Gaming and Time
Time is a very unique factor in gaming. It is also a very personal commodity that is far from equitable. The player that has more time to invest in a game has an advantage. It is the one factor that game developers can’t really mitigate through game mechanics. In fact often the opposite is true. In the MMO genre most titles are positively skewed to favour those with more time at their disposal. Time is a gating device. If used wisely it motivates players to pursue in-game goals and keeps them engaged with the overall product. However, if time based gating is clumsily implemented it drives a wedge between the player and the game.
Not only does each individual player have a specific amount of personal leisure time to invest in a game, they also have their own unique perspective on how that time is utilised. Patience is a very subjective thing and a totally separate issue from available leisure time. A gamer that has lots of leisure time may still balk at having to invest a specific amount to receive a reward. Yet another player with only a few hours to spare each week may still diligently pursue a personal goal and schedule the time to achieve it. Everyone has their own internal equation that governs how much time they are prepared to invest in any game related undertaking. As you can imagine they vary drastically and for multiple reasons.
After six years of playing MMOs, my attitude to time investment has changed quite radically. This is due to my own personal outlook and personal circumstances evolving and also down to changes in specific games themselves. In the past, I would happily grind content if it provided what I deemed was an adequate reward. For example I worked towards both the Moria and Mirkwood Radiance gear sets in LOTRO. Furthermore I was happy to do so, as there were raids to be completed and having such gear was mandatory. I also laboured to obtain the Hytbold armour set, although it quickly became obsolete and I never felt I reaped the benefits of my hard work. However two years on, I will not grind for the current Gondorian reputation factions simply because it takes too long and the rewards are insufficient in my view. The game in its current state has no requirement for players to have the top tier gear.
It’s a delicate balancing act for games developers, trying to find the optimal blend of time investment and accessibility. Players usually do not want challenges and rewards given to them on a plate. However many do not wish to be compelled to repeat content numerous times. I was impressed by a simple mechanic that was included in L.A Noire in which if you attempted a challenge and failed it more than a certain amount of time, the game would allow you to progress to the next stage, without sanction. The developers did not want the player to feel frustrated and abandon the game entirely.
At present I am playing Marvel Heroes. Like many games of this ilk it has a skills tree that is unlocked with points gained from completing content. Naturally the skills allow you to take on more demanding missions. The game is well balanced and I have earned most of the skills that are available over a period of fifty hours of game play. This has not felt excessively demanding or too trivial. Although there have been challenges along the way, I have not resented the time spent in any way and have felt the overall investment to have been rewarding. The Sniper Elite series takes this a stage further by offering a game that by its very nature provides a superior gameplay experience to those who are prepared to play slowly and spend time using stealth and tactics. Again I found this to be a rewarding experience and did not consider the time frame required to be punitive.
The move towards more causal gaming in recent years has meant that a lot of developers have become more cognisant of time sinks. Yet the more relaxed approach to time investment of games such as Guild Wars 2 has not met with universal approval. Some gamers look at long term dedication to a specific game as an integral part of their enjoyment. It is a badge of honour and an achievement in itself. For some committing to a game is as important as being successful within it. It’s a curious thing how some players even ascribe a personal moral judgement to time investment. Those who eschew it are labelled “lazy” or “entitled” and are deemed as lesser players.
From a business perspective this inequality in available time among players, often presents lucrative opportunities. Lots of games with cash stores offer items that will mitigate time based gating. This can be something as simple as weapons unlocks in lobby based shooters, to gaining multiple levels in an MMO. The latter genre is specifically designed for long term investment, so players usually expect a minimum time investment before they get to the proverbial “good stuff”. However there are occasions when you get the distinct impression that some developers have deliberately this game mechanic, so they can introduce a store item to bypass it.
Perhaps the most elusive factor in this debate is the value that each gamer places upon their own leisure time. I would hazard a guess that this is determined by the personality of the individual and their individual psychology. I consider gaming to be primarily about fun, relaxation and entertainment. Challenges and bragging rights are of far less importance to me. This outlook has raised a few eyebrows over the years when I have grouped with others. My objection to researching game mechanics by watching videos or reading third party websites has often met with bemusement. I’ve even been asked “Are you like this in real life with things like work”? To which my answer is a resounding “no”. The major difference being that challenges and the investment of time are financially rewarded in reality, which is a far more practical form of motivation.
As a self-employed person with a marketable set of skills, I set a specific value on my time within a work capacity and that possibly colours my perspective in other aspects of my life. I am reticent to invest time in a game if there is no clear quid pro quo. Yet I know other players who are not a gamer per se, who are dedicated to a particular MMO as it is their primary leisure and social activity. They have invested far more time into their game of choice and have not once regretted it. Furthermore they fully recognise that this is something that suits them but is not necessarily right for anyone else. Whatever your perspective on this issue, regardless of how busy or laid back your life is, time still seems to be a scarce commodity these days. Therefore it is pertinent to pause and reflect upon how we spend our time in-game, to ensure that it is not squandered but used wisely and to our personal satisfaction.