Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 23, 2008
Restricting play time per day

I'm having lots of fun playing Kingdom of Loathing. It's silly, but that just adds to the fun. And some of the game mechanics are surprising well designed. But as much as I like KoL, I can't play it for more than about 1 hour per day. Because every day you only get 40 adventures, and most things you want to do cost 1 adventure. You can get more adventures by eating, drinking, having special items equipped, or by clan items, but all these are limited in some way. So you end up with maximum about 100 adventures per day, and then you can't adventure any more. You can still buy and sell stuff, or do other things in your inventory, or chat with your clan or other players, but for further adventuring you need to wait for the next day.

So of course I'm wondering if this is a principle that would be possible for other games as well, for example World of Warcraft or a similar MMORPG. We don't hear very much about it any more, but back in 2005 there was a story going round that the Chinese government would impose a 3-hour limit on online games, but it seems to have been implemented in 2007. While being forced to stop to play can certainly be frustrating, the idea certainly also has it's good sides.

One advantage, and we'll have to see how important that one gets in the future, is that restricted play hours per day preempt accusations of the game being "addictive" or harmful for people playing it endlessly. Of course nobody forces you to actually eat, drink, exercise, and take a shower when you daily play time is over. But by leaving the flow, there is at least some chance that you remember the real world and do the most urgent stuff there instead of playing on until you drop dead.

But as Kingdom of Loathing shows, restricting how much you can play also has an important game design function: You prevent certain gamers from playing through your game in a few days, or from advancing much faster than everyone else, just because they played 16+ hours per day. For the game company restricted play offers the obvious advantage that people would need more days to play a game through, thus more subscription fees. Of course a simple time limit is probably not a good solution, because then players wouldn't chat any more, because it would cost them time best spent adventuring. But WoW for example has a definite "in combat" and "out of combat" status, so you could for example easily be limited to 2 hours "in combat" per day. Anything more would not give you any xp, reputation, honor points, nor loot. Which means that you could still be online for more than 2 hours, and do other stuff like chatting or playing the auction house; but questing, adventuring, raiding or PvP would be limited.

From a game design point of view, current MMORPGs have a big downside: The power and status of your character depends too much on how many hours you played, and not enough on how skillful or efficient you play. If you could only gain xp in combat for 2 hours per day, those 2 hours would really count. Efficient and skillful gameplay would be important again.

And if the game is good, players would accept that restriction. Of course not if we really added it to an existing game, like WoW. But the players of Kingdom of Loathing accept limited play per day, because it was in from the start. A MMORPG would just have to be new and different for players to accept the restriction in that game as well. Being restricted could even end up making the play time more valuable to the players, and end up being more fun than endless sessions in a classical MMORPG.
In KoL you can get above 200 adventures a day once you start crafting the really good consumables.

The game becomes more rewarding as you complete it, as you are allowed to ascend and keep one of your class skills to use on your next run. This is exactly the kind of mechanic I would love to see in more MMOs: incentive to be reborn in-game.

Can you imagine in WoW if at level 70, after completing a quest chain you could restart at level 1 as a different class/race and retain a class skill or keep an extra talent point or have a stat boost?
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tobold, restricted hours per day is great for the "casual" gamer who plays every night after work. But what about the other "casual" gamer who only plays 10 hours per week, but all of that comes on the weekends when he is off from work. Perhaps the restriction should be per week or per month so as to not hurt the player who puts RL in front of a game monday-friday. The downside here is that if you leave it to a player to ration their play time over the course of a month, they will miserably fail. All 100 hours of their monthly allotment could be blown in the first week, leaving them with 3 weeks with little else to do besides cancel their account. Yet another option, and if you have played the board-game life you may understand better, is to put certain "STOP" points. Maybe you can play as many hours as you want for levels 1-15, but once you hit 15 you can't get any more XP for some arbitrary amount of time. Though, again this method could hurt the casual saturday player who wants to go 1-20 in a single day.
As you touched upon Tobold, the real issue here is the link between time spent playing and reward.

A big chunk of WoW's success can be attributed to the mountain of grinding it contains. There is always something shiny glinting tantalisingly over the next ledge to keep people motivated.

It's a win-win situation for Blizzard, because it keeps people playing their game instead of trying other ones.

How many have stayed with WoW beyond the point where they were having fun, just because there is some unfinished task they've set their mind to accomplishing?

You are never likely to see serious efforts by Blizzard to reduce people's playtime, because it makes no business sense to do so. If you take away the grind, or restrict how much can be done per day, the time-rich players will find another way to spend their hours.
I'm not so sure about that tobold. I don't think i'd like a daily limit per play. But I think I'd happily play on a wow server that limited everyone to no more than 30 hours a week. I'd love to see how that would work. A server without farmers and people like my best friend who play 60+ hours a week would be a nice refreshing change for someone like me. I think it might lessen that feel of being the hamster dodging the pellets of the other hamsters ahead of me on the wheel.
KoL is free. WoW is not.

It makes a big difference in customer expectations and risk level. I don't think an MMO today could get away with any kind of time limit, no matter how creative.
I can see it now.

Player 1: "Why didn't you help me with that mob? You saw it chasing me and I was almost dead."

Player 2: "I didn't want to burn my in-combat time for the day. Sorry..."

Aside from the fact that WoW is a pay-to-play game, there is the issue that limitations on certain systems would have a detrimental side effect on player interaction and community. Interesting idea, but would need to be refined or only used in certain games, such as KoL, where there is little to no negative impact.

Also, as others have mentioned above, if a player wants to play for 8 hours on one of the week, it would not be feasible, or would actually be limiting to that player. Having the game dictate my schedule is a no-no. Still an interesting thought.

Lastly, I think some MMOG needs to implement a remort system like some old text MUDs had. That would be quite fun.
If you could only gain xp in combat for 2 hours per day, those 2 hours would really count. Efficient and skillful gameplay would be important again.

Which primarily would encourage xp grinding as gameplay style. Effecient - yes. Entertaining - not so sure about that.

This is something I remember from playing FFXI that was a bit of a curtural difference between the Wstern and the Japanese sides. In many cases the Japanese teams were more geared towards efficiency of the play time. I think from their side they had less time to spend on the games and also made more efficient use of the time in terms of xp and level progression.
This type of gaming system really works out for KOL, but I dont know if it would work the same for other games.

I wouldnt doubt that people would begin leaving games that imposed this type of limitation. But if the game can be made awarding enough, or at least appear to instill such rewards.. Well then there would be a winning combo.

In the case of WoW+playtime Limit... I can just hear the screams for blood now.
Such a system already exists in WoW, it is called raid lockout. You can't farm Karazhan or Black Temple more than once a week. The issue though is that this system is less effective now than it was in WoW classic. Back in the days, I used to spend four nights raiding and a few more hours farming for repair bills and potions and that was it.

Yet since patches 2.3 and 2.4, things have changed. Now there are T6 quality items you can purchase with badges of justice, epic gems are much more common as you can buy those with badges of justice.

Thus, players have an incentive to do more than just their 4 evenings of raiding. Since patch 2.3, people who are raiding MH/BT are going back to Karazhan to get their 22 weekly badges. Now you're expected to have epic gems as they are easily available.

The number of ways to improve your gear has killed the pacing enforced by raid lockout and lack of content of WoW classic!
no blimp I want a server that is locked at say 30 hours a week. All grinding questing or just mindless killing of mobs included.

Not raid lockouts. I'd love to see how that worked from a progression standpoint. I think it would be a great experiment.
It is a unique scenario for sure, but one that would ultimately fail. One way, which might have been said, is to limit all the areas of the game, questing, active fighting, trade skills, harvesting. My biggest concern is all the downtime looking for groups. There would need to be a way to distinguish between active playing trying to do quests and nonactive playing while waiting for a group. The other downfall is trying to play with friends. My friends play at different times. What happens if I play during the day because I have the time but my friends don't get done with work until later at night. I use up all my game time by myself and when my friends show up, I only have like ten minutes to play. An intriguing option, but like the OP said, it has to be implemented and fully detailed from the start with few if any changes made to the system.
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