As this is my first dev watercooler, I thought some introductions would be in order. I'm the lead quest designer for World of Warcraft, but many of you may already be familiar with my writing and webcomics under the pen-name "Fargo" from years past. To all my new and old friends: Hello! I hope to have the opportunity for more chats like this in between cramming our game full of epic experiences capable of melting your frontal lobes with pure liquefied awesome. (It says that on my business card.)
I'm 85. Now What?
World of Warcraft has a pretty big footprint: we try to create a world that appeals to casual and hardcore players alike. There's a whole body of players -- be they casual or solo gamers or serious gamers with time constraints -- who gravitate toward questing. It's the most accessible part of the game. Quests move you through cool locations, allow you to play through epic stories, and continually reward you without requiring a lot of practice or commitment. Not everyone has the time to raid, and not everyone wants to; for many players, quests are the whole game. A major thrust of the Cataclysm expansion, obviously, was to recreate much of the world to give players a more consistent, satisfying, epic questing experience as they level up.
But there's a problem with level-up questing, and it keeps me up at night. It has an end. When you hit max level, the rewards slow to a trickle. You don't get a comforting Ding! every couple of hours. You stop learning new abilities. From a solo progression standpoint, your character is in many ways "done," and you turn your attention to the other parts of the game (like crafting.)
For many players, the end is just the beginning. We've done a lot to provide serious players with ongoing progression in the form of dungeons, raids, and accumulating high-end gear for fighting bosses or PvP. But what about the player who just wants to keep questing?
Keeping the Rewards Coming
In the absence of gaining levels, there are still ways to reward players who want to continue questing or playing through quest-like experiences. Here are some things (there may be more) that might encourage players like this to stick around:
Participation in an epic story
A sense of progress
Discovery of something new or unexpected each day
Earning character customization (including cool mounts!)
Earning fun toys
Making your character more powerful
I didn't list gold as a reward, because even though it's fun to hoard gold, the usual reason you want to do so is for one of the reasons listed above. I also hesitated to add "making your character more powerful" to the list. Even though it's fun and rewarding, I think it has a limit. It's mostly relevant only if you've got powerful stuff to fight. And if you're not interested in raids, getting powerful just for the sake of power isn't always compelling.
We've grappled with this problem before, and we'll continue to tinker with solutions. The Isle of Quel'Danas provided people with a great sense of progression, at least on a realm-wide level, and it sure felt epic. The Argent Tournament definitely gave players a sense of personal progress, as well as lots of fun toys.
But for patch 4.2, we really wanted to give players something. Something big!
Fight for the Firelands!
The Guardians of Hyjal are getting smart in patch 4.2. They're not just assaulting the Firelands with hardcore raiding guilds... they're attacking that place with everything they've got. That includes you, solo players! We've created a whole zone dedicated to daily questing. There are some 60 new quests in total -- that's about half a zone's worth of quest content. While the raiders are concentrating on taking down the likes of Ragnaros, you'll be securing the rest of his fiery domain.
There's also a story here, a chronicle of a vicious, knock-down, drag-out fight that begins in Hyjal and progresses -- over the course of weeks -- across the mountaintop and then into the Firelands themselves. Along the way, major characters are going to get rocked, you'll meet (and destroy) a few new villains, and you'll earn yourself a small heap of nice rewards. The druids are establishing a beachhead in a hostile world, starting with little more than a pile of rocks and ultimately erecting an enormous otherworldly base.
The progression is personal: you won't see it happen until you make it happen.
We want to keep that sense of progression going, not just over the course of weeks but on a daily basis. As you begin to unlock and upgrade your hub in the Firelands, more quests will become available, and you'll be able to slowly push your way forward every day. Extensive randomization means your quest flow will be a little different one day to the next. You'll also have choices to make as to how the battle progresses.
The Firelands daily area hits a lot of the high points on my list above. And, for good measure, players can also earn a lot of gold and player-power enhancing items as well.
Beyond the Firelands...
Problem solved? Far from it -- to be clear, we don't think the Firelands questing arc is "the answer." But I'll come out and say I think it's pretty sweet. I'd love to hear your feedback -- it's been up and running on the Public Test Realm for a couple of weeks now. Personally, I've fought my way into the Firelands and I'm nearly ready to select my first major upgrade to the quest hub... do I go with the Druids of the Talon or do I recruit the Shadow Wardens? Decisions, decisions! My choice will impact the next couple weeks of questing.
Still, we're building towards something, and we're constantly watching players to see what works and what doesn't. I can't wait to see the Guardians of Hyjal stage their assault on the live servers.
In the meantime, even as we speak, our Top Men and Women (and I want you to imagine that we're wearing lab coats) are scheming up ways to push these ideas even farther in future World of Warcraft updates. Players shouldn't feel like max level is the end of their experience. We want everyone to participate in something epic, no matter what their playstyle.
Dave "Fargo" Kosak is the lead quest designer for World of Warcraft. Each morning by the first light of dawn his forearms are ritually shaved, followed by twenty minutes of cardio on one of those playground spring-horses.