In 1996, one of the very first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) was introduced to the world. Meridian 59, developed by Archetype Interactive and published by The 3DO Company, was one of the earliest predecessors to the modern MMO, and introduced the subscription-based system that many gamers are familiar with today. As time moved forward, we saw more games following this style across the world, such as Ragnarok Online in Korea, Final Fantasy XI in Japan, and of course, World of Warcraft in the United States.
In the introduction to Off The Clock Games, I mentioned that the average gamer today is around 34 years old. Those players would have been around 11 years of age when the first MMORPGs came available. A child could create their character, develop them from the ground up, and achieve great things at age 11. It’s not difficult to see the allure – but with great power, comes great responsibility (or irresponsibility).
A new feature to the MMORPG at the time was the lack of a pause button. It’s still a joke today with kids that their mom told them to “pause” an MMO (See: “You can’t pause an online game!”). Everything feels like it happens in real time, and it feels like a somewhat real life and real accomplishments. These accomplishments can, however, take a great deal of time.
“I was in an Alterac Valley [World of Warcraft] for three days once. I logged out, went to sleep, woke up and when I logged back in I was still there. Those battles were pretty intense”James, On Old-School WoW PVP
“When I started playing Final Fantasy XI, I needed to get to the main city, Jeuno, from my starting city. It took an hour and a half on foot, and there weren’t really any waypoints in between. If I died, it sent me back to the starting city.”Daniel, On The Time-Sink of MMO Foot Travel
“Waiting on 40 people to raid Molten Core [World of Warcraft] and having to buff each person individually”
These feelings certainly stuck with these children as we grew into adults. In a world full of uncertainty and possible failures, the game worlds were reliable and achievements were attainable.
This group of children that were sort of “born into” the MMORPG platform are still often very much playing these games, and as such, the platforms themselves have had to grow along with the playerbase. Those children are now adults with jobs, spouses, families, or all of the above. In order to retain their monthly subscriptions, the game style had to change from long 24-hour summer break grinds to 1-2 hour after work or weekend excursions.
These changes make many players unhappy, but for the 40+ hr, busy, family oriented adult, they are worth a second look.
World of Warcraft
WoW is a biggie. Since 2006, players have seen a massive shift in how the game is played, from how parties are formed, how servers are divided, and how rewards are distributed. For the hardcore raider seeking glory among the masses, the changes are likely disappointing (See: World of Warcraft Community Forums), but for someone with little time seeking some after-work play, the list of things to do has overall grown.
Looking for Raid
Looking for Raid (LFR) was a huge, HUGE change in how a player could play the game and gear up. Originally, one would have to search out a group of like-minded individuals (ranging from 10 to 40 people) on their server and run to the raid together. LFR is an automated system much like Dungeon Finder, which throws you into a pool and matches you up with other players looking to do the same content. There are pros and cons to this. It is difficult to feel like a team with other players that you will never have to face again, and loot can feel unwarranted when you steamroll an encounter with poor DPS.
However, LFR is an excellent option for those with limited time who would like to get a jump start on their gear and see the story presented in the raid. It presented the opportunity to show the story to many, many players who would not have been able to raid otherwise.
World Quests and Titanforged Pieces
The world quest system replaced the old daily system- a series of quests that could be repeated once per day for rewards or reputation with a specific faction. World quests, instead, now rotate on a daily basis for different factions, allowing you to pick and choose a number of quests to do for the faction. Once you complete the task, you receive an additional reward.
For those with a ton of time, the Daily Quest System may have been more ideal- you could do as many of them as you wanted (or all of them, as we often felt required to do). For those of us with little time, the new system allows us to pick and choose the closest relevant quests, finish fewer tasks, get our reward, and move on.
Titanforging is fairly controversial within the WoW Community. A piece of gear or a weapon that you receive via questing or world drops has a random chance to “Titanforge”, or to have its stats increase by a little, or in some cases, by a whole lot. For hardcore raiders, it can seem difficult to watch someone who pulled a pair of gloves out of a chest get something rated at a higher level than your heroic raiding gear. Again, for those of us with little time, though, it is nice to feel like we can “keep up” with the current game with the play style that we can manage.
Account-wide Achievements and Collections
In the early days of World of Warcraft, mounts, pets, and achievements (once they were implemented) were bound to single characters, and had to be re-achieved if you wanted them on another. Adding in account-wide collections/achievements saves players from countless hours of playing repeat content and spending more in-game currency on mounts. In some cases it even speeds up the leveling process, with “Heirloom Gear” designed to increase experience received by killing monsters. These pieces once cost quite a bit of time and currency to obtain and was only usable on a single character.
Final Fantasy XIV
Final Fantasy XIV (A Realm Reborn, specifically) was produced a great deal after World of Warcraft, and took a few great things from their model. While modes of play have varied slightly since release, the format of the current content seems to be consistent as to what can be expected to release as time passes: New story and possible new dungeons with patches over time, and one new high tier raid and alliance raid (separated into smaller raids) with each expansion. While the format may become stale, it seems to repeat because it works. Players subscribe and log in for major patches, play until the game is no longer interesting, then unsubscribe. While this seems counterintuitive to a thriving business model, the Producer of the game wholeheartedly seems to support it.
“It’s alright not to play it everyday. Since it’s just a game, you can stop forcing yourself if it’s hard on you to keep that up. Rather, it’ll just pile up unnecessary stress if you limit yourself into playing just that one game since there are so many other games out there. So, do come back and play it to your heart’s content when the major patch kicks in, then stop it to play other games before you got burnt out, and then come back for another major patch. This will actually make me happier, and in the end, I think this is the best solution I can answer for keeping your motivation up for the game.”Yoshi P, FFXIV Producer
Here are some other ways that FFXIV can cater to an after-hours gamer:
This is very similar to World of Warcraft’s LFR. Square Enix developed story mode raiding so that people who don’t have the time or desire to gear up and hard core raid can still get some fun gear and progress through the story.
There are several bosses in game called “Primals” that, when defeated, drop special pieces of armor, weapons, or mounts. A group must defeat the Primal together, but usually only one or two pieces will be rewarded. This can leave players at the fate of chance, which has always been part of playing an MMO. To combat this, however, FFXIV implemented a boss currency system. Each time a Primal is defeated, each player will receive a token specific to that primal. The items that drop off of the boss can then be purchased at a vendor for a (usually high) number of tokens. This can help alleviate that feeling of dread of “wasting your time” when you only have an hour or so to play, knowing that you’ll at least receive some compensation for your efforts.
Dungeon Roulettes + EXP Bonuses
In FFXIV, a player can play all jobs on one character. They still have to level each job individually, but systems have been implemented to make leveling jobs easier after leveling the first one. Until level 60, a player gets 100% more experience if they have another job already higher than what they’re currently leveling. After level 60, they still receive a bonus of 50%.
In addition to this, Final Fantasy XIV implemented Dungeon Roulettes. The dungeons and raids are divided into sections (Ex. Leveling Roulettes, Lvl 50-60 Roulettes, Expert, etc.). Completing a random dungeon through the roulette will provide you with a substantial bonus to Experience or currency once per day for each roulette.
Sticking to roulettes for leveling or grinding currency is a great way to manage play time.
Guild Wars 2
A look back
No matter how well managed, MMORPGs can consume a lot of time. These games aren’t necessarily meant to play in small bursts, but game designers have been making strides in making them more accessible to working adults and other people with minimal time.
There are many games that I haven’t played. If you’ve played an MMO you’d like to share a story about, whether it’s how terribly long something took or how convenient the design is, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!