I like to think about things, and if I don't collect the thoughts somewhere then they'll all fall out of my head. Consider this my "spare-brain-thoughts farm".

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Worth of Gametime

Once again, my nascent thoughts about the gaming world have somehow moulded themselves into written form.

Today's subject is one that I came across when I sat down to play ​Super Mario Sunshine​ the other day. Now, I'm a full-time gaming journalist, and I get paid very little; so to break even I have to spend a lot of time working. It's quite rare that I can sit down and actually play through a game throughout a long period of time, but last Tuesday I had quite some time to myself and coincidentally, the copy of ​Super Mario Sunshine​ I'd just ordered arrived.

So, Tuesday I sat down and said to myself "Today, I will play through this game from start to finish". And that's exactly what I did, which is sort of how this blog came around. It took me 12 hours to complete ​the game, without doing all the additional content (I don't have time to find 200 more blue coins...), and I paid £10 for the game. Now, if I value the worth of a game as £1 = 1 hour of actual enjoyment, then I have profitted highly, and still have a game that has even more content for me to sit down and enjoy some day (Note, I do not advise using this system for solicitation (Double note: I do not advise solicitation)).

Now, if you're still reading; this is when it gets serious (Ha. Serious). A friend of mine recently told me that he'd spend 500+ hours on ​Final Fantasy X ​ on a save file he only started last month​. This kindof staggered me, mostly because it's been a very long time since I could devote myself so wholely to a single game. Now, I shan't be modest, my clocked hours on ​World of Warcraft​ number at nearly 1,000 total hours, but that's a game I've had a on-again/off-again relationship with over the last few years. 500+ hours in just under 4 weeks is a bit insane though, from my point of view.
So, now to the meat of the blog. The Worth Of A Game.

Let's consider my previous system, where a game should have as much enjoyable time as it does cost. Obviously, my friend has gotten far more time out of his game, but he's spent much of that grinding, whereas I had 12 hours straight. We've both gotten plenty of enjoyment out of our purchases, but has he gotten more worth from his?

Now, this creates an interesting dilemna. Since I don't have time to invest into games, but he does, there is a stark difference in how we might perceive the worth of a video game. We're both big fans of JRPGs, but in recent years I've fallen away from them since I can't invest a lot of time into one game (Hence the on-again/off-again relationship with ​WoW​ , I can come back to it whenever I want) in a short period of time, I often have to devote time to other games for reviewing purposes. If I had more free time, I'd go back to the likes of ​Final Fantasy​, ​Baten Kaitos​ and ​The Last Remnant​, but since I don't, I often find myself playing games with notably shorter campaigns such as ​Bulletstorm and ​Jade Empire​, or an open world game where I don't need to invest chunks of time into suchas the likes of ​Skyrim​ and ​Saints Row​.

To someone with more free time though, open world games and JRPGs might be more tempting because they can sink days into them, and still have more content to discover. ​Skyrim​ will constantly offer them places to explore and quests to do, and could take hundreds of hours of time. A person with less time can approach it in bits, but someone with more time can do it in just a few sittings. The same logic applies to JRPGs, but since they're more linear, it's harder to approach them in a multitude of small sittings since you may inevitably forget something, or a quest may drag on and on.

So, now the worth of a game becomes not about the amount of enjoyment taken from it, but the actual person's personal schedule. Now, that changes the scope entirely, and it makes a rather unfair system with which to judge a video game for it's worth. As a reviewer, that irks me, because if a game is good then it is my job to relay that to people with as little information as possible; and I cannot just start adding scheduling into the mix. So, we need to locate a common ground for identifying worth to gametime. Now, the obvious common ground is actually finding enjoyment in games themselves, which has a direct relation to the quality of a game.

So, relevance of quality aside. We still have to place a worth on gametime itself. Does the value of time increase as the amount of time decreases? I'm sure this is a problem that can be solved with a mathematic equasion, but damnit I'm a writer not some sort of mathematician. We need to talk about this in a rational manner.

Perhaps it's something that can only be judged on a personal scale, and not objectively. So does the worth of time spent playing games come down to your lifestyle? Or is it an objective based media that can be supported by a blanket theory. Can the value of a game directly tie to the worth of the time spent playing the game?

It might not be the hottest of topics, but it's certainly something that's worth debate. What do you think?

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Future of MMOs

I know I don’t post these opinion articles too often, but I wanted a place to touch upon my thoughts on just how MMORPGsa work and where they are going. Unsurprisingly I am going to mention World of Warcraft a lot in this article, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The business model of MMOs is a widely decried one. The “Why should I have to pay more to play a game I’ve already bought?” argument is thrown around at every opportunity, particularly by people who don’t play MMOs. Now, these people are welcome to their opinion, but it’s very unfortunate for them that their opinion isn’t likely to be considered valid by most MMO players. It’s not that they can’t understand the whole MMO appeal, but it’s because they’re not willing to experience it because they don’t want to pay for it. For many MMO players, it’s an expensive but affordable hobby, but unlike other hobbies it’s far, far more to them than that. It’s a whole second life to many, many people; They’ve got guilds full of friends and they’re constantly connected to a world full of people that they’re very unlikely to ever meet in real life.
There’s a real level of disconnect between MMO players and the many people who won’t play them which is very obvious to outsiders; MMOs are a completely different class of games.
If you’re confounded as to why MMOs seem to continue chugging along long after people should have got bored of them or stopped playing, then it’s because of this disconnect. The business model is centered around not giving people an incentive to play, but an incentive to communicate with their fellow gamers. It’s a separate experience from the game itself, and it’s all alongside a co-operative gaming experience.
So, moving away from why the work: Just how are they going to continue working. The business model is sound, and whilst it can continue indefinitely, it can become unprofitable. Every year you need to bring tons of new content to stay ahead of your competitors to keep people in your game, and every year more and more competitors get announced. Just in recent months we’ve seen RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic both as the big contenders for the King Pin title held by World of Warcraft.
So, you need to constantly employ people to make new content and you need to constantly maintain huge servers capable of holding your audience. Not only that, but you’ll need to do mass technology updates; your servers are going to run out of steam eventually and will need replacing and updating. It costs a serious amount of dosh to keep an MMO running and keep it on top of it’s game. People say that Blizzard are money moochers, but they still employ hundreds of employees and have to maintain their offices, subsidary companies, GMs, servers and keep their game running smoothly. Sure, they’re raking money in, but they’re spending huge amounts of it.
This is where the future of MMOs kicks in.
There is never going to be a unified MMO. It’s too lucrative a market for other companies not to try jumping in.
So, where is the MMO going? It’s going to Blizzard, that’s where it’s going. And, I don’t think it’s going to be mystery-project Titan, either, I think it’s going to be World of Warcraft for many years to come. It is sheerly too difficult to overcome such a juggernaut now, and I think that it’s completely out of Blizzard’s hands anymore. When you’ve got 10 million players and more, you’ve got just too many people to answer to. Imagine just what might happen to the gaming market if World of Warcraft just vanished off the map; If even half of those players continued to play MMOs, every single other MMO would receive such a huge influx of players that they’d be completely revitalised, they might even completely change for the better.
It’s because of this that I’ll never understand the concept of a “WoWKiller”, as SWTOR was meant to be. We are currently at the point where it just can’t be done. Even if you can get the entirety of WoW’s playerbase behind your MMO, they’re always going to remember the MMO that bought them together as a community and if you give them the chance they will return to it.
Many MMOs have turned to the Free 2 Play route, such as Aion. Others have resorted to giving out their game for free like RIFT. Some have introduced a permanent free trial far too early in their lifecycle (*Cough* SWTOR *Cough*). But these tactics aren’t dragging people to their MMO, they’re pushing them away in many cases. RIFT lets you know that you can pick it up whenever you want, you don’t need to now. SWTOR has very early in it’s life said that you can play it for free up to level 20, so you don’t need to invest in it. They’re trying to adopt a business model to bring in more users, but they’re only trying to appeal to MMO gamers, and those people are busy with WoW. You can’t take the WoW playerbase, as unfortunate a truth as it is.