Some things in Lord of the Rings Online are not in place intentionally, like whatever error it was that led to players having a glorious rock in the middle of the road in Bree-land to delight and enrich all of us. But sometimes things are very much intentional, such as the way that the game has a strictly hub-based quest design even in the lower levels. And a recent development post explains exactly why that’s the case: It’s because the designers tried doing a more open structure with fewer breadcrumbs, but people missed the quests and complained there weren’t any.
Standing Stone’s Jeff “MadeofLions” Libby explains the situation in a forum thread in which players are complaining about insufficient content to get to level 32 in the new lowbie zones; Libby doesn’t directly address those complaints, but he does deep-dive the idea that while it would be nice to simply have an open world with no structured design and quests that auto-scaled and auto-granted themselves to players, it would require a complete redesign of the entire title and be a significant change (as players of games which have actually done this can no doubt attest).
“One of the challenges of being a game designer (and maybe one of the most important things to learn!) is that players tell you what they want and then it’s up to you to figure out what they actually mean by it. Having tried this experiment [adding content beyond hubs] in the past, I can tell you that it doesn’t: instead players say there aren’t any quests, because they go to a town and there’s nothing there to pick up, and if they miss the quest givers out in the wild (which they often do!) it feels like we just shipped an empty zone. Me and another designer added some extra non-quest-hub quests to Cardolan, and my suspicion is that they’ll end up being the least-played quests in the zone, simply because we don’t breadcrumb you right to them.”
It’s an interesting look behind the scenes at one of the ways games can be designed and a reminder that bespoke content is designed that way for a reason, to boot.