What is the ideal amount of time to play?

| Friday, August 27, 2010
Why do we run instances so fast? I know it cannot be purely desire for the reward at the end, because I know that even when I have been motivated by loot, I have no always run quite so fast. Some of it is instance design and gear, that we can steamroll the faceroll mobs. But I suspect some of it is a terrible spiral.

If you have a lot of time to play, what do you do? Play a lot! You probably run a lot of instances and thanks to unlimited randoms, you can just keep going and going. Queues are fast, so you can easily run the same place 5 times in a day. Do that for a few days, or a few months, and yes, even the best instance ever will be incredibly boring. If instead you had less time and so ran the instance less, at the same real life passing of time, you'd be less sick of an instance than the person who played more. In fact, I think that it's not merely amount of times running an instance, but also density, that once a day for a week is not as boring as seven times in a day. This implies that less time could be more fun.

In other words, there is an optimal amount of time to play. Any more than that and repetition sets in and you hit diminishing returns in terms of in-game rewards. The first random gives frost, then mere triumph, which while still valuable, are clearly much less so. The farming loop is profitable, but if you are flying faster than they are respawning, then you're going to gradually deplete them and again hit diminishing returns.

I think this optimum amount of time has changed over time, with significant shifts with expansions or notable patches.

When it could take hours to get a group, travel to, and complete BRD or UBRS, then it fit well with a lot of time. Someone with one hour won't have enough time. Someone with five hours might find themselves unable to complete two runs, and therefore hitting diminishing returns, but the general trend is that WoW once had a longer optimal play time. Also supporting this was the higher travel times, epic flying is faster than a FP and we used to do a lot of cross-continent travel, combined with more farming being done outside, particularly reputations. Someone could more easily play for long periods of time without repetition, though many seemed to just go with repetition. But even still, a player with lots of time has lots of activities to do, and may take much longer to hit diminishing returns on any of them.

In BC the optimal time went down as instances and travel to them became shorter. The implementation of dailies did reduce the relative value of endless farming, but there did still remain special materials or items to farm, such as marks of kil'jaeden or motes.

Now in LK the optimal time is even shorter with closely backed daily hubs, short BGs (R.I.P. AV), and even shorter instances, particularly now that we're so overgeared, which is itself partly a product of the short instance cycle which fuels our insane levels of badge spending.

Of course this isn't purely a factor of the game. Some players enjoy the game itself more, especially early on in an expansion cycle, and some are less susceptible to repetition-induced burnout.


Nick Carraway said...

For me, in instances

1x - 100% enjoyment
2x - 60% enjoyment
3x - 36% enjoyment
4x - I usually don't run it more than 3 times.

For me, with a pre-scripted instance that will always be the same every time I play, I can handle about 3 times.

When I read a book, If it's particularly good, I'll reread it later. Only if it's spectacular will I read it 3 times. Same with movies. Same with single-player campaigns. 2-3 times is my max range.

jeffo said...

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Did Blizzard create shorter and shorter instances in response to demands from the players, or has the current expectations of the players come about from Blizzard's shorter instance design?

I wonder if going back to a slower-paced game -- one where things took some time -- is actually even possible for WoW anymore, or if the djinn is hopelessly out of the bottle.

Syl said...

What i've experienced in wow the past years, is that 'life' has accelerated very similar to whats happening in the real world at the moment. everything needs to go faster, get rewards instantly, rush on to the next quest or instance - a bit like everday life with our cellphones and twitter always at hand, double-appointments and afterwork activities. it seems the more time we got, the less we got - and its hard to satisfy so much demand in an MMO.

like you said, it used to take hours and hours to get groups together and do one instance back in the days, today it's like "what the...i am waiting for the dungeon tool for over 10mins now?!". while i wouldnt necessarily say that the game's become easier, it's certainly lost 90% of its downtimes compared to vanilla. i guess its good in a way, especially if you dont have much playtime, but somehow we also lost some of the feeling for what we're actually doing this way. do you still appreciate a good pug the way you would have 4 years ago?

Klepsacovic said...

@Nick: For you would the ideal be very long instances that would only be run a few times, or would that create problems with needing too large of a block of time?

@jeffo: The egg, if we're talking about biological evolution.

Blizzard was responding to player demand when they switched pretty much exclusively to the winged design of BC, based on the positive feedback from Scarlet Monastery. This also brought shorter instances than vanilla. That seems to have trigger more feedback and drive for shorter instances. Though compared to LK, BC instances were rather long: think SL or SH runs without a geared, skilled AoE tank. I think the biggest influence was the badge system combined with randoms. Under that we don't really care where we are, all we care about is that badge counter. At least under BC heroics were of widely varying difficulty and couldn't be run endlessly, so the individual instance mattered.

@Syl: I can't say I've really applied the Good label to a PUG in a very long time. They all seem to be Meets Expectations or Bad. All that downtime may have been good for the community, keeping us at a pace slow enough for some social interaction. It's much easier to chat while grinding elementals and checking global LFG than it is while chaining speed runs.

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