Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Many faces of content

I've been kind of catching a trend in discussion around the blogosphere and I know I'm a bit late on this. To be honest, I haven't even read my blog reader over the summer, so I really don't know what is going on.

Who cares?

In MMOs we so much love and love-to-hate there has to be some reason why we keep on coming back to this form of 'interactive entertainment'. Yes, let's be honest about it. MMOs are not games because there are no set winning conditions. No "Game Over" screen. No cake.

No. Wait. That was another game.

In the loveliest sense the MMO world would be a virtual life, virtual, boundless world to explore and exploit. However, that would mean also that the 'gameplay' of the sandbox would fall into the hands of the player alone, which in turn makes it too much like 'real life'.

Some say that the content in a MMO is that which is scripted in as quests: menial tasks leading to another and so on. If the quests are just those menial tasks to kill ten (insert a critter name here), then they are not content. They are a filler. A soap opera episode without any ties to the story arc of the season. The episode with big red reset button at the end. You know what I mean.

The best quests, however, are those which lead you to an evolving plot. In WoW there are some must see quest chains which do this, most prominently the Wrathgate-chain and the Mount Hyjal opening. Come to think of it, the whole Cataclysm expansion is one big evolving plot stuff, each area having their own storyline down there somewhere. Shattered by menial tasks, making it next to impossible to follow the actual story among the clutter of clues and sidetracks.

In WoW, there is no way of telling which quest leads to a bigger story.

As I've been playing Rift lately, there is this clever 'story quest' system in: the quests which carry a grand storyline are on a golden background. There are other stories which slowly lead you to these, but the general point is that you know immediately that these stories mean something. I would say that these are the grand story arcs of your favorite tv-series, and you know that you must see the next chapter. And fast.

But quests are not content alone. Nor is the totally open sandbox world. The content comes from the combination of the two, if and only when you add a bunch of players into the play.

You see, I think most of the content is what we create by ourselves while doing those menial tasks to find the story arc lines among other players of the play.

We players are the content. Without us the grand sandboxes and themeparks would be nothing.

PS. As of now, the comments and discussion can be continued in Google+.