- Scarybooster's recent post about the current state of the Public Quest mechanic left me thinking about where MMOs are going in the future. My comment to his post was:
Excellent thoughts on the subject. I actually think PQs are a real innovation. It just needs the right iteration to find out how to make it work. I know nothing about DCUO's implementation (didn't even know they had one), but I like how Rift and GW2 are tinkering with the formula is their own ways. I'm interested to see who gets it right.
- When Mythic announced open groups and public quests for Warhammer Online, I knew I was seeing the future. As a classic "Alone Together" MMO player, their plan sounded like a perfect solution to overcome the social barriers that keep people from playing together. And when the populations were high and people were invested in the game, PQs actually did work. At least they worked until they didn't any more.
- Where the first version of public quests failed was in scalability and attraction. As long as there was a sufficient population, there were always enough people around to mask those flaws. But as soon as the people disappeared, you couldn't run a PQ to save your life. Because PQs did not scale, there was no way for a solo player or small group to complete them. And because there were so many PQs and many were so far out of the way, there was little chance that players would choose to run the same PQs at the same time. Thus, the promise PQs in WAR is largely unfulfilled.
- But that doesn't mean there isn't a great idea still in there. Cryptic certainly co-opted the idea for their Open Missions in Champions Online. They didn't address the scalability issue except in one case: the open mission at the end of the tutorial can be soloed because there is no failure condition. Otherwise, they do not scale at all. They did work on attraction primarily by cutting open missions to just a couple per zone. And with only 6 zones in the game, there are not that many to run between. But you still have to get lucky running into people for them to work. With such slight changes, CO's open missions did little to advance the concept.
- Now that we're seeing a new generation of games arriving, we finally have games that are iterating on the public quest design. The two greatest proponents are Rift and Guild Wars 2. Each of their attempts are fascinating in how differently they confront the challenges.
- Rift's Rifts are the more traditional implementation. Though there are evidently rifts that can be soloed to provide a small scale experience, the basic mechanic is meant to be attempted with a large group. But they have overcome the attraction problem by dumping rifts right on top of the players and letting the invasions disrupt standard quest play. There is no way to avoid participation if you want to play the rest of the game. Some might find that disruptive, but forcing the players to use the core mechanic of the game seems like a smart move to me.
- That is such a great idea that ArenaNet is taking it a step further by making Guild Wars 2's Dynamic Events the only open world content available. Outside of the instanced PvP and main storyline, all adventuring content is built around that system. So again, the attraction problem is null if it is unavoidable. But GW2 also answers the question of scalability by letting the events adjust to the number of players taking part. If done correctly, shifting populations could never cause their content to fail due to lack of available players.
- Funny thing in all of this, I have yet to see someone take the open group concept further. World of Warcraft has come the closest by assembling teams with their Random Dungeon Finder. Maybe dynamic grouping will be the next step forward in encouraging people to play together.
© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.