MMO Development Lesson #47

Time is a player’s most precious resource. Use it wisely. Do not create time-sinks for the sake of taking up their time. Don’t make them waste their time doing things that aren’t fun in order to get to things that are. Don’t arbitrarily create timers that will be likely to spend a player’s time. Don’t make a death penalty that needlessly makes  a player sit around doing nothing. This is a fairly straightforward lesson, but it’s easy to violate if you aren’t careful.

Some time-wasters are fairly obvious. For example, you don’t want to make a death penalty that makes a player uselessly weak for 15 minutes. You’ve just wasted a quarter of an hour of a player’s time. Some are a little more subtle. For example, if you make a daily instance run/quest/whatever have a 24 hour no-repeat timer, you’re going to waste a player’s time. Why? If I complete the quest at 8:00PM on day 1, I can’t do it until 8:00PM on day 2. It takes me 10 minutes to do it, so on day 3, I can’t do it until 8:10PM. I might also fail to start the quest instantly, so I will slowly push the time I can do the quest later and later. How do you solve it? Either make the daily timer actually correspond to once a day (e.g. you can do it on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on) or adjust the timer back from 24 hours (to something like 22 hours).

This extends to poor quest design as well which is, again, a fairly subtle thing. Do you have the player searching for 3 copies of an object that only drops 10% of the time? That could theoretically take forever. Instead, you should institute a fail-safe system that prevents this worst case scenario. How? Check out this drop chance escalation simulation. In short, every time a player fails to get quest loot, they are more likely to get it on the next try. You can also calculate the maximum kills necessary for any scenario. And, if you’re into pain, you can look at the normal way of doing things. (Note: Please don’t use these TOO much or you could make the web server very sad and I might have to take them down. Thanks!)

A player’s time should never be needlessly wasted. It is a valuable resource and should always be treated respectfully.

3 Responses to "MMO Development Lesson #47"

  1. typedef struct

    A counter-argument:

    1. Socialization is the most powerful force keeping players in your game
    2. The more time players are in your game, the more opportunities they have for socialization

    Wouldn’t you want as many time sinks as possible, provided the potential socialization value of that time exceeds the amount of frustration it causes the player?

  2. No. There’s a difference between providing necessary and unnecessary timesinks, as well as a difference between timesinks and providing for opportunities to socialize. In many games, you do have a lot of timesinks, but many (often most) of the time spent before max level is spent alone. If you’re referring to a timesink as “stuff to do,” then perhaps the answer to your question is “yes.” Yes, you do want to provide plenty of things to do for all types of players, and you want to provide many opportunities for socialization while they do these things.

    Some games are starting to do a better job at providing opportunities to socialize without creating intentional timesinks (and in this example, they are actively helping you avoid timesinks). I recently picked RIFT back up to give it a go, and they added Instant Adventures.

    In short, Instant Adventures are shared quests/events in which you instantly teleport to action, and you Mentor down to a specific level automatically, allowing for players on the same server to work together to level rather quickly. I like this approach more than WoW’s Looking for Dungeon system, which isn’t really social at all and can lead people like me to bore themselves on the surprisingly-antisocial treadmill.

    Arguably, you level a little too quickly with Instant Adventures and most of the quests are pretty mundane, but I really like the core idea. It’s an ingenious combination of PlanetSide’s “Instant Action” and EverQuest II’s “Mentoring” (the latter of which I still claim credit for coming up with. Challenge me if you dare… yes, it is just reverse-Sidekicking, but I still think it’s better. This is a long aside).

    What I’m really stating in this lesson is that you should never intentionally waste a player’s time. Unfortunately, that tolerance threshold is different for different players, so you have to find a sweet spot. Yes, you want to extend the life of your content so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted effort creating it (e.g. making a quest to “kill 2 bears” is just a waste of everyone’s time), but you also don’t want to stretch your content to require a player to feel like they are wasting time (e.g. making a quest to “kill 60 bears” is just wasting a player’s time).

  3. […] His site features a regular ‘MMO Development Lessons‘ series of articles, and the latest one struck a nerve with me. Time is a player’s most precious resource. Use it wisely. Do not […]

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