So I was reading Aggro Me, like the hardcore Everquest fan that I am (ha!) when I came across this post. Quick summary: the author talks about ways of conveying lore in game design, and comes to (in my opinion) largely the wrong conclusions.
It's a growing problem. You've built a MMOG, or a large scale RPG, or somesuch, and you've gone to the trouble of fleshing out an unbelievably detailed backstory for the world. You've got history, you've got economy, you've got political boundaries, important figures, well-known works of art, myths, folktales, idioms, and in-jokes. And do your players care? No, they want to know exactly what the drop rate is on the Tier 3 armour in Big Evil Demon's Lair.
Where there's a problem, of course, there'll be an attempted solution, and big name MMOGs have them by the truckload. We've got the whole gamut of creativity and intelligence, including:
* unskippable cutscenes
* quest text in a tiny font that you skip as quickly as possible
* uninspiring bonus NPC dialogue that you have no incentive to read through
* random utterances from speaking enemies
* badly written in game books
* ancient writings engraved on half-buried stones
* the 40 page booklet packaged with the game
In short, no one's really trying. The industry appears to have collectively analysed the problem and thrown its hands up in defeat.
Which is a shame, because it's really not all that hard. Players will quite happily imbibe lore - yes, not just those hardcore ones who cosplay your MMOG in real life. You just have to know how to sell it. And the trick is: pull, don't push.
Don't try to get people to read buckets of annoying flavour text at the same time as you're offering them a new quest. People want the instant gratification of accepting the quest - they're not going to read. Same thing when giving out quest rewards. Gee - do I want to read this long annoying speech, or would I rather press the green button and get my new Sword of Reaping? (Guild Wars, I'm specifically looking at you.)
Stop trying to jam the lore down their throats. It doesn't seem relevant, the player doesn't have to know it, and so they won't - they'll move on without it. Instead, give the player a reason to seek the lore.
Have a broken down ruin, inhabited by a single respawning named enemy ghost that drops no loot. You'll instantly have a conversation topic throughout the zone that has no end - "What's the deal with this ruin?" Players who know the story will tell it; you start a tradition of oral lore that may encourage storytelling around other events. Don't add a reward around it - if you add a way to "solve" or "beat" it, it trivialises the content. Your dungeons are beatable - this is just here for the story.
Have a zone where part of the scenery is the bones of giant creatures - and have a really good story ready to go with those bones when people ask. Use it to hint at future content - people love lore that they can use to guess what might be coming down the pipeline. World of Warcraft has several zones with such big bones - but the story of the bones is never very engaging, and is often related to a nearby quest. You finish the quest, and then you feel like you're "done" with the bones.
Good lore isn't solvable. It's not something you hear about, and then finish. It's an ongoing dialogue with the world. It's what's still out there and relevant when you've finished every quest. It's the mysteries that lurk on the edges of your game. Ashbringer was good lore for World of Warcraft because you couldn't find the sword. I suspect it will be very disappointing when the sword is finally added. Gwen worked in Guild Wars because she didn't do anything useful -you interact with her, she follows you around, but you can't solve her.
Players look for reasons. They want to know why. But it's not a deep why. Why is there a mad brooding wizard at the top of the tower? Because you have to kill him to get the Armour of Unobtainium. A gameplay reason will be accepted more readily than a plot reason. If you want plot to become meaningful, it must happen (in at least some instances) in the absence of gameplay.
In short, don't take the lore to the player - bring the player to the lore. Give them a reason to ask why, wait for them to ask, and have your answers ready when they do. And remember, just like life, not every mystery can be solved with a sharp sword and a swift spell.