Greedy Goblin

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why do you need 100 hours?

Tobold wrote a pretty interesting, yet wrong article about game testing. He claims that the "you must play 100 hours to know the game" is nonsense. The game must be fun from the start. If the first missions are bad experience, it's totally illogical to expect the player to keep on playing, hoping that later it gets better.

He would be right if he would talk about single-player games. If you don't like the first person shooter setup, if you find killing the first nazis/demons/terrorists/aliens shallow, you will not enjoy any first person shooter, and the endboss being really badass looking doesn't change a thing. All games have basic repetitions, even chess. If you don't like the basic action fun, you won't like the game. So after familiarizing with controls, one can decide with 10 mins - 1 hour gaming if he likes the game or not.

The fundamental difference between a single-player game and an MMO is the player-created context. The presence of other players give lot of variation in the game and change the experience fundamentally. Just compare the following HC Stonecore runs:
  • Guild group first week after cata start. Half team doesn't even have 333 gear, we analyze every pack, plan, CC, pull. Wipe and learn on bosses.
  • Guild group now, 25 mins
  • You are fresh 85 in the guild group now. You are carried but people are happy to help you.
  • You are fresh 85 with a geared-skilled random group where you are abused as n00b
  • You are with LFD trash who die on Corborus submerging.
These runs will be very-very different, despite having exactly the same game mechanics and pixel enemies.

You can play your first dungeon (RFC on lvl 15) after 1-2 hours of playing. It is true that RFC has every serious characteristic that Nefarian 25 HC has. There are bosses, adds, they cast spells, there is interrupt, there is tank, healer, DD and fire on the ground. Do you really claim that playing RFC with 4 random strangers is the same experience as a Nefarian 25 HC firstkill?

The MMO-experience depends much more on the people around you than the actual game content. While you can familiarize with the game controls in a few minutes, finding a place in the game community takes time. The zero-community, the one where you arrive by default is the lowest common denominator: randomly inviting guilds and LFD filth. Playing with these people is repulsive. In your first LFD RFC run you have not seen the feature that keeps the players in WoW: defeating a boss in a team. Blizzard cannot deliver you this experience. They can give you a mini-Nefarian, but they can't give you mini-guildmates.

While the game can give you tools to find them easier (channels, guild finder, various signals like guild levels), you need to find these people on your own. And this takes time. 100 hours is a good estimation. When you evaluate an MMO, you shall evaluate its community first and features just second.

Tobold is right about one thing: you can't evaluate Farmville without playing it for 100 hours. While the basic repetition system seems terribly bad, it's practically the same as in EVE. You just mine asteroids / grow potatoes endlessly with clicks. Yet there is huge and unquestioned depth in EVE. Maybe there is in Farmwille too. I decided to not try it out. But that's because my day is 24 hours and not because I know it's bad. I don't. I think it is, based on reviews and the fact that it's on Facebook. But that's just my guess and not a review I would give to anyone, especially if I'm a professional tester or even respected blogger.

Of course I'm not claiming that the community is not related to the game rules. Obviously there are more gankers and competitive players in Darkfall than on a WoW PvE server. But social issues are hard to predict, so saying "this game must have bad community" without checking it out on your own is pretty bold statement for a reviewer (as a player of course you are free to make such).

It's exactly like food: the ingredients define the food, but unless you are a chef, looking at them don't tell you what the food will taste. Looking at the game features won't tell you what the community of the game will be despite they define them.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to hear you make such a claim about EVE, considering it's probably the most "goblin"esque game on the market. With the logic that you just mine asteroids, I could make the same bold claim about WoW. "You just rightclick herbs and rocks." You'd, of course, know better, having moved beyond the M&S "farming" method.

But, well, an opinion is an opinion - they are very rarely fallible.

Andru said...

There's a fundamental difference between Eve and Farmville.

Sunk cost.

In Eve, sinking effort into the game is not exactly a purpose in itself, but a means to get to the end, and blow each others faces off in fleet battles. Players willingly engage in negative-sum games simply for fun.

There's also the RPG part of Eve in which sunk costs are permanent. If you level your skills, you'll have them forever. (Bar some extremely moronic moves like not getting an upgraded clone.)

This article explains best about Farmville.

You have spoken in the past about the sunken cost, so perhaps it's time to revisit it.

Squishalot said...

Gevlon, I think you're missing the context of Tobold's post. He's mainly arguing in the context of the single player portion of a MMORPG - the leveling 'grind' is the same principle from level 1 to 85.

Note his comments about Guild Wars - people have the option to jump straight to the PvP element of the game with level capped characters. If you could jump straight into the level cap portion of WoW and go straight into raiding, the bits that change with different players, then additional hours played would be meaningful.

However, because WoW requires you to grind levels, your next 90 hours are almost exactly the same as your first 10 hours, because you don't get any fundamentally new experiences from player interaction (i.e. raiding / arenas) or from content. You can't get to that content within 100 hours played, not as a new player without heirlooms or other such boosting tools.

100 hours of /played time might get you to around L70, whereupon you've forced your way through vanilla and TBC zones and died of boredom. There's nothing interesting within that 100 hours that you wouldn't have experienced in the first 10-20 hours, other than new scenery and more quest text. Therefore, 100 hours is no different to 10 hours.

A longer investment, however, would allow you to access heroics, raiding content, arenas, world raids, etc.

Tobold agrees that reviewers should be looking at end-game experiences before making a review. However, he is right to suggest that it is unreasonable for a reviewer to sit through hours of grinding in the hope that the end-game is better, just to give a review of the game. The Guild Wars approach, also mirrored on the PTR, is all that is really required for a reviewer to get a feel for the game, and then, he only needs to spend 5-10 hours.

Samus said...

The average player will play for 20 hours a week. In the free month, they will play for around 80 hours.

This is when they will decide whether or not to pay for a subscription and keep playing. You may think it is "unfair" of them, but that is reality.

The game must be fun in under 80 hours. If it is not, you are a stupid game designer who is going to QQ about how no one gave his failed game "a fair chance."

Azuriel said...

While I agree with you that MMOs are necessarily different than single-player games, I disagree that you cannot/should not review a MMO before spending 100 hours in it. I mean, let's look at this:

The MMO-experience depends much more on the people around you than the actual game content.

What you are admitting here is that the game itself is more or less irrelevant, yes? I agree WoW is 1000x better with a guild full of people you want to hang out with on a daily basis, but it is entirely possible you don't find such a home after 100 hours, 500 hours, or ever; through fate/luck/chance you could pick a "recommended" low-pop, dead server where all the awesome people you would get along with are somewhere else, you never meet them, you meet them a month before they burnout and quit, etc etc etc. Meanwhile, if we assume Farmville is 100% garbage gameplay-wise but you happen to connect with awesome players, does that suddenly make Farmville a 5-star, 10/10, A+ game?

Basically, as a reviewer, you cannot solve for X with the random, fluctuating Friend variable still in the equation. While there are probably some games that are more fun with awesome people than others (perhaps a better depth of gameplay amongst awesome players), trying to quantify or even describe it is so hopelessly subjective that it would make said review practically useless.

I think most people can understand the impact of the Friend variable, or at least why bringing it up is irrelevant. And while Ragefire Chasm may not bear a lot of resemblance to heroic Nef, it is not as though the gameplay is fundamentally different any more than Mario becomes a fundamentally different game when you pick up a mushroom or start shooting fireballs; WoW is still a hotkey MMO, most of the skill-based challenge is "move your character" (as opposed to DDR-esque button sequences), the tank/healer/DPS trinity is still there, you get more buttons but are doing the same sort of things, and so on.

Tithian said...

Gevlon, I think you're missing the context of Tobold's post. He's mainly arguing in the context of the single player portion of a MMORPG - the leveling 'grind' is the same principle from level 1 to 85.

I think Gevlon is actually spot on. You are playing a multiplayer game and as such you should be able to base the larger percentage of your "score" (so to speak) on the multiplayer expeience, not the single player "grind".

The average player will play for 20 hours a week. In the free month, they will play for around 80 hours.

This is when they will decide whether or not to pay for a subscription and keep playing.

Very true. This is one of the things that I find that Rift has done right with invasions, zone events and such. From the very start you can get pulled into the multiplayer part of the game, with minimal effort on the player's part. If you base your review on the game (or any other game) simply on its single-player elements (ie. quests, gathering) then of course it will fall short.

All MMO would be horrible if you took away the community and player interaction.

Samus said...

"I think Gevlon is actually spot on. You are playing a multiplayer game and as such you should be able to base the larger percentage of your "score" (so to speak) on the multiplayer expeience, not the single player "grind"."

I think Squishalot's point is that after 100 hours, you still aren't playing that multiplayer experience. You are still doing the solo/questing element of the game.

What it would really take to review the "whole game" for an MMORPG would be around 300 hours. 200 hours to reach level cap, 100 hours to play around with the various things to do once there.

There is some merit to reviewing the "whole game," but that would take 3 months of dedicated playing. Tobold is right in that the only people who "qualify" by that standard are hardcore players who obviously love the game.

Gevlon said...

You don't have to raid to find your guild. Even if you can't yet participate in guild raids, you can be in the guild, chat with them, level together, do a few lowbie instances with at least a few guilides.

While it's not the whole multiplayer experience, it is a peek into it.

Ratshag said...

"The average player will play for 20 hours a week. In the free month, they will play for around 80 hours."

Numbers pulled out of your ass stink like shit. Three hours a day, every day? Give me a break. Yes, a small number of people play this much, but they are not even remotely close to "average". Blizzard's numbers say the average player never even makes it to level 20.

Lighstagazi said...

@Ratshag - I've seen the 20 hours/week number before, brought up from research data. It was a while ago, but it seemed generally statistically sound.

- I believe it included all WoW-related time, not just time spent logged in and actively playing.
- This might have changed in the few years since I first saw the number.
- Different researchers used different selection methods, which include different biases.
- Most likely these are not biased towards players still experiencing the first month.

A quick search brought up the Daedalus project, which has been doing this type of surveys for over a decade now, and claims the average user spends 21-22 hours in-game.

Feel free to try even a single Google search on it before claiming someone pulled the statistics out of their ass, and then maybe you can have an argument other than "95% of statistics are made up on the spot and you smell funny." He should include sources, sure, but the statistic is not exactly new ground, and I'm surprised sourcing it is required at all.

Wilson said...

Well, I'd never seen this "20 hours/week average" number before, and it did sound suspiciously high (if everyone is on several hours a day, why are there no log-in queues during peak hours?). So I looked it up.

Turns out, there are two sources - Daedalus Project (21-22 hours/week in 2005) and Raptr (20 hours/week during the first of Catalcysm). Both of these rely on self-reported data (volunteering to fill out a survey or install a client program), and therefore are not scientific surveys of the overall player base. In fact, this methodology is highly biased against finding the play time for new players, especially those that quit after only playing a short time.

So, while the figure may not have come out of Samus' ass, its applicability towards predicting the behavior of a new player is, indeed, crap.

Sthenno said...

I do think this post misses Tobold's point. His point is that if you play a game for 10 hours and you think it's boring and it sucks then you aren't going to bother continuing to play it. That means that when you say, "You shouldn't review this unless you've played it for 100 hours," what you are really saying is, "I don't want to hear from people who really, really didn't like this game."

Obviously 10 hours is not enough to get a feel for the end game, which is the game that many people are interested in playing, but it doesn't have to be. Maybe you think that if you've only played a game for 10 hours you should mention in your review, "Of course it might get better later, but I'm not sticking around to find out," but when people review or comment on video games, they don't have some moral obligation to tell both sides of the story.

Tobold never insinuated that he played Rift for any longer than he did, and anyone reading what he has to say about the game has ample opportunity to find out it is based on a small amount of play. From that they may was to read another review to find out what the game is like at higher level, they may think Tobold judged it too quickly and discount him, or they may say, "I generally agree with Tobold; if he says the game is boring then I'm not going to wasted my money on it." All of that is fine.

No game *deserves* any of anyone's time, and if a game can't keep someone entertained for the first 10 hours of play then no one should expect that person to play another 90.

Anonymous said...

Your base your logic on asumptions that can be proven to be false in a certain % of times.

You won't get every time a bad random group. I had many random groups play more competent than those casual raider people.

I threemanned instances with and without healer long before heirlooms cause the people were good. Get of your high horse. You're not an island of competence in a sea of filth.

And yes you can tell if a game is bad early, bad ui, bad combat, bad performance can be measured pretty fast, it can be countered by good story and other interesting stuff but if the bad things reach a certain threeshold nothing will save it