I’m as happy as a clam can be before being plucked off the sea and put in a soup with other fellow clam carcasses. I have found a new metric.
See, it was about time. The last metric I had adopted was TTC (Time To Crate), and this was years ago. Sure, I still use it. It’s a good one. But it’s been years! I needed a new one, so lo and behold, I found this baby casually skimming the LOTRO boards.
Say hello to my little friend: TTSHF (Time To Start Having Fun) – or, as I renamed it, simply TTF : Time To Fun.
I guess the reason I love it so much is because it’s so damn elusive. TTC was there. TTC was honest. It was direct. Bam. Crate right there. Instant measure, write it down in your book (incidentally, I think the original Unreal still holds the record for lowest TTC in modern gaming, something like a TTC of one or two seconds. I’d have to check).
But now? TTF? I’m loving it. It’s so darn elusive, it is. First because, well… what is fun? It changes from player to player. A player that only loves to craft would naturally point to his own very short TTF, assuming he has the mats. As long as it takes to click on the ‘Crafting’ button. But when we get out of that particular case, and we start exploring playstyles, the TTF changes dramatically, and we see a lot of design effects on it.
Take a raider, for example. Depending on the encounter, he can point to a TTF of quite possible an hour or more. What he really likes, where his fun is, is to be in there, duking it out. Metal meets flesh. However, raid logistics get in the way and he needs to prepare. He might need to get the necessary consumables. He might need to travel to the appropriate encounter. He might need to wait until the whole raid arranges itself. And so on. I’d say raiders, as a norm, have the highest TTF values around.
How about your average, vanilla, garden variety PvE quester type of guy? He likes to do quests. Any quests, although he naturally gravitates towards those that would provide some experience, skipping the gray stuff at the bottom of his xp barrel. How’s the design helping him? Are his quests’ starting points available and nearby? Does he have to travel a lot to get them started? To get them accomplished? Does he like quest chains, or does he try to avoid them on principle? Quester types usually have very variable TTF values, and I imagine the difference would pass mostly through the issue of travel time. Some of these players can, and do count the traveling as a pseudo portion of the quest itself, while for some others the actual, factual quest begins once the task to do begins, already in the location.
Your regular PvP junkie also has his own TTF to deal with. If it’s open world PvP, are the mechanics of the world getting in the way of his fun a lot? Does he also have to travel to the end of the world to catch other players? And if its instanced, how are we building these instances? Are we bogging him down with a complicated scenario, full of related objectives that must be accomplished before actually getting down to skull bashing? Is the instance too big? Too small? PvP guys, I suppose, would also have a variable TTF, but considerably lower on average than the PvE guy.
Still, these are just examples of TTF applied to different playstyles. However, I think the notion exists, however vague, of a general, game-wide, TTF value. An overall metric that would compile all the individual values and come up with a result. Supporting this is the fact that it’s very rare for any average player to only have one interest, or only do one thing exclusively. Even PvP’ers quest every now and then. And this is where the general game design comes into play. Is the design of a game, speaking broadly, conductive to lower TTF values across the board? Higher values? You have to consider a lot of things, like travel times, single task complications as introduced by the design, task logistics, etc.
Still, I think it’s possible to distill things into an approximate TTF value. Perhaps not a numerical one (I wish I had the time to sit down and collect data for that), but surely into ‘small’ and ‘big’ categories. In that vein, and thinking things off the top of my head, I could say for example that Guild Wars would have a very short TTF. Travel times are mostly non-existent, and it’s PvP-centric design does away with most (if not all) of the common high values associated with raiding. On the other end of the scale, and mind you this is just going by hearsay since I never played it, I’d put a game like FFXI Online. Which, from all I ever heard from the game, most notably its grinds, seems to tend to very high TTF values.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that game design, overall… regardless of what the focus of your particular game is, does have something of a vague mandate to aim for short TTF values. Yes, on the other side of this coin there are timesinks. Perhaps they are a necessary concept. But one thing is to include them as a necessity, I think, and another is to make them the de facto focus of your whole design. There are opinions for and against timesinks, but the fact remains that they are the antithesis of short TTF values.
Are timesinks, in this day and age, still necessary? That’s probably a question for another day. For now, let’s go with this: What are your thresholds and your own TTF values? In other words, at which point do you realize the game itself is getting in the way of your fun, whichever form that fun might take? Do you prefer your games to have designs that are really conductive to short TTF values overall? Or do you not mind high values of TTF as long as there really is some gold at the end of that rainbow?