Home > Editorial, In-game Event, Opinion, Red Dead Redemption, What MMOs Can Learn, World of Warcraft > “What MMOs Can Learn From Red Dead Redemption” or “Emotionally Penalized”

“What MMOs Can Learn From Red Dead Redemption” or “Emotionally Penalized”


I have been playing red Dead Redemption lately. The statistics tell me I have finished “18.6%” of the game. Note that this number isn’t necessarily a reflection of the main storyline. It is a figure designed for completionists like me, that will obsessively fuss over the smaller tasks and side-games to ensure they get that precious, oh so precious, 100% completion statistic!

Thought: Why do we never see random world encounters in MMOs?

Spinks has a post up today that spoke about activities your character engages in between organized group activity sessions. One of the bullet points listed was as follows:

“The origin of our grinds is not just to keep people playing but to answer the question, so what does your character do when they aren’t killing dragons?

  • Maybe they just like wandering the world (not really much to do in most MMOs here.)
  • …”

This got me thinking: why is it that in MMOs, you go to specific locations to accomplish specific objectives only? Whether its a world boss, or a quest, or a daily, or a dungeon, you take the shortest path to the location, completely ignoring anything and everything else between point A and point B. What is the fun in a persistent online world if everything can be found on WoWHead or (the now-defunct) Thottbot, before you even attempt to do it, where everything is explicitly and exactly laid out? Why is it that no MMO (that I know of) has randomly generated world events for players to participate in? For if that were the case, maybe more players would actively engage in world exploration and wandering, beyond questing for the first time.

Red Dead Random

Red Dead redemption has a fantastic storyline and stellar voice-acting. But beyond the central narrative, as is the case with most Rockstar Games, you can take on a wide range of missions and side-activities either for monetary gain or social stature (fame or infamy). Some of these activities have to be sought out, such as “kill 5 Coyotes before they harm you”. But there are several missions that pop out of the blue as you are horseback riding your way through the countryside. You are at complete liberty to accept the mission (no prompt or anything, you can just choose to participate in the action), ignore it altogether, or shoot the mission starter in the face if that is what pleases you.

Let us take an example of some missions I have come across in Red Dead Redemption and juxtapose them against counterparts quests in an MMO, specifically WoW.

The Kidnapping – Red Dead Redemption

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

The Kidnapping – World of Warcraft

Here is how WoW handles the same quest. There is a quest giver that is always found in the same exact location. In order to take on the kidnapping quest, you have to go to the quest-giver, you won’t come across the quest-giver at random. The quest is formally accepted, and shows up in your quest log. You are now officially tasked with the rescue of the fair damsel. The husband quest-giver does not accompany you, he does not lead the charge to get his beloved wife back. He just stands there, expressionless, leaving the responsibility to you.

In fact, you are not the only person he sends to save his wife, he sends along anyone and everyone who approaches him.

You go to the location where the wife is being held. The location is static and never changes. You could repeat the quest with 10 other characters, the same wife will always be in peril and be found in the same exact location. Why does she always get kidnapped? Why do the kidnappers never learn and change locations?

There may be the possibility of you failing the quest in case the wife dies. If that happens, you can simply abandon the quest, go back to the quest-giver, and he will give you the same quest as if nothing ever happened to her. You can go back to the mission location, and there she is, magically resurrected from the dead!

If you succeed, you either escort the wife to the husband, or she runs away, apparently to reunite with her husband. You never see her again. Even when you go back to the quest-giver, she is nowhere to be seen or found. And the husband continues to stand there, never moving, almost as if he is expecting the next kidnapping to happen any second, yet he does nothing to stop it.

The Juxtaposition

Let us construct a table.

Red Dead Redemption World of Warcraft
Mission is optional Mission is optional
There is no mission in your mission log There is a quest in your quest log
The mission-starter is randomly generated The quest-giver is always found in a static location and the location never changes
The objective’s location is randomly generated The objective’s location is static and the location never changes
Tactical situation varies (cart being used as cover; more vs . less kidnappers) Tactical situation remains the same
Failure has consequences; the family dies permanently; there are emotional consequences though Failure has zero consequence, you simply hit the reset button
You can partially succeed or partially fail You can only succeed or fail
Whether you fail or succeed, it is highly unlikely you will come across the same couple again in the same situation If you succeed, you will find the same quest-giver in the same place, offering the same quest, with the same damsel in distress in the same location

The question then becomes: why can’t more MMO developers introduce more open-world gaming to their titles? Why must everything be static, pre-determined, fated to occur in the same exact manner for all eternity (or at least till Deathwing comes along and fucks things up for everyone!)

There is an inherent fallacy in MMOs. As a powerful champion in the world, you are supposed to be able to create a meaningful and lasting impact, saving the world time and again from endless threats and predicaments. Yet your actions seem to have zero impact on the physical world.

  • That village you saved by killing the 10 wolves nearby is still under threat from said wolves.
  • That Deathlord you vanquished still taunts denizens from the depths of his dungeon.
  • Even the wife you rescued is never reunited with her husband because she is suddenly and inexplicably kidnapped again by the same group of miscreants you just dispatched.

It is ironic that MMOs are designed to give the player a feeling of power and control over the world, yet the world utterly fails to show any signs of a positive (or negative for that matter) impact by the player. Every threat remains. Every wolf still howls at the gates. Every damsel is in perpetual distress.

I long for the day when they craft an MMO experience that mimics the random world encounters of Red Dead Redemption. Till then, I suppose John Marston will continue to handle the discrepancy.

  1. June 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Awesome write-up!

    • June 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm

      Hahaha! Thank you. I plan on doing two more follow-ups Part II and III, further exploring his random mission generator functionality, and how it can apply to MMOs.

  2. Castamere
    June 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    I think you’re right here – forget the Lich King. Forget Deathwing. There is a more grave threat of an unending horde of ravenous wolves terrorizing the village of (insert beginning area of any MMO here). Farmer Blank asks you to kill ten, but that doesn’t stop them. You see other adventurerse killing ten, and ten, and ten, and their numbers continue to swell. Eldritch necromancers and covetous dragons are the least of our problems when we’re faced with the infinite lupine horde on our doorstep!

    More seriously – from the sounds of things Guild Wars 2 may be the only MMO on the horizon that will challenge the static paradigm of WoW (and others) for the more fluid style of RDR. It won’t be random perse but based on the actions of others a player may come across the quest at a stage where the orcs have been successfully pushed out of the village borders by someone else and now the villagers ask you to head to the orc stronghold to end the threat onc eand for all. Someone may stumble upon the quest if earlier players failed to help overthrow the orcs now looting/pillaging the village. It is all in a fixed area, but the outcomes are flexible and even if they keep all the old MMO tropes except for this one, then GW2 will truly shape up to be something special.

    Hopefully all the Dev-speak hype actually comes to fruition in that game. If so, it will easily become my most anticipated MMO of 2011.

  3. July 1, 2010 at 1:01 am

    This does seem to be ignoring the possibility of needing to escort the husband towards the place his wife is being held after accepting the quest, and some of these escorts involve fast-running NPCs that you have to try hard to keep up with, and if he or his wife dies, you’d fail the quest.

    Sure if you fail, the husband NPC will just respawn back where you found him, but I don’t see how that’s very different from you meeting the same exact husband/wife quest three times in your game. That sounds pretty repetitive to me. Does that guy stop appearing if you complete the quest successfully, or will there always be the same exact husband running off to rescue the same exact wife repeatedly throughout the game no matter what you do?

    Not to mention that some quests trigger phasing when completed, so it’s entirely possible that when you return to the town, the wife will be standing there next to the husband, thanking you for saving them.

    I agree that it would be more fun and “realistic” to have quests appear randomly while you’re exploring an area, but then the completionist part of me remembers all of those times I was trying to do a certain quest that was a random drop from a group of mobs, and I had to kill hundreds of them before it would drop. If an MMO had mechanics like that, I’d probably end up just wandering around aimlessly specifically so that I could get that quest, and get more and more annoyed the longer it would fail to appear.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx
    July 1, 2010 at 2:56 am

    The random world events really help make the world seem alive in RDR. Sure there are only so many of them and they do repeat, but I did everyone that I came across.

    • July 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

      @Castamere – I mean really, what is the point of having 6,000+ GS, if no amount of GS in the world can help you save

      Northshire Abbey from the Kobold “threat”?

      Guild Wars 2 sounds quite promising. The concept of persisten world threat is an innovative idea, especially if it is going to be determined and formulated through player action and interaction. I have never played the first game, but just this one feature alone has made me look forward to th second iteration.

      @Kiryn – I completely understand where you are coming from. The objective of this article was not to say there needs

      to be a direct and measurable correlation between the way random world encounter are presented in RDR and their

      implementation in WoW. RDR is one of the few games where I am happy to let my completionist side go, because I can

      never upset about what I missed, if I don’t know WHAT I missed. And even if I DO know, I am OK with missing

      something that doesn’t affect the larger narrative, and I fully understand that that’s just me.

      I’ll give you an example. I approached a town from a particular road on the north side. There was a carriage outside

      and w beleagured woman asking for assistance. I decided to help, as I approached the wagon, five bandits appeared

      from behind the wagon and started shooting at me. I managed to survive by the skin of my teeth and proceeded to then

      fall off a cliff and die. Upon reloading I followed the same exact path to the same exact location to see if I get

      the encounter again. But in truly random fashion, I never saw the encounter again. Oddly, I am OK with that…

      I am digressing, the point here is to address (and suggest solutions for) the inherent fallacy in MMOs where almost no action ever completed by the player has any lasting and meaningful impact on the world. My suggestion wasn’t that all encounters in MMOs should be centered around randomness, but a good chunk of the side-quests, quests that do not directly affect the main storyline (I am OK with “Go to Icecrown Citadel and meet Jaina to forge a battleplan against the Lich King”), can certainly be implemented randomly. Not only will that give more fluidity to the overall experience, it will also allow for better immersion and reduce the feeling of being utterly unable to repel a level 2 wolf attack for good.

      @xXJayeDuBXx – And that is exactly the point, 99% of the time, you are inexplicably compelled to resopnd to the distress call because unlike a static NPC standing under a tree all day crying wolf, this person actually walks up to you, begs for your help and takes off regardless of whether you provide it.

  5. July 3, 2010 at 4:12 am

    This is the same gimmick as the Spiderman games. You wander around, someone yells for your help, you go save them, or not. Basically the reason more people don’t do this is because after you’ve saved the wife from hanging once, for no reward to speak of, you just don’t care anymore. Fact of the matter is, half the time these random quests get you accidentally killed while you’re on the way to do something far more important, like chasing live bounties or pursuing getaway bandits.

    Basically its just crap. Your whole basis for this writeup is years out of date, played out, and entirely useless unless you find a game developer willing to put out random CHAINS, which then affect the WHOLE GAME, and cause something to be SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT once completed. Furthermore, they should never show up again. If I save some dude’s wife from hanging, I never want to see that quest again.

    Also you compare RDR, which is basically a single player game with no substantial multiplayer or MMO content and only the re-playability you can come up with yourself, to WOW, which currently entertains 11 million people at the same time, changes every 2-3 months, constantly re-balances and reinvents itself. Why do the quest givers stand in the same place giving the same quest? Cause you can only do it once, but the game is shared with the other 10.999 million people still, several thousand of which may be on your server at any one time. There are around 4-5000 quest in WoW. If even half of them were randomly encountered (Which some are actually, in the form of drops from monsters you just happened to kill) you would spend your whole life just LOOKING for them.

    And you call yourself an OCD completionist. If anything you should be whining that there be LESS random quests that count for things.

  1. July 3, 2010 at 2:41 pm
  2. December 21, 2010 at 7:14 pm

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