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Jun 07, 2007



Timed quests are some of the most insulting quests in MMORPGs. The ridiculous ease they place on them really hits home that you might well be a robot turning a crank for all it matters, as long as you get the sweet XP reward at the end! I'm not going to discuss the temporality of the game world, I don't think anyone could take it seriously at all, I can't think of anything that can be done!

The problem with actually making these quests urgent is that failure rewards you with nothing. Timed quests can fail for a number of reasons, but almost never the player's skill. WoW et al don't have gameplay styles that work to this type of quest, the maps are too flat and movement involves too little skill.

Crackdown on the 360 has timed quests too; rooftop races. If you fail a rooftop race, you aren't given anything. But the player does have value in defeat, seeing why you failed means that the next time, you have a better shot at it. If the timers on timed quests in MMORPGs were actually at a realistic level, the non-action gameplay style means there really is no lesson to learn; these quests are completed by jamming on auto-run and heading towards the right direction. Maybe if the location wasn't so obvious, and you had to follow a trail of clues to arrive there, this would sit better.

It's part of the wider problem of MMORPGs and failure; failure rewards you with nothing. Other games reward you with knowledge of how to avoid defeat next time. You can learn pretty much all there is to know about a class by about level 20 in WoW, and your mistakes (not running away, not healing fast enough) are just the same ones made over and over again. How many corpse runs do you make and think "Oh, I'll know for next time" rather than "damn, that's a stupid mistake, how did I manage that?" You're not empowered in defeat, you just feel foolish.

Failure of quests should be permanent, just like it is in some single-player RPGs. If you fail Lady Sylvanas, you should face consequences, say a couple of guards come to execute you. You fight them and win, and you have proven your worth to the Forsaken once more. You get a little bit of loot, and a story to tell in guild chat. All is not lost, and you feel like something good has come from the quest. That way quest designers can start putting more realistic times on these quests, and actually have them mean something. The value players get from these quests are then in their own player narrative, rather than as part of a world narrative.

My blog goes into this in greater detail.


Another example of timed gameplay can be found in Star Wars Galaxies, which introduced a racing minigame.

Based loosely on the "pod racing" from Episode I, this feature requires you to use a vehicle to complete a marked circuit within a certain time limit. One way this is used is as a standard quest: you're given a speederbike and told to beat a particular time around a track. Succesful completion allows you to talk to an NPC to continue the quest progression.

Interestingly, there's another "timed" used for races: beating the high score of another racer on that track that day awards your character a badge.

So does this help provoke any ideas for ways in which timed events can be fun?

Also, what about the notion of basing the timer not on real-world time but game-world time (for games where these are different)? If a game day equals a real-world hour, then telling a character "I'll give you a day" is no different from telling the player "I'll give you an hour"... but does the perception of having "more" time in the former case make a difference?



EQ2 has a few timed quests, but they usually requiring killing X number of Y creatures in Z minutes. One quest, if I remember correctly, requires you to secure a keg of brew and return it to the inn in five minutes.

I always thought that quests should decay over time. If you accept a quest the reward is granted in full if completed on the first day (whatever that means), the reward is reduced on the second day, further reduced on the third day, and after the third day the quest is removed from your quest journal.

Better yet, it would be interesting if NPC knew your track record for quest timeliness and awarded quests based on some ranking.


I think it's common enough. Besides the examples mentioned above, there are timed "rush orders" for crafting in Everquest 2, and quite a few timed missions in City of Heroes/Villains, including a series of "efficiency expert" missions in Villains, and the complex mayhem/safeguard missions with adjustable clocks. I can't quite remember whether the "lost dungeons of norrath" in the original Everquest had timers, I seem to recall they did though. You had to defeat a certain number of enemies or find a certain number of shards or something like that before time ran out.


I blame static worlds. When the world never really changes, dealing with time automatically seems contrived. Missed killing what you needed in time? Who cares, it'll respawn. Evil-threat-to-all-humanity beat you in a race to warn the inhabitants of a village? How sad - nameless NPCs died. Don't worry, though, they'll be back next time you take the quest.

Why are we shackled to a static world? We're scared. If players' actions had direct impact on the game, it would lead to griefing. Griefing can only be combatted with creativity, and that's hard! We'd rather take the safe road - a totally static experience for everyone. Welcome to Hollywood. Enjoy your vanilla.

For timed quests to have *any* meaning, there must be tangible risks. The only thing risk in a static world is play time. "Aww, I failed. Now I have to run back and start over." However, if the world could actually *change* - even just a little bit - based on the results of your quest (timed or otherwise) there would be a new sense of urgency, world, and wonder.

Take for example, in the WoW BC expansion, the outdoor PvP objectives: If you capture all the towers your faction is awarded a bonus that affects every player in the zone, while the other team is *deprived* of that bonus. The award is relatively small, but what if it were not? What if the world around you thrived or faltered based on your actions? What if you couldn't take quests any time you wanted? What if timed quests came as an urgent call-to-arms? What if everything you did became a world-altering event?

How can timers be fun? Make worlds that can change.

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