A game mechanic that seems to be cropping into most new OSG’s is the task / quest system. This is something I first noticed in Evony, but probably originated from the “in-game tutorial”.
Strategy games are generally quite complicated and each one has its own terms and icons, so a tutorial is essential for helping new players get in the to the swing of the game. One of the best in-game tutorials is in Travian. As soon as you start the game the tutorial pops up, explains what resources are, why they’re important, and tells you to upgrade one Woodcutter. There are 20 more sequential tasks that guide you through the different aspects of the game, and once you join an alliance the tutorial is over and you will never see it again. A player who completes the tutorial has essentially graduated; he knows how to play and should be fine on his own.
The quest / task system, however, is a persistant pressence in the game. Usually there are a number of simultaneous quests in different categories that continue throughout the game. For example, there might be a category for production with the following tasks: Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 2, Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 3, Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 4, so on and so forth. At the same time there is a category for Military: Build a Barrakcs, Train a Soldier, Upgrad Barracks to lvl 2, Upgrade Barracks to lvl 3, build a new Soldier, etc.
I would argue that this system detracts from the game.
First, it doesn’t teach anything, which is the point of the tutorial. If you throw 10 different quests at the player at the same time, he will not know which one to do first, and would be able to build a Barracks by just clicking around just as fast as by sorting through all the different quests.
The quest system also removes part of the strategy from the game. By significantly rewarding players for completing the tasks, the game basically ensures that all players are going to be performing the exact same set of actions. The game is eliminating choice.
Instead of reaping the rewards that are inherent in a level 2 Barracks, the player is rewarded by the task system. It’s almost like being paid to exercise. Instead of learning about the health benifits and thinking “I do feel better after I work out, i think I’ll keep doing it,” the player is far more focused on “I’m going to keep upgrading my barracks, because every time I do I get 2,000 resources.” The player could go through the entire game not truly understanding how to play, merely following all the tasks.
Finally, the task sytstem adds another thing to consider in an already complex game. In Ikariam, every time I play I have to go through each of my towns, check that they have enough Wine, start construction on my next building if I have enough resources, send special resources to wherever they need to go, and sift through all my reports and messages. All to say, an OSG player is very busy for a “casual gamer”. Now if I have to check for completed tasks as well, it’s just unnecessary busy-work. Some OSG’s like Heroes of Gaia, make it even worse by requiriung you “Accept” a task before completing it, or else you won’t get the reward. I’m already running an empire here, no need to make things more complicated.
All to say, I find the task / quest system to be part of a disturbing trend where new games rely on immitation and budget more than smart gameplay. Of course, that’s just my two pennies worth. What do YOU think?