Massively Overthinking: Reconsidering the MMORPG daily quest

    
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Dailies.

The word evokes pure hatred from some corners of the MMORPG world. And yet games without dailies are dinged for not having enough content or “glue” to pull people back. Aren’t MMOs damned if they do and damned if they don’t?

This week’s Massively Overthinking question is from Das Tal developer Alexander Zacherl and is right on point: “Are daily quests in MMORPGs good, bad, or ugly?” he wonders. “Which games have managed to implement them in especially great or horrible ways?” I posed these questions to the team this week!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I honestly feel like dailies are what slowly kills video games, but none more than MMOs. The yellow ! you have to search out followed by the all too obvious tasks at the end of more open gameplay is tedious. MOBAs and online CCGs often start with these, so they shape the way players learn to play. MMOs, on the other hand, usually save these for endgame. I’ve seen them popping up earlier now, but that doesn’t erase their repetitive nature. Even if you have specific dailies to focus on from the start to guide your gameplay, I feel like guided gameplay is what really kills the genre, or at least, has opened it to the point where the term is grossly overused.

If you’re going to have dailies, I think they should be like Animal Crossing. They’re not explicit, but every day, there’s new areas on the ground you can see buried treasure. Your flowers need watering, plants grow, people move, holidays come and go, and there are no quest trackers. Instead, because you can visually see the changes or understand them in real world terms, it guides gameplay (the player should be exploring and maintaining their village) naturally, so that those who want specific goals can have them, but the exploring time mostly can still play however they want.

Think about daily “Kill Ten X” quests. Why that mob? Why that place? Heck, why that many? What is the player learning from that context? At best, the mob may use a mechanic needed to prepare for a raid, but often, I feel like it’s just a random mob, often in a place that’s trying to start up potential strife or kill time, and both goals can be answered by applying more elegant design practices.

animalcrossing

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I’m largely in favour of daily quests and login rewards as they have been proven to increase player activity, but they have to be used sparingly and not in place of actual compelling content. World of Warcraft severely overused daily login tasks with garrisons, giving players laundry lists of daily chores to avoid wasting progress. On the other hand, I find myself frequently logging in to Guild Wars 2 to grab my daily login reward and complete and few of the daily quests.

Dailies do a great job of getting people to log in and play for 20 minutes or so, but the goal for devs has to be that something else will grab your interest in that time and keep you playing. You might bump into other players doing a dungeon run, or get chatting to a guildmate, or remember that you were working toward some achievement and pick up where you left off. This is why I’m actually looking forward to EVE Online’s planned daily reward for your first NPC kill every day, because all it does is literally get you in-game for 20 minutes.

EVE players used to have to log in every day or so to set new skills training, and when the infinite skill queue was added, it was assumed those were “empty logins” and that people logged off after setting skills. The interesting thing is CCP’s data showed that just logging in to change skills did lead to further meaningful interactions, which makes sense because that’s definitely how I used to play. I’d log in to change skills and then see an alliance-mate doing something or a faction warfare fleet running or even just industry jobs and market orders that needed to be adjusted.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My very first experience ever with anything that might retroactively be called dailies was Ultima Online’s power hour, now long since removed from the game: The first hour you logged in every day saw accelerated skill gain. It certainly ensured people logged in every day, but I also saw how people would just log out after that hour was up. They did their “requirement,” but by the end of it, they didn’t feel compelled to play on. In a way, that “daily” task became a chore that sapped what energy they’d have normally spent on doing something of their own choice, something more fun.

Daily quests, just like daily rewards, work only to get people logged in, but if they are repetitive, boring, or pseudo-mandatory, they crush morale and don’t actually keep people paying and playing. They can be fun for a little bit, but once the novelty wears off, players just see through them to realize they are filler until the next round of content arrives. World of Warcraft has been heedlessly demonstrating this phenomenon for years.

My favorite daily system was the one Guild Wars 2 had several years ago (it’s changed since): I felt as if it rewarded players for diverse play and for “just playing” via a wide variety of optional things to do. It’s been so heavily stripped since that I can’t say it’s something I do and enjoy regularly anymore, even when I’m rabidly playing Guild Wars 2. Maybe that’s better for the game, but it proves to me that daily quests are something that can be sticky content if done properly and seamlessly.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Dailies are one of those things that can be used very well or very badly. If I had to compartmentalize at all, I think the big difference is whether or not dailies are things that can be done every day or must be done every day. The former usually works out fairly well, the latter less so.

Ideally, daily quests and similar daily tasks provide you with a reason to log in on a fairly regular basis, take care of something, and then start in on a larger project. Final Fantasy XIV has its daily quests, roulettes, and item turn-ins for crafting/gathering – enough to get you in and doing something. But all of those do have a cap on how much you can or should do over the course of a given week and all of them are fairly quick, giving you motivation to log in and do something without turning it into an interminable chore. During the better parts of World of Warcraft’s history, you would often log in and run a daily dungeon along with doing a few daily quests; it was only in later expansions that we first wound up with overwhelming piles of daily quests that you had to do on a daily basis to make proper progress, something I’ve talked about elsewhere.

While the game is a fair bit older, I think Final Fantasy XI kind of stumbled onto a brilliant double-pronged approach, giving players daily objectives and daily login rewards both – enough stuff that you can clear through quickly, but also kind of motivating you to take care of some other matters along the way. You don’t really fall behind if you can’t clear a daily objective, but boy, it is helpful. But if all you can do is log on and go, you can still get some rewards.

Overall, daily quests are bait. The idea is that you log in for a daily and then just keep playing. But that makes the issue pretty clear at face value: If all of the content is dailies, than there’s no hook, and if there’s no bait, all the content in the world will have trouble snaring players. Give people a reason to come back and play a bit every day, but have something more substantial to serve as a snare.

I want what I want.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Providing a flowing stream of content in a quest-based MMO has to be one of the trickier elements of game design. If you can’t or won’t turn your players into content creators, and you don’t have a dev team and process quick enough to churn out more “product” to a ravenous community, then I can certainly see why the concept of dailies are attractive.

I don’t mind them on principle, although usually I lose interest in any given batch of dailies after a few runs through unless those dailies are incredibly lucrative or the path to a prize that I desire. I’ve seen some MMOs experiment with rotating or random dailies, which I think is a good idea to keep players from getting too sunk into a stale routine, especially during holiday events and whatnot.

Since dailies can be ignored (hopefully), then I’m totally OK with their inclusion as optional content for those who really want or need the satisfaction of a stream of quest turn ins even at max level.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I think I might be the only person in the universe who loves dailies, but then I probably like them for reasons that developers don’t foresee. I do daily quests because I accept them as a challenge to see how fast they can be done. I also like to couple in questions like “Which set of dailies will give you the most money the fastest?” as I complete them. Can they be boring? Yes, but I only find them boring if they are unnecessarily long or there is literally only one way to do them. If you’d really like to know what I think of dailies, you only have to look at some of my past guides like How to make a million credits in an hour of SWTOR.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Honestly, I like having a reason to pop in and do something quick, and I think any task that brings me in for a moment will likely lead to my staying longer as I get interested in what is happening around me or remember other things I want to do. Isn’t that the point of dailies? Reward folks for taking time out to visit the game and hopefully get them to stick around longer?

The problem is when dailies are a tedious grind, which is really what at least 99% of them are! I lean more towards something akin to login rewards, but with a little effort on my part. Ideally, I’d like a small reward for a small task — preferably something that is tied into the development and progress of the world (and as such changes as the world does). Then make sure the reward is worthwhile enough to dedicate the time it takes to load up the game, and maybe once I am there I will settle in for a longer haul. Is that asking for the impossible? Maybe.

Short of that, there is always the solution that The Secret World and EverQuest II employed, which is offering dailies that are actually just regular gameplay objectives that folks can complete naturally without doing anything extra, all for a bonus reward. Do it or not, there is no pressure. But I find I am not drawn to log in to complete those, whereas I have been sure to log in and click my daily log in tracker in ArcheAge — even while on vacation! Do I do a lot after that? Not always, but I definitely do sometimes.

Your turn!

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