This another of those little design elements in a game that has the potential to ruin the whole game experience, it is very similar to the minimap and often is combined with the minimap and I call it quest markers. What I mean with quest markers? Well first the thing that is obviously meant with quest markers, meaning graphical elements in the game that show you where you have to go to fulfill your current quest. Those often are placed into the HUD and the map or minimap.
So why are those so bad, if they are so helpful and show you where to go and what to do, well that is already the problem. Think about it, you are in a game world and your task it to solve a quest, what you have to do, if you don't have quest markers?
1. You have to find the quest, meaning you need to explore the game world.
2. You need to understand the game world and what is going on.
3. When you found something you need to figure out if there is a quest or not.
4. You need to listen to the NPCs or read letters, books, text or whatever.
5. Then you need to decide, if and how you want to engage the quest.
6. Then you actually need to start thinking and figure out how you could solve the quest.
7. You may need to explore again and repeat one or more of the previous steps multiple times.
8. When you figured out where to go and what to do, you need to actually go there.
9. But going to the quest location also requires you to think and navigate on your own, you may have a map, but finding the way and location is still up to you.
10. When you arrived at the quest location you again need to figure out what to do now, these steps can repeat quite a few times.
11. Especially when you came to the wrong conclusion and went to the wrong location or did the wrong thing, then you can start all over again.
Well this list did not turn out that accurate, but it is just to show you that there are so many steps you need to do, you need to explore, act, think, act, think, walk, act and so on.
To make it even shorter you need to use your brain and memory to solve the tasks. NOW we get to the core problem of the quest markers: Quest markers make most or all of those steps required obsolete. Lets compare how the same scenario would play out if you have quest markers:
1. You need to walk to the location the quest marker shows you.
2. Arrived at the location you can skip and ignore all dialoges or other information and just move to the next quest marker.
3. Arrived at the final quest marker you automatically finish the quest or if the quest actually involves some thinking, the quest marker then shows you locally what to do.
4. Then you go back to the initial quest marker and you are done.
As you can see a quest marker does most of the work already for you, all you are left to do is walk from A to B and back, sometimes it gets more complicated and you need to walk to C and D as well, but don't worry the quest marker will tell you and show you, so it will be no more complicated than walking from the initial A to B. There is no more need for you to explore the game world and use your brain. The whole element of exploration is gone, the whole element of thinking and memorizing is gone, the whole immersion is gone, since you no longer need to listen to any dialogs or the story. No more need to care for anything, the only thing you are left to do is to walk from A to B, but even that is not hard, since the quest marker will show you exactly where to walk to and when.
Sure the severity of the problem differs from game to game, but some games are really that bad, that you can basically ignore all the scenery, ignore and skip all the dialogs and still manage to finish the game and in the end you still have no clue what was even going on. In case you were now thinking that quest markers are only in role play games, then you are wrong, quest markers are in many games now, it has become kind of a standard already to have those. I also expanded the definition of quest markers a bit, in my definition here a quest marker is any kind of marker that shows you what to do in a game, they can be in the HUD, the minimap or the normal map. It is similar to the minimap problem and the quest markers make the minimap even worse, since you do not even need to look at the game world anymore, all you are doing is moving your icon on a 2D simplified version of the game to another icon on that minimap and back.
Quest markers were probably introduced so stupid and lazy people also can play and finish the game, you know expand the possible user base and give them more "fun" by making everything easy, so they don't get frustrated. Quest markers are often also combined with instructions that pop up on the screen, in case the quest marker is not enough or the player has forgotten what to do while he was on the way from A to B where he did not have to think about anything and to further prevent him from thinking a text on the screen will tell him when he has arrived and what his next task is.
I thought that such kind of systems make games way to easy, since they are basically idiot proof, but I was proven wrong with this, I experienced multiple times when I was playing with others that they did not know what to do and asked me what to do, this made me quite angry and I told them that there is an arrow on the screen like all the time pointing to where to go and not only that, there is also a text that says that you have to go there and when you arrive there what to do further. So we might even see a further dumbing down of games in the future, I may suggest voice commands or pictograms just to satisfy the illiterates. Maybe also a straight autopilot in case they still don't get it.
This is another one of those negative trends that cannot be reversed, I noticed this in my game as well, since I don't have fancy quest markers, or instructions and arrows pointing to people what to do and I notice a large portion of players are unable to handle the game, even though all they would need to do is observe and read. I even color coded some of the buttons and functions, integrated hints and tipps at the loading screens, made a help menu etc, but this does not seem to help as people just do not read anything.
So as a game developer you are kind of forced for the most part to integrate such features like quest markers, since otherwise the more stupid people get stuck and get frustrated which then makes them quit the game, that is probably why most games have them now. People might say having a game easy enough so it can be played by more people and that people don't get frustrated is a good thing, but you have to consider what you are sacrificing for it, like removing the need to actually think for yourself and removing the immersion from the game and degrading it to a walking simulator. Some people may argue that quest markers are optional, but when you have them, why not use them? Through that you are also ruining the experience for the users who do not even need them. I'm very idealistic, but I still use quest markers and use them to finish the game faster and skip like every dialog. Even I'm so dumbed down through that development, that I have problems playing without quest markers, even though I had no problems without them in the past.
Yes sometimes they are really helpful, otherwise you cannot solve the entire game, just because you got stuck on one quest, but this is more a problem of the game design so that it is not clear what to do. You also do not really need quest markers to solve such problems now, since people have the internet now and can look up the solution, I remember times when walkthroughs for games did not exist and you had to stop playing a game, just because you got stuck on one quest. To be honest it made the games more mystical and more of a challenge, even though it was frustrating sometimes and I think this is what games should be about, they should provide a challenge, require you to think and require you to immerse into the game world, if the game spoils everything for you through marking everything and everywhere you need to go, there is no challenge and you did not really achieve anything other than waste time and watch some nice scenery.