[NOTE: Most of my experience with massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) comes from years of playing World of Warcraft and Guild Wars.]
103 days, 17 hours, 44 minutes, and 6 seconds. That is how many actual hours I have logged on my most played character in World of Warcraft, but I have no idea what is going on in Azeroth – and I mean REALLY going on. Ask me what it was like to kill Kael’Thas with 24 of my guild mates and I’ll tell you that it was one of my greatest gaming achievements. Ask me why I did it and I’ll tell you, “Because that’s when the raid was scheduled.” It’s sad, but that is how a large majority of MMO players play their MMOs. They walk up to the neutral playing character, or NPC, and right click on him because he has an indicator, usually an exclamation point, signifying that he has a quest for you to do. You might ask why you should bother helping this man find all of the ingredients for his newest potion, but you’d be one of the very few who actually give a hoot about any of that. In fact, not only is it not interesting to most players, me included, but it puts a huge speed bump on your leveling pace. The more time you spend reading the quest text, the longer it’s going to take you to reach the level cap in the game and in most MMOs, that’s where the real fun starts.
Speaking of quest text, it has occurred to me that it could be the very problem with storytelling in MMOs. Video games simply aren’t known for their stories being told through text, but instead through cut scenes and gameplay sequences. There are a few moments in World of Warcraft that have very well-done (and well voice-acted) cut scenes. However, World of Warcraft’s story is primarily told through text. Even if you are to seek out the story out of the game by browsing the magical interwebs, you’ll end up reading something from the official website or reading something that someone else paraphrased/summarized. If MMOs like World of Warcraft want to entice me with their “epic” story, then don’t slap a metaphorical asterisk on it that inevitably tells me I will be reading quest text, after quest text, after quest text.
On the Horizon…
Fear not, for all is not lost! Today’s MMOs might have some serious competition on their hands, as far as storytelling goes. I’m talking about Guild Wars 2 – a game that has long been on my radar (so long that I sometimes wonder if it will ever be released). Guild Wars and its several stand-alone packs and one expansion pack were a huge step in the right direction for massively multiplayer online games. Though, it is hard to call it an MMO at all considering its heavy use of “instancing,” a term used to describe areas in MMOs that are separate from all other players, excluding those in your group. The only time you were surrounding by all of the other players in the game was when you entered a town or outpost and as soon as you left you were left by yourself, your group, and/or your computer controlled “henchmen.” However, it consisted of a lot of cut scenes and voice-overs that aided in telling the story of each campaign. From beginning to end, I knew exactly what I was working towards and why I was doing it, something that I had never experienced to the same degree in an online game (still hard to call Guild Wars an MMO).
Guild Wars 2 will be improving upon its predecessor in numerous ways though I want to mention those concerning story. First of all, each character that a player creates will have its own “personal story” that, obviously, tells the story of your character. In addition to that, the game’s primary story will be heavily voice acted, including the gameplay. This helps more than most think. It is far easier to consume a story, while playing a game, and talking to other players, when you can simply have the story told to you. In addition to all of this, Arena Net is giving the questing experience a complete face lift. In fact, quests don’t exist in Guild Wars 2. There are events that happen all over the in-game world and it is your choice to participate in these events or not and depending on the outcome of said events, you will have entirely new events to tackle. All of this will take place alongside all of your allies in the particular area of the world you are adventuring through, and not just the ones in your group – a much-desired improvement upon Guild Wars 1. Guild Wars 2 is promising a lot in terms of story; something that I wish all MMOs would do (and, of course, follow through on).
Another highly-anticipated MMO is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which, from the gameplay I have watched, is much like World of Warcraft, if it was set in the Star Wars universe. Their stunning cinematic trailers that they have premiered at the past few Electronic Entertainment Expos are rather misleading to the common consumer. They look really pretty and I can get a feel for what the story will be about, but when it comes down to actually playing that game, I don’t think I will be nearly as engrossed in what is happening around me as these trailers have made it seem.
MMO developers need to realize that if they want their players to at all care about what the current story is about then they need to change the way that they convey that story. Because if they don’t bother highlighting the story that they have worked so hard on writing, then why have a story at all?EDIT: Instead of linking to my blog, I simply copied and pasted it here.