Hobby Elements

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?

16 thoughts on “Hobby Elements”

  1. I’m on a low salt diet. I want to play games to relax, and make gaming in general my hobby (including designing them). This, of necessity, means that any one game cannot be the entirety of my “gaming” hobby. I’m not a WAR or WoW hobbyist, I’m a gamer.

    Interesting article, Rav. :)

  2. I’ve been trying to build businesses in SWG on two servers (as Traders/crafters). If you search forums you’ll see most people concluding that it is impossible to compete with the people who’ve been around for 5 years. Hogwash I say!

    All of my friends that I talk to about games think I’m stupid for spending so much time in a game simply to craft. Even I think that sometimes, because I’m usually a PvPer. But I keep on doing it, day in and day out. There is just something so gratifying about farming power and making money to fuel my harvestors which in turn farm me resources which I use to make more harvesters and/or items to sell.

    The longer I do it the more I see people selling things for hundreds of millions, the more I want to keep doing it so that some day I can make a multi-hundred-million credit transaction. I want hundreds of millions of credits!

    Some people grind combat levels, some people get attuned for raids, some people dress up funny and cyborz in their decorated houses with complete stranger e-dudes.

    I gather resources and craft.

  3. MMO’s have a critical failing as a hobby – you can’t hop right in and play with your friends. All my other hobbies allow me to do that.

    Pnp rpg’s? We can all make characters of appropriate level for the content.

    Sunday night beer league hockey? We can all lace up skates and hit the ice and have fun, regardless of skill level.

    Board games? Fresh start each time!

    MMO’s only work as a part time hobby, ironically, for the single player.

  4. A key feature of most hobbies is their ability to keep you engaged when you’re not participating. The average golfer, or bass-fisher, or guitarist, or military-reenactor, or stamp collector, or what-have-you spends as much time reading about their hobby than they do actually taking part in it. Often more.

    This is why WOW is a hobby for me. I am not a hard-core player by any stretch of the imagination, but while I was away from WOW for a couple weeks over the holidays, I still checked out the news and read about spell rotations, and rumors of the next patch.

  5. I disagree – gaming in general is a hobby, as is, say, bird-watching. Playing WAR is analogous to watching a particular kind of bird (a retarded one that can’t quite manage to fly).

    I’m not sure why you’d try to put a positive spin on grinding :/

  6. Thanks for the comments. I am always nervous when I put up a broad-sweeping article like this.

    Melf_Himself and Chris F, I guess it’s how you define hobby. Is it a mere “auxiliary activity” (WordNet) or is it a “spare-time recreational pursuit” (Wikipedia)? For the purposes of this article, I believe it’s the latter. A hobby is different from a favorite activity because it requires a level of dedication. It’s the difference between going to a wildlife preserve with binoculars on a random Sunday morning or making notations in your Audobon field guide while you track down your 400th North American songbird.

    I know for instance that pen’n’paper roleplaying can require a good amount of dedication, especially on the game master’s part. And, beer league hockey and board games (you should see some of those board game clubs) can rise to the level of being a hobby as defined above.

    Aler, good point. A hobby element could also be a player’s anticipation for updates. In fact I would guess the majority of forum-speak is on what is updated and what should be updated. Devs and the marketborgs have to know this that their numbers may be based on what is updated and how those updates are presented.

    And excellent example, Bonedead, and Tesh, you are setting the ball for my next post. =)

  7. Grinding to my the absolute opposite of a hobby. Many MMO’s are constructed to do A to B to C with variations on getting to the end point. My problem with these MMO’s is that they lack any reason to keep playing when you reach the end. Grinding as a way of delaying the end is IMO not a hobby. My hobbies include some things that take some time out of my day that I do not HAVE to give but rather I wish to do. A grind is something you HAVE to do. SO, to me there is a huge difference. As an aside I play EvE, which while it may have some grinding elements, you nor anyone else HAS to do them. Cost benefit analysis comes into play, what is the cost? x amount of time, what is the benefit? When cost > benefit I cease playing said game. Having played: EQ EQ2 SWG (the last game i did a grind for) WoW, Loto, AoC, etc I am quite familiar with the grinding mechanisms, I just hate them. To me Grinding is not a Hobby

  8. Thanks for the comment, Manasi. I am not trying to put a positive spin on grinding. I think true grind is an artificial (in the bad sense) puffing of content, which could be replaced by a multitude of systems (see Puzzle Pirates and A Tale in the Desert). A little bit of grind is not a bad thing.

    The thing is many hobbies, in the dedicated sense, require “grinding.” Sometimes it is fun, the Dungeons and Dragons game master prepping the dungeon for the players to romp through while putting a twist on the story. Sometimes it is tedious, like painting a miniatures army and making sure the 40 pikemen all generally look the same. Sometimes it is boring, like sitting at a deer stand for 6 hours in the hopes of a buck coming by.

    I think, Manasi, you came close to the idea in my head. Grind included in an MMO as a hobby element is something you have to do to get the reward you want. Going back to the hunter example. I think that hunter’s believe that the waiting part is part of their experience. It is part of hunting. However, if they have to wait at the deerstand for a week to get one missed shot (too much salt) then the experience is ruined, but if they wait just long enough to feel that they did the right thing to bag that 12-point buck then it elevates the experience of their hobby.

    Grinding in itself is not a hobby, but grinding is a hobby element.

  9. @Melf_himself: ‘Grinding’ generally has bad connotations, but I find myself often enjoying what other people consider a grind. The sheer act of repetition is the definition and well if it’s fun to me, repetition is a-okay.

    Grind is often compared to a job, the old daily grind. But if you love your job– well I’m repeating myself.

    Some people automatically hate any grind, the presence of repetition irks them. Just like I automatically hate every zerg, I think large numbers of players isn’t more fun, it’s less. But I keep encountering players who just love swarming everything in the largest possible groups, PvE or PvP. They boggle the hell out of me, as I’m sure my love of farming mobs for rare drops probably wouldn’t work for you.

    @Ravious: Exactly. Collecting rare drops is more hobbylike, the grinding process is killing the mobs until they drop. Otherwise you’d be collecting rather common drops and while that could be a hobby, it doesn’t seem like much of one. Especially if the definition of hobby includes time consumption, dedication, effort, etc..

    There are definitely grinds that aren’t really connected to any hobby-like qualities, like just plain stretched content with no other purpose but to slow things down when you’re already on the course (IE: large amounts of exp needed for the last few levels).

  10. Saylah nails it down a bit. Grinding as a requirement to get to the good parts (especially in a subscription game that has a vested interest in treadmills) is annoying, but the option of grindy elements as something to do in the game *if you want to* is perfectly fine.

    I like some good Zen grinding on occasion (especially if combat is fun, like in Wizard101 or Atlantica Online), but if the game *forces* me to grind for a gear/level gate check to see more content, I’m not pleased.

    In my volleyball days, it was definitely a hobby. I would practice serves and spike against the wall for hours at a time, all by myself in an empty court. I didn’t do that because it was required of me to “qualify” for the fun part of playing with my friends, I did it because I enjoyed the physical exertion and honing of my skills.

    I’m setting up another post? Fore! :)

  11. Another idea that relates to my earlier comment. Hobbies are usually of indefinite duration.

    Knitting is a hobby, because it’s something you can come back to anytime you want. Knitting a hat is not a hobby, because it’s a task of finite duration – at some point the hat is finished, and you can’t keep knitting it.

    In the context of gaming, playing Half Life 2 is not a hobby (for most), because at some point it comes to an end. Playing Civilization is a hobby, because you can keep coming back to it indefinitely.

    In the MMO world, the difference between a game and a hobby is it’s lasting power. There’s nothing wrong with growing bored with something – I’ve switched hobbies many times. Games don’t need infinite content to be hobby worthy. But for a game to become a hobby, it must be possible for you to grow bored with it _before_ you run out of things to do.

  12. Nope. I can repeatedly spike if I get the angle, power and timing right; the ball hits the floor (bump), then rebounds off the wall on the way up, turning into an effective “set” for the next cycle. Bump(dig), set, spike is easier to practice with two people.

  13. I think grinding can be some great mindless fun. WaR grinding is boring as hell though. I don’t know why really because the class design is excellent. It’s just that the play style suits rvr perfectly, but is too slow for pve.

    Barnett though is a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse. If hype>results then hypee=scapegoat. I really think he means well, but doubt if he has mmo design skills to back his flapping lips.

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