The Rise and Fall of the Personal Quest

A new PC Gamer article from Richard Cobbett investigates how the solo-oriented "personal quests" popularized by World of Warcraft affected the MMO genre's evolution, and whether it's worth to rethink this model for future titles. I find myself agreeing with much of Cobbett's criticism, but I'm also not a fan of the genre in general so I'm not sure whether that matters all that much:

Easily the most tragic victim of this approach though has to be The Elder Scrolls Online from last year. You know that the cult of the personal quest has reached critical when it even infests a series predicated on freedom and exploration, its world being sliced up into levelled zones and being led by the nose, with just a little wandering around the side to remind you of what could have been. But there are other games too. DC Universe Online springs to mind, where yes, there's a PvP server mode, but a game that could have been built around really fun ways for heroes and villains to clash and compete just ended up with them casually following their own red string paths around the world and listening to pre-recorded mission logs. The Secret World too, as discussed here a couple of weeks ago.

Really, if that's going to be the focus, make a single-player game.

It's no wonder that over the past couple of years especially, the pendulum has swung away from MMOs and in favour of two genres in particular - the MOBA (please address all complaints about my using the word MOBA to someone who cares) that allows the fantasy trappings and team dynamic with far more depth, and sandbox games, be they friendly like Minecraft or brutal like Rust. Their focus on building, on community, on being part of something bigger was the original promise of the MMO genre, with its start coming from a combination of that and the magic of being able to share a world with so many people. Now, more or less any tiny company can shit an MMO out if they want to, and the generation they have to appeal to isn't impressed by such magic as 'online play'. MMOs have been left in the dirt, and a big reason for that is that they stuck with what worked, long after it became self-defeating. A few like Guild Wars 2 have tried pulling things back in the other direction, though only with limited success and little copying so far. Age of Conan had one of the strangest approaches, with a highly polished starter quest that then dumped players into a far more basic world with no idea what to do next, to which most decided that the correct answer was "uninstall this". Only Eve has really nailed the MMORPG sandbox, and even then its commercial success isn't universe shattering.