Balancing Challenge and Fun -
The Casual vs. Hardcore Debate
It's an extensive debate: how hard and how long should a quest be in a
massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG)? There are, in general,
two schools of thought about this.
One group of people feel that in order to fit gaming online around
their lifestyle, they need to be able to play games for relatively
short periods of time. This makes sense. After all, gaming isn't
just for people with large periods of free time--family, work and
school can (and probably should) take top priority over quality gaming
And yet, MMOGs can take a lot of time to play, relative to most games.
There's no saving in the middle of a quest or mission, because the rest
of the people you are with are real people. They don't freeze in
place, ready to continue when you return, when it's time for you to go
to bed or work on something else.
If the challenges you face are too difficult, that can extend the
amount of time you need to defeat them. Even if an adventure takes a
reasonable amount of time to run through without difficulty, having to
re-enter an adventure a few times can make a half hour quest turn into
an hour and a half marathon. Group cohesion can fail if something is
too hard, people will leave to find something easier. Then you
need to look for other people to assist you in completing a quest.
There are gamers who want to be able to enjoy a long and extensive
gaming session. The appeal of MMOGs is the immersion into the setting
the player experiences. It takes time to direct your attention toward
an online game, and it can be hard to enjoy a setting and genre when
pulled out of the setting by short adventures. Defeating an opponent
and his cronies is a lot less satisfying when it involves only 3 rooms
and pulling a lever. The challenge of a quest needs to pull your
attention into the game, or you're not getting your moneys worth.
It's also less interesting when short
adventures are the rule. There are a limited number of plotlines
available that can be created for a MMOG with the resources of a game
company and the limits of modern software. Within these restrictions,
quests can be more interesting if long, simply because you have more
variety you can put into these adventures. If quests are going to
be short, they are more likely to be of the “gather x of item y and
bring them back to me”, or “kill x of y and report to me”. A
longer quest can be more compelling, and less repetitive.
It's understandable for people to want a very difficult challenge to be
available, something that isn't humdrum or rote. It gives a real
sense of accomplishment, aside from simple experience points, to
overcome this sort of challenge.
If playing a game is easy, then the interest in that game only lasts as
long as the graphics and gameplay are new. Considering the cost of modern
games, that amount of entertainment for themoney is too
pricey for most people, especially when you take into account the monthly cost of a MMOG. This is fine, but I feel that there should be some qualifications on
challenges beyond those that are part of a normal quest. The
normal challenges of an adventure should be great enough that they are
interesting but not so much that they make an adventure too long to
complete within the time frame the developers plan. A more
difficult challenge should be clearly written as such in the
description of the quest (when you pick it up), and the reward should
be commensurately higher.
How to fit these the need for casual play experiences as well as
longer, more challenging quests into a MMOG is difficult
question. There are ways to make the time spent online shorter
without cutting into the time spent playing. Some of these items
I recognize in the design of Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO).
First and foremost, they have reduced travel time between quests by
removing huge zones between the quest and the town you start in.
There is also the fact that quest content is instanced, meaning no need
to wait to meet that particular creature you wanted to face up
against. Resting is done at shrines, as opposed to spending time
sitting around slowly regenerating spell points and hit points.
There are “danger zones” within the game, at all levels, which allow
one to face
opponents without committing to a long term
quest. These danger zones can require up to 12 people, allowing
higher difficulty challenges without detracting from the standard half
hour quest. Another way the developers address difficulty is
challenge ratings. They have set up challenge ratings for
quests. One could go into more difficult or less difficult
challenges based upon how much time and difficulty you want (one
It appears that the DDO developers have decided that adventures should
be about a half hour, on average, with shorter and longer quests being
available, too. The belief the developers seem to express is that they
want to accommodate that amount of time, minimum, while still having
longer quests and quests that link to other quests in turn.
MMOGs can no longer have periods of over an hour between
accomplishments. You need to be able to go online, find a group
to go with, and play enough to have an enjoyable experience and advance
within an hour, or it's not going to be something that can be played by
gamers these days. People need to be able to play games, enjoy
immersion into their games, and yet still be able to commit to their
other interests and obligations.
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