I like MMOs. I really like expansive, dynamic worlds to explore and adventure in. I like killing evil bosses and nasty creatures, and generally being all hero-like. However, I hate anything that parades around as a “Daily Quest”. Because it defeats the point of an MMO – to explore and have fun in a fantasy world!
I mean it, I like MMOs.
It’s not that they’re always perfect examples of social interaction – because let us be honest, whichever MMO you fancy, prefer or stick with there are a never-ending stream of people who have either zero social skills or a moral compass that would in the real world quantify them as potential terrorists. Nor are they always great examples of storytelling, because a huge dynamic world will always have faults and flaws. It isn’t organic, it is crafted, and covering every eventuality at any given moment is the very definition of futility.
But it’s that word – the World – that always attracts me, and I suppose it is the sort of thing that I have harped on about before. In many different games, some I never even liked as games – Gears of War, for example, has a really interesting world and political dynamic. It’s a shame they did bugger all with it in the end, because there was plenty to work with. I guess they had to cut corners on something. As someone who has always had issues with movement and the like, travelling the real world is quite hard; I’ve never had a job that paid well enough for me to achieve that, or had the time to do it. But I do like exploration; I like to know what’s around that corner, and the next, and the next. It’s an insatiable curiosity that I can’t control. I want to broaden my horizons; and if I can’t do that in reality, there are plenty in fiction to be getting on with instead.
The problem with MMOs in recent years is the idea of the “Daily Quest”, a repeatable set of tasks that are either required or help ease the burden of leveling, or grinding reputation with factions, or making money. And I don’t like them. I never really have, because they are fixed points. Something a person is drawn to or required to do often; bringing you back around often to kill the same enemies or find the same items day in, day out. And without the ability to relate, feel or expand on them, dailies feel like a leash in an MMO rather than an addition.
By this I mean that we never stray too far from the ones we “choose” to do. Eventually we have to do them all, so the illusion of choice is pretty much moot already, but it’s the idea that we’re always constantly thinking of the next days dailies, prepping ourselves, getting ready for them that means valuable time is taken from the exploration, the adventure and the traditional kicking of bad guys who very obviously deserve everything they get. We’re always aware of them, they invade and permeate a game and that makes it… well… a chore.
Dailies also tend to hide an awful amount of lazy design. In WoW: Mists of Pandaria – as wonderful as it is, the dailies hide a not unnoticeable truth; the idea of questing has been a let down. There is a strict, stringent thread that runs throughout the world, connecting the dots to form a smooth, on-rails kind of journey. And that’s fine, but it also means once the ride is over – it is over. Pandaria is wonderful and well designed, but it is also devoid of sneaky secret stuff – everything is spoilered already. Achievements and guides compiled in the beta have pointed out every secret, every easter egg, every location of rare drops and every Champion out there. There is no surprise. The atlas is full – it’s been done, there is no new frontier to explore and enjoy. You are instead on a tour holiday, and it’s nice but it doesn’t have the same sensation for some people.
I don’t think any MMO should “demand” a daily commitment. Any MMO that does is clearly unsure of its long-term impact and quality anyway, and this goes for all MMOs of late. All of them are frantically trying to cement a sense of connection and urgency, a sense of, “If you leave us for too long, you’ll never catch up!”. It’s a protection racket and an incredibly subtle one, but one that MMOs need to get out of the habit of doing. Because World of Warcraft used to be so different.
Some lament the old questing style, but what fun is there being ferried from quest hub to quest hub? You don’t run across the land anymore, spotting the odd rare creature roaming wild and free. Getting to know the lay of the land, you wait until level 60 and then fly across it. You use the in-built quest pointers. Everything is set out, everything is nice and neat and joined but it isn’t YOUR story. My first tale was of a Tauren Hunter who found himself taming a rare animal by accident. He formed an incredible bond with this creature, as they traversed the wilderness of Kalimdor together on foot, exploring and enjoying the company of themselves and others. The GMs of old helped players, they conversed, they got involved. Players on old RP realms could rely on those watching over things to help them with setting up tales or events of their own, long before we has preset events in the game, some of us were already enjoying the Midsummer, or the solstices. We all existed and it was an adventure, new territory to be explored; except, it isn’t anymore, is it? We all know what happens next. Even Blizzard spoiled the overall ending of Pandaria months ago. There is no sense of journey – just destination, and trying to adjust the time and effort it takes to get to that destination.
Dailies are the symptom of an impersonal game, a game by which the player has no real control over. They cannot choose their destiny; it is pre-written for them, and in any MMO which offers a choice of roles and things to do, this is a terrifying place to be. Players can see through the conceit and they won’t be happy; slowing people down to a crawl when they’re used to running at full speed is never going to be popular, and perhaps it is true that dailies serve a function. But they can’t be the crux of your end-game policy. They can’t survive under the spotlight because they are very much against the main design ethos of an MMO; multiplayer. Dailies are designed to be done every day, often solo. You end up competing with others. You may as well PvP if that is your thing, except sometimes it is competing against your own allies who can vocally insult you for taking an item or killing a mob they claim was theirs. It’s just… not enough on its own.
It’s a stark problem that all MMOs have to contend with, because it is expensive to push content and, as Rift has proven, even if you do push content monthly or every six to eight weeks, you can go the other way and become so fast paced that people can’t keep up. However, a wall isn’t an effective crash-mat either. The MMO industry has been going for well over a decade as we know it, fifteen years if memory serves correct. We have come a very long way in terms of what can be done in an MMO, we have come a long way in how things are done; but when it comes to design, many designers are old-school. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was Governor of California; on crime, he was modern and forward thinking. On science, he was modern and forward thinking. Immigration? Old school – “I will build a wall!”. Yeah, except we all know walls won’t work anymore, don’t we?
The MMO world has to let go of dailies as some kind of means to blackmail and control the populous. People will come back if they feel drawn to it; if they feel you’re demanding them do something, they’re more likely to not do it. Getting into the heads of the playerbase and getting new ideas and concepts out there is a massively important thing if the MMO world is to survive another decade – we’ve seen so many failures because they’re based too much on old concepts and ideals. This is a new decade, a new era, with new technology; and we’re still basing things from these games and their designs and progressions from ideas dreamed up in the mid-90s.
The modern MMO player wants choice, they want fun and they expect to get something for their efforts. Daily Quests are a grind; deeply unpopular, deeply impersonal and repetitive and deeply flawed. They are weak attempts at creating an artificially extended end-game when there is no real end-game there. And if and when people do eventually get what they want from them, will they go back to those dailies; in Family Fortunes style, our survey says…
It can’t sustain an entire game on its shoulders and it shouldn’t have to. There is no excuse for such lazy design. It’s time to come into the modern world, leave the old ideas to the side and dream up new ways of entertaining, enthralling and enriching our midnight hours.
We will reward with subscriptions and money. Consider this, MMO makers, your “Legendary Chain”… the end results will be worth it. But you too will have to put in the hours and hours of work.
The irony of that is so delicious I think I might just pass out!