Sometimes people make pretty quick judgments. A dip test. That’s why the starting areas, quests, music, etc. of an MMO have to be polished to near-blinding. What about a dip test for the game in the middle? Many times gamers lie awake at night – not “tired” – thinking about games. There is some amount of activation energy required to roll out of bed, log on, and play in a way where it was meaningful to roll out of bed in the first place. A midnight dip test.
I was also not “tired” the other night, and I wanted some quick MMO play to calm my furied mind. Wizard 101 was the easy choice. I could log on, warp close to a play area of choice and run there in under a minute, and log off within a 15 minute time span. I opted, actually, to play the mini-games to refill my potions and see how high a level I could get. Games like Wizard 101, Puzzle Pirates, and Guild Wars rule at this quick guilt-free amount of play where activities that occur are meaningful.
I haven’t logged on to Lord of the Rings Online in weeks. There is no way I can even begin to hope for a quick snippet of gameplay in the diku-ish MMO. I could get to an auction house in that amount of time, but that doesn’t feel like meaningful gameplay. It feels like chores. If I had logged out specifically at a quest area, I could sign on and possibly complete a quest or two. Often I don’t have that foresight to my gameplaying schedule. The MMO demands a block of time, and the whole game is built around sucking up time. Many of the AAA subscription games fall in this league.
I think that since the World of Warcraft MMO spike the majority of “AAA” MMOs have been gearing towards the wrong direction of gameplay that eats time. Taking time to travel to various zones. Taking time to group up. Taking time to recover from combat/death. One ingredient might be a beneficial gameplay mechanic, but the effect starts accumulating in to activation energy to even log on to the game. It becomes psychological to the point where even if I know that I will have 1-2 hours the activation barrier can barely be overcome for the heavy games in lieu of games that are happy just to have me login. Gamers love instant gratification.
I don’t want to one-hour preparation, three-hour raids to disappear. Events requiring the most activation energy also give some of the best stories and memories. I do want MMO developers to consider this dip test more in the future: can a player jump on for such a short amount of time and actually play. Don’t give me no cowpies either on what constitutes actually playing.
A good example is arena-style play (scenarios) in Warhammer Online. I could sign on. Join all scenarios, and usually be playing in a mere matter of minutes. It was meaningful, and it was quick. The activation energy to sign on plummeted when I knew that I could get to actually playing within seconds. I believe that this was a big reason that scenarios were initially so popular. It was push button playing. Players didn’t have to go looking for the RvR zerg.
In the age of maturing first-born MMO players and Popcap printing it’s own currency, I think developers have to be aware of the effort required to play the game they designed. Give the game another type of dip test.
these are not the hammer