Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Estimate the challenge percentage

Since September 25th (October 2nd in China) around 10 million people have been playing Mists of Pandaria. They have been leveling up their characters to 90, played new pandaren and/or monk characters, explored new zones, did daily quests, did pet battles, harvested vegetables, ran dungeons, did raids, fought in PvP, collected crafting materials, crafted, and did a host of other activities. All together they played over 1 billion hours of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. And I have a question for you about those 1+ billion hours:

How many of those hours (in percent of the total) do you think was spent with an activity where the player doing that activity felt challenged?

My personal estimate is about 2%. Having an ultra-casual player in the family I noticed that casual players can play for weeks without ever, ever feeling challenged (not that they wanted to be). And even the players that play the game for the challenge, for high-end raiding etc. spend a lot of time leveling up, doing daily quests, collecting ingredients for raid buffs, farming easy dungeons or doing other activities that don't challenge them. What do you think? What would your estimate be, and why?

Even when engaged in a challenging activity, you're probably at 50% wait time. Competitive BGs and such had substantial wait times when I did them and of course breaking in new raid content is a mostly waiting.

Of course, it's hardly news that MMO's are pretty light on challenge and very heavy on tedious repetition. Of course some people tend to get confused and think coping with tedium is challenging. Which I suppose it technically is, but it's not really a desirable trait in an entertainment product.

As I've said before, MMO's are primarily about creating the illusion of achievement and the illusion of status. At least for the people who take it seriously. The casual players who are just in it for some mild entertainment and socializing aren't here. Maybe they do feel challenged, because they do not have thousands of hours of experience to render everything trivial. Their perspective on the game isn't memorialized because they don't care enough to write about it (which is an entirely sane response).
MMOs are dopamine drips given a social context. They're less about 'game' but more about achieving goals and completing objectives. Goals and objectives derive meaning from the social context, nevermind the relative ease of attaining them. In other words, all the dopamine from real world achievements, but less of the uncertainty and challenges.
Here's another perspective. When I spend an hour researching my gear upgrades, making lists of where those upgrades come from, and how to most efficiently spend my time and valor points, I feel challenged.

I may not be mopping my brow, but I'm using my brain and it is satisfying.

I wiped 15 times in LFR before I got to kill Garalon. That was challenging. Won't tolerate repeated wipes again.

Trying to estimate a "challenge percentage" is subjective and ridiculous.

Like the game, play the game. Dont like the game, move on.
Well again (i think this topic was raised before) , it depends on your definition of "Entertainment" .

Reading a book, Watching a movie/sport, Listening to music . That's considered entertainment , how challenging is that? Considering that probably the entire planet do mentioned activities as their primary form of "entertainment".

Now add Video Gaming into the mix. Why is this considered different from other forms of entertainment? Maybe that is exactly what most causal people WANT from gaming, the exact same thing they get from watch a movie. Nowhere is "challenge" part of the entertainment value.

Now of course you do get people that take their movies seriously, they analyse, they review , they research , and therefore it can become a "challenge" , but that's the hardcore type, not the casual person.

Likewise i feel gaming, same thing. You get your hardcore players that turns it into a "challenge", but i won't be surprised if majority of players are perfectly happy just "watching the show" .

So i would really wonder more on how you can keep players entertained for a long time -without- adding any challenge.

Is building something in Minecraft a "challenge" ? Is it popular because there is actually zero challenge unless you create one for yourself.
I remember a book about HR quoted something like 10% for optimum level of new and challenging tasks to keep an employee happy.

Since WoW is more of an entertainment vehicle, I'd say you need less than 10% for the average player.

Of course, there will be the ambitious players/employees who will laugh at a mere 10% and want more.
I'd imagine that the challenging content is slighly higher than going to the pub with friends or watching a movie but less than competative sports or hobbies.

I'm not sure I remember any challenging MMOs. Even those that are considered hard were simple because players grouped for safety.
The entire buzzword concept of "challenge" has mystified and irritated me since I first encountered it a decade or so ago. I'm old enough to remember when what was required of a leisure activity was that it amused or entertained. If you really wanted to "challenge" yourself maybe you might add "inform" to that list.

In my vocabulary, being challenged is a wholly negative concept - I equate it to being "challenged" by a border guard to produce your papers or being "challenged" to a duel for your honor - things which any rational personal would hope to avoid.

I come to MMOs primarily for relaxation, amusement and entertainment. The vast number of hours I give them replaces the time I once spent watching television not some notional "challenging" activity.

That said, most of what passes for entertainment in WoW probably wouldn't entertain me very much and it's entirely possible that what I do in the MMOs I do play would indeed challenge others - mostly challenge them to stay awake!
I don't know and, honestly, I don't really care. A lot of people spend their time watching TV, which is even less challenging than doing daily quests, but after all this is supposed to be entertainment, for some this means seeking challenges, for the majority it probably means performing a relaxing activity.
For my point of view: after a couple of weeks, I've more or less dumped everything except raiding (not yet HM, unfortunately) where I had to deal with some serious changes to my class' mechanics, so the "challenge" was there.
Before answering in more details, I want to ask what is a challenge ? What is being challenged in a game ?

My definition of being challenged is having a non-trivial risk of losing.

Of course this definition is very personnal : non-trivial can be from 0 to 90% of risk of losing, and losing can go from losing 1HP to rage quitting the game.

So what is an acceptable challenge ? It is to have more than 30% of not accomplishing a goal the first time without resetting the game - back to a revive point.
What is an unacceptable challenge ? To not be able to attain a goal after 1Hour of try and repeat.

So in my game (GW2) what is my play time of challenge ? Around5 to 10%. What is my unacceptable challenge time ? Around 1%. What is my pleasure time ? Around 60%

One of my biggest pleasure in game is discovering worlds, finding small hints, beautiful scenery. This does not need a challenge. An other part of my pleasure is feeling badass ! This REQUIRE no challenge. I also love discovering the story, the NPC, and of course, the joy of finding the correct solution to a problem.

For you, why non-challenge part of a game can be so interesting ? Why if only 10% of a game is challenging, do you still play ?

To give an exemple, one of my great pleasure in Minecraft was to play in safe mode, and exploring the first caves ! I remember fondly my first lava pool !
Bhagpuss:" I'm old enough to remember when what was required of a leisure activity was that it amused or entertained."

Have you never heard of sports?
Or do you think there is no challenge in chasing balls and trying to score and win?
I can say that of the 7-8 hours I play weekly, 6 are while being challenged.

That said, I have no idea what the point of the post is.
Its not a fair question because Blizzard has been going out of its way to make it almost impossible to require anyone to be challenged.

However, how often did you actively seek challenge? In this expansion I found the opportunities plenty. Mobs have more health and some have more varied abilities. I made it a point to tackle the maximum number of mobs as I felt I could.

I ended up using more cooldowns, and need to keep a closer eye on what mob abilities were going off when. I made it a point to avoid any avoidable abilities. I'd tackle almost any elite I saw because they were soloable if you paid attention.

I don't remember the last time the game even gave us this much opportunity to do this while leveling or doing dailies.

Its the same way for instanced content. Dungeons and scenarios are easy. Challenge Modes are not. LFR is easy. Heroic raids are not.

This expansion has offered the widest range of activities than previous expansions. Some challenging, some not. For me its the amount of choice is how this expansion should be judged. Not the minimum challenge.

There are plenty of games that are nothing but challenge by design. World of Warcraft aint one of them.
If by challenging you mean something extremely hard to achieve, so hard that it required a truly dedication (multiple raid wipes, for example)... Id' say less than 1%, at least for me.

I don't flee the challenge, it's just the game offers an insane amount of extremely easy things to do.. and they take most of your time.

Also, idling and playing the AH.

I play other games for a challenge.

I grew to dislike playing WoW for a challenge. When I used to be a serious raider I realised that even if I was an "average" team member I would only be responsible for 1/25 failures.

At the upper level we spent a large amount of time dying and that was often something I had no control over. This is especially true on instant death dance mechanic encounters where I felt I was just a passenger half the time with no ability to alter the destiny of the team or compensate for the mistakes of others. So despite playing the hardest content available I often felt that I personally wasn't being challenged.

These days if I want a challenge it has to be a solo experience.

I actually like WoW because it provides me with a brainless challenge-free routine. Sounds boring but I find it comforting to know that I will eat dinner then tend to my farm, do a few dailies and run a 5 man. In an ever changing world and facing constant change at work, I like to have something stable and predictable in my life.

I have plenty of challenge and competition in my life and I don't really need any more of it in my leisure time.
That's probably true, but I kind of like my MMO's to be pretty easy these days. I still do appreciate challenge in single player games, but I just feel challenge makes things too tedious in cooperative multiplayer.

I remember hard Cataclysm and Burning Crusade dungeons, how much time it took to get a group, and the tiny success rate. I guess it wasn't the hardness, but the amount of time wasted. Rep grinds and daily quests definitely waste time, but you feel like you are making progress at something. You can plan and prepare for it.

Difficult group content is unpredictable, and I think most people don't like that risk. I bet even if the average amount of time spent is the same, people will always limit risk and choose the grind over something unpredictable.
How challenging is playing D&D exactly?

How challenging is playing D&D exactly?

That depends on the DM, but I'd say about 50% of the time players are engaged in a challenging activity in D&D.
Tobold, they're sitting around shooting the breeze and discussing what their characters will do next. It's not really challenging unless you have a killer GM who likes punishing people heavily for minor misunderstandings.

Now, GMing well is challenging. But playing? Not so much. Nowhere near as much as raiding, because the pressure isn't there.
If 50% of the time your players spend is challenging, I have the feeling we have a different definition of challenging
Well, obviously in a pen & paper RPG it isn't "must press button a millisecond faster" type of challenging, but it is "must take a decision that influences the outcome of the encounter" challenging. It is actually a *lot* easier to have only challenging fights in a pen & paper game, where the fights are custom-made for the group, than in a MMORPG.

And I have no problems letting characters die in combat due to some wrong tactical decision they took. If you pen & paper combat has "no pressure", you are playing it very differently than we do.
My pen and paper games are exercises in collaborative world building and storytelling. It is likely to be very different from your games, but the emphasis is not on tactical combat but rather on worldbuilding, roleplay, plot, politics and strategic thinking.

I think you over-rate 'challenge' dramatically. I assure you players enjoy my games (and so do I).

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