Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 05, 2012
Taking a walk

If somebody were to hand you a hunting rifle in real life and send you on a quest to kill ten bears, chances are that you'd have a problem: All the bears in your vicinity have probably been killed long ago, and you would have to walk very far to even find ten. I got a mail this week asking me to promote a Kickstarter project for a MMORPG with a 900,000,000 square kilometer gigantic world in which mobs never respawn. I told the guy I would consider that game unplayable, but he didn't seem to understand my concern.

In my most linked-to blog post ever, I determined the size of Azeroth to have been about 200 square kilometers in the original World of Warcraft pre all expansions. To most people that felt big enough. But in reality people don't care all that much about square kilometers, they care about how long they have to travel to get from A to B. Mounts, flight, or teleportation can make a map much "smaller", even with a large number of square kilometers.

I'm not opposed to travel time, I think a virtual world in which you can be everywhere instantly would not have much of a feel of place. Some of my favorite memories in Everquest are running from Freeport to Qeynos or vice versa with a low level character, a dangerous trip that could take a whole play session. But I wouldn't want to be forced to walk for hours in a MMORPG just to get to the next monster or village.

Thus I was wondering what you would consider the maximum time you would be willing to travel in a MMORPG. Under "normal" gameplay circumstances, where some event or request for help from a guild mate drives you to move to a different location, what would be the maximum time it should take to get there? Should all of that time be spent actively "walking", that is pushing directional keys, or would you be okay with passive travel, e.g. the famous "waiting 20 minutes for a boat" in EQ, or sitting on a flight path mount you have no control over? What do you say?


Great topic! I think the psychology of in-game travel is a deep and intricate subject. If it hasn't already been made the subject of serious scientific study, I think it should be post haste.

First, I thin travel serves different purposes. The passive travel, for example, is great for taking a break an stretching (RL) limbs, whereas the active kind an be both tension-building (to use WoW references – first trip through Deadwind Pass on the way to the marsh) as well as a pure time sink (the Netherdrake grind is even more painful nowadays when nobody lives anywhere near Outland).

That said, I really enjoy travelling in games. I like the chance encounters and the unexpected dangers. In trading games, I thoroughly enjoy the risk/reward angle of long-haul (and obviously pirate-infested) routes.

Travelling to aid friends also has its own dynamic: will I get there in time? What does the other person do in the meanwhile? Not to mention those times that you're on a long flight and notice a rare spawn or rare node: e travel back can be panicky and exhilarating.

But how long am I willing to go for the sole purpose of helping a guild mate? In minutes? It depends on lots of things, but I doubt that anything in excess of 20 minutes would happen in practice. Not least because the other person is probably not going to be happy to sit around and not do a thing for all that time!

To sum up: I'd love more active, eventful, travelling in games!
One of my favourite topics :).

My favourite game would include all kinds of traveling times. Players should always have the option to do something instantly.

But they should also have the opportunity to do something boring which feels worth it (like running the same LFD dungeon for the 10th time in WoW, or like carrying goods for 15 minutes to earn some gold by trading).

There should be places worth visiting which are 10 seconds, 1 minute, 10 minutes, 1 hour, and 4 hours away. And, yes, I wouldn't have a problem with a place that is 1 day of real-time traveling time away. - as long as I also have the option to log in and do something fun for 15 minutes.

I also wouldn't have a problem with a wilderness which is gigantiv and boring. It's cheap to create and nobody is hurt by its existence if there is no need to go there.

What is missing from nowadays WoW-likes is predominantly options. All dungeons, quests, BGs etc are the same duration. And all meaningful places are just one teleport away.
Oh, I forgot to add: Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Reamde (sic), sports an earth-sized MMO. In it, players have access to quick travel to hubs all over the world, but it still appears to require significant travel times for local trips.

The whole game portrayed is interesting, with always-on pvp, legalised gold farming and many other things. And of course it has tens of millions of players. I'm sure that it is on Aventurine's wet dream reading list. :)
Ideally, the travel time scales to the player's inclinations. When the game is new and exciting, I have no problem running around, soaking in the sights. Hours/days/weeks/months/years later however, I would consider such travel to be a time sink.

I have never believed that instant travel makes a world "smaller." Worlds are only as big as the interesting things it contains. GW2 has a lot of problems IMO, but none of them have to do with the Waypoints every 100 ft nor how much they "shrink" the world. Skyrim is the same way.

Density > size.
In EVE, the Jita-Rens path, which is a commonly traveled trade route is about half an hour in a fast ship. About 45 minutes in a large cargo ship. 2 hours if you autopilot the cargo ship.

EVE transportation is a living, working world.
It depends very much on the focus of the game. The question is: is travel an (artificial) obstacle in the way of the real activity of the game? In this case a long travel time will annoy everyone to no end. When I log on WoW to raid for 3 hours, I don't want to spend one hour to reach the instance. I logged in to raid and not to travel. If the the amount of travel is negligible (say 1 minute) then it's not a problem. But it's the ratio which matters: 1 minute of travel for 3 hours of raiding is ok, 1 minute of travel to kill a mob in 10 seconds is not ok. Unless travel is the main activity in itself, the time spent traveling should be a lot less than the one spent in the main activity.

Of course you can have an MMO which focuses on travel time, for example this can be a requirement for the economic system. Or maybe visiting places is intrinsically interesting, as it is digging in Ryzom. In this case travel must be an engaging activity: 30 minutes of travel where all you have to do is click a button every five minutes can be acceptable in a flash game you keep open while doing something else: if a game focuses on travel the travel itself must be some kind of mini-game with an evolving world (= you cannot always follow the same path), and some events (aggro mob, weather effects, etc.).

It's impossible to answer your question without more details about the game. In general, a game which requires/encourages grouping should make so that it's very easy to meet, i.e. either travel to another player is speeded up, or it's possible to quickly meet at specified hubs. This is even more true for a casual-oriented game, where you may want to be able to spend the time ingame with the other players, and not travelling to reach them.
It depends a bit. If the local populations are dense enough, and the initial entry to the game can be near the people I know who are playing, I'm willing to travel for a long, long time to get to a meaningful destination. Up to four, five hours in-game.

If local populations aren't dense, there are very dangerous regions I can't route around, or it's otherwise unrewarding to travel, that decreases quickly. I don't think I've been out of my local area in Wurm in months.
MMOs don't have the capability that PnP RPGs have of what's been called "moving at the speed of plot". WoW has tried to correct for that by in-game flying and zillions of flight points, but all it does is speed up the leveling game. While a PnP RPG can take a while to roleplay out a situation, whether it be combat or a skill check or just regular in-game interaction, an MMO often moves as quickly as you can click the button. Games with a heavy video/audio component to their interactions, such as TOR and Age of Conan, do slow things down that way, but that's more the deviation from the norm.

I can see that the concept of such a huge game world meaning the 'kill ten rats' type of quest would be irrelevant, but that sort of world would only work in a sandbox type of environment. Even then, the world is probably too large to handle comfortably for the players due to the monotony of long travel.

Helistar, you clearly did not raid in Vanilla WoW. Molten Core raids used to form up away from the instance during group sorting and then ride in together. Part of the reason for riding in as a 40 person raid was that other 40 person raids were also riding into the mountain. On a busy PvP server this often lead to 30 minutes PvP just to get the raid group alive into the instance. Even more so for bwl raids.

The other issue from Vanilla was players calling for help in the Tauren Mill battles, and later on Nesingway in Stranglethorn. 15 -20 minutes travel seemed about right to aid guildmates.

I still think that from Vanilla the Barrens seemed the right size, and Un'goro felt very cramped on an active PvP server.

I agree LFG is a fantastic tool, but couldn't it deliever you close to the instance rather than inside it?

In WoW no one hauls stuff. Previously those who wanted to make money could get items from spawn spots (eg cooking books or pets) and post them to alts. I think WoW could try and bring in a hauling element.

I agree with Nils WoW is missing options.
WoW is al
so missing hidden corners in very large areas for those who like exploring.
It depends the game and how much people have in. If I travel far in a world very beautiful like Lotro or GW2 while in the middle I see players running around the time I could travel reach very high. If I have to run in an "ugly" world and also there are very few people around, even the 5 minutes could seem like a year.

Also the "wait 20 minutes for a boat" have their reason. A lot of people I met in wow was in the boat from eastern Kingdoms to Kalimdor and vice verca. I met people, inspect their gear to see what the name of this skin is, talk to them maybe..sometimes we could also do pvp there. It was like a meeting point. Of course in wow the ship wasn't at 20 minutes time but close to 5 min I think.

I remember in vanilla I was looking for a group for Scarlet monastery as an Alliance. after some time we find the group but 2 of my group had no flight path discovered north of Ironforge. We are level 35 and no mount yet (mount was on 40). We start from Ironforge by foot and travel all the way through Loch modan, wetlands, arathi Highlands, Southshore and finally we reach outside Undercity. There we got ganged by high level horde players. After trying for an hour to get past them we finally reach the Monastery.

The trip was epic in my eyes back then. Scarlet monastery should be a far and dangerous place to go that had a meaning. No one of my group complained or quit. We did only one part of scarlet and we left because we run out of time, but I am still remember every detail of this trip, the people I was with even if I met them for first time. Now I cannot tell the random anonymous guys I was last time in dungeon.

Whoever say that there were no difference back in the days of Vanilla and things was the same has no idea or he is liar.
Travel on its own is dull. Games that make travel interesting pair it up with some other activity. The most fundamental reason we live in these worlds is to seek adventure. We want to be in peril and to overcome the dangers and threats we are surrounded by. When game designers find ways of allowing us to travel adventurously, we look forward to travel. We call it exploring, or voyaging, or an experience. When there's no peril involved, it's dull and we want it over as fast as possible. Instantly for preference. I've written a little more here
Like others have said, it depends on the ratio of activity versus being idle. I don't mind the travel at any length, assuming that just getting there is an adventure in itself or the eye candy is particularly nice. Sadly, eye candy usually has a short shelf life. If the destination is interesting, then some idle time on a flight path (or autopilot) is okay. But if the task at hand requires me to go to the other end of the map just to kill those proverbial ten rats without making the journey the point of the task, then good riddance.

Incidentally, I don't think I've ever traveled more than five kilometers to any single direction in Minecraft, the current torchbearer of large worlds. But that could change with a proper server where the patchwork nature of Minecraft terrain generation becomes less obvious.
One of my strongest memories from Vanilla is the 'death run' new Alliance players had to make from Loch Modan to Menethil Harbor. On a PVP server, you had to pray no high level horde were in the area (this was pre-flying mounts) and even on a PVE server the mobs in certain areas of the walk were a little higher level than you were.

You didn't get automatic flight points back then, you had to 'touch' each one.
Well, if you expect to be a globe trotting adventurer, sure. If you're going for the authentic hunter gatherer experience of roving over a relatively small territory, with trade happening slowly by people in overlapping territories swapping items, a huge world with little travel makes sense. I've talked myself into it; I'm going to kickstarter a Cro-Magnon hunter gatherer MMO.

I'd be concerned that the creatures don't respawn; I mean that's not realistic, though they do it by reproduction instead of magically appearing full grown. I guess it would be complicated but you could model respawn rates based on reproductive rates. It would be interesting in MMO players had to be concerned about conservation!

I agree with those who say that too much instant travel takes away the magic.
If I have to spend 20 minutes or more traveling, I feel like I'm wasting my play time. There are exceptions for when the travel itself is interesting, but otherwise I have always hated having to travel in games purely for the sake of travel. I'd rather be doing something interesting or fun, which is why I play the game in the first place.
Depends on the travel:

I almost always enjoy wandering/exploring so I have no resistance to that sort of travel.

The more multiplayer the MMO, the more onerous the travel. If I am exploring to see what is behind a waterfall, that is interesting. If I need to get somewhere to help someone, then it is frustrating.

I am fine with "fly 5 minutes", tab out and that is bio/drink/browse time.

Fly 8 hours/recharge is OK, it is just something to do when you log out. 30 minutes is the annoying valley.

"Wait 20 minutes for a ship" or EVE non-AFK travel is the absolute worse. A dumb, boring time sink that I have to stay at the keyboard for.
I remember when I had 300,000 gold in Ultima Online. I had to bring several mules to carry it and as I was near Despise, I was looking for PKs on the loose. Thankfully, it was 2 am, so I managed to get to Britania safely. Took me less than an hour but I planned the trip meticulously.

Nowadays, I don't think I'll walk the same distance dragging mules behind me. But any trip could be interesting as long as it's not routine. Repeating even a 10 minute walk 5 times in a row will be extremely frustrating.
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