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Reloading... The Rise of Session Play

Posted Tue, Sep 13, 2011 by Ethec

Welcome back to the 74th edition of Reloading...! 

I’m Jeff Woleslagle and I (along with the other editors) be your MMOG substitute teachers this week while our Headmaster Boomjack attends to matter of higher education.  Take your seats, please.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

Today, class, we'll be watching a very interesting video. No talking, please.

*|YOUTUBE:UVrQ-NYIz54|*

One of the world's biggest MMORPG started a new season last weekend. And I'm not talking about WoW Arena PvP or some Asian MMOG that, despite us knowing next to nothings about it, has surrepticiously swallowed large Pacific island populations to its cause.

Fantasy Football is back, friends, and even if you don't like sports, you have to admire the draw. The pastime that started out as The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League in 1962 (no joke) has turned into a $1 billion global industry with over 27 million players, adding more than 2 million players a year in the last five years. The NFL even added a special rule this year requiring stadiums to show fantasy stats in real time, and the concept has spawned variations in nearly every other major sport, including decidedly international sports like cricket and jai alai.

Game designers wax poetic when on the subject of fantasy football, and in many ways it's the perfect Internet game. Why? We could talk about numbers - how the game was a nightmare of spreadsheet crunching before Internet sites did all the calculations and left the core fun of the game - player swapping - to the participants. We could talk about randomization - how any player you pick could have a terrible game, get sidelined with injury at any point, or surprise you with a sky high passer rating or runback for a touchdown.

Or there's sociability and scalability - you have to play with other people, the idea of "soloing" a league is antithetical, but matchmaking is robust, the game handles dropouts easily (they're simply stuck with their initial roster and become an easy matchup), and there's really no limit on the number of participants or leagues. Or we could talk accessibility - that you really don't have to know football or player histories to begin, you just have to have an affinity for numbers and an applied knowledge of the scoring system. The list goes on - interactivity, ad monetization, adding personality to the game beyond your favorite team, etc.

But instead I want to talk about pacing. One of the longstanding theorems in games development is the 15 minute rule, that a player will decide whether or not a game is for him or her no more than a quarter hour of play. I've found that the rule doesn't always apply, especially when a game has good buzz. For example, my first fifteen minutes in Deus Ex: Human Revolution were a tragedy of wonky controls and derivative storytelling, but I'm glad Stow convinced me to keep playing. Everything, from character development to story and decision making, improved tremendously in the 26 odd hours of gameplay, and the game scratched an RPG itch that I'd almost forgotten I had.

I propose that the fifteen minute rule isn't confined to a player's first experience of the game - that we tend to enjoy interactive experiences such as video games in roughly fifteen minute increments. Maybe we've been trained by TV commercials, maybe the adrenal edge is blunted by more than 15 minutes of intensity, I don't know. And don't get me wrong - I'm still a fairly long session gamer when I have the time to kill, but the fun starts to ebb after 15 minutes of gameplay unless there's some sort of  intermission - regaining mana and hitpoints, a story bit or cutscene, perhaps chatting with guildmates.

Games seem to be increasingly designed to supply fun in tighter doses, however. WoW battlegrounds and Arena PvP, WAR scenarios, and LOTRO monster play spliced the longstanding online FPS format into MMORPGs. Now, instead of 30-45 minute games, MOBA titles like League of Legends: Dominion, niche games like World of Tanks, and (most recently announced) Guild Wars 2 PvP have refined or will refine that formula down to roughly 15 minutes.

What do you think about how session play has crossed into every avenue of gaming? Share your thoughts!

You can contact me a number of ways:
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Website
  • (I lack Boomjack's powers of telepathy, but a singing telegram would be cool)
Until later,
Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
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