Game Development Reference
Unfortunately, MMO writers don't always have the luxury of controlling pacing.
You can have an NPC offer a quest, but you can't be sure whether the player is going
to jump right to the first step, take on another quest instead, go back to town and
buy food, duel with a friend, or any other of a number of potential activities.
In this respect, the quest log of the modern MMO is both a blessing and a curse.
It gives the player character a constant stream of things to do, yet it can pull the
player in so many different directions that the narrative can be lost. Quests become
a shopping list of objectives rather than a means to tell a deep and memorable story.
Consider offering fewer quests to the player at any particular point in time, and
instead make each of them more immersive and meaningful. But don't become so
enthralled with the idea of offering depth that you make it easy for the player to get
lost within complexity. Remember that MMOs are not an ideal canvas for story-
telling, so you should try to be as clear and direct as you can. Making your story
points too subtle will cause them to be lost; go for clear and accessible instead.
It also helps to keep the objective of the quest very near to the quest giver so that
the player is more likely to try to complete the quest right away. It's far more likely
that the player will retrieve the sacred chalice for Orrin the Wise if the person who
stole it is in a hideout just down the street. If the thief is hiding halfway across the
world, the player is likely to look for a more accessible objective that offers immediate
Players will excuse exceptions to the above rule of thumb if the quest is clearly
important or rewarding enough to merit immediate action. If returning the sacred
chalice will cause Orrin to reward him with the Mighty Sword of Endless Victories,
the player may be so enthused he'll spend hours working his way to confront the
thief. If the quest reward is only a handful of copper, though, expect your sweeping
storyline to be ignored.
Since pacing is so much out of the writer's control and so much within the
player's, it becomes very important to take every opportunity to keep progress regu-
lar and meaningful. Players will like it, and you'll find that your story is much more
likely to be recognized and enjoyed.
Players Are the Real Storytellers
Take a look at early MMOs like Ultima Online and EverQuest . Compared to modern
games, there was much less NPC dialogue to read and far fewer blocks of prose to
digest. You'd find named NPCs inside dungeons and begin to piece together the
framework of a story, leaving most of the details to your own imagination.
ModernMMOs, largely through their emphasis on questing, provide players a lot
more to read and thus lay the context out in a much more black-and-white fashion.
This takes away one aspect of player storytelling but can't touch its fundamental
core: the stories that result purely from what happens when a bunch of people share
a gaming experience.
Ask veterans of MMOs for their favorite stories from early games and few of
them will focus on something written by a content designer. Almost all the stories