Ah, daily quests: the brave attempt of many MMO’s to hide an incentive to come back every day underneath a coat of in-game gold and distant rewards. Where some MMO’s (like Neverwinter and Warframe) just reward you for logging in every day, with growing rewards for consecutive days, many other online games find that a bit too simple. Those games beckon with series of daily tasks, waiting for your completion. Every day, the same people need your help with the same tasks, while your repetitive support makes them love you more, which they show by opening their collection of powerful items to you. Where game designers see an interesting scheme to call players back to their games every day, players often find boredom. A sad reality that should, and can be, alleviated.
Yes, let’s be honest about this: daily quests are nothing but a way to trick players into coming back every day so they can unlock gear or vanity items. For game designers, it’s a nice system to lock some part of the progression behind a barrier of repetitive tasks, while also guaranteeing daily visits from players. Once they’ve round-up their dailies, most players stick around to do other things in the game, which is just what the designers want. I can understand all of this, but if you want to make sure players don’t get burned out by these digital versions of chores, they need to become engaging. Dailies have to stop being a grind, and have to become mini-adventures.
But how can you achieve that? Well, I won’t tell you anything new here, because I think game designers are already on the right path. To illustrate my proposals, I will use World of Warcraft as an example. As the MMO I have invested the most time in, I can use it best to illustrate what makes good daily quest design, and what makes bad daily quest design. Also, WoW has been going through quite some changes in that field, so it’s very suitable as exhibition material.
I’m convinced that good daily quests contain three things:
- a sense of progression
- a story
Let’s focus on variation first. Way back, in the days of Burning Crusade, daily quests were brand new. Three factions had them, and you were limited to ten dailies a day. Every day, you had to do the same set of quests to increase your standing with the Netherwing, Ogri’la or Sha’tari Skyguard. Every day, you would take the same route around the zone to complete your tasks, hand them in and pray you would reach the highest standing before you went mad.
I mean, who actually enjoys doing the exact same thing every day? No one. Still, it took Blizzard until Cataclysm to provide daily quest hubs with bigger quest pools, from which a certain amount was pulled each day. The response of the players was really positive: if your eighteen daily quests of a faction are chosen randomly from a pool of 55, the chances you’ll do the exact same combination of quests every day is somewhat lower. This means you will not run the exact same route, and gives the added “which tasks will I have today?”-effect. Players won’t whisper that last line in a sarcastic tone, but in an honest voice of anticipation. Variation is thus a motivator which is essential to the enjoyment of dailies.
What is even more important than variation, however, is a sense of progression. Doing something repetitive is one thing, but it becomes less annoying when you can see what your labor has created. Putting brick on brick when building a house is also not very exciting, but at least you can admire a wall at the end of the day. Thus, dailies should give you more than some coins. They should show your impact on the world. In WoW, the faction of the Tillers does this right. The more reputation you get with farmer Yoon and the people of the Heartlands, the more things unlock on your farm. You are not just rewarded in material, but also in something visual. Your daily works changes the world around you.
Finally, daily quests should tell a story. Fortunately, Blizzard has picked up on this, and the daily quests of Mists of Pandaria (no matter how numerous they are) all are wrapped in a nice package of lore. At certain points in the reputation grind, the player is treated to a quest chain that pushes the story of the faction forward. For example, while doing your chores for the Dominance Offensive, you have a chance to witness what Garrosh is unearthing in Pandaria, while also helping Vol’jin in his struggle against the mad Warchief. Together with a visual progression, story makes the daily grind more worthwile, adding an additional reward to your work. Instead of just logging in, thinking “well, let’s work towards that epic gear”, you’ll also think “well, let’s see how that story will unfold”. It might just be another carrot on a stick, but it’s pretty delicious.
All three named aspects need to work together in order to create a somewhat enjoyable daily experience. I say “somewhat” because it will always be hard to make a repetitive task fun every day. Still, game designers can put in the effort to make it look less like a grind, and more like an adventure. All that’s needed is some variation, some visual impact on the world and a story that will keep you coming back!