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Quests are the new grind in social games, and that is why they are a good idea June 1, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, games, games 2.0, mmorpg, social games.

The first generation of MMOG apps on social networks rely heavily on level advancement as motivation for players to keep playing. In the Mob Wars/Mobsters/Mafia Wars genre, the grind is driven by doing jobs to gain money and experience, and hence to level up.

We’re starting to see the introduction of quests into the social network based MMOGs as a way of alleviating the boredom that can set in with a primarily level advancement based game dynamic. But this can lead to a different sort of grind. There are a couple of good recent posts that are worth reading for people building MMOGs on the social networks that look at “quests as the new grind” in World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online and other MMOGs.

Wolfshead first raised this topic last August when he wrote about the unintended consequences of quest based MMOs, primarily that:

* MMOGs become much more single player experiences
* There is a loss of community
* When the quests run out, players find themselves at a loss for what to do

His post is much more eloquent and considered than this summary and is worth reading when you have some time. He bemoans that the addition of rails (via quests) dimishes replayability. He revisited and updated his thoughts on the topic in March.

Over at Brighthub, Michael Hartman agrees with Wolfshead and says that quest based MMOGs are anti-group, repetitive and immersion disrupting. He says that quests change games into simple to-do lists.

Psycochild examines the grind in light of these perspectives and finds something to like about the grind of questing. Firstly, repetition is not inherently a bad characteristic of games. As he points out:

…games are all about repetition. Playing a simple game of Klondike Solitaire is pretty much all about repetition: looking for place to play a card, flipping over more cards, finding more places to play cards, eventually trying to win. Boring, right? Except people are eager to point out that solitaire is likely the most played games in Windows.

The truth is that most games are about repetition, even offline and non-computer games. Games usually have a set of rules that intentionally limit the options in the game. Klondike wouldn’t really be much of a game if you could just go through the piles and pick out the cards you need. So, you apply the rules repeatedly in the game to reach the eventual goal. From this perspective, “repetitive” describes 95% of games out there.

Secondly, he describes ways that the negative aspects of grinding can be mitigated through game design:

* Encourage players to do varied things
* Discourage boring behavior
* Provide alternative gameplay
* Encourage socialization

His post gives more detail on each of these points.

Ultimately, I think that we’ll see a lot more quest based game design in social games. Wolfshead sees World of Warcraft as the epitome of the quest based grind and says in his updated post:

It’s evident that WoW was designed to attract non-MMO gamers all along. Here are a few points that demonstrate this:

the simplicity of the interface (as noted by one of the interviewers)
the focus of quests for herding the player into new areas
the lack of challenge in the enemy encounters
the story revealed to players via the quests

In retrospect it’s almost as if WoW was designed to be one big tutorial for gamers new to MMOs. A MMO so easy and attractive that it’s greatest strength would always be in attracting new players (defined in industry parlance as “churn”).

Yet here we are 5 years later and all is not well. Eventually new MMO gamers become veteran gamers.

He is right from the point of view of an veteran gamer. But WoW is the biggest commercial success that the MMOG genre has ever had and indeed the biggest commercial success that the game industry has ever had. It succeeded precisely because it could entice new players, non-MMO gamers.

The social networks offer an opportunity for a huge number of non-MMO gamers (indeed people who would not consider themselves gamers at all) to be converted into MMO gamers. The social games so far have raced to far higher player numbers than any MMOG has in the past, precisely because they have gotten non-gamers to play. As a result, quests will be a very important component of game design on social networks for some time to come. It will be a long time before these new gamers become veteran gamers and become dissatisfied with quests.


1. gulsukat - June 1, 2009

Great article.

This is from an interview with Rob Pardo from WoW:

GameSpy: When you were putting together the initial design for the world, why did you choose to orient so much of the gameplay around the questing system rather than making the gameplay more open ended?

Rob Pardo: There were a couple reasons for this approach. First, we found that many new players to a MMORPG really do not know what to do when they start the game. While some people do enjoy finding their own way in the world, we felt like most players want to immediately have purpose and goals to accomplish, like in most other gaming genres. Secondly, having a large variety of quests lets you focus on goals rather than just finding monsters to repetitively kill for experience and levels. We called this philosophy “killing with a purpose,” and it really allows players to focus on the game rather than their experience bar and level.

2. Ralph Barbagallo - June 2, 2009

A huge chunk of the WoW community (if not the vast majority) are solo players only. That was WoW’s big innovation–solo content (grinding through quests etc.). Focusing on collaborative play can restrict your game to a subset of players that actually want to play with eachother.

3. Amy Jo Kim - June 2, 2009

Yup, it’s true — solo gameplay with “light” multi-player elements (WOW, most popular FB games) as a genre is clearly more popular than highly inter-dependent multi-player games (EverQuest etc.)

I agree that quests are KEY for bringing newbies into MMO-style gaming. Great links and ideas in this article Jeremy – very useful!

4. Bret - June 2, 2009

I think that many underestimate the attraction of structure in human activity. In general, people prefer to be told what to do, rather than have to make decisions. Decisions cause anxiety.

5. Drew - June 4, 2009

I love wow! I quit playing after I hit 80 for so long because it took to long to get all my gear and my mount, but my friend showed me his gold making guide and now im obsessed again, the guide made it fun for me. Check it out here. http://tinyurl.com/wowgoldvip

6. Gio - June 5, 2009

Even though “grinding” has sort of a negative connotation, for most WoW players, it continues to be a core (enjoyable!) part of their experience, even long after they reach 80.

One of the more successful things that Blizzard introduced (I think it was with the Burning Crusade expansion, but can’t remember for sure) was the concept of the “Daily” quest — literally quests that you repeat over and over every day. “Dailies” have turned out to be a pretty huge hit with players — and they represent the epitome of repetition.

Another supporting fact is that many players, after they level a character to 80, start over again with an “alt” and do all the same leveling quests all over again — literally weeks and weeks of questing, even after they’ve established a social network within the game.

So, my point is that, “grinding” is generally a fun, engaging experience for most players — it’s an integral part of the MMOG experience, and it augments and enhances the social aspects.

Grinding is Good!

7. Mobile Dating Here We Come - Apple WWDC LiveBlog - June 8, 2009

[…] mo­r­e o­n­ th­is, r­ead­ Ques­ts­ a­r­e the n­ew gr­i­n­d­ i­n­ s&#173…. Great­ fo­o­d­ fo­r t­h­o­ugh­t­ fo­r […]

8. Mat - June 10, 2009

As Gio and Bret stated, WoW is incredibly popular because it is designed so that you don’t have to think. You are told what simple tasks to accomplish, and they with the surrounding art and story content are just engaging enough to make your average person want to do them… over and over and over again.

Understanding that, it should be obvious that no one who is especially smart or creative plays WoW for very long. Similarly, most games that are designed to have mass market appeal are not going to be very edifying or complex. Grind is good for most people – because they are drones.

9. Paul - June 29, 2009

Questing, instancing, guilds, item drops, auction house, virtual currency, pets, skill training, light-multiplayer & social interaction were all happening prior to 1991 when I was introduced to (and became addicted to) text MUDs. WoW just added 3D.

Casual questing has essentially turned into a combination of tutorial and reward feedback loops. It’s incredibly addictive: I played Evony for 2 weeks before I realised there wasn’t actually a game in there thanks to their well executed questing system…

10. Spymasters, une casual quête sur Twitter « Fais Moi Jouer ! - February 22, 2012

[…] dès lors se demander quel en est l’intérêt. C’est la question que l’auteur de cet article fort intéressant, relayé par l’ambassadrice du community management, Amy Jo Kim, se pose. […]

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