I’ve noticed a few bloggers lately talking about quest design and the way that players, not knowing what they want, are asking for well storied quests, but in reality want the quick and dirty quests of the kill ten rats variety. (Aside moment: Is it any coincidence that Eve’s NPC pirates are referred to as rats?) The proof that is being cited for this is that players don’t read quest text. Especially when it is too long and wordy. They simply click the accept button and grind away (quickly) all the quests in that hub.
But does this really prove that players don’t want quests that involve storytelling?
I’m not so sure.
I think the problem is that we are trying to apply the wrong techniques to telling stories in MMORPGs.
Film makers no longer make moviegoers read text on the screen to introduce the plot. They stopped doing that way back when movies stopped being just rolling images and started talking. The movie-makers were able to introduce major plot elements by having the audience just listen to the actors on-screen talking to each other, and by showing them the action.
If you read a book, a good one at least, it will be constructed differently to a movie. The pacing will be different. The way the characters interact (sometimes) will be more natural to a reading, but if translated to screen without change would appear a little odd to the average person.
Have you ever listened to one of those old-fashioned radio plays? They also rely on different techniques to tell the story. There’s nothing visual for the audience to que in on, so the actors have to present the setting using very descriptive language. Try using the same style on TV and it would come across as extremely redundant.
So why do we think that making the player read quest text in an environment that is fundamentally active is going to work well in telling a story?
A MMORPG presents a fundamentally different form of entertainment than any of the other forms of media I’ve described above. Perhaps presenting the player with a wall of text isn’t the way to tell the story in a MMORPG.
Rather than giving up on story-telling in MMORPGs, how about coming up with a new way of telling stories that is suited for this style of game.