MMOs: It’s a hobby

My previous post sparked some good discussion in the comments, and requires a follow-up post. For additional background, see Victor’s post.

I think what I failed to clarify is perhaps how I expect an MMO player to play, both as a gamer myself and as a guild leader/officer. To really get the most out of the experience, you have to be around ‘enough’, and into the game ‘enough’ to care. ‘Enough’ is tough to nail down into an exact number, but as I previously said it can and sometimes should require a solid block (2-4hrs) of time, along with a minimum of 10 hours a week. If you can’t commit to either, I don’t think you can get the most out of an MMO.

First let’s address the large block of time. If you can’t sometimes pre-plan your life to play for 3 hours on a Sunday night (example), you either need to work on your life balance a bit or MMO gaming just might not work for you. This is not to suggest you need to be on for 3hrs EVERY Sunday, but when giving a weeks’ notice or so, move some stuff around and plan to be online. I honestly don’t think that’s asking too much, and again, if it is, wrong game for you.

The other is general weekly activity. I say 10 hours but really it’s going to depend on how well you use your time, and how active you are outside of playing as well. If you can frequent the forums and contribute that way, and generally attend pre-planned events, you might not need to play as much overall as someone else. But yea, if you can’t login at least 10 hours, I just don’t see how you can keep up and be anything more than some occasional random name online (more so if leveling or some steady progression is ‘required’, like in DF1 and skilling up).

So what kind of game does that leave us with, and what kind of content should we expect?

Most importantly, the game needs content that justifies that 2-4 hour block, such as a city siege, a fleet Op, progression raiding, etc. Combining a few 30min content chunks into one lump does not count, because ultimately what you put into the content is what you get out of it. The whole peaks and valleys vs steady stream thing. Working towards something significant as a group is a core value of the kind of MMO design I value/favor.

Now don’t confuse the need for large-blocks with relying on them exclusively, or removing the bite sized chunks overall. You need those little chunks to fill in the gaps, but that’s exactly what they are, filler, and filler is what it is. It can’t be the focus, and they especially can’t drive development at the expanse of the larger items. GW2 IMO ‘fails’ here because the game is all 30min chunks with no regard for those large pieces. It works well-enough for a casual stroll once in a while (hence no sub fee), but it lacks any substance or purpose outside of killing 30 minutes. And again, if all you are looking for is to kill 30 minutes solo (or alongside other bot-like players), GW2 likely works great for you, but that is so far from what the genre was built on, or how it works in games that do virtual worlds well.

More on this I’m sure, but I’ll stop for now.

23 Responses to MMOs: It’s a hobby

  1. Rohan says:

    I wrote a bit about this before. I called it the divide between “transient” and “extended” players, as I think the difference is a fundamental difference between player types. Might find my observations (from a WoW player perspective) interesting.

    Transient vs Extended Players

    • SynCaine says:

      Basically, although I’d put more emphasis on the final part; designing around the two groups, especially if you are aiming to sell an MMO as a subscription. Those that get involved and ‘hooked’ by the community are far more likely to stick around, while those one-off players will leave on a dime as soon as something new or shiny catches their eye (even if new shiny is in fact a shiny turd).

      I’d say it’s pretty obvious GW2 was not designed for that, and the business model reflects it. Anet hopes to occasionally inject new shiny to draw the one-offs in for a week or so, hopefully also getting them to drop a few bucks on a shiny in the store. Contrast that with EVE, where so little attention is paid to one-off shiny, and so much is made out of multi-year plans and impacts (the current multi-year ship rebalance/redesign project).

      Which brings us almost full-circle to yesterday, and how insane it is that GW2 and EVE are considered in the same genre. But then again, World of Tanks is an MMO by some people’s standards, so I guess it’s just levels of insanity.

      • coppertopper says:

        uh yea and the Eve offline skill training that continually +1 your skills has nothing to do with people maintaining a sub even when they aren’t actively playing the game

        • SynCaine says:

          Of course it does. That’s called brilliant design. The game is so good that people will pay $15 a month for it even when they don’t play it. It’s like reverse F2P. EAWare would love to have that design ‘problem’, as would any other studio.

          Now if EVE had dead servers like so many other MMOs, maybe EVE-Offline would matter for those actively playing as they would complain about low pop and all that. But since more people are on the EVE server than any other server in all of MMO gaming, it’s not really an issue, is it?

        • coppertopper says:

          GW2 uses cosmetics that are only available thru the cash shop, and eve uses skills only available thru the cash shop (aka sub). This is the parallel I am drawing is all.

      • Mekhios says:

        There is nothing insane about it at all. Different online multiplayer games cater to different types of players. There is no right or wrong. GW2 by definition is an MMO. EvE Online by definition is an MMO. WoT by definition is an MMO. All are massively multiplayer online games.

        They may not fit your standard of what is an MMO but your standard definition is far too narrow. You can not limit your definition of an MMO to just two games. All of these online games promote a guild/clan environment that rewards playing together and communicating together.

        GW2 does not “fail” because of the 30 min chunk rule. It simply offers a different form of entertainment for different types of players. Believe it or not there are players out there who gather on voice comms to socialise and also log in to GW2 for 30, 60, 90 mins. Why do you have to set a rigid set of rules for what you consider a “fail” or a “pass” MMO.

        I agreed mostly with your article until the GW2 is fail comment. But then every MMO you comment on that isn’t EvE or DF seems to win an automatic fail in your opinion. If it wasn’t GW2 it would be some other MMO of the day you would be commenting on in a negative light.

        • SynCaine says:

          Well fail is my opinion, which is sorta what I share around here. :)

          But yea, sadly the MMO genre right now is a giant bucket of fail with a few titles doing it right. Blame the industry.

  2. Lyss says:

    I agree with your expectations here. I also think its not just for mmos instead for the whole beeing a gamer thing. I cant understand peoplewho expect to be one but then cry if they dont have the time necessary and expect new games have to be adjusted to short timeframesof free time.

    Nobody would expect that you can be in a soccer club without spending a good time of the week training and playing with your clubmates, if it comes to games its suddenly not a hobby which requires time its “just games”.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    My played time in GW2 is currently 431 hours on one account and 73 hours on the other. Over the last 13 years across many MMOs I am pretty sure my average /played time would be over 30 hours per week.

    In terms of the time I spend on MMOs I must be at the hardest-core end of the curve but while I’m there mostly I just potter about. I haven’t been in a guild with more than a dozen members since about 2006. It absolutely is a hobby to me, but it’s a hobby very similar to whittling or knitting or maybe gardening. It involves a great deal of repetitive activity that I find relaxing and at the end of it I have something I’ve made – my characters.

    That’s not in any way to denigrate the more active, social participatory stuff you’re describing. I’ve done plenty of that in my time and I still do a reasonable amount of it nowadays. I just don’t think doing that stuff is the be-all and end-all. A lot of the more solitary, contemplative or observational stuff is just as compelling in its own way.

    • Xyloxan says:

      bhagpuss – but you know it very well that your style of playing is very uncommon. Especially among the younger generation.

      • Aerynne says:

        On what basis do you make that assertion? I suspect Bhagpuss’s style of playing is closer to the norm than, say, raiding or hardcore PvPing. How else do you explain the overwhelming number of players who play games like WoW, as opposed to games like Dark Fall or EVE Online?

        It may be true that among the “younger generation” Bhagpuss’s playstyle IS atypical, but if you check the stats, I believe you will find that the average age (in the US anyway) of MMO players is about 35. So I am not sure that the playstyle of the average college student or 20-something is necessarily the norm any longer.

        I agree that investing the time and energy into a single game (or two) that SynCaine advocates can be extremely rewarding. Some of my fondest MMO memories are my raiding guild in EQ2, now long gone. But there are many ways to enjoy MMOs and I find it a bit disheartening that some people seem to feel that anyone who does not play “their way” is somehow to be pitied or is not playing “properly.” The fact that the overwhelming number of MMO players are now playing casual-friendly games like WoW or Rift or even, yes, GW2 suggests otherwise.

        • Anonymous says:

          On what basis? Based on what he said here on this blog on several occasions. I remember that he even said so – that’s why I said that he should know very well. And if I’m not mistaken, he is a few good years above the average age of MMO players.

        • bhagpuss says:

          I’m in my 50s. I was just past 40 when I played my first ever MMO. In all the time I’ve played, most people whose age I’ve found out have been younger than me, but not by a whole lot. In 1999 I’d guess the average was mid-20s and nowadays, at least in the older MMOs, it’s probably mid-30s to mid-40s. The newer ones it’s probably same as it was a decade ago (although even a decade ago, I knew quite a few players in EQ and DAOC who were older than me – one guild leader in EQ was a woman in her 70s).

          I think it’s probably unusual for someone to play the way I do for as long as I have but I’ve met a lot of people over the years who play in a similar fashion for a while. They do tend to find other things to do after a year or two, though, usually things other than MMO gaming. Apart from Mrs Bhagpuss I only know one other person still playing from my old EQ days, but he’s even more of a potterer than I am.

  4. Hey Syncaine.

    Thanks for the shout-out. I agree that there has to be some sort of work-life balance these days. In my case, part of my play is also work… so the delineations for me are muddied a bit.

    I like what you said though. More food for thought. :)

  5. Hong WeiLoh says:

    lol 20+ hours a week isn’t a hobby, it’s a part-time job — that you pay for.

    As for having that much free time in the first place…must be nice. ;-)

  6. silvertemplar says:

    I agree with you with your GW2 analysis there regarding the “casualness” of the game. The irony with this is, if i find a game to be consisting of “30-minute-time-wasters” and nothing more, i lose interest in doing ANYTHING in said game that takes longer than that. Hell, i even started questioning, why i even need to LEVEL? Why do i need to craft? In fact, why do any activity that is in not fun or part of the 30 minutes?

    This is now my inherent “issue” with GW2, i don’t particularly like doing any of the “activities” on offer as a “time waster”. Most of them are mind-numbingly boring and repetitive. It’s charming the first few times, but later on, why would i log back in to craft ?

    Maybe Arena PvP is sufficient for that 30 minute time killer, but then you have to ask yourself, is this really the best game for playing “Lobby based Player vs. Player” content? Then i might as well play World of Tanks or League of Legends …

    So i ended up in something like Planetside 2 which is very easy to “jump in and get your adrenaline rush” and i am asked myself again, if GW2 is not really offering the long-term thing, why bother once the charm wears off? If the activity i’m doing NOW is not fun, then why am i playing ?

    • Remastered says:

      My sentiments exactly. I think this is why I found a game like DayZ so appealing for those 30 min to 1 hour blocks. Good adrenaline rush, a point to getting a certain amount of gear (even though it was the same gear after each death) and the bar for obtaining said gear being set at a level at which you didn’t want to do it every 15 minutes, but you didn’t rage quit either when you got taken out and had to start over.

      My idea of an “MMO” setting is not a game where I can hop in and out and get to experience everything in 30 minutes. Long term goals are key and it’s ok to have some gear/acheivements/raids that I might never acheive. Part of what appealed about vanilla WoW was seeing the only player on the server with full Tier 1 gear in Ogrimmar and knowing that you couldn’t acheive something like that “on your own”. A good MMO should have a solid mix of things that are individually achievable over a longer period of play time with things that are only achievable in the group setting. Allowing players to be everything severely limits both.

  7. Bernard says:

    It would be interesting to know what the average weekly and longest session playtime is across a range of MMOs.

    My hypothesis is that the vast majority of MMO players would not be able to maintain the 10 hours per week with 1 uninterrupted session of 4 hours for more than a month or so.

    Continuing the ‘hobby’ analogy, I think for a lot of people, playing their MMO is like spending an evening reading a book, or going to the cinema, rather than joining a soccer club or a bowling team.

    Fortunately there are titles that cater to all play styles.

    • SynCaine says:

      Two ways to look at this. The average for the entire genre, and the average for a certain title.

      Perhaps the average is indeed below 10hrs for the genre (which would be sad, but a solid reflection of the average MMO these days), but the average is certainly higher for some games, and I know for a fact it’s higher amongst Inq.

      So what do I care more about, the average time someone plays GW2 or some other ultra-casual MMO, or the average time my guild and those we play with/against play?

      Like you said, different title for different people. Oddly, we call all of these titles MMOs, and too often compare them directly. It is what it is these days, but still seems very odd to me.

    • Xyloxan says:

      I would bet that a significant percentage of gamers played vanilla WoW for more than 10 hours/week and often for more than 4 hours/day. I know people who played WoW for 6-8 hours a day for months.

    • Lyss says:

      I also can’t play 4 hours uninterrupted most days under the week, some days I dont even log in at all. On weekends the four hours is doable for me, even more.

      Some weekend days I get up shower get my coffe and start playing because its my hobby. On such days I only interrupt playing for housework or shopping or other things which I strictly need to do.

      I agree with your ciema analogy but from my perspective thats not how you do a hobby.

      The greatest Problem for me is not that I dont have enough time to spend, if thats thecase it can’t be helped if theres something more important to do then play. The problem is to find a MMO which makes it worth to play uninterrupted for large blocks of time.

      I dont get that with gw2 because its irrelvant if I spend 4 hours or 30 minutes, the four hour stretch doesnt feel more rewarding. And after all If I spend large amounts of Time I want to be rewarded.

      A Bosskill in some log difficult dungeon is rewarding for me with 4 hours spend in the dungeon and one hour before planing how to do it, a 30 minute rush to the same boss feels meh.

      Planning a attack on a castle, attacking it for 4 hours and winningthe battle (or even losing) feels rewarding, I feel like i earned the outcome. Even more so if I have to spend weeks getting the right siege machines together, bribing some guards to let a few men secretly through a backdoor etc .

      A20 minute pvp encounter doesnt give me the same feeling, I like winning a arena match or a battleground, but the feeling is mostly “yay we have won” not “GOD! FINALLY! I WE DID IT!”.

      there may be games who cater to all players but I get thefeeling there are far more yay ive won games then the other kind.

  8. Bristal says:

    I agree with “I don’t think you can get the most out of [an MMO]” unless you treat it like a hobby. I certainly consider it a hobby. And it slowly consumed some of my other hobbies. The research, planning, spreadsheets, blogs etc. are more than just a game

    But I do have a problem when your opinion concludes with “[and if not,] wrong game for you.”

    MMOs need all kinds of players. The more diverse the community, the better. Perhaps devs are focusing on the casual market at the moment, but come the next economic and/or technological boom, the bigger the audience the better.

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