4 August, 2018
The past two days I’ve talked about how MMOs do stories wrong, and why they do stories wrong. And there have been some great comments I’ll reply to soon.
So, let’s talk some solutions to the problems I’ve brought up the last few days. How can we go from stories that feel like more of a chore or a diversion to stories that are a meaningful to the player?
Put less focus on a central story as part of gameplay
Looking at FFXIV and GW2, one of the main features was a story that guided you through the game. In both games the story guided you on a path through the game, eventually leading you to the higher end zones. In GW2 the main story was the only real “quest”, where you did events and filled “hearts” in the zone to gain experience otherwise. In FFXIV, the MSQ is the way to level up your main class in addition to dungeons. The game offers plenty of side quests, but these are often seen as ways to get experience for additional classes, or to unlock things in the game like flying in later areas.
I think the focus on this main story is one of the reasons why story falls so flat in these games. It’s repetitive (especially for alts), there’s no agency because it has to be linear, and the “you’re the big hero” storyline often doesn’t make sense in a game full of everyone else playing the same story.
WoW managed to do this pretty well with quests part of an overall storyline but there not being a big central quest. To be fair, the game moved you along with quest hubs and breadcrumb trails rather than an explicit story quest that drags you around.
More focus on story that explains the world
So if we don’t have a central storyline, what do we do? FFXIV has certain side quests in most zones that form a chain that tell more of a story. For example, in the Yanxia zone in the Stormblood expansion, you have the tale of Kurobana the Lupin who lives in Yanxia. These quests give you a little more insight into the Lupin creatures and how other villagers see them, and what’s necessary in the day-to-day lives of such a village in a fantasy world.
There are plenty of these types of quests in other zones, usually displaying a picture under the quest name when picking them up to set them aside from other fire-and-forget type quests. Since they are usually optional they don’t feel as laborious as the MSQ does. These type of quests give more of a look at the world than the MSQ dragging you around does.
The other great thing about these quests is that they tend to be more limited in scope. Instead of the fate of the world hanging in the balance!, these are quests that fit the idea of the player character as someone who helps other people out. In fact, it might seem a bit silly for a hero who saves the world to be worrying about the fate of a Lupin in some remote village!
Facilitate player stories
Instead of focusing on developer-written stories, let the players create their own stories. Some of them will seem boring, “We went into the dungeon, killed the boss, got loot!” Some of them might be more involved, “My friends and I decided to see if we could do all healers on this run to get the loot!” And some of them will look like actual stories, “And then my Au Ra met his former tribemate and a rival, but after a round of drinking they all became good friends!”
You can use gameplay to accomplish what needs to be done: repeatable content and shared experiences have been part of MMOs before we had MSQs. By using quests and stories to flesh out more of the world, we can give players the framework for their stories. By chopping MSQ into smaller pieces we can share more of the world setting to let players experience stories that are meaningful to them.
So what do you think? Do you like MSQs and central stories like that? Or do you think there’s a better way?