Another Dip Test

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

14 thoughts on “Another Dip Test”

  1. Not to be rude, but I don’t even see how this dip test is a matter for discussion. If you don’t want to put the time into a content-heavy MMO, then, quite simply, don’t do it.

    This is why RTS’ are created. This is why games such as Guild Wars are created.

    While this may seem like naivete on my part, I don’t believe so. For quick thrills I jump onto games such as GW, and even UO. Ultima Online (free-servers) are still amazingly popular and filled with that ages-old skill-based pvp. If I wanted to get ino something heavy then I would do just that. This is also why I have an Xbox 360 and TFC/Halo/CoD.

  2. Lorthic, I disagree.
    What if I don’t want to play any other games than, say WoW?
    Why aren’t there choices so I can get to do stuff in the game I like if I only have 15 or 20min time to play on that particular day?

    And then Warhammer and WoW and whatnor even sometimes allow to get to your destination in ~5min, when I remember some other games here where the search for a suiting level area depending on various factors took 15min+ alone…

  3. The assumption that playing an MMO requires huge blocks of time is one that can and ultimately will die out. The gamer demographic is shifting, and this sort of “short-session gaming” as I’ve settled on calling it will be a critical component of successful MMOs. The alternative is to be a nice product, which is fine, but as MMOs moved to the mainstream and the Vision proved incompatible, changes became inevitable.

    MMOs need a critical mass of players, and they will all have different schedules. There is reason to cater to the short-session players just as much as the long-session players.

    Also, the subscription model especially *loves* those players who just jump in for a few minutes at a time once in a while, but keep throwing their $15/month into the coffers. If you can make someone feel like they had a good time in your world with as little overhead as possible on your end (as a dev), you’ve got a winning recipe.

  4. Armagon, I do agree with you, though the reason I made my first post is because when I jump into a game, whether it’s an MMO, RTS, FPS, whatever, I feel as if I don’t *accomplish* anything during those 10-15 minute spurts. That’s why I say it isn’t a matter for discussion, because while gamers do love instant gratification, the feeling does fade quickly, leaving a lot of gamers high and dry if they only have miniscule achievements to show for all the hours of 10-15 minute spurts put in.

  5. Lorthic, of course when you push it to that imagined extreme of [u]only[/u] having miniscule achievement to show for all the hours of the 10-15 spurts put in will the whole concept be basically worthless. The whole MMO should not be built around spurts and miniscule achievements, but it should allow this playstyle rather than bar it. I tried to show how in WAR players could sign on for a spurt, accomplish something meaningful (renown, exp, gold), and sign off. Should all of WAR revolve around that? Of course not, but like I said it made signing on much easier knowing things would start more quickly. Whereas in LOTRO, I would be lucky to accomplish anything at all in 10-15 minutes.

  6. I’ve come to the conclusion that I no longer have an enjoyable amount of time for most MMO’s. I really want to but it’s just not there. W101 and Peggle have become my current games of choice (oddly) for this very reason.

    I’ve never given Guild Wars a look, perhaps I should.

  7. Here is the problem with mixing the two though Ravious: What was WAR’s main issue shortly after launch? Everyone was in scenarios, RvR lakes were underpopulated. Remember how many people wanted scenarios removed from the game altogether? Mythic even stepped in and nerfed scenario XP gain and RvR impact. The short burst of gameplay actually harmed the ‘point’ of the game (RvR), because it was drawing people away at random times (thanks to queue-anywhere), messing with warbands when a whole group would disappear from a keep defense to be ported into a scenario.

    Now, perhaps Mythic just did not execute the idea properly, but perhaps it’s not always beneficial to provide both a short-burst and long-term content on the same plate (especially if both depends heavily on the same resource: people)

    My take on it has always been to cater to one style, and allow the player to pick from his desktop what he wants. If I want long-term stuff, I double-click DarkFall. If I want a short burst of PvP, I click WAR. What I don’t want is scenarios in DarkFall, or WAR becoming as time-intensive as DF. Keep them apart, and I’ll happily sub to both.

  8. I was actually hoping someone would bring that up. :)

    I would say the most elegant solution would have the short burst naturally lead in to long play. Scenario players in WAR stayed in scenarios, but that wasn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem was the short burst play in early WAR was way more efficient to play for advancement than the long-term play they offered.

    You are right though that a spectrum and niches are needed. It seems that the sandbox MMOs (e.g., EVE, DF, and ATITD) are some of the most time-intensive. Yet, even they can add some elegant burst-session ideas (like EVE’s W-space wormholes).

  9. Damn, I miss Shadowbane. Grinding to 75 in a day or two, yet taking months to perfect a character. Best PvP I’ve ever had outside of Ultima. No quests… Just the epic NvN warfare.

    Go to hell, Ubisoft!

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