Paul Barnett, said again and again during pre-release interviews for Warhammer Online that they were creating a “hobby,” rather than a simple (add British sneer here) game. His line of reasoning was that Warhammer Online required dedication, but what you got from that dedication was something good… more than simply defeating a final boss and turning off the console. I wanted to take a look at why MMOs transcend being a mere game in order to become a hobby.
A game that creates a hobby must have some elements that set it apart from a mere game. The simple and short answer is MMOs contain hobby elements, but I don’t think the answer is that simple. So, I will try and define a hobby element in an MMO as a game mechanic that a player does in a dedicated manner, not because they are exactly entertaining, but in order to facilitate the activities that are entertaining. This is as clear cut as I can make the definition; I mean grind to some is meditative and fun to others.
Regardless, this is how I define a game becoming a hobby versus just playing a game. A kind of dedication is required, and this dedication is why, I believe, we are MMO gamers. So, now that I have defined “hobby elements” allow me to provide examples.
The vanilla example of a hobby element is so-called grind. Grind is usually an artificial way to expand content by requiring players to perform repetitive actions across a period of time. Players grind because of a reward. There is always a reason to grind. Grind is an interesting hobby element because in some games, like Atlantica Online, grind is the game. Usually, grind is added as a means to puff up playable time after or between ‘non-repetitive’ gameplay.
Content gating may also be a type of hobby element depending on the way it is implemented. Here, though, developers can get sneaky. A raid treadmill easily adds a hobby element through content gating, but the sneaky part is raid preparation. Farming materials for consumables to be used in a later event is a hobby element. The content is gated until the necessary preparations are met. Finally, there is simply the level mechanics. This is the most transparent of hobby elements because it has largely been incorporated into core gameplay, but when players start wishing for the next level or two long before they have paid their dues… hobby element.
Another overlooked hobby element is the mechanic of grouping up. Players waste so much game time standing around waiting for groups to form. This is the worst kind of hobby element because I believe there are so many good ways for developers to truly get groups together, but they are never brought to light for fear of making things “too easy.” Add in travel times, class specific travel means, level requirements, class requirements, and “skill” and a pretty complex system is created.
Hobby elements are not a bad. They are like the salt of MMOs. Salt is necessary in good food to enhance flavor, but too much and a disgusting creation is made. These hobby elements, I believe, are the things that separate the MMOs of today from other games. Other games have grouping up, levels, gated content, etc., but they never rise to the level of requiring dedication. The goal of every developer, though, is to find just enough salt for their recipe.
you think that’s air you’re breathing?