Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 27, 2010
Limiting experience points per week

Final Fantasy XIV, to be released in a month, caused some furore among gamers by announcing their "fatigue" system: Any character gets full experience points only for 8 hours per week, plus diminished experience points for another 7 hours. If you play a character for more than 15 hours a week, you don't get any experience points at all any more.

Some commenters pointed out that the same discussion took place before World of Warcraft was released, only that WoW cleverly transformed their planned "xp penalty after playing too much" into an "xp bonus if you haven't played a lot lately", with identical effect but better publicity. Unfortunately that won't work for Final Fantasy XIV: The WoW system has no hard cap at all; while you get *more* xp after resting, you always get the basic xp, even after playing for 100 hours in a week. In Final Fantasy XIV, even if you declare the first 8 hours to be "bonus double xp", you still run into the problem of the hard cap of xp being totally turned off after 15 hours.

Limiting experience points rewards per week might be a legal requirement in China, at least there were lots of news stories about that law some years ago. IANACL (I am not a Chinese lawyer), so I don't know if that law is actually in effect and enforced in China at the moment. What I do know is that Final Fantasy XI had international servers, where Asian players mingled with European and American players. So if FFXIV uses that same server setup, we might simply be affected by Chinese law here.

There are also some details still not clear about the fatigue system, with some sources saying that non-xp activities don't count. If that were true, you could easily be playing Final Fantasy XIV for 30 hours a week and still gain xp, if half of that time is spent out of combat. Such a solution would actually not be much of a penalty to the average player, who according to different surveys tends to spend around 20 hours per week in an MMO. And with a "per character" xp penalty one can always switch to an alt if one wants to play more.

I would say that there is *some* level at which playing a MMO can be considered unhealthy and obsessive. Media regularly have stories about players dropping dead from exhaustion after marathon playing sessions, or letting their baby starve while playing excessively. Frequently commenters put part of the blame on the game companies, for making "addictive" games that lead to that sort of unhealthy excessive playing. Thus if we hold game companies responsible for some players engaging in excessive gaming sessions, we can't complain if those game companies do something to prevent those excesses. Of course the other point of view is that players should be free to decide on their own what amount of time spent in a game is healthy, but then we must absolve game companies from blame if a player gets that decision wrong. We can't have it both, blame companies for "addictive" games, and complain if they introduce anti-addiction measures.

The final point to consider here is the hard to define notion of "fairness". MMORPGs are probably the least fair games that exist: Progress very much depends on time spent in game, and a player starting a MMORPG on release day and playing a lot will always be ahead of another player who starts much later and plays much less, regardless of "skill". That effect is somewhat dampened in games where players reach the level cap quickly, and gear is reset through expansions, but it exists even there. So it can be argued that the fatigue system makes Final Fantasy XIV "more fair", because now your progress per week depends on how efficient you play, and not on how much time you have. The downside of that is that "playing inefficiently" is often a lot of fun, and that a system that rewards players for efficiency in xp gathering risks to turn them into soulless automatons with no time for social interaction and an extreme dislike for grouping with strangers. Oh, wait, that already happened in games without an xp per week cap.

I reserve judgment on the Final Fantasy XIV fatigue system until I actually played it and can tell how much of an obstacle it is. But I would be interested in your opinions on systems that limit experience gain per week in general. Is that an idea which can have merit in some cases, if set up right? Or is a game without limits always better?
I have been in favour of diminishing returns for exp for years.

I, personally, would have used an asymptotic function, but that's probably too much math for less educated consumers. This step function is not perfect, but better than nothing.

I'd like them to add some more credible explanation, but at least they called it "fatigue" and not "bonus exp".

Exp shouldn't be the only reason to play a MMORPG in the first place.
I think you've missed quite a lot of the issues in the FFXIV controversy.

Firstly, it's a Japanese game, not Chinese. Japan is one of the world's leading democracies, not a communist oligarchy; it doesn't, and probably can't, have the kind of restrictive laws on personal behavior that China has. Consequently, that kind of social engineering is unlikely to be at the root of this design decidion.

Square Enix have stated repeatedly during the development of FFXIV that they want it to be much more accessible to "casual" players than was FFXI. This mechanism is intended to make this happen. The idea is that, to quote Nobuaki Komoto, "the concept for FINAL FANTASY XIV was to design a system of character progression that offers meaningful advancement for those with limited time to dedicate to playing. We did not want to create a game that forced people to play for hours on end to see their efforts rewarded".

He goes on to expalin that the system exists to create an equal playing field whereby people playing for just 8 hours a week will progress at a similar rate to people playing many times as long. This isn't somethign intended to protect the player against his own addiction, but to protect the game systems from player enthusiasm.

You suggest people can play alts. This is true, but FFXIV's subscription model means you get only a single slot for an adventure character for your basic subscription. You have to pay an additional subscription supplement (not a one-time purchase but a monthly fee) for each alt you want to play.

This means you have a game using the monthly subscription model in which you pay for a full month's play but are restricted on your single adventuring character to 32 hours per month of full access. You get this in four weekly increments of 8 hours at a time.

There is a sliding scale of diminishing returns until after 15 hours in each seven day period you get no returns (in terms of direct vertical development of your character) at all.

There are a lot of ifs and and buts that are hard to follow and it may be possible to finesse this a little, but the gist is that you pay a monthly fee but you only have free and full use of your character for some of the time period you have paid for.

All MMOs have some restrictions on content that are time-based (dailies, lockouts, cooldowns etc) but this relates to what many, probably most, see as the core activity for their character, certainly in the opening feww weeks and months of a new game: levelling up.

FFXIV has a lot more offputting things about it than just this, but this in itself will probably be a deal-breaker for many seasoned MMO players. True casual players may not even notice it, but how many true casuals will this franchise, under what is often described as the most expensive subscription model in MMOs, be likely to attract?
Remind me an official Ultima Online Shard: Siege Perilous. In this shard, all skills are limited by RoT (rate of time) that limit the speed of raising.
Bhagpuss, while I think that is a different issue, I would say that a business model in which players who play significantly more than the average player also have to pay at least a bit more has some merit too. As you said, it only is a problem for the hardcore.
Nils, it's not like you need to tell your user the formula used to create the EXP recieved curve. You can have lots of complicated math in a game and handwave it for eventually some nerds with too much time to reverse engineer.

I think this is really a tacky way to handle it. Reducing EXP after a certain amount of time sounds fine, but there should be some minimum level of EXP percentage you get down to. As it is, this feels VERY blatantly like us paying to not play their game. I understand they don't want us using their bandwidth that we are paying for for profit reasons, but it feels like...I don't know, an internet cafe restricting your bandwidth after a certain amount is used even if you are paying for the time.

More over, unless FFXIV is the most fun game in the world, it just sounds like a bad deal. Because you AREN'T paying a monthly subscription, you are paying for 32 hours a month with limited use after that.

Actually, I think this lines up with the whole bandwidth debate rather nicely. Will unlimited bandwidth stay, or is it doomed to eventually force those that use more of it to pay more?

It seems like an incredibly bad business choice right now simply because the industry as a whole is set up to offer unlimited play for 1 price. And unlike ISPs, MMO makers don't have a monopoly. Maybe you could make an argument for Blizzard seeing it as a smart choice to put a policy like that into place, but offering limited service like that when you have so much competition...

Then again, who knows? They may honestly see Japanese players as their main player base and foreigners as a nice wad of cash but not who they develop for. Square has a much stronger market hold domestically.
This one factor would be enough for me not to play a game. I do not want a game to determine my schedule for me. I hate the feeling that if I don't log in this week or this day, I will lose out on some option.

My work schedule varies wildly because I have my own business. I can play zero two weeks in a row and then 30 hours the next week. A game set up like this would mean that I could not get full use of the game when I had time to play, which destroys the value for me.
Does anyone know if WoW has limited xp on the Chinese servers? I don't think the nationality of the game company matters, as long as you give access to a server to Chinese players that server must have rules that comply with Chinese law.

The argument that if xp per week is limited then you get less than the 720 hours you paid for depends on the assumption that only the part of a MMORPG in which gain xp is worth playing. I don't agree with that.

And I don't even think that this approach is unique. I am paying for a 20 MBit VDSL internet connection with "unlimited *" download volume. But there is a little asterisk next to unlimited, with a small print footnote telling me that if I'd actually try to download 20 Mbit per second all month long, my ISP would cut me off. And I'm sure you can get kicked out of an "all you can eat" buffet restaurant if you'd stay there all day constantly eating.
This seems like a poor choice for everyone. The WoW systems is liked by some. The EVE OffLine way is liked by others and seems to achieve the goals. With this, the people who want to work hard will be thwarted. The casuals are going to feel like their are left out if they waste there 15 hours.

This seems like the worst of WoW and EVE. You still have to grind; but how much you can do is throttled. Just weird.
the XIV closed beta has just drawn to an end with the open beta due to begin on the 1st of september.
this system has been in place throughout all the beta phases and was only recently noticed by testers because a) the servers were up 24/7 and (most importantly) b) because they gave quest XP a huge bump to encourage testing in that area.

the post from developers is pretty big so i won't copy/paste it but the way it's being implemented is slightly different to how it's being reported.

it's not really about time. they say they calculated the maximum you could possibly get in an hour and gave players eight of those per week. a player playing at a more sedate pace could do solid combat and questing but only reach the limit after, say, 16 hours of play. the "hour" bit was done on their end giving them a number which is what the players actually interact with.

the next thing is that after the eight you get a gentle curve to zero XP over the next seven BUT that decay to zero bounces back over time. if someone were to blast through all 15 thresholds in a 24hour period and then not play for a few days they could be back at the "7 to go" point.

the next thing to understand about the game is that it has "physical levels" and separate class levels for each job. experience for you physical level decays as does skill points for the class you've been using to get to that point.
say you've been playing a conjurer and maxed out the XP and skill point gain for the week. two things are now relevant. firstly that you will be able to gain "bonus points" for your conjurer class. they've not worked out what these will do since they don't want them to be so good that people feel they need to race through normal XP to get bonus points. secondly they can change to another class, say pugilist or a crafting/gathering class, and continue getting skill points for that class.

this last points suggests that REALLY enthusiastic players will have several classes at a high level but that level will be the same as a "normal" player's main class. remember that while players only get one character slot without paying extra for more, that character can be ALL classes.

all this is just clarifying points and shouldn't be read as a defence of the system which i'm not 100% against but far from 100% behind also.
we all know how silly it is to try and review a game from experiences in beta but it was mentioned above that square are trying to make this game accessible and more casual-friendly. this may be true but it has been hugely frustrating that they've made this game seemingly in a bubble that has been oblivious to the maturation of the genre since they made their first MMO. XI could be forgiven for some of its craziness but MMO players expect more these days.
Let me add that I consider this a rather bad approach at diminishing experience. A better one would be to a formula like

where x is the unprocressed experience that the player never sees, and which is translated to exp(x), which the player sees.

This way, you always gain exp whenever you do something. But the more you do, the less you gain and you you will never have more than 10 exp (in this example formula).

Do this for every day, calibrate it reasonably and

1) players are not forced to optimize exp/hour. In FFXIV only the hardcore will have have time to socialize. That's completly stupid.

2) there is no reason to play 15 hours for one day, ebcause you won't be able to play for the rest of the week.

3) It is perfectly easy to explain the mechanism with sleepiness if you do it on a daily basis.

You still get the advantages of the system. That is
1) you can limit the players to not advance too fast.
2) You keep casuals and hardcore together.

There is only one disadvantage with both systems:
If a player plays a lot while he doesn't get / get very diminished exp, he can create a situation, where there is no content left to do, but he still needs to level.
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I don't think it is a game company's job or right to tell you how much you should play or when it becomes 'unhealthy' for you - this is a fallacy anyway. If you're addicted to games in such a fashion, you will always find something else to do or play anyway. Maybe my notions of self-responsibility are old-fashioned in a world that tries to control EVERYTHING we do. what about other hobbies then, that can be equally obsessive?

I was gonna buy and play FF14 and canceled my pre-order after hearing this. I won't pay subscriptions for an MMO that effectively tells me how much I can play. I'm not a child, thanks SE!

what strikes me as odd too, is how they kept going on about that there is 'no exp in this game' for months now since you don't really gain levels but rather skillpoints on character and class level. and now it's still made this big a deal.

on your third point: why do MMOs need to be 'fair' by making everyone play the same amount of time? I can't see this being an issue in WoW, isnt there enough room in MMOs especially to grant both a more casual and a more hardcore audience their way of fun? can't we have 'subcultures' in MMOs anymore? and how many percent are the hardcore gamers anyway?

if this has any effect, then only that so-called hardcore gamers won't even buy this game anymore. so again: don't try and regulate what you can't and shouldn't control.
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@Alf: it probably ended up in Tobold's new spam filter :)
I understand their reasons for doing this, but the way I look at it, a system like that just means trading one type of addiction for another: instead of feeling that you have to play hard and fast to advance quickly, you get conditioned to log on at certain times or else you miss out on what comes down to a bonus on a timer. It's the equivalent of WoW's daily frost emblems for levelling.
This spam filter is killing me. It works rather badly, I didn't even get asked whether I wanted one, and there is no option to turn the damn thing off!
i'm so sorry tobold!
now i refresh the page and i see my post over and over >.<

i hope you're able to delete all the flotsam and jetsam i littered your page with.

btw, i was getting a google error message saying that the URL was too long if that makes any sense O.o
Not sure u have seen this yet, official statement from SE on the matter:
the announcement posted in the zam link is similar but not identical to the one i was précising from the beta tester's site. it covers much of the same stuff.
Perhaps with xp limits, we would go through WoW slower and not be upset that the new expansion isn't coming out fast enough.
is xp gain really what generates content though?
to me it appear rather that SE is slowing down progress because of a general lack thereof / them wanting to stall things a little until the PS3 launch.
I don't think SE cares about people playing too much, or about your health. So for people saying "I don't need someone to take care of me" rest assured they want you play as much as you can. Hell they want you to play a second character because that'll net them another $3/month.

I believe its more about the separation of the player base. They want a robust solo experience, but also a robust group experience. So the casual player trying to do group quests on their one or 2 main jobs can hang out with people skilling up 3 or 4. Your physical level will stay closer.
I can see tat logic but it still doesn't help me really. strictly speaking as somewhat of a 'class purist' - what's in it for me? what if you're into playing a certain archetype and don't want to reroll jobs every few hours?

or is the class system really so breathtakingly well designed that you can in essence 'build your own class' on such a level that you can merely switch aspects around and level those, while essentially sticking to your archetype (let's say healer)?
crafting and gathering are class based activities too and they are actually more numerous (if memory serves) than the combat classes.
this could all be a push for players to craft more. it was something i pretty much ignored in beta since it's not generally where my interests lie.

also, from what i understand of the class system, you can use most abilities from any class you've levelled while playing any other class only with limitations like reduced effectiveness and/or cooldowns.
there are two magic classes. they are also the two healing classes. i'm not 100% sure but i imagine a dedicated conjurer who wants to heal might want to level thaumaturge too to gain access to some of those skills. they might also want to level weaving and a suitable gathering class.

the more i look into this the more it actually makes sense given the nature of XIV's physical and class levels. whether it is actually a useful and/or interested game mechanic is another thing of course.
Still not sure that I completely understand how this all works but here is a video that explains it better than anything else I have run across yet.

If I am getting it correctly, you get a set amount of exp that you can burn though based on what they think a normal person will do in an 8 hour period. When you are logged out or sitting in town, that amount will regenerate slowly so you don't necessarily have to wait for a week to get a little more 100% exp time. Once you use your 100% exp up, you get put on the 7 hour timer which will reduce your exp based on time. So getting to the timer is based on how much combat do but how much you are reduced is based on how long you push past that threshold.

The other really big factor here is that you get separate exp buckets for each character class and your physical class. So you can level a healer for about 8 hours at 100% gain and then level a mage at for about 8 hours at 100% gain and then switch to a fighter and so on. There are 15 classes and everybody gets to level as many or all of them as they see fit. But your physical level is also limited to the 8-15 hours as well. Physical or character level affects your over all stats. So if you get to lvl 20 as a mage and character then you will have lvl 20 physical stats but then you can level warrior up to 20 as well, then you are a 20 mage and a 20 warrior but not with lvl 40 stats, just lvl 20 stats.

So the hardcore players are going to be very diverse but not much higher in actual level as far as how much mana or hp they have.

Doesn't sound like a bad system to me.
oh, well a link would to that video might be in order huh?
well this annoys me to no end personally, no matter what the good 'thought' might have been behind it. i've written my own little rant about it and while i am going to keep an eye on how matters go post-launch, i won't get a copy for now.

re "btw, i was getting a google error message saying that the URL was too long if that makes any sense O.o"

i got one of those earlier. Is it post too long? Or is this just an indication of spam filter bug?
I get this error all the time. .. Comment gets posted, still.
So, is the issue really that those sensitive game developers want to help save us from ourselves and our addictive ways?

Or that they think they can get away with fewer servers by limiting the number of players actually playing, while keeping steady or increasing subscription income?

Or that they want to find a way to increase the amount of time we spend at each level, potentially getting more player-time for content which players typically rush through to get to the next level up?
And what would be the response if it weren't a subscription game?

I can't help but think the fuss would be a wee bit muted.

This, of course, underlines some of the troubles with the sub model, and how it warps expectations.
I think the issue lies therein, that with sub-based MMOs we expect that we can 'do whatever we like' or at least 'make use of our playtime the way we like'. this is probably to some extent not even true for wow, because even there i cant really do what i like and when there's no content anymore, the game design sets limitations upon me too.

so in a way its 2 models ending up at a similar point in time - however i feel increasingly more 'parented' by the FF model and i dont think their quota is realistic / representative to a more hardcore player base.
i also consider the given reason for that system somewhat fail.
If I remember correctly, there is more than one form of 'exp' in the game. So if it's only actual exp that gets limited in this way then you still have those other bars to grind if you feel like it. So, you can still progress, but your stats keep you in the same area for longer this way.

Kinda like hanging out in the lowbie areas while you skillup axe and cooking.
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