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On Bioware and MMOs Having “No Point”

In a recent article in The Escapist, SW:TOR designer and writing director Daniel Erickson states that he thinks most MMOs out now have no point; that they lack a story to define our actions and, thereby, amount to a series of errands on the checklist of some faceless NPC.

This comment disturbs me.

Have Bioware been paying attention *at all* to MMOs other than their own? Almost every major MMO out there has a coherent story that they base the major quest lines around. WoW’s narrative evolves with every major patch. LotRO follows the single most well known fantasy story of our time.

It bothers me because they seem to be insinuating that every quest should relate to a larger narrative. Now, in theory, that’s great – if you don’t want that many quests. How exactly do you make every quest in a game relate to the main story? Come on, Mr. Erickson, let’s be real. If every quest in the game contributed to the main narrative, you’d wind up with one of the most diluted and convoluted stories in the history of video games.

Not to mention, people would simply burn through it no matter what. There is a reason for the amount of pointless tasks in modern MMOs: they slow you down and eliminate the need to grind. Yes, you might have a bunch of “kill ten foozles” or “deliver these candies” quests, but they are a necessary evil.

Okay, this really has nothing to do with the post, but, as a former computer science major, it amuses me.

There is an idealistic mindset that believes we don’t need chores in our games – and it’d certainly be nice if Bioware could create a totally all-encompassing story experience – but the fact is, without “chores” you have grinding or a breeze to the level cap; you get a content light game that will be derided as unfinished.

I’m going to predict right now that SW:TOR will have plenty of staple MMO quests. The only caveat may be that they try to veil them in a thin story veneer… like every other game on the market does. Sorry Bioware, just because you have a good reputation doesn’t mean that you’re perfect. These kinds of statements, while seemingly innocuous, set up an unreasonable expectation. There is no way they’ll live up to the bar they’re setting for themselves.

But, the more important point that these statements underline is this: there is a point to MMOs. MMOs are about character and social progression, plain and simple. They’re about chasing the eternal carrot on an unending adventure within the story-context of the game-world. I mean, the point of an MMO is evidenced in the entirety of the systems that make it up. I think a case could be made that the existing “point of MMOs” is more important than the fourth pillar. A game without a clear cut sense of progression, even at end-game, is a failure.

Will story cut it? Maybe once.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to TOR as much as the next guy, but you have to appreciate the philosophical underpinnings to the statements they make about MMO design. Maybe they’ll hit it out of the park, but, in my opinion, they’re shooting themselves in the foot by proclaiming their utter awesomeness at every turn.

The best thing they could do right now would be to clam up for about two months. Give us nothing. Now, won’t that make us go stir-crazy for your game without actually telling us to?

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  1. The neverending story | WeDuggIt

    […] than the comparable pen & paper roleplaying activity. Why does that matter? Have a look at the post from Chris at Game by Night on Bioware thinking that quests in current MMORPGs “have no point”, or the discussion in the […]

  2. Stories In Games – Where Should They Come From? « Procrastination Amplification

    […] that development time should go into gameplay elements rather than story and Chris at Game by Night claims that story as an integral part of the MMO experience will cut it once at most.Instead of going directly on topic I find it necessary to understand a couple of things about […]

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