Sunday 16 March 2014

MMOs: Unmarked Quests

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

Much like a shepherd herds sheep, MMOs have become too efficient at herding players.

Do you find yourself drawn to exclamation points or question marks or other strange sigils on your map when you play an MMO? That's the game enticing you to go where it wants you to go. While it is convenient, I wish that there were still the unmarked quests that require players to decide for themselves what path to take and who to talk to. If you come across someone who asks you to do something then you should pay heed to their directions because there won't be a highlighted area or quest marker to assist you on where you need to go. That should be up to you to work out.

Your quest journal should also record who gave you these quests and where they are so you know who to go back to without relying on some magical orbital relay satellite and your mystic GPS. The less games let you use your own head the worse it is for everyone I think, especially as people get more and more used to being robots running from point A to point B to check off another in their laundry list of tasks to do. Might be hard to get rid of the laundry list unless you're playing in a sand box but the game should at least stimulate your mind to solve some things out on your own, otherwise it's just casting "polymorph to sheep" on us, and it's working.

Also I foresee that while a "shared" system of marked and unmarked quests would be ideal, people will just complain that the unmarked ones are "broken". I suppose this would require an all or nothing approach then for consistency.

The irony in this is that in my own NWO Foundry quests I've found that people expect to be led by the nose to their objectives. The minute I drop all markers and make it open questy type, my review score drops. It's a little frustrating to say the least.

Update: Looks like I'm a bit late to the table with this as the Extra Credits channel recently did a pair of videos talking about Quest Design and they are definitely worth a watch. :)


  1. I think most of us would first need to be "retrained" in what the quests represent for us. For most of the people, quests are just means of progression to the highest level. While, as you say, they should exist for you to immerse and explore the world.

    Guild Wars 2 tried to do something about this, but it ultimately failed because the ilusion of discovery was broken too fast by the cyclical nature of its events.

    The problem is, that if you make quests optional, not rewarding any xp, most of the people would complain, and probably rightly so, that the game is just a complete grind. So, how to make quests feel like quests while still remaining useful to the players no matter how many or few quests they do?

    1. Good question, and one I will try to answer in my blog post tomorrow! :P

  2. My ideal model is quite close to what you describe. There should be no indications whatsoever to tel you which NPC (or object or location or whatever) begins a quest. You should only get quests from interacting with your surroundings.

    Moreover, once you have the quest you shouldn't get markers or pointers either in the world or on the map or mini-map telling you where to go. The quest description or dialog should be sufficiently detailed and accurate to make that unnecessary.


    Once you have acquired a quest, from that point on your progress should be tracked and recorded. Your character should be able to remember who he spoke to and where it happened without you, the player, having to make notes with pen and paper.

    When it comes to questing, the future should be a mystery, the past a certainty.

    1. We are in agreement there, I just must have worded it poorly. While I would like an in-game journal to record that you have done x for person y and that your character remembers them and vice versa, I do not want magical question marks appearing over the heads of people and/or on the map to indicate such.

      People should actively be going "I need to talk to y" in their heads instead of stumbling into town and going, hey there's something funny floating above that NPC. I should check it out.