The Daily Grind: What are acceptable barriers to experience the story in an MMO?

One of the things that strikes me with a certain degree of bemusement is how often various bits of story in Guild Wars 2 are locked behind things. If you’re not raiding, you’re locked out of the story there; if you weren’t playing when the first season of the Living World story played out, same deal. But then, those are pretty common lockouts, and there are important World of Warcraft stories you simply can’t access if you play now (because they’re not there any more). So perhaps it isn’t surprising.

No sooner do I think about that, though, than I think about what other sorts of lockouts you could design for story content. Some amount of story in MMOs is always locked behind invested time (you have to get up to the right level and so forth) and real-world money (you’ll never see the expansion stories for Final Fantasy XI if you never buy the expansions). But what other sorts of lockouts could you have? Where do you draw the line for what stories should be locked behind and what shouldn’t impede your ability to explore an MMO’s story? Let’s throw that question to you, readers. What are acceptable barriers to experience the story in an MMO? And are there any barriers you would like to see that just don’t show up very often?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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47 Comments on "The Daily Grind: What are acceptable barriers to experience the story in an MMO?"

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Rolan Storm

None. All story content should be availiable to me, no exception and no barriers. I should be able to enjoy it alone too. No ‘skip it, I am in hurry’ messages in chat. No chat, in fact, at all. I am reading a book, don’t pester me, children.

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Malcolm Swoboda

For me? Easy small group content, usually. If I an LFG it reasonably, I’m okay with it. I’m against hardcore raiding, or trying to get into previous-expansion-raid-story but needing so many players.

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oldandgrumpy

You will never see the story in Final Fantasy XIV if you don’t completed the dungeons. Wish I had appreciated that before I purchased a copy. Now I am no longer a subscriber so guess that worked out well. Needless to say I ignore all emails from that company to buy the latest expansion(s).

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NeoWolf

Anything that does not involve forced PVP or Forced Grouping, those are two absolute no no’s for me, if a game pulls either of those as a gate to the story I unsub straightaway no exception, irrespective of how much I may like a game.

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Dystopiq

Why does there need to be a story? An MMO’s world can have history but why does it need some grand story where you’re the hero or chosen one?

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Robert Mann

Acceptable barriers for an MMO with story: Having seen the story that comes first. That can also mean that server specific things are server specific.

Alternatively, being there. If an MMO is designed to feel like a world with actual time passing, and things are continually happening, being there to experience it is an acceptable requirement. Doesn’t mean videos and tales shouldn’t be available, though.

There should always be a way to see the lore for those interested, so long as it doesn’t harm those playing. I’d even say letting people read the lore without playing (should they be interested for box price or a couple bucks, or free if it fits) would be good.

The worst possible options are flat out high priced paywalls (cash shop style, not xpac style which is fine with me,) followed by locking it forever in things like raids that most people won’t see until they can solo it.

**Personally, unless they hire some actual good writers and let them have some say, I could care less. Most MMO stories are poorly written. If it weren’t for good people to play with…**

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

I’d rather ask why MMORPGs need a story in the first place.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

Realm lockouts. Such as Camelot Unchained, where the lore/story of each Realm is locked behind the Realm itself. Unless you’re playing 3 accounts and all 3 Realms, you’ll never experience the full breath of the game’s story.

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A Dad Supreme

If a game has a F2P component, I don’t think the story portion should ever be a barrier regarding experience.

I think it’s wrong for a game to exclude the story or lore portion from even non-paying players; I’d rather a F2P game withhold things they usually give out freely like PvP areas and special events.

I think most players try a game for is more for overall flow of story and less for “pew pew” value anyways so story should never be locked behind any kind of paywall, where PvP which isn’t something that keeps MMOs running usually, should be.

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Loopy

I think that as long as you present your game for what it is, and stick with your story telling mechanic, i really can’t fault the game.

Some games work well by telling their story throughout the leveling process and questing, where end game activities are loosely tied to the story but not mandatory.

Some games have scarce story, and rely on the players to move it forward, such as EVE. This may work for some people, and not for some other, but ultimately is a design that’s perfectly valid.

Games that stick to end game being the conclusion to their story – i’m not a fan of that, but if this was their model from the get-go, we can’t really fault them for it. It’s when a game changes from “story for everyone” to “story through raiding” that players start getting annoyed.

Devs – be upfront with your community how the story will be told, and players will accept it.

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Kayweg

Try Elite Dangerous.
Unless you’re active on the forum, you could play that game for years without even knowing there’s a story going on.
And once you’re past the visibility bit, that background stories’ in-game accessibility is another matter entirely.
Good Luck.

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Witches

None?

If you don’t want people to play your game just say so, like Wildstar did.

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Veldan

I just want to say that having to raid to see the end of the story is not acceptible. I’ve always hated it. Raiders are usually the people who care least for story, so it makes no sense.

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Utakata

“You gotta raid to finish the story!”, usually crosses the line and pigtail for me. I don’t think most players care about any story when it comes down to gear checks, strategy, meters and the lewtz. Nor does it take 20 plus people to finish reading the end of story or seeing the end of a movie in RL. Yet raiders get to experience the story in all its conclusion, while the rest of us who have chosen quieter gaming paths get to wait to see the out-of-context cut scene clips on MMO Champs. /bleh

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Carebear

I have think about this a lot. On the one hand i agree that everyone should be able to finish the story..

on the other hand, when the story has a terrible powerful bad guy ( illidan, sargeras, dethwing, bahamut, nidhog, etc) how you make a good story conclusion if the adventurer deal with that guy alone? Maybe with the help of major NPC heros?

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Utakata

To be clear, my position does not stop raids from being designed with the themes from the stories in mind, so raiding can always be a choice. But the story should never be locked behind it, IMO.

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Alex Malone

But raids and dungeons almost always include stories. I’ve personally never played a raid or dungeon that didn’t have a story attached to it, usually kicked off in the open world.

So, is it acceptable to you to have stories in raids / dungeons as long as it doesn’t affect your solo story? Or is it acceptable only if the story is self-contained within the raid/dungeon? Or should there never be any story at all, just a general theme?

It kinda feels like your stance is “if I can ignore the content and not feel like I’m missing out, I don’t care about the barriers” which is a very selfish point of view, basically denying quality stories to everyone who doesn’t play like you. (I’m playing devils advocate here, I hate stories in computer games so I don’t care about barriers at all!)

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Utakata

They do! But they really shouldn’t is what I am arguing. :)

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Schmidt.Capela

So, is it acceptable to you to have stories in raids / dungeons as long as it doesn’t affect your solo story? Or is it acceptable only if the story is self-contained within the raid/dungeon? Or should there never be any story at all, just a general theme?

IMHO, if any part of the story can be experienced while playing solo, then all of it should be available for players that play exclusively solo. Adding story that you start solo but can only finish by joining a raid is one heck of a jerk move by the dev.

In my specific case, though, I’m nowadays unlikely to even give a chance to any MMO that features raids. I prefer games where I can have access to all the content by just doing things I enjoy or, at the very least, things I don’t actively dislike; raiding is something that after a year doing it I actively despise, something I will never try again, not even in a faceroll difficulty like WoW’s LFR.

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Utakata

@ Schmidt.Capela

On a personal note, I got raid burned out too back in Wrath. And I have never been able to get back into since, even still with offers I get from guildies and acquaintances to raid. I really appreciate MMO’s from a choice to group perspective, but do we really need all those players to bring down a boss? It just seems all exhausting and pointless to me.

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Nathan Aldana

Thats exactly why wow created LFR tho. so people who have no intention of ever being a serious content player can experience the story and get some shiny gear.

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Robert Mann

Er, I think you mean why WoW copied far more casual runs in other games, in a way that still isn’t up to par, trying to get people into who are never going to be into raiding into raiding. I say this as somebody who is fine with going raiding.

If their intent was to allow story access, they had far easier ways of doing so.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

I would say there are no “acceptable” barriers for gating story content. And there are games that get away just fine without it, both for managing player progression and engagement, and for including adequate monetization to keep the game running and content coming.

There are lots of things you can time gate and paywall, but there are none that you have to, including story. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And gating other things can work well enough; better even if it is well handled.

Some amount of story in MMOs is always locked behind invested time (you have to get up to the right level and so forth)

Not in ESO. You can go anywhere and do anything from your first moments at level 1. The game is B2P, and you have to sub or buy DLC content to access it. But if you own it, you can play it, whenever you want. Having played a game that works this way, any other way of doing it just seems quaint and dumb.

and real-world money (you’ll never see the expansion stories for Final Fantasy XI if you never buy the expansions)

Not in STO. You can play through 100% of the story line content (“Episodes”), including newly released bits in the current expansion and season, without paying a dime.

You also can access the full range of endgame content without paying, but your gearing options will be limited to the free T6 ships that they give away several times a year through major events, unless you spend some money. It’s a pretty good system actually as F2P games go; you can play and enjoy everything in the game without ever hitting a paywall, and the gear you can get for free is good enough to let you do that, though it gets sketchy in the most difficult group content at max level. But if you want to pimp out your captain with a bunch of fancy ships, then you will have to spend some cash.

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Robert Mann

To be fair, outside minor callbacks each ESO area is it’s own story… so it works. If it was tied into the previous story more, it would feel terrible. There’s a solid reason, if your story has a really important progression, why it should go in order.

That said, very few games actually have that important tie-in system, where things build on each story. Especially MMOs. So I don’t think it is an acceptable reason for most MMOs.

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Alex Malone

All barriers are acceptable to me.

To me, there is what is going on in the virtual world (invasions, wars or whatever) then there is my personal story. I am not the centre of the universe. I am not the hero. The story of the world does not and should never revolve around me. If the writers are making me the hero, the centre of the story, then they’ve completely misunderstood what MMOs are all about and have written a story that is completely at odds with the game.

With that philosophy in mind, that is why I am accepting of all barriers.

Lets say part of a story is contained within a raid, but I’m not a raider. So what? I don’t get to hear the story firsthand, but that’s on me because I choose not to do that content. I can hear about it second hand and the events of the raid can still filter into the rest of the world, making it it seamlessly.

MMOs are all about your personal journey. We are creating our own story. It should be different for every player, based on their own playstyles and choices, not following some linear bollocks generic storyline that breaks immersion and doesn’t fit with the rest of the gameworld.

(note: I hate stories in computer games. I think games are a terrible medium for telling stories and in order to get the tightest / most coherent story requires you to massively lockdown the gameplay, something which is anathema to me. Games should be about creating stories, not telling them).

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Robert Mann

I wish more MMOs would take that approach, and have a world that is changing regularly while allowing people to have their own story within all that. Sadly, most MMOs are very static. Which means that the story is the majority of the game. It doesn’t work well with those games, to have story locked behind walls for no reason.

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Rheem Octuris

I would like to see a Lore Book system in an MMO where are you do things in the world you also unlock pages in the book, and doing so earns you currency you can then spend that is only usable to buy missing pages, such as raid lore, so that players don’t have to go into every zone to get the whole story.

To extrapolate, your activities unlock information not just one whats currently happening, but also history on the subject. Defeating say, a kobold, would add information about there physical attributes, and so on, but also bits about their culture as you defeat more of them. Adventuring in a region tells you more about that area, whether it is outdoors, or a dungeon of some sort. Doing quests for an NPC might tell you more about them or the organization they work for, or the village they live in. And so on and so forth.

The idea is it would be an optional system there for those who want it, but not intrusive for those who didn’t.

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Nick Smith

Star Trek Online. I have not really played in years. Do they have a system in place that lets you experience all the different seasons/storylines? I would love to go back and catch up!

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Loopy

As far as i recall, all episodes are replayable through the mission interface.

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TheDonDude

Story barriers should be low enough that 99% of players can get through it.

Ideally there are difficulty modes (a la City of Heroes or even WoW’s raid difficulty levels) so that everyone is happy.

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Modrain

I don’t mind gameplay barriers to stories. If I didn’t want to be “bothered” by gameplay, I’d most likely just read a book or watch a movie.

Removing story elements altogether is however not ok with me. If you’re going with static storytelling insted of real dynamic events, then do it properly and allow people to experience it fully, even as flashbacks if necessary. Missing real events that occured between players is a thing, but it’s frustrating/disappointing to be excluded from something that was played/narrated, yet isn’t anymore.

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Schmidt.Capela

This is one of the reasons why Cataclysm made me leave WoW, and why I disliked GW2’s first living world season so much.

One of the main reasons I play videogames is so I can repeat any piece of content I find enjoyable; if I know beforehand that I won’t be able to repeat the content, then I have no reason to bother with it in the first place.

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squidgod2000

I thought about this for a while (alright, like 20 seconds) and realized that I can’t answer it because I never even notice the story—it’s just something that gets in the way of my playing (god damn cutscenes…)

Lore is great, but things like GW2’s Living Story I give precisely zero fucks about.

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Kherova

I hate all content that is locked behind certain types of gameplay. I don’t want to have to complete A to play B if I hate A and love B. Let me play B right away. Many times though this is not compatible with the traditional role playing mechanics, where you have to “advance” your character.

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Carebear

Any barrier that I can overcome by playing the game on my own pace. For example I need to reach certain level to continue the story quest, or there is a difficult enemy I must defeat and I must stop and upgrade my armor / skills so I can defeat it, or maybe there is a reputation faction that blocks the way.

Anything that controlls the time I play in game, either by not let me proceed further because I have to wait for unlock, or it puts me to do daily tasks for x days etc is not acceptable. For example, World of Warcraft Broken Shore campaign (1 quest per week) is the epitome of un-acceptable barrier.

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Hirku

Paying for an expansion that adds more story and other content is not only an acceptable barrier to me, it’s the only way I want to financially support the games I enjoy. Locking story behind gameplay modes that some may not enjoy is absolutely not acceptable. Even worse is story being locked away forever simply because you didn’t happen to start playing the game from Day 1 and every single day after. As much as it appeals to me otherwise, I will never bother to play Guild Wars 2 for that reason.

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Zen Dadaist

It’s one thing to hit little tidbits of stoy behind all the different activities a game offers as part of a minor reward/incentive scheme – it’s quite another to lock whole arcs, resolution etc behind hard raiding content or endgame PvP. I enjoy the former, but I think the latter is pretty mean. There is only a partial overlap between hardcore raiders, PvP and those that care for the story.

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Suikoden

My big pet peeve is when the side story lines, like in GW2 for example, go through a dungeon. Everyone wants to skip past it and zerg everything. If you are a newer player and want to take the time to watch the cut scene or read the story, the next thing you know the rest of the group is halfway through the map and you can barely catch up.
Same thing in SWTOR when everyone is yelling at you to hit spacebar. I believe FFXIV is like that too; in certain dungeons there are cutscenes you can skip.
I kind of like how DCUO does it actually. They give you very short cutscenes scattered without a dungeon run, but no one can skip them. Now, in that case the game is severely lacking story, but it I wish games like GW2 and SWTOR did that, and did not give you the option to progress until the cutscene or story was through. I consider that a barrier to experiencing the story.

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Pandalulz

The one thing FFXIV did to at least alleviate it a little is that you can watch the cut scenes after the fact in the Inn. It’s annoying to skip them in the first place but at least you’ve got that. I’ve noticed that the community there is pretty forgiving of new players watching them though. I always feel bad doing it though.

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Suikoden

That is very true. Very cool community, and the fact that you can rewatch them is key.

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BalsBigBrother

Gating story content behind an expansion is fine. Games need money to survive they are not run on a charitable basis but a business one so I understand the need for that. Other than that there are no acceptable barriers for story content. I tolerate the ones that are present (such a dungeons / raids etc) but I don’t ever like that they are a thing.

I am not playing Secret World Legends anymore but one of the best things they did with the update was to offer story mode dungeons and now the same for the raid. To me that was a more significant change than the combat update. Rift went a step further a long time ago to offer solo story mode dungeons and I hope they expanded on it.

Stuff like that needs to become more wide spread if mmos are to survive as a thing. I am content with groups runs getting more or better loot for their efforts than someone doing a story mode or solo mode just as long as they are an option that everyone can use.

Basically the more barriers that are in place the less chance you will have that I will stick around for long.

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Utakata

I am kinda with Mr. Bals on this. Using my book and movie analogy from my comment above, to read another book in a popular series or to see the next sequel in a popular movie, one still has to pay for those. Because authors, publishers, directors, producers, etc. can’t live on praises and accolades alone. Nor can they build the next version of their story on such either. Same goes for games.

So yeah…I am cool with this. Plus who doesn’t want to throw money at something they love? :)

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

compounding barriers to entry is part of the reason the genre is dying. wether it’s story or dress up play or something else. putting those fun and enjoyable things behind tasks that are less than fun and enjoyable just isn’t fun and people are no longer buying into it.

it’s a real problem that developers and designers in this genre feel the need to be so dictatorial towards the players of their games. like maybe if you let players have some agency of their own maybe they would be more grateful and engage more with your games, instead of fleeing them to less dictatorial games.

because the mmo genre has become about the opposite of having fun – it’s about working for some intangible pixel reward as if the pixel reward will have no meaning if it’s not worked for somehow, even tho the pixel reward has rather limited and fleeting value until it’s replaced by the next intangible pixel reward to be worked for.

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TomTurtle

The MMO genre in general is pretty stagnant and in dire need of a kick in the butt. The MMO stigma is real and for good reason. Moment to moment gameplay in comparison to other genres is often quite boring. That people watch movies and such to “get through” content while playing an MMO speaks volumes about how engaging that content really is.

Content doesn’t need to be gripping 100% of the time, but it certainly needs an improvement. Developers have fallen into a design rut of focusing the appeal of content on the rewards and not doing much for the journey to getting said rewards. The journey itself should feel rewarding by being entertaining in some form.

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Carebear

I think the problem is that MMOs in the past got the stigma of “Grind”. Many stories of people that “ruined” their lifes because of an MMO addiction and most non – MMO gamers were discussing MMO like there was some kind of drug…

So the companies had to remove the stigma and remove the long grinds. But at the same time they had to keep people subscribed for long periods before their next content is ready. So they created the time barriers.. Dailies, weeklies, content unlock schedules, etc.

So now instead of having to kill 20.000 bears to get x, you need just 100 bears.. but you can only kill 10 bears per day… and in 10 days you get your “cookie”. Oh and the “cookie” is not unlocked on patch day, but in week 3 of the patch..

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

i don’t think either of those things is a good thing

in my experience the longest lasting games in the medium have been ones without any grind or hard coded progression at all. look at some of those shooter franchises and how long lived they’ve been with loyal audiences high retention and long lived loyalty. and their sales tend to blow away just about everything in the mmo genre by a decent margin. even in the yearly installments of some of them that could be likened to the expack paradigm of mmo’s.

they don’t hold you back from having fun with some bullshit chore task. they don’t dictate to you how you must play at any given time. they don’t encumber you with overbearing grinds and skinner boxes (tho this is changing with unlock and skin/hat grinds).

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Schmidt.Capela

For me, at least, that makes me leave the game faster than a straight grind would.

Well, unless there is a catch-up mechanic, in which case I will stay away from the game until the catch-up mechanic kicks in, jump back to get through the barrier in far less time than those that those that did without the catch-up, and immediately leave again as soon as I get to the next barrier.

wpDiscuz