Jeff Kaplan Does GDC, Explains How Not To Write Quests

Well, if you’re going to clone World of Warcraft, you could do worse than listen to the guys who cloned Everquest. Jeff Kaplan gave an opinionated talk that will probably have WoW players posting furiously for weeks.

“This is the worst quest in World of Warcraft,” he said. “I made it. It’s the Green Hills of Stranglethorn. Yeah, it teaches you to use the auction house. Or the cancellation page.”

“So I’m the asshole that wrote this quest. My philosophy was, I’m going to drop all these things around Stranglethorn, and it’s going to be a whole economy unto itself… It was horrible.”

“It was utterly stupid of me. The worst part… one of the things that taxes a player in a game like WOW is inventory management. Your base backpack that the game shipped with only has 16 slots in it. But basically at all times, players are making decisions. For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”

“So it’s a horrible quest, and I’m the only who made it, and somehow I am talking to you guys today.”

Most of Kaplan’s points boil down into the following:

  • People don’t like Lake Wintergrasp

You’ve played that shooter, that shooter that is fucking awesome… and then it’s got the one gimmick vehicle level, which you can tell they didn’t know what they were doing with vehicles, and it felt all floaty and things didn’t shoot right. The same mistake happened in World of Warcraft.

Lots of these vehicle quests, they’re more fun for the designer than they are for the player.

  • People don’t like delayed gratification

It’s a quest that starts at level 30, it spans 14 levels. And it ends with you having to kill Myzrael there, who’s a level 40 elite mob. So it’s basically like putting a brick wall in front of a player. Here you go, just bang your head against the wall for a while…

The reason that this is bad — it’s cool to have quest chains that span a lot of content, and feel kind of expansive and far-reaching. But the reason that this particular case is bad is because the player [loses trust] in the game.

  • People don’t like solving mysteries

We can unveil a mystery story, but at the end of the day, in the quest log it needs to say, ‘Go kill this dude, go get me this item.’ The mystery can’t be what to do [on the quest]. We wanted the action in WoW quests to be in the gameplay, not in figuring out what am I supposed to do.

  • People like choices. But they’re wrong.

…You show up to a quest hub, and your minimap is lit up like a Christmas tree with quest exclamation marks.

The weird thing is, if you ask our fans, they love this. This is to them a good quest hub… They go in and vacuum up the quests. But we’ve lost all control to guide them to a really fun experience.

  • People don’t like to read

I think it’s great to limit people in how much pure text they can force on the player. Because honestly… if you ever want a case study, just watch kids play it, and they’re just mashing the button. They don’t want to read anything.

Basically, and I’m speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it.

World of Warcraft has 12 million more subscribers than you do.

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86 Responses to Jeff Kaplan Does GDC, Explains How Not To Write Quests

  1. Raad says:

    I hate kaplan. A lot. The kind of hate that warrants lipstick and a shotgun.

  2. Rog says:

    12 Million people, minus me. Loved the game on release, but the more the game went in Kaplan’s directions, the more I lost interest. In almost typical fashion I stuck around longer than I should have. He watered down all of the parts that were great, that I enjoyed.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I think with such a great core game they could have done even better. This man IMHO was not responsible for WoW’s success, he’s just ridden it while others have been happy to have the spotlight directed elsewhere.

  3. I pretty much agree with Kaplan on all counts. Remember the vehicles in Half-Life 1? Funny gimmicks, but not something you want to interact with on a daily basis.

  4. Kyoji says:

    His last point is an interesting one, and one which I believe is not exclusive to Warcraft. I cant speak for everybody, but I’m going to assume most of us when playing any given MMO with quests usually shoot right past the fluff (story) in the beginning and go right for the small paragraph detailing what to do, and where to go. Then we complain about a lack of story driven content. Sure, I read some quests, and I usually find myself enjoying them, but for some reason most of the time I just dont care why I’m killing 10 rats, I just want to kill the 10 rats and get out.

    I thought Age of Conan solved this incredibly well with the first 20 levels. Nearly every quest had voice overs and even for the small, “go kill these pirates” quests you still felt drawn to listen to the npc speak, instead of mashing next and getting on with your life.

    Obviously retro-fitting Warcraft with voice would be a mammoth undertaking, and would realistically make the game a bit too big, but its something I would love to see blizzard do. Perhaps they could include for only certain quests, that way you get to direct players to “fun content” while at the same time offering them a myriad of choices in any particular quest hub.

  5. Montague says:

    You might agree or not with his conclusions, but contrast Kaplan’s insightful comments with Barnett’s lunatic ravings. Might explain why Blizzard makes moneyhats while Mythic still hasn’t quite mastered the art of not shitting on themselves

  6. Raad says:

    @Montague
    “World of Warcraft has 12 million more subscribers than you do.”

  7. Drakks says:

    I also agree with Kaplan on pretty much all counts — but I also think most of his observations with WoW are a self-fulfilling prophesy. All in all WoW made things simple so people wanted simple, so WoW made it more simple and people wanted more simple.

    You can argue that YOU might want more complexity, but the general masses apparently do not and WoW caters directly to them.

    [quote]Then we complain about a lack of story driven content.[/quote]

    Story driven content isn’t the same thing as 20 lines of text leading up to the fact that again I’m killing X number of Y mob for the millionith time.

    Personally I really liked how LOTRO handled the differentiation — normal quests, group quests, and EPIC QUESTS (dun, dun, dun!). The epic quests had a narrator and were quite engaging. For me they totally worked because I could do the standard quest gathering at a hub, but when the quest was flagged as epic it always slowed me down to read.

  8. Mist says:

    Some other things he had to say in a different part of his talk were a lot more positive.

  9. Scripting small events around quest chains help to highlight the story, too. The “king of the ogres” deal in Blade’s Edge was a pretty awesome opening to an otherwise boring series of daily quests. I imagine that amount of development doesn’t scale too well, but it’s a great tool to keep at hand. Same goes for phasing.

  10. Vajarra says:

    I’m a pretty vehement vehicle-hater, but I’m surprised by his comment, because most folks I talk to seem to like them, and especially seem to like Wintergrasp. My main complaints with them are technical though, so that’s something that will hopefully be ironed out with time.

  11. Thoms says:

    “People don’t like to read”
    Well Mr. Kaplan… if your quest texts are shitty then people want to skip them. Congratulations on unlocking the “Make Players Dumb” achievement by teaching a generation of MMO players that reading sucks.

  12. Adam says:

    To be fair, he’s talking about vehicle quests, which are pretty gimmicky since you have to learn several new abilities for something you’re only going to be doing for two minutes. Wintergrasp is pretty popular.

    But he’s pretty much spot-on with these complaints. I’ve watched eight-year-olds up to high schoolers play, and they virtually all skip the entirety of the quest text and just look for the line that tells them what to kill/collect. Green Hills and the Princess line were pretty poorly implemented. It seems like most of these problems were largely fixed in WoLK.

    Also, someone help me out with this: “World of Warcraft quest designers are limited to 511 characters,” he said. “That’s all that will fit into the data entry. And all you programmers know why it’s not 512.” I know 512 is a power of 2, but what about the data structure makes you leave one free?

  13. Mist says:

    End of Line?

    Seriously though, no one wants to read the quest text for WoW quests, but no one skips the GTA 4 cinematics, at least not the first time, that introduce each mission, despite the fact that GTA missions and WoW quests are basically the exact same thing. The presentation of text just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    Some MMO is going to come along with far, far less quests, that are slightly longer, but cinematic intros for each one, and it’s going to be hailed as revolutionary.

  14. Fidtz says:

    Adam :
    Also, someone help me out with this: “World of Warcraft quest designers are limited to 511 characters,” he said. “That’s all that will fit into the data entry. And all you programmers know why it’s not 512.” I know 512 is a power of 2, but what about the data structure makes you leave one free?

    I would imagine they are stored as 512 byte C style strings, the 512th byte being the null terminator.

  15. Athryn says:

    I would not draw the conclusion that people hate Wintergrasp from his vehicle comment. In my experience, people love Wintergrasp.

    What people hate is Malygos. I personally hate the raid with the fire of a million burning suns. Taking everything that your character/class can do away from you and plopping you on the back of a vehicle that has to move in 3 dimensions with a weak heal and crazy, buggy DPS is not my idea of a good time. It’s like all the underwater shit in DAoC’s Trials of Atlantis.

  16. Mercury says:

    Did he really swear that much? Quite the vulgarian.

    They have definitely learned from their mistakes, as the questing content in BC was a big upgrade from launch. And the quests in Wrath are a big upgrade from BC, minus the gimmicky vehicles… and those are largely easy enough that you don’t suffer greatly from failing to learn the vehicle’s abilities.

  17. Heartless_ says:

    You might agree or not with his conclusions, but contrast Kaplan’s insightful comments with Barnett’s lunatic ravings. Might explain why Blizzard makes moneyhats while Mythic still hasn’t quite mastered the art of not shitting on themselves

    ================

    I think you are wrong. Kaplan and Barnett both understand how to do something the right way and can talk about how to do it like no others, but good luck finding either one attached to a development team willing and able to make the changes necessary to match Kaplan and Barnett’s diatribes.

  18. geldonyetich says:

    No matter how successful a game is, a game designer who pays attention will see room for improvement.

    Besides, there’s always the perpetual question of just how much of Blizzard’s 12 million are on World of Warcraft’s merits, as opposed to simply having had the opportunity/ability to entice that many players to try to play it while being merely passably good enough not to drive them away.

  19. Random Poster says:

    (raises hand)

    I read the quest text. My first time through for all content. The WoTLK content I find myself reading the quest text more than the once (my main then on alts). It’s well done but I know I am in the minority on that.

    Wintergrasp is really popular yes, but is that because people enjoy it..or because that swhere the loot is for the people who don’t want to do arenas?

    I like the vehicle quests mostly. Nice diversions in the quests…I absolutely HATE them in Occulus and Malygos isn’t much better. If I wanted to kill a boss as something other than a druid..i’d roll something else. That said I think the reason most hate them is its new so people haven’t adapted yet. That and (until Ulduar at least) your gear means nothing.

  20. dartwick says:

    Hes wrong about quest hubs.

    Players like quest hubs because they dont want “guided” through a fun experience. They want open ended success.
    Quest hubs mean that no matter what or where you go kill, something good happens as a result- players love that.

    EDIT: Hes right about everything else.

  21. Longasc says:

    Maybe Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan should read Muckbeast’s or Wolfshead’s article about how Quest heavy advancement degenerated into a boring chore.

    http://www.brighthub.com/video-games/mmo/articles/29399.aspx
    http://www.wolfsheadonline.com/?p=1479

    Just forget about the guided quest bus tour and let players explore themselves?

    I am not really happy that he will be part of the nextgen MMO. Unless he has a totally new idea about his gamedesign. He somehow does not like the “quest christmas tree”, maybe it is a beginning.

  22. Tim Daniels says:

    Story is only fun the first time when you don’t know what is going to happen, and that’s only for people that appreciate it.

    When you are an altaholic (a behavior encouraged by MMOs), you need to be able to skip as much of the story as possible. For some people, that’s the first time, because their priority isn’t story. Different strokes. But I wonder how they feel about non-quest text story developments such as flavor events and (as mentioned) Age of Conan-esque VO’d developments.

    I’m fine with good story in an MMO, but if there isn’t a button that isn’t the MMO equivalent of “Get On With It!”, players are going to be annoyed. That’s one obstacle Bioware will have to tackle.

  23. Rog says:

    He’s not right about everything else.

    He’s got an approach. Among other things, it’s less sandbox, more directing-the-player. Easier. I’d even call it dumbed-down. Is it the mass-market approach? Probably.

    I personally loved the mystery in some of WoW’s early original zones. Elwynn Forest and Duskwood in particular. Doesn’t anyone else recall with fondness the spooky Stalvan questline, it started in Elwynn and went across several zones. Or the surprise factors in waking up Stitches in Duskwood? This content has been butchered since TBC, but it was great at the beginning.

    I also loved the quest flow in Loch Modan. Again another great early experience.

    Difficult to find and complicated quest chains? The best quest chain in WoW, by many players accounts (not just my own) was the very complex and often obscure Onyxia attunement questline (on the Alliance side at least, and when it was working).

    Supposedly I can’t argue with monetary success, but on a personal level much of this doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t believe I’d like to play a fully Jeff Kaplan designed game. Luckily I think Blizzard’s reiterative team approach to design keeps this man in check.

  24. Longasc says:

    I wonder what texters think if they have to produce a myriad of different flavors of short quest text snippets for thousands of quest that involve collecting poo/crap/shit, that Kaplan likes to place every other zone. WoW at times feels like a little farm…^^

    And I guess this is one reason why people really do not bother to read the quest texts – in the end the quest is nothing more than a “go there, kill that” order.

  25. Pickly says:

    It doesn’t help in WoW that, at least in the early levels, the so many quests are either “kill # of (creature)”, or “get # of item”. After reading a number of these quests, a thought process builds up while reading the text bozes of something like : “Sure, filler story. Kill 8 green panthers, right?”

    It also may not help that WoW’s leveling becomes kind of a grind (at least for me), and the boredom and pressure to level quickly create a poor mood for reading quest text much. (This boredom is why I pretty much stopped playing WoW.)

  26. The Alien says:

    I read all the quest text the first time through. So does one of the two people I play with.

    Among other things, this let me learn who casually reads faster.

    I’m a big fan of the vehicle quests. There are a couple of quests where you control something that can jump that were a real blast for me, even in a game where you can fly. Some of the turret/rail shooter ones were pretty neat too.

    Of course, quite a few of the quests are bad. And then you have the pirate hat quests(named for the one in Tanaris) that just slam you into a wall when you hit them in a group, because not only do you need to kill 3x as many for 3 people, but since the drop rate isn’t 100%, you probably have to travel between spawn groups. The worst examples are just like the one in Tanaris, where there really isn’t anywhere else to go.

    I got a little distracted there. I think they’ve made great progress and I think a lot of the quests in WotLK are fun. Introducing new quest mechanics DOES keep it from feeling like it’s the same stuff over and over again. If they do a good job in the future, they will probably come up with one or two more interesting mechanics for the next expansion. Then that will be that much better.

    That is my opinion as a player, anyway. I’ll let you all know when my MMO has 12 million subscribers, or even 12 lines of code written. 😉

  27. no hands says:

    @Rog
    Best semi-obscure quest to me is the 1k needles horde quest line that brings you through multiple zones (including Scarlet Monastary) and lore (including lore “tests” which check your ability to read). Definitely one of the best quests in the game for an Explorer, and gives a fantastic wand to boot for your level 25 lock/priest (provided you have a friend to carry you through). (starts with http://www.wowhead.com/?quest=1149)

  28. Mist says:

    Honestly, I think everything but the dungeons (and by extension, the raids) suck about the WoW formula. BRD, and to a lesser extent, Deadmines, sold the game for me in the original beta when I otherwise would have just passed the game up and stuck with DAoC.

  29. dartwick says:

    A few people here miss the point.

    Jeffs suggestions(other than the hub one) are no less sandbox than highly scripted text based quests. And indded most people I know including myself want to see content not read it. Hes making good points.

    Id much rather read “Kill the witch at the top of the hill” and then have the story play out before my eyes as I went to her than read a page about why shes bad.

  30. […] the Mad deftly pulled out some notable quotes. I’m going to follow his […]

  31. Iconic says:

    It’s just awesome to contrast Kaplan and Barnett.

    Incidentally, Kaplan is in charge of the super secret next generation MMO at Blizzard.

  32. Mist says:

    There’s a whole novel or two’s worth of text in WAR’s tome of knowledge, and I haven’t read a single word of it.

  33. Mark Asher says:

    I think Kaplan is right also. I’m a writer. I love a good story. But I don’t like to read quest text. When I’m playing a game, I want to play a game, not read a book. Give me cinematics or scripted events.

    I like quests, too. I’ve leveled in other games without quests and I don’t want to do that again. If you’re going to make me level, give me quests. And I want my hand held because I don’t want to think too much. I hate it when I can’t figure out where to go to complete a quest.

  34. Rog says:

    @Mark Asher: It isn’t just about blocks of text though, or presentation / direction of story.

    I mean, ‘go here, kill X’ is a lot less text, but that’s not exactly ‘telling the story with the action’ either by just slimming it down to tell you exactly what to do. At that point, why bother with quests at all, you can just go out and kill X as it is.

    This is one of the mistakes Mythic made with WAR, giving players so much convenience on the quests (just follow the dots and arrows!) that few felt inclined to quest at all.

    If they’re going to do away with mystery, quest text and exploring all in one go, maybe an entirely different form of questing and presentation should be used. Hack and slashing the established systems isn’t IMHO working out so well.

  35. Einherjer says:

    Great comments. Kneepads and kleenexes FTW.

  36. Mark Asher says:

    Rog :
    @Mark Asher: It isn’t just about blocks of text though, or presentation / direction of story.
    I mean, ‘go here, kill X’ is a lot less text, but that’s not exactly ‘telling the story with the action’ either by just slimming it down to tell you exactly what to do. At that point, why bother with quests at all, you can just go out and kill X as it is.
    This is one of the mistakes Mythic made with WAR, giving players so much convenience on the quests (just follow the dots and arrows!) that few felt inclined to quest at all.
    If they’re going to do away with mystery, quest text and exploring all in one go, maybe an entirely different form of questing and presentation should be used. Hack and slashing the established systems isn’t IMHO working out so well.

    I like the gratification I get from completing a quest. I like being given a task I can complete quickly. These things make the leveling process more rewarding by breaking it down into lots of small goals I can achieve.

    A level-based game has a built-in quest – make that next level. It’s much more gratifying to break that process up into 30 smaller goals, i.e., quests. I feel like I am making more progress that way than if I simply grind mobs to make the level.

    It also drives me through the game. Blizzard was clever. They used quests to make players explore the game world.

    I’d actually love it if Blizzard designed the quests to be done in a certain order and would tell me the order. I’d be happy to level that way.

  37. Stormwaltz says:

    I remember when I applied for a content designer position at Blizzard. This was back in 2004, before I started at BioWare. In the phone interview, they asked me where I might like to go in my career if got the job. I mentioned that on Asheron’s Call, I’d been deeply involved in the story and writing, and I enjoyed that a great deal.

    There was a awkward pause, then one of the Blizzard guys said, “Well, that’s great, but we already have a writer.”

  38. Angelworks says:

    @Rog

    Also, someone help me out with this: “World of Warcraft quest designers are limited to 511 characters,” he said. “That’s all that will fit into the data entry. And all you programmers know why it’s not 512.” I know 512 is a power of 2, but what about the data structure makes you leave one free?

    It has to do with the way computers index numbers vs. the way humans deal with letters 0-511 is the same as 1-512 in other words :).

  39. Jeff says:

    I know I am probably the exception to the rule, but I always read text quest. I love going to a new zone and digging into the story of that particular area, why things are happening, etc.

    I’ll admit, sometimes at a quest hub I’ll just click and accept on all the available quests, but I’ll always read the text before tackling each individual quest.

    In the text are the stories. In the stories are the lore. If you want to truly experience the world you are playing in, reading the text essential IMO.

  40. Jeff says:

    dartwick :
    A few people here miss the point.
    Jeffs suggestions(other than the hub one) are no less sandbox than highly scripted text based quests. And indded most people I know including myself want to see content not read it. Hes making good points.
    Id much rather read “Kill the witch at the top of the hill” and then have the story play out before my eyes as I went to her than read a page about why shes bad.

    I agree. I do like to read the text for the stories, but the cinematic variants that are popping up in WotLK are much better. I guess you could say it is a societal thing. Are we not a society today that would rather watch the movie than read the book?

    Personally I love reading, but I also like the movies.

  41. Lweniel says:

    Angelworks :
    @Rog

    It has to do with the way computers index numbers vs. the way humans deal with letters 0-511 is the same as 1-512 in other words :).

    It’s because you need 1 character as a string terminator.

  42. Rog says:

    @Angelworks: You don’t know me from Adam? Misquote. =P

  43. Rog says:

    Mark Asher :
    I like the gratification I get from completing a quest. I like being given a task I can complete quickly. These things make the leveling process more rewarding by breaking it down into lots of small goals I can achieve.

    That’s cool as your preference, but that’s anecdotal evidence to back up saying he’s right.

    He’s not right or wrong, he’s just got an approach. It works for you, it works for a lot of people, but it still leaves others cold. This is not one of those game design elements where there’s just one right way to do it, but that’s the way he’s presenting it and that’s the way you agreed to it.

    I actually prefer much of the older content (Stranglethorn pages aside, yuck) Kaplan worked on than where he’s ‘progressed’ to today.

    I happen to like questing, but unlike yourself I don’t like to be led down a path so much. And I’m not alone: Players that identify themselves as explorers rather than achievers– there’s quite a lot of them.

  44. Vajarra says:

    Jeff: The movies are fun too, the first time. But to use Wrathgate as an example — by the time my third alt went through, I just hit the escape key. I don’t need or want to watch it again.

  45. Klaitu says:

    Those sneaky devils didn’t read Raph Koster’s book, and now they’re learning through experience.

  46. Mist says:

    I think his point is not to try to tell stories in video games through text OR movies or in-engine cinematics or whatever. Tell the story by actually having the player DO it.

    Look at Half Life 2. There’s not a single cinematic in the entire game. You never leave the vantage point of Gordon’s eyeballs.

  47. Daniel says:

    Actually, this post made me appreciate Barnett’s comments all the more. Coincidence does not equal causation. If the Blizzard game designers think that they are the reason for WoW’s success, they are fooling themselves. Seriously deluded. Like all true cultural phenomenon that transcend their own little corner of the world (e.g, ABBA) the reasons for the success are a unique confluence of events that are not repeatable. Not repeatable. I have said it before elsewhere and I will say it here. The next “WoW” will look nothing like WoW and will not be designed anything like WoW. As climbers well know, mountains create their own weather. WoW is that mountain. And you cannot duplicate the weather and dream you are going to duplicate the mountain. That’s insanity.

  48. Freakazoid says:

    An interesting coincidence that contrasts with posts here.

    On a certain beta fourm for a certain game in beta, we recently had a moderate discussion on how to deliver heroic content. Me and maybe three other testers suggested a lot more video/audio to immerse us in.

    The majority of posters though, including a few who were very (very) defensive about it, insisted that video/audio content was not how you deliver it. It seems they were rather attached to having text all over the place. I suspect it’s because they’re the kind of people who want to skip stories and complete missions ASAP just to get to the end game.

  49. Count Nerfedalot says:

    Mist :
    I think his point is not to try to tell stories in video games through text OR movies or in-engine cinematics or whatever. Tell the story by actually having the player DO it.

    This. Or at least have the player experience it in the game.

    One of my favorite quests in WoW was an otherwise boring little delivery quest chain in the dwarf starting lands. The final turn-in though resulted in a scripted out little play that literally had me laughing myself out of my chair, where a bunch of drunken redneck dwarves are playing with their mortar at the firing range, trash talking each other, using various emotes, etc.

    It was all done in-game, no yanking your context around with loading cut-scenes, no dry text scrolling by, or anything. Just the world actually seeming to come alive for a couple of minutes, and you got to witness it in character even if not actually participate in it.

    I’ll bet at least half the people who did that quest ran off after the turn in and missed the whole thing because Blizzard foolishly put in a little delay, just a few seconds, between completing the quest and having the action start. Which is really too bad, because that’s still my favorite part of my entire WoW experience and I wish there were lots more vignettes like that in these games. At least to tide us over until the computing power and agent-AI technologies advance sufficiently to provide us with more spontaneous behaviors that can replace human creative design. Which is going to be a LONG time coming!

    I think one of the keys to implementing story well in the context of an MMO (or any context for that matter) is that it has to strum some emotional chord in us. In this case it was humor, which is probably the easiest to do. From what I heard AoC seemed to be exploring this kind of emotional strumming a little more broadly, deliberately plucking at emotions like greed, lust, and outrage, at least in the Tortage part of the game. I still hope to have the chance to play that part of the game some day.

  50. Hue says:

    I think the key thing to remember is that there is a huge difference between what you want in a quest while you are sitting in front of a well-written blog, enjoying your morning coffee and taking a break from work…

    … and what you want in a quest when everyone else just beat you to endgame and you just want the XP, because they aren’t gonna wait for your slow ass to read the quest text…

    … or what you want in a quest when you are trying to finish just one more quest before your spouse kills you for playing WoW instead of coming to bed …

    … or what you what in a quest when you are teamed with your wife and she wants the kitty-cat mount, and that’s still twenty levels away…

    … etc.

    Getting one when you are looking for the other is very frustrating. I think Kaplan’s advice is good if, as a designer, you want to cover the most bases with the least amount of work.

    (Warning: Shameless plug of my own game starts… now:) When write quests for Alganon, we try our damnedest to do both — to create interesting stories that are told entirely by the one-line quest objectives.

    When I pitch a story thread for a zone, I write up a page that is nothing but a list of one-line quest objectives. If reading that page doesn’t tell an interesting story, it doesn’t go in the game.

    It’s still “Go here, kill X” – but when you put them all together, you learn new things, meet interesting characters, feel powerful emotions, etc.

    I anxiously await our upcoming beta to see how well it works.

  51. Eduin says:

    Well let’s be clear here – it is highly likely that Kaplan’s sideways move is the same as him being fired. And he will have been canned over the abortion that was WotLK.

    Just reading how he views the quests system, and having played his vision in WotLK, it is clear why the game has lost so much of its enjoyment – and Kaplan is that reason.

    Green Hills is a fun ancilliary quest. It works because its done in parallel to other quests. Its part of a design ethos that ran all the way to WotLK launching which was “do everything there is at the same time”. Go to a zone, get all the quests, from all the hubs, work through it.

    That was throw out with WotLK. Instead of getting all the quests from two or three hubs, the hubs work like mini zones. There is no Runner to take you round the zone, you do everything there is to do for the hub within a few hundred yards of the quest giver then you go to the next hub.

    This completely changes the Exploration based zone discovery from the core game. Take TBC – go to Hellfire, pick up all the quests at your first base, spot the obvious Runner quest to the other hub, start exploring, work the Runner while you do, get the quests from the other hub and work it *all* together. This is fun. This encournages exploration. This removes most of the need to resort to spoiler sites.

    Instead WotLK effectively splits each zone into 2 to 4 mini-zones, where all content is related to the hub and happens next to it. Runners are always once the content at that mini-hub is clear. There is a lack of co-existant questing and no Ancilliary questing (doing something for the whole zone while you work other quests – like Green Hills).

    I won’t go into all the other numerous problems with WotLK but its clear that as the man in charge, the whole abortion was Kalgan’s fault, and it is no wonder they moved him the second they realised they were about to leak a couple of million subs – which by all accounts they are doing.

    Regards,
    Eduin

  52. […] Broken Toys has already pounced on this story as has Mobhunter each giving their own unique takes on his speech. I’d like to put my own Wolfshead spin on Jeff Kaplan’s lecture. […]

  53. sinij says:

    Basically, and I’m speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it.

    No, you need to stop writing bad fanfic. Nobody wants to read that. If you want to convey the story… use fucking cutscenes, voice-overs or at least scripted in-game dialog or don’t bother at all.

  54. sinij says:

    @Eduin
    I think leaking subs has more to do with shipping early than anything else. WotLK had none of the usual Blizzard polish. I think servers still occasionally crash.

  55. Angelworks says:

    @Rog

    Yup my fault 😦 – sorry about that.

  56. Dragoncroft says:

    “World of Warcraft has 12 million more subscribers than you do.” Ya know, the WoW snark gets old. You think gamers aren’t tired of WoW? You think we aren’t starved for new worlds to explore and spend our money on? How about releasing a game that isn’t fundamentally _broken_ at the core system level at release? How about releasing a game on time? How about releasing games that offer the systems as advertised? Your industry is broken at very basic levels and you can blame the marketing guys or the producers all you want but you’ve become the epitome of the guys in the ivory towers. Smug and out of touch. I realize that most of you think you know better than the unwashed masses but, from obvious metrics, you’re wrong. Warhammer Online, AoC, Tabula Rasa, (insert name here)..they didn’t fail because of the marketing guys or the producers or the CS guys or _gasp_ even the players. They failed because YOU, the “guys in the trenches”, can’t get working systems to market and your consumers, who you all seem to despise, are no longer willing to pay for 8 months of testing. I don’t like Jeff Kaplan. I don’t think he’s correct. But Blizzard has figured out that polish counts and that players are more willing to pay for cotton candy that tastes like cotton candy than advertised filet mignon that tastes like dog crap.

  57. Brent Michael Krupp says:

    Eduin is completely insane. Wrath is an amazing expansion and the quests are wonderful — just about the best in WoW to date. If you hate WoW that’s your business but don’t make shit up about Wrath sucking.

  58. Aufero says:

    “Show, don’t tell” has been one of the few universally agreed on rules of fiction for a long time. It’s interesting to see quest designers rediscover it.

  59. Mist says:

    Eduin :
    Well let’s be clear here – it is highly likely that Kaplan’s sideways move is the same as him being fired. And he will have been canned over the abortion that was WotLK.

    Whoa, whoa, are you really this retarded? Being lead designer of Blizzard’s next flagship MMO is the same as being fired?

  60. Longasc says:

    Eduin, small typo: Jeff Kaplan = Tigole, not Kalgan. Kalgan = Tom Chilton. Formerly known as Evocare, he did some odd things to Ultima Online under this name, before moving on to do greater damage to the whole MMO genre with WoW! 🙂

    And while people are criticizing Eduin, I think he is going too far, and Tigole has not been fired, as people pointed out. Rather promoted.

    Which is a sad thing, as his GUIDED BUS TOUR quest driven content-delivery is what makes WoW/WotLK a one-shot singleplayer experience, a game, not a virtual world. Then you have the totally different group endgame content, the dumbed down raids. As the whole game was casualized, the terms “casual” and “accessible” becoming synonymous with easy and dumbed down to the very lowest common denominator.

    Basically, unless you are driven by lust for somewhat better raid items, you can stop playing after questing through WOTLK to 80.

    We should better play singleplayer RPGs with even better story and more varied quests than online-singleplayer games with some nice MMO light touches like WoW.

    I wonder how the next WoW expansion will be: even more guided bus tour for stupid gamers that more and more forget how it is to explore by themselves?

  61. Ed says:

    I’d say Kaplan is right on the money with most of this stuff.

  62. Mist says:

    Nothing is more GUIDED BUS TOUR than Warhammer Online. The whole game you follow a single road through each race’s PvE area from quest hub to quest hub, with absolutely no deviation. If it wasn’t for the occassional scenarios breaking the monotony, no one would put up with it.

    WoW’s bus tour is at least somewhat non-linear, particularly in WOTLK, but still not much better. Adding in bonus quests in out of the way places would be preferable, the original game had tons of those.

    I think when analyzing WoW, people should focus on the original game (minus the original endgame.) That original level up process is what got people hooked, what got WoW to become this cultural phenomenon with critical mass to constantly attract two people for every one self-realized addict that quits cold turkey. Blizzard themselves should not so quickly write off their ‘mistakes’ from the original game, because they might not be as much of a mistake as they look. This is one case where hindsight might not actually be 20/20.

  63. Davide says:

    Seeing as they lost all immersion when they put big explanation signs and question marks over NPCs heads why not just keep going and put a summary string at the start of the quest text.

    [Hide]Summary: Kill 10 rats.

    Then put a glowy trail on the ground that will lead the player to a rat, then the next rat, then to the turn in PC, then create a glowy trail to the next available quest NPC.

    Give the little newbie every ounce of hand holding you can think off cause after all, its hard to find a character by name without a giant glowing neon arrow over their head and a glowy path leading you to him.

    Now that you have made it possible for every moron in the world to be able to play your game give players the option to turn all that shit off and reward them with some percentage of increased Experience/Faction.

  64. Adam says:

    Davide, surely you’ve heard of Questhelper. It actually does something close to what you’re sarcastically talking about. And it was so popular that its author was able to make a full-time job out of it just through donations.

    That’s the real lesson of WoW. People say they want immersion and good lore and everything else. But most people don’t actually care about what they say they care about. Most want to level as fast as possible and get shiny purples. And the game company cynical enough to realize this is making a fortune.

  65. EpicSquirt says:

    PvE is so overrated.

  66. Gx1080 says:

    Lets make a review:

    *People dont read text because they just want to kill and get purples. Well, put voiceovers or movies or make the quest more interesting that: go kill x for y. (Either make y always drop or make different types of quests).

    *Green Hills of StrangleHorn failed, not because was deep, it failed because our inventory space in those levels cannot hold all those pages. (Unless you are a twink). I like the Warhammer solution, an unlimited quest items bag and a normal bag.

    *Going quest hub after quest hub its dumb. I dont say that we shouldnt have quest hubs, i say that quest hubs and quests in general shouldnt be the center of the leveling process, you shouldnt feel that you miss a lot of stuff for not questing, you shouldnt feel that the quests guide your advance in the game. Mkae a lot of untelated quests hubs, stop making quests that guide people from quest hub to quest hub, make that you can do one epic quest from each hub and make it that you dont end up with a boss that one shot a single player.

  67. Arkenor says:

    Just because some people don’t read the quest text, is that a reason to do away with it?

    I read it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let the impatient folks click through if they want, but I don’t see a good reason to do away with it. It cannot cost that much to get the text written, as a proportion of development cost, surely?

    If younger people today think they don’t like reading, the answer is not to remove reading opportunities from them; it is to provide high quality engaging quest dialogues that will make them want to read.

  68. Mandella says:

    As if I didn’t feel marginalized enough before…

    I like mystery, I like story, I like all those things “everybody” else hates.

    Thank the gods for niche games…

  69. Drakks says:

    Eduin :Well let’s be clear here – it is highly likely that Kaplan’s sideways move is the same as him being fired. And he will have been canned over the abortion that was WotLK.
    Just reading how he views the quests system, and having played his vision in WotLK, it is clear why the game has lost so much of its enjoyment – and Kaplan is that reason.
    Green Hills is a fun ancilliary quest. It works because its done in parallel to other quests. Its part of a design ethos that ran all the way to WotLK launching which was “do everything there is at the same time”. Go to a zone, get all the quests, from all the hubs, work through it.
    That was throw out with WotLK. Instead of getting all the quests from two or three hubs, the hubs work like mini zones. There is no Runner to take you round the zone, you do everything there is to do for the hub within a few hundred yards of the quest giver then you go to the next hub.
    This completely changes the Exploration based zone discovery from the core game. Take TBC – go to Hellfire, pick up all the quests at your first base, spot the obvious Runner quest to the other hub, start exploring, work the Runner while you do, get the quests from the other hub and work it *all* together. This is fun. This encournages exploration. This removes most of the need to resort to spoiler sites.
    Instead WotLK effectively splits each zone into 2 to 4 mini-zones, where all content is related to the hub and happens next to it. Runners are always once the content at that mini-hub is clear. There is a lack of co-existant questing and no Ancilliary questing (doing something for the whole zone while you work other quests – like Green Hills).
    I won’t go into all the other numerous problems with WotLK but its clear that as the man in charge, the whole abortion was Kalgan’s fault, and it is no wonder they moved him the second they realised they were about to leak a couple of million subs – which by all accounts they are doing.
    Regards,Eduin

    It’s awesome when someone doesn’t let the fact they don’t know what they are talking about stop them from talking about it, in length.

  70. Daniel says:

    I think there is a basic flaw in a lot of the comments in this thread. I agree that many players don’t want what they say they want and at the end of the day go after the purple items. The question is why. Some may argue that it doesn’t matter because Blizzard is a business and all they need to do is give their customers what they want. And that may be true in the short run but its not sustainable.

    There is nothing inherent in human psychology that makes people go after purple things. Heck, even if you believe the numbers Blizzard puts out, less than 2% of all Americans have ever even played WoW. On one hand five million people is a lot of people. On the other hand, compared to other areas of popular culture, five million customers is nothing.

    The real challenge for developers is not how to make a better quest system. The real question is how do you design a game that makes the 90% of Americans that have never played a MMORPG want to play one. Kaplan might have some of the technical issues around the margin right, but he completely misses the big picture. Right now, all the companies are essentially cannibalizing the same player base. WoW Recruit a Friend feature is a good example. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a step completely decontextualized from the larger context. The next step will not be evolutionary, it will be radical.

  71. Queso says:

    I actually thought that the questing in WotlK was the only redeeming quality of the expansion. They ruined everything else.

  72. etomai says:

    Daniel :
    The real challenge for developers is not how to make a better quest system. The real question is how do you design a game that makes the 90% of Americans that have never played a MMORPG want to play one. Kaplan might have some of the technical issues around the margin right, but he completely misses the big picture. Right now, all the companies are essentially cannibalizing the same player base. WoW Recruit a Friend feature is a good example. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a step completely decontextualized from the larger context. The next step will not be evolutionary, it will be radical.

    But the best example of expanding the genre is WoW. They took a niche and made it an order of magnitude bigger. And they did so through a commitment to polish and evolutionary improvement.

    I would say more likely that truly radical, revolutionary ideas will play out in the margins, then a big company like Blizzard will take those semi-proven ideas and package them up in a way that small efforts simply cannot. Kind of like WoW. And that’s not a terrible thing.

  73. Mist says:

    Blizzard did one thing that a lot of other MMO companies/design teams haven’t, and that’s publish successful single player and non-MMO multiplayer games before. Same for Origin. Verant got lucky. Funcom and Mythic might want to go try making a single player game before they do any more MMOs.

  74. Arkenor says:

    Mist :
    Blizzard did one thing that a lot of other MMO companies/design teams haven’t, and that’s publish successful single player and non-MMO multiplayer games before. Same for Origin. Verant got lucky. Funcom and Mythic might want to go try making a single player game before they do any more MMOs.

    They both have. Mythic and Funcom did not spring into existence with DaoC and AO.

  75. Mist says:

    Mythic made a bunch of extremely niche, online-only games. Zero single player games, nor did any of their games really have plot or storytelling.

    Funcom made some other games, but did the team who made AoC make any decent ones?

  76. Tremayne says:

    I was just thinking that Lord Of The Rings Online is guilty of just about every single one of the 9 ‘mistakes’ listed in the article (no vehice quests, but the session play quests where you control an NPC instead of your own character probably count). Some of the quests there that make these ‘mistakes’ stand out as the best in the game. And while LotRO doesn’t have WoW’s numbers (who does?) it seems to be doing pretty well by any other standards.

  77. Jeff says:

    Vajarra :
    Jeff: The movies are fun too, the first time. But to use Wrathgate as an example — by the time my third alt went through, I just hit the escape key. I don’t need or want to watch it again.

    I think Blizz made some major progress in storytelling for MMO’s with the cut scenes and the areas that change as you progress through them. It’s hardly fair to expect that story to be fun and unique your 2nd or 3rd time through.

    Mass Effect will get a little old the 2nd or third time through too.

  78. Shannon B says:

    I get the feeling Kaplan went from making interesting gameplay at the start, to making a game for the forum community.

    It seems like everything he says now correlates directly to the cesspit you see on the official forums. Too shallow/illiterate/lazy to read anything without lots of big pictures? Check. Obsession with finishing everything so you can get to the loot/end-game/next big thing? Check. Don’t want to explore or think and need to be lead through everything by the nose? Check.

    Hell, since when did you let moronic terms like ‘TL;DR’ start to influence design decisions? What’s our next big design influence meme from the forums? lolbuttsex? Srs bizns?

    I think Wrath is a great example of something designed for a vocal community which doesn’t actually know what it wants and whines every time it gets it.

  79. ello says:

    =================
    Hell, since when did you let moronic terms like ‘TL;DR’ start to influence design decisions? What’s our next big design influence meme from the forums? lolbuttsex? Srs bizns?
    =================

    Ever say “I want phat lewtz” to the boss in Plane of Growth in EQ? If not give it a whirl 🙂

  80. I used to read quest text in WoW. I stopped recently and I think the main reason is because I stopped caring about the game. Perhaps its the knowledge that I’ll never be able to affect anything. Why read all the backstory (of Van Cleef, for example) if all I’m going to be able to do is follow orders and kill the guy and then never hear about the story again? The few times they’ve tried to include a longer story through multiple zones/expansions haven’t really been all that great.

    As for cut-scenes, etc., I agree that it makes you stop the first time around. The voiceovers in AoC were pretty neat, but they got tiresome. The mini-presentations in WotLK were just eye-roll worthy. Every time the Lich King showed up to blather on during a quest, I just yelled, “OZZY IS COOLER!” to entertain people nearby. With text, I can choose to read it when I want; I really like LotRO’s quest log because I can go back and read up on quest text even if I was in a rush the first time.

    And, Gx1080 nailed why Green Hills of Stranglethorn failed: inventory space. Even with my twinks I buy the pages ASAP so I’m not carrying bags half full of the stupid pages.

  81. EpicSquirt says:

    I’d be interested in PvE if it wouldn’t be distinguishable from PvP, IMO both should follow the same mechanics.

    I’d love to see a MMORPG without a silly fog-of-war-map and markers for everything, but instead interested players would use a cartographer skill and maybe even craft maps and sell them. I definitively remove name and level indicators – this has to be the most stupid thing in all MMORPGs.

    What happened to the perception questions and rolls from the pen & paper RPGs?

    Players just run from camp to camp, do quests or AoE power leveling, if they’re stuck they don’t even bother reading the quest text, but spam global chat channels (they need to be removed too, the whole socializing excuse is bullshit, you can socialize when you meet someone or go to a place in the virtual world where it’s possible, e.g. a pub) instead and ask for help.

    I am not sure why a dragon would do it, but the day I play an MMORPG where a dragon is in disguise as a rat in a starter area, I’ll shit my pants out of excitement and subscribe that MMORPG for a year instantly for many epic squirts to come.

    The whole quest effusions of Kaplan result from ultra boring PvE – I wish someome would make an MMORPG more pen & paper RPG stylish. Is it only me suffering from nostalgia? Would anyone else be interested in this?

  82. Shannon B says:

    @EpicSquirt

    To make PvE any more exciting than it is currently, you’d have to make it more challenging.

    I’ve seen the average WoW player’s reaction to ‘challenge’, chances are they’d lose most of their subscribers.

  83. Queso says:

    @Shannon B.

    You could say the same thing about any playerbase for any game(MMORPG or not). Most people want the easy way out. Not necessarily all, but most.

  84. […] long so I decided to edit it down. Instead of going through Kaplan’s keynote point by point (Scott Jennings did such a great job of that already) or coming up with ways to improve quests by improving the game world (Dusty Monk has done that for […]

  85. Yeebo says:

    @Adam: all too true I’m afraid.

    Adam :
    Davide, surely you’ve heard of Questhelper. It actually does something close to what you’re sarcastically talking about. And it was so popular that its author was able to make a full-time job out of it just through donations.
    That’s the real lesson of WoW. People say they want immersion and good lore and everything else. But most people don’t actually care about what they say they care about. Most want to level as fast as possible and get shiny purples. And the game company cynical enough to realize this is making a fortune.

    All too true I’m afraid.

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