free time to dedicate to it.

    I’m not a philosophical objectivist, but I don’t believe we should be punishing players for -succeeding- at progressing at a quicker pace on behalf of those who can’t.

    I’ve gone off the deep end again! ;)

    “I’d rather someone try a different mechanic and fail, then go with a mechanic that everybody knows is broken.”

    Hardly the case and hardly broken. If the whole concept of levels was -truly and utterly- broken like you suggest, I’m not gonna say you’d see all level-less games being successful instead of leveled ones, but you would definitely see more of them up there. I’m not taking just about sales. If levels were truly and horribly broken as a mechanic, those games would be niche by now. If level-less was the way to go we would have seen at least -one- major level-less hit (and yes, one could make a case for EVE and GW falling in this category, and it’s worth examining).

    This industry does a lot of things wrong, but one of the things it does right is that it tends to be nicely efficient about getting rid of truly broken or outdated stuff just by iteration alone. That alone, the fact that we’re still churning out games with levels, says to me they’re not broken.

    The concept of levels needs to be rethought and fine tuned? Of course. Always.
    Can they be made better? No doubt. Always.
    Can other things be tried at the same time? Yes, by all means.
    Are they a broken mechanic? No, not by a long shot.

    (*) Applies only on this side of the Pacific.

    1. …. You completely missed the point.

      First, the questions were rhetorical. I wasn’t looking for an answer.
      They may not apply to you, because the problem is very specific in nature.

      It applies only to social dynamics. If your not social, then it won’t apply to you. (hench, this is the broken part)
      And when I stated it was self evident, I didn’t mean obvious.
      I mean there is reasonable evidence to show that there is a problem, and that evidence is easy to find.

      Ask these questions to any social MMO player, and you will likely find uniform answers.

      During you ‘rebuttal’, you consistently went on the notion of time. Saying that somebody with less time to spend should just ‘suck it up’ when it comes to playing with their friends, is pure BS.

      It doesn’t matter how long they play the game, or when they started, if they want to play with their friends, then they should F**n be able to.
      No if’s, no but’s about it.

      I’d like to know just where out of your ass did you put that “75%+ of players have absolutely no problem with it”.
      Sure people use it, as it does do in essence what is is supposed too, progression.
      Hell, I’ll be the first to say it works as far a progression goes. Quite well in fact. And in that sense, it isn’t broken.

      But toleration should not be confused with with content.
      Just because people don’t fly of the handles, or all stop playing, doesn’t mean that there isn’t any problem.

      And it is possible that they put up with it because they don’t know any better. A kind of ‘grass is greener’ sort of thing.

      You kind of lost me with the “differentiate and distance players” thing, as it makes no sense. What are you talking about?

      Yeah, players are different. But what separates them shouldn’t be artificial differences, such as time, money, or items.
      But rather who they are, and how they play the game.
      That’s it.

      If one player beats another, regardless who feels “superior” or not, the determing factor should be nothing other than skill. While other things such as time, items and knowledge should factor into it.

      This way it’s a level playing field, right from the get go.
      It’s a contest of wits then, not time, not money.
      It’s hardly punishing players for succeeding. If anything, winning via skill alone makes the victory all the more rewarding.

      And on your last point, bad ideas get propagated too.
      Look at religion. It is so obviously full of crap, and yet it continues.

      The industry is fairly good at propagating good ideas, but this isn’t to say that they aren’t also good at copying some stuff also.
      Because when you copy something, you not only copy the good ideas, you copy the bad ones too.
      (It is also possible that they just don’t see the problem. Look up ‘rose-colored glasses dilemma’ on my blog)

      Levels aren’t “horribly” broken, or “evil”, nor do I pretend they are. But there is a problem, and that’s worth addressing.

      If anybody could come up with a level system that didn’t have these very specific problems, then I would have no problem with it anymore.
      But until that happens, I say “let try something different, lets at least ‘try'”.

      (of course, all of this has little or nothing to do with my problem with grind, which is also associated with levels, but that’s another kettle of fish)

      Note: This thread seems to be spiraling out of control.
      (partly because I’m so argumentative)
      So I think I’ll have to put forth a formal deconstruction on the matter on my blog, as to better analyze the source of the problem.
      As it seems apparent that not everyone can see the problem as clearly as I do.
      (regardless how we go about solving the problem)

      Maybe tomorrow.


  15. Yoh:

    “Ask these questions to any social MMO player, and you will likely find uniform answers.”

    Then you’re essentially, in a roundabout way, kinda agreeing with me. The problem is how this subset of players feel or can deal about the mechanic, not with the mechanic itself.

    Hell, even if you wanna go by Bartle’s archetypes, that’s my 75%: Achievers, Killers and Explorers tend to not have many problems with levels.

    Of course it can always be made to work better and make it more tolerable for Socializers but, hypothetically, if we ever get to a point where we have to say “Do we scrape the whole thing for the benefit of the 25%, or do we leave it as it is for the benefit of the 75%”, you know which one I’d pick. But (thankfully) it doesn’t work that way.

    “It doesn’t matter how long they play the game, or when they started, if they want to play with their friends, then they should F**n be able to.
    No if’s, no but’s about it.”

    I disagree. There are a lot of if’s and but’s about it. If there’s a group of four friends in a progression game and one of them takes a break for a couple of months, then comes back and complains he can’t play with his friends anymore because they have advanced, why should we go out of our way to cater to that guy?

    I’m more than open to suggestions, in fact I think CoX’s sidekicking is a great system, but if there’s no system like that… I’m sorry. Why tend to the needs of people who, for any reason, did -not- play the game? We should be tending to players, not non-players. I can sympathize with that guy a lot, and I usually do because RL gets in the middle for everyone, but that lack of time to play is the player’s problem, not the game’s problem and certainly not other players’ problem.

    If those other three friends accrued two months of progress (however you wanna measure it, I’m not even talking about levels) and then the fourth guy comes back and we make it so that he can “play with his friends” at the same level of measuring then we just destroyed the value of that progress for the three guys that did play the game. We’re suggesting that playing or not playing the game means essentially the same when a character that has not played for two months is essentially indistinguishable from those who have progressed further. This is of course under normal progression, not at the end of the progression where content stops (until the next content injection or forever) where characters inevitably glut.

    If you still can’t see the problem, see it as your standard reputation track. A guy worked on that track gaining reputation for two months, another guy didn’t. Now, depending on the game, this “I wanna play with my friends, mechanics and progression be damned” deal comes very close to equalizing those two players on the track. Why? It’s not the first player’s fault, so why should his effort be trivialized?

    I just don’t see “play with my friends” as this huge prime imperative that apparently has to override everything in the game. To me it’s not the zeroth law of anything. Of course I’m a solo player, and I fully admit my bias. I don’t mind people playing with their friends. However they get their fun is fine. But I do object about the cost of this and how many working things we’re gonna end up breaking just to let people play with their friends.

    “I’d like to know just where out of your ass did you put that “75%+ of players have absolutely no problem with it””

    From my own experience of talking to friends and players. I certainly didn’t run a survey. I’m sorry but when I talk to people of all possible playstyles in different games, and they mention their grievances, “levels” is not really a huge concern. Ever.

    It’s a nice discussion, don’t apologize for being argumentative. I like a good discussion :)

    Agreed, this is getting OT. I’ll argue over at your place whenever you have your stuff up.

    1. …. Yeah, it doesn’t look like we’re going to see eye to eye on this anytime soon.
      So what I’m going to do, is put up the formal argument on my blog later today, as to get you (and others) to better understand what it is I’m objecting to.

      As it seems apparent to me, that you fundamentally don’t understand what I’m on about, and thus go on strawman and slippery slop arguments instead.
      (partly because I’m not that good at making myself understood)
      (note: I get what your on about, but it’s got little to nothing to do with what I’m objecting to)

      But for the record, this isn’t about equalizing progression, nor changing the mechanic in a game in which it was built around. Not that at all.

      Two players that progress at different rates, should still be able to player together and compete fairly. Under this specific means of progression, they can’t.
      But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a progression system that can.

      Also, progression isn’t synonymous with strength or power, it can be skill or options, or some combination of the lot.
      But I’ll tackle that on my blog.

      Btw, I like being argumentative, as I’m kind of a prick.


      1. I finally, after a couple of hours typing, finished my blog post on levels. Harrah…..

        And…. it’s bloody long.
        I really think I need to go over it and shorten it down to a more, manageable length.

        Still, give it a read. It starts off pretty good, but then it starts to drag a bit. But it’s late, and I’m tired. So deal with it.

        Here’s the link.

        If you have any suggestion on how to shorten it, or anything else for that matter, leave a comment.

        I’m going to beat up little girls now.


  16. Nice article! I’m very excited about this kind of new quest/event system. I love the fact that it will encourage exploration and it will be random. This is the perfect antidote to the staid quest-centric system a la WoW.

    Guild Wars has never really excited me. Perhaps Guild Wars2 will change my mind.

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