If everyone wins, then nobody really wins – bringing failure into MMO PvE Questing

Woah.. Big uglies… But don’t worry, failure doesn’t exist here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success and failure in PvE content in MMO games. Specifically, there really isn’t any. Not really. We all just simply succeed; even dying isn’t a failure any more. We just keep re-doing the quests until we finish the task. So are we really succeeding?

In the latest Captain’s Log on Massively.com (written by the amazing Terilynn Shull), a fellow by the name of Dunnlang had a large response and made a few interesting points about what he felt were desperately needed improvements. This one point especially stuck out to me:

– Improve the Foundry trigger logic.  We need some triggers that are not all inclusive AND logic.  We also need dialogues to properly trigger after each other.  I have an amazing mission with 8 distinct paths that would be done if this were implemented.

It’s okay; if I blow up, I’ll just re-spawn and do it again.

This became a bug in my brain. I admit, as much as I want to be, I’m not that knowledgeable about game programming and scripting; heck, I’m in college learning it right now, and I don’t start my first scripting class for a couple weeks as of this writing.

But I did happen to learn last quarter a lot more about AND, OR, XOR, and NOT commands. He’s right. The Foundry is incredibly limited and can only make linear stories with no options to make failure conditions or multiple options for success. It’s a very linear path. What this means is that when you make a mission, there’s only one path to success. It’s a steady, linear, non-branching path. You need to do this, AND have this, AND do this, AND kill this, then you are done and get your rewards.

Then I looked back at all the missions I’ve played in STO, and almost all the Cryptic-made core missions are the same; only a small few of the more recent ones have added the ability to have OR conditions. You need to do this, AND then do this OR this OR this (as long as you do at least one), then you finish and get your rewards. The closest they have come for failure has been only once or twice, with a bonus that is not part of the main mission path and therefore not required. So basically, no matter what, you cannot fail. It’s a very linear path that only recognizes your success.

There’s an old Klingon proverb: “If you cannot fail, you cannot succeed.” It’s pretty true. Because we cannot truly fail in MMO games these days, are we really succeeding? Using some of the story from Star Trek Voyager as an example, some of my favorite episodes were where a member of the crew had a personal failure and grew from it (EG: “Timeless” VOY S05E06). Even if, in the end, they saved the day by atoning for their mistake in some way and trying the mission again, they still had a failure.

In STO, the way it is currently done, there’s no real way to do this other than an arbitrary rail story that the player has no choices in; they’re forced to do things regardless of how their character would act, and the outcome is always the same. It’s the same with pretty much every MMO on the market, even though there could be ways to make it work. In WoW, for example, the only way to lose rep standing with one faction is to kill their NPC faction members or maybe doing quests for the opposing faction. There’s no way to fail those faction quests, and so no damage to your rep if you were to fail them.

But what if there was? What if, as an example, you were tasked with slaying a specific NPC for the enemy faction, but when you faced him and he killed you, it made the mission a failure? For this example, the quest giver could then have the mission for you again, but the quest dialogue would be different and the rewards lessened; he acknowledges your failure with either a reprimand or consoling, and the fact you failed is remembered. Fail enough missions, and you loose standing with that faction, as they start not being able to trust you to be able to help them.

There’s ways it can be done, really, and done simply. I admit, especially for already existing games, from a development perspective this would be a lot to set up. But I think that it would make games a lot less obviously linear, which is something MMO games sorely lack, especially theme-park style games like WoW, STO, SWTOR, GW2, etc. I won’t go into details about my concept on how it would function; I’m totally admitting that I’m paranoid of other developers stealing my ideas. But anyone with enough brains could figure it out easily, and as long as the game already has some kind of reputation system, it would not be hard to slowly convert even older missions to this.

Now, before anyone gets in my grill about the whole issue surrounding losing specific rewards that could come from failing a mission, I hear you. There ARE ways to still have failure and work around this issue. However, I won’t go into that here, because I’m a paranoid game developer and don’t want my ideas stolen. 😛 So deal with it.

I play MMO games because I want to feel like a hero, like I’m actually accomplishing something in the game world. Unfortunately, without the ability to fail, success gets hollow after a while. Not everyone enjoys MMOs for the PvP; there needs to be other ways that they can fail, other than getting pwned by a group of prepubescent asshats because your PUG teammates are each off doing their own disorganized thing. We need to bring failure back to the PvE side of MMO gaming, because without it, there is no success. Honestly, I think we all play these games because we want to feel deservingly epic.

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