Most MMOs as we know have some form of questing, whether it be designed to guide an overarching story or existing as a means to gain XP. As someone who mainly plays single-player games, I find going through these tasks utterly boring. It's safe to say that the quests of MMOs pale in comparison to their non-MMO counterparts. However, it is reasonable to accept this, as MMOs provide a unique experience that single-player games do not and the games themselves are so huge that integrating fulfilling missions is difficult. There exists plenty of content outside of questing to keep a player occupied. Some see main quests as a "rite of passage" or a grind that we all have to slog through to get to the end-game content. I think this design can be rather shortsighted or stunt a game's experience. One game that seems to break this mold is Runescape (stay with me).
Runescape provides quests that exist to support its open sandbox experience. A good majority of players have not even completed a quarter of all possible quests by the time they hit "end-game." For some reason, to me, the RS experience is reminiscent of the old e-café games of the early 2000s. I remember getting home from school and logging in to Runescape, Club Penguin, etc. just to hang out and explore. While Club Penguin may be a juvenile example, I think its argument still holds merit. The loss of the online social experience is obviously not entirely accredited to lackluster quests in MMOs, but their existence as a means to level up and lock the later game content is more burdensome than anything. Putting player activities to the forefront of an MMO can prove to be just as fun as a good questline. This brings me to question, what possible way can a fulfilling MMO be crafted without including the generic, mundane, questing experience? Runescape's approach is to possess fewer but more entertaining quests with truly valuable rewards (teleports, skills, unique items, etc.). Creating many quests to keep players occupied while designing them to be beaten by everyone is difficult. This brings me further, what if quests are introduced to an MMO last in its design?
Lastly, one can beg the question, would an MMO created today without quests uphold a popular audience? I don't want this to sound gimmicky, but borrowing from non-quest oriented single-player RPGs can be a start. Playing for the sake of leveling up skills, participating in an economy, socializing, exploring, crafting, hunting, pvp, pve, clans- the possibilities are endless. After this, "quests" could be implemented in the form of bounty boards, or something of the like if at all.
The biggest drawback to this I see is the narrative of most MMOs today are driven by its quests. Having an MMO without quests may mean sacrificing a player-inclusive story. However, there may be work arounds to this but I'm interested in what you guys think. How would you design an MMO without quests, or at the most, quests that sit on the side?
As an anecdote: I know there exists MMOs without quests (EVE, Elite: Dangerous). I suppose what I have in mind is something that resembles what we know now as the all mighty powerful fantasy world.
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