Quest Bestowal in MMOs
When playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, such as The Lord of the Rings Online, acquiring quests is a very straightforward process. Key locations such as towns, villages or anywhere with a stable are usually quest hubs. Non-playable characters denote that they have quest(s) available by having a glowing ring icon above their heads. It’s not subtle but you’d have to have a bag over your head to miss such an obvious clue. Most MMOs have some version of this bestowal system. A clearly visible means to show that an NPC or object is the starting point for a quest. It’s a rather unsophisticated system but it gets the job done. Hence it has been around for quite a while in the genre (silence, dissenting old school gamers, blathering on about how in the good old days, MMOs didn’t have quests).
Now this functional process has limitations. Quest giving NPCs tend to be static for practical reasons. You don’t want them perambulating around the town, making you have to search them out. So while those not bestowing quests can have all sorts of fancy animations to try and bring the illusion of life to area, quest giving NPCs just stand around, breaking the immersion that other aspects of the game have worked so hard to build. Plus in LOTRO, there is seldom any voice acting beyond the first line of the quest bestowal text. Therefore, it’s a somewhat dull process. In the MMO Star Trek Online, NPCs will sometime hail you while you’re in-sector space, as a means to imparting a mission. It certainly seems more natural and is totally in the correct idiom of the intellectual property. Plus, as a gamer, if you find this process intrusive, you can turn it off. Hence, different developers have tried to polish this quest giving system and make it more dynamic and feel more natural. ZeniMax have certainly tried a different approach with The Elder Scrolls Online. But it comes with its own consequences.
Even if you own just the base version of ESO, you notice that not all quest bestowals come via the traditional NPC, lounging around and lollygagging in the various towns and ports of Tamriel (although the game certainly has these). You may be riding past a farm, only for an NPC to come running out and declare that “Brother Numpsie* has been kidnapped by the foul Myrmidons” or some such standard fantasy-based reason. This mixture of proactive solicitation, along with voice acting is initially quite compelling. You may find yourself diverging from your current course of action to rescue the imperilled individual. Certainly this approach to quest bestowals suits an open world where players my just want to go out and explore, rather than follow a clearly delineated plan. However, this process can become a nuisance. At present, whenever I enter the Mages Guild, I am greeted by Arch-Mage Shalidor who invites me to participate in the next part of a quest line. I am frequently pursued in most towns by an Orc courier named Stuga, who tells me how long she’s been looking for me. Nag, nag, nag.
Joking aside, this interactive game mechanic can get a little wearisome. If you accept some quests it will remedy the problem of the quest givers overt diligence. But on occasions this can lead to immediate instanced content, so you may not wish to accept them. I am currently looking into the various game’s settings in ESO to see if there is a way of disabling or at least controlling this process. I bet there’s an addon to address it, somewhere. Oddly enough, ESO has another alternative way of starting quests or at least the main storylines of all major DLC. Wrapper missions can be launched from the Collections tab in-game. You don’t have to be in a zone and seek out the NPC who starts things. However, it would seem that no game has yet managed to design a creative quest bestowal system that doesn’t have some sort of drawback, limitation or even nuisance factor. Again I can hear the true sandbox devotees shouting about the why there has to even be a requirement of quests per se? But I like narrative driven content and don’t want to put my faith in emergent content. So until the developers improve the situation, I’ll continue to ask Billy No-Mates in LOTRO if they have any quests, and get chased round Tamriel, Benny Hill style, by the Prophet and Abnur Tharn.
*There seems to be a conspicuous lack of consensus with regard to how you spell Numpsie.