User blog:ZeroTigress/Quests Versus Tasks
Decided to watch a couple of videos about quest design again and it made me think about the real reason why old MMORPGs like Ragnarok Online have so much more appeal and retention compared to MMORPGs post-World of Warcraft.
Most players would say people flock back to old MMORPGs like RO and Ultima Online purely because of nostalgia, but I think it goes deeper than that. MMORPGs stand for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Play Games with its origins in table-top role-playing games (RPGs). For those unfamiliar with that genre of games, the main driving point of table-top RPGs is that players play the role of their own avatars and are immersed into another world where they decide how they interact with the world through established checks and balances in order to prevent people from making characters that are overpowered (OP) and develop an adventurous experience. RPGs entered video games by creating a set character that players use as their avatar through the game world. In the early days of video games, creating a table-top RPG experience just wasn't possible without the Internet. Multiplayer experiences were emulated through multiple controllers connected to the same system, which works fine if you're playing with a small group of friends, but it's rather inadequate for more people who want to join in on the fun. Once the Internet came about, video game developers were able to expand beyond the confines of console video games with interconnecting PCs.
What makes early MMORPGs much more appealing compared to most modern MMORPGs is the fact that early MMORPGs have their basis in RPGs. There weren't quest markers or quest logs in those games, you just interact with the environment by doing random stuff or talking to non-player characters (NPCs) to get stuff happening. WoW only became popular because it took the good things that early MMORPGs did well and put them together to create what became known as the modern MMORPG experience. But those innovations in turn caused the RPG origins of the genre to fade out. Some MMORPGs like Lord of the Rings Online and the developing Tree of Savior still hearken back to the genre's RPG origins by instilling RPG aspects into their games to make players want to invest time into them.
"In mythology and literature a quest, a journey towards a goal, serves as a plot device and (frequently) as a symbol. Quests appear in the folklore of every nation and also figure prominently in non-national cultures. In literature, the objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero and the overcoming of many obstacles, typically including much travel."
Quests back then were something you did without even realizing you were on a quest. Look up any quests you did in RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and try to remember at what point did you think to yourself you were doing a quest. Nowadays the term quests has come to encompass mundane activities that would be better off categorized as tasks. Collect x items, kill x monsters, deliver x to y, etc.; these kinds of "quests" were born out of the post-WoW era of MMORPGs and are a growing trend of standard "quests" you find in most modern MMORPGs. It's a shame that quests used to encompass epic adventures you take on with your friends but now have been watered down to simple tasks that are quests in name only.
Not only that, players have developed a mentality that a quest is only worth doing if it has appealing rewards for doing it. In RPGs, quests typically lead players to good loot along the way, but don't necessarily reward the loot at their conclusion. It is this kind of carrot-on-a-stick design of modern MMORPG "quests" that has led to this now dominant mentality when approaching quests. The idea of questing is something that modern MMORPG players are repulsed by because of this trend in quest design.
Personally, I don't mind doing tasks. It helps players get some quick money and helpful items to get through the game. The concept of tasks is pretty much an in-game job; you do something for a client (in this case, an NPC) and you get paid with money and maybe some items or a piece of gear. But filling a game with these dead-end jobs is not a good way of going about creating content for your MMORPG. Much like a real-life job, you get bored after a while of doing the same thing over and over for minimal pay. And if your players are bored, they will quit and go elsewhere.
Let's go back to what the definition of a quest is: "a quest, a journey towards a goal, serves as a plot device and (frequently) as a symbol." See that? A quest is a journey towards a goal. A goal like, say, wanting to get to max level. Or trying to conquer every dungeon in the game. Or hunting down all the big bad bosses. Or collecting hats (ha). Those all sound like goals, do they not? And wouldn't the steps taken to reach that goal count as the journey? Sounds like a bunch of quests to me.
From there, I think we can get a sense of what could be done to mitigate the misconception of quests vs. tasks. Much like in real-life, not everyone has a goal they're motivated to reach for and so quests serve to give players suggestions on what they could choose to accomplish in the game. MMORPGs just need to stop categorizing mundane tasks as quests and actually design real quests instead of tasks labeled as "quests." Only then can the concept of quests return to its roots and a happy medium between questing and task-taking can be addressed.
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