Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
450 hours of content?

I was reading an article on IGN on veteran's content in The Elder Scrolls Online, in which the author stated: "ESO's take on the continent of Tamriel is split up into three major factions, each with around 150 hours of hand-crafted, fully voice-acted content to quest through. Once you hit the level cap of 50 and finish your faction's quest-line, you can quest through the other two faction's zones, facing off against much tougher, level-adjusted versions of those foes.". To find out what my problem is with that, let's have a look at the math:

We know that a MMORPG player spends on average 22.4 hours per week in a game. Obviously the author of the IGN article played a lot more, reaching the 300 hours mark within a month of release. And some people play less. But with a subscription game there is always a lower limit to how little you can play each month and still justify paying for the subscription. So let's just go with the average. If a game like The Elder Scrolls Online has 450 hours of content, that ends up being 20 weeks of play, 4 to 5 months. So how exactly does Zenimax plan to keep people playing for years?

Of course there are content patches and expansions, but I don't think that anybody can manage to produce another 450 hours of content every 5 months. Even Blizzard with their tons of money completely fail at adding content at a sufficient rate, as with their "expansion every 2 years" rate each expansion would need to provide 2000 hours of content, but barely has 200.

That leaves the eternal excuse of the "elder game" or "end game", in the form of raids and or PvP. But how many hours of content is that? Is that really 1,000 hours of content per year, or is it rather 100 hours of content per year and you are supposed to do it 10 times? Or 50 hours of content 20 times? And that is just looking at the question how much content the elder game really is, without touching the other problems of social and organizational difficulties, or that somebody who likes questing through content is not necessarily interested in this completely different mode of gameplay.

For me the math simply doesn't add up. To provide an average MMORPG player with fresh content all the time, you would need to create 100 hours of content every month. But clearly it took Zenimax far more than four-and-a-half months to produce the 450 hours of content they have in The Elder Scrolls Online. And even financially, creating enough content to keep people playing appears to be a losing proposition. You'd be much better off producing a string of $60 games with 20 hours of content each, which appears to be the single-player industry standard today.

People are still wondering what exactly World of Warcraft did right to become such a success. I don't claim to have all the answers, but look at how much content WoW already had on release, with 6 starting zones and several zones in each level range, compared to the games released now. It seems to me that today companies are trying to sell much less of a game for the same price, and then wonder why the players aren't sticking around.

I think you also have to factor in that the 450 hours figure is not really accurate. It depends very much on the player.

A fast player might get through that content in 400 hours, or even 300. A slow player however, like myself, might take 900 hours to get to level 50 plus all the veteran levels.

And does that 450 hours also include all the activities in the game? All the crafting, achievement hunting, PvP, group dungeons, and the like?

TESO is a slow game too. It's miles slower than WoW. One of my characters has taken well over a day played to get to level 17, and this is a story I hear in game chat all the time.

In this Warcraft age, it seems more likely that TESO players will get bored well before the level cap, than after they reach the endgame.
World of warcraft advertised itself for over a decade before its release - via all the warcraft RTS games.

All the other mmorpgs think there will just be this market just waiting for them. They don't think it involved cultivating a market for nearly an entire generation.

That's why WOW's slow content turn out is accepted - so many years of entrenched advertising. Otherwise they didn't really do anything better (perhaps slightly better polish)
Content and concept captures players. Social structures keep them there. When content runs out players get bored and leave, even if they love the game. The only thing that can retain those players is the social interactions they have with other players.
How much "new content" does chess need? Or darts? Or yoga? Or Embroidery? How many times can you listen to a song or a symphony? How many summer evenings can you sit on your terrace with a cool drink, watching the light change through the leaves?

The problem comes when developers try to match other narrative forms of entertainment. Its a lot harder to get someone to watch the same movie fifty times in a year (although some do) than to get them to play a game of tennis every week. Producing huge quantities of expensive, voice-acted, once-and-your-done content is a recipe for disaster.

I'm still playing Everquest fifteen years after I began, partly because of the fantastic job they did in creating a wonderful, immersive virtual world but also because the actual leveling/hunting/fighting mechanics are just intrinsically absorbing and entertaining. Get the gameplay right and people will want to go on playing just so they can go on playing.
There are things to do besides levelling. It's possible to play for 20 hours and not gain any experience - playing PvP battles in WoW, for example.
Another thing to consider about WoW: assuming that Blizzard with all their cash pumped that money back into more devs + more artists + more more more is a bit of an idealistic way of looking at things. Just because something makes a boatload of money doesn't mean that a company will turn around and triple the amount of developers on a job. They may simply just take more profit for themselves.

Having seen the inside of development houses --I worked for a software developer for five years-- what passes for bloat among software developers would be considered lean and mean among most normal companies. It's only when additional layers of management creep in that bloat makes an appearance.

From what I've seen, Blizz runs a pretty tight ship, so it's no surprise that their turnaround for new stuff is slow.

As for the data saying MMO players play an average of 22.4 hours/week, isn't that ancient data by comparison? The date for the study is 2001, which is almost two console generations ago, and electronics has exploded in the 13 years since.

It's not just about new content, it's also about new ways to play the old content. New skill lines, new character classes, and new game systems (e.g. justice, housing, spellcrafting), help to keep even old content interesting.

It's not about the size of your sand box, it's about the variety of toys.
As for the data saying MMO players play an average of 22.4 hours/week, isn't that ancient data by comparison?

I think I've seen similar data a decade back for WoW, but nothing since. I would assume that the average over ALL MMORPGs has gone down, but that data is still valid for $15/month subscription games.
Back in the day it took me 19 days of playtime to hit 60 in WoW, and I was doing everything wrong (leveling with a friend, exploring, leveling my crafting, doing lots of dungeons). IIRC it took about 10 days if you were doing it right.

That's 456 hours of content at a very slow pace. 240 if you were streamlined. So if you had done it at max speed, there's a lot less actual content to WoW, unless you count starting a new character and going through mostly the same content with a bit of a reskin of the first few zones, it's basically the same size.

Here's what WoW did right: it was an accessible MMO that came out right when enough people had the bandwidth and computers to play an MMO for the first time. It pulled an Apple and released a cleaned up and solid product that others had done before, and they did it at just the right time. That's what they did right. It's like Blizzard figured out how to clear cut some massive virgin forest of huge trees. And every MMO since has shown up thinking they'd get a try at the virgin forest but just found some scrubby pines growing between the stumps.

MMOS suffer from the fact that the gameplay is, at heart, complete garbage. Much like a casino, you have to draw customers based on something more than the game being fun. The thing is the promise of advancement, either through money (casinos) or the various spreadsheets having bigger numbers in them (MMOs). Thing is, for the majority of people, they're only going to fall for the illusion once, and then they might bum around trying to find a replacement game but they'll quit after a month or two because the magic is just gone.

I think if you view MMO history in that way everything that has happened in the past 10 years makes perfect sense. But I would think that, since I see it that way.

I no longer think that is valid data, because too many variables have changed since 2001 (or 2004/5).

--The rise of smartphones for one.

--The release (and popularity of) Wii and Kinect-like games.

--The rise of tablets.

--The immense popularity of Playstation 3 and XBox 360 (along with their associated online content), and the release of next gen game consoles (PS4/XBox One).

--The surge upward in home internet connectivity, live streaming, and the decline of physical disks. This has given rise to Steam in the game world, which a decade ago wouldn't have been very practical.

--And on the horizon is next gen HDTV.

All of these things impact gaming, and I'd argue that they're going to impact subscription MMOs too. At the very least, all of the services today --cell/tablet wireless, basic internet @ home, cable/satellite, Netflix/lookalikes, etc-- cost money. Subscription MMOs are competing against all of those other options, and that's where the data has changed.
This is an interesting topic and I wish there were more studies in it. The question I think needs to be answered is how to properly measure a game's total scale, not only in breadth (world size, number of hours), but in depth as well (unique content).

I think MMOs obviously have the advantage here because of the amount of time development is spent on them, compared to other game genres. For example, most would say that EVE is the largest MMO out there, but 90% of it is just procedurally generated space. A lot of breadth, but not much depth.

I would say EverQuest 2 is probably the biggest game ever made for the sheer size and the amount of unique content.

What do you think is the world's largest video game?
Stephen Frost stated that players should see new content in the game roughly every 28 days. He did not elaborate onr just how many 'hours' of new content or what that content would be.
For me personally WoW lasted so long (4.5 years) simply because of the breadth of the PVE content. So many zones (multiple complete 1-60 paths) and dozens of dungeons, some truly complex in layout. It wasn't going to be a forever game with Blizzard's expansion release pace but it did have a lot of replayability at its core.

My guild played together as a rule, leveling sets of characters, wandering about, crafting etc. Official endgame (raids, pvp etc) was meaningless to us. The problem with newer MMOs is just how narrow and linear is their leveling path.

Give me a MMO with more 'parallel' content not more tiers of purple gear. This doesn't have to be a sandbox or a questless experience - just one I can spend time wandering through.
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