The editors over at Ten Ton Hammer managed to corner The Secret World lead content designer Joe Bylos for a brief Q&A about the importance of story in the MMO and how the team is designing the game's missions and factions. A snip:
TTH: Can you describe the different mission types available in game and how those types support each other and the story?
JB: First there are the ‘Story Missions.’ This type of mission is in all the playfields of the game. This is the mission that will set players out to find out what the hell is going on in the world. It's not a game about being a hero and saving the world. It's a game about shit hitting the fan and we don't know why. Factions really hate not being in control and the player is almost like a minion in that he or she will be sent out to find out what's going on in all the places in the world.
So usually the way the story mission starts out is the player's arrival to the area, and then digging into the plot and finding out what's going on in that area as the plot thickens and thickens and thickens.
Then you have the ‘Main Missions.’ These missions are always given by NPCs so they have the cut scenes and voiceovers. They're always either a sabotage mission, action mission, or investigation mission. Sabotage missions are where we encourage players not to engage in combat but to be a bit stealthy to avoid NPCs. These missions are usually about infiltrating an area, stealing information or blowing something up to prevent something else from happening.
Then you have action missions, which are usually the more normal MMO-style quest, which will be something like thinning the population in an area for a particular reason which will tie into the main story. These will also fill in some of the backstory.
Finally, you have the ‘Investigation Missons.’ These are the puzzle missions. This is where you dig into the clandestine, conspiracy angle of things. You need to solve the puzzles to figure out why things are the way they are. This is hacking computers, solving puzzles through Google, and in Egypt, finding out who Aten was in the real world. This guy exists. You can look him up on wiki. Our bad guys are mostly people from the real world.
Finally. you have the ‘Item Missions’ which are flavor missions you pick up around the world which tie into the Story mission in some way, shape or form. For instance, in one you'll meet a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer. He's been taking pictures of the creatures who have escaped from Hell. But he's lost his camera and you need to help him find it. All that mission does is lead you to him, but it introduces you to him and you can look at his pictures and read more about the story and figure out what he was trying to do. That again ties into the main story as it's all part of the Hell story arc.