Budgeted Gaming

Budgeted gaming is a term I’ve been throwing around though I’ve neglectd to define it.

Budgeted Gaming (BG) – Get in, do something cool, get out!

In essence that is pretty much it, though as you can imagine the full definition is a little more encompassing. BG is a term I created to describe what this new generation of mmo gamers expect from a game. It represents a central idea of World of Warcraft, and each mmo of the past 4 years, to their credit, have strived to incorporate it more into their playstyle.

You want to know why WoW is so popular? Budgeted gaming.

Want to know why FFXI has had a fundamental paradigm shift to 1-3 hour play sessions instead of their classic 5+? Again Budgeted gaming.

History Lesson

During the first and second generation of MMORPG’s, games were built around really three core beliefs

  1. Gamers would play more if they cared about their world and character.
  2. Their character matter more the harder it was to achieve / master something.
  3. Difficulty was built into the game as tedium, grind or playtime.

Basically games like EQ, UO, EvE, FFXI, DAoC ect.. all rewarded the player for managing to stick it through boring level grinds, harsh death penalties and woefully bad UI. The few gamers who made it to the top felt a sense of accomplishment like none other, forming tightly knit communities knowing that everyone there shared his/her common dedication.

The problem as it turned out, is that was an incredibly poor business model. While it created extremely loyal gamers, they were few in numbers and weld too much power over the developers. If a class change was in the works which would nerf a particular skill for game balance, the gamers could easily revolt and threaten to leave. This happened more than once with EQ and was even tried during the WoW beta (and was successful mind you).

It’s my opinion that after gamers got their way in the WoW beta (and effectively split the original team into many pieces), Blizzard took a good hard look at the current model and asked themselves, “What would it take to make our mothers/ wives/ bosses/ uncles/ skiing buddies play WoW? Or really, what is keeping them from playing WoW?” 

The answer it seems clear they came up with was time. The general public has always played games to relax, not to feel like a demigod. Hence they took what they had in WoW and began a very slow process of making the game much more friendly to the causal crowd. If anyone remembers beta, WoW originally had just as long of a grind as EQ, death penalties, outdoor pvp (with capture-able grave yards) and outdoor raid bosses for guilds to fight over.

How much of that is now in WoW? None

How much of it is in 3rd generation mmorpgs? Barely any if at all.

Point being, they realized early on if they made the game overall more accessible and cut down on the time commitment, they could attract a larger audience. So where does Budgeted gaming come in?

Time and Reward (not time versus reward)

The point I’m trying to illustrate (outside of a WoW history lesson, sorry) is the casual crowd doesn’t have time for long commitments. Only teenagers, college students and jobless 20 somethings have the time (and dedication) to sustain an old school mmorpg. To reach a larger audience, you as a developer must make an MMORPG’s “fun” areas of gameplay easy enough to access that it can be accomplished in a 1-3 hour time block.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way promoting “easy” games. A game can be complex, strategic, and deep with content but still be accessible. A great example is FFXI’s assault missions.

Historically FFXI was the prototypical 2nd generation mmorpg. A long grind to endgame, no solo content, and long raids full of 24+ people (sometimes 50+), so why with the release of their third expansion pack was the vast majority of the content (Assault missions) very short, hard hitting, small party content? So that gamers could get into FFXI, queue up for a mission, have fun, get a reward, and log off before it was too late at night. The grind for the items that require Assault mission tokens is fairly long, but that grind doesn’t require a bigger time commitment on a per night basis which is an important fact to remember.

One other thing to note, gamer’s situations change as they get older. If an mmorpg hooks someone in High school, will that person have the time once he/she gets to college to continue long hours spent in travel, grinding, and long raids? Probably not and this only becomes more problematic as that person gets older. While it is possible to create a game for those with lots of time on their hands, would you really want to bet your companies future on the gaming stability of a person who has demonstrated they have no life stability due to how much free time they have (due to one reason or another)?

By now I’m sure you’re tired of me talking about time commitments, so equally important is the middle piece, “do something cool”. This is much harder then most developers realize. Gamers, over the long haul, are hard to please,  fickle, and picky with what they spend their time on. While I’d like to believe gamers do something because it is fun, it really isn’t the case – you must have a reward stucture. A reward structure motivates gamers more so than anything else, and while material rewards (gear) are nice, honestly what are material rewards but medals displaying yet again achievement, mastery, or dedication? 

Reward structures are outside the realm of the current discussion but my point stands true, even though gamers will tell you they only do something for gear, they really are only looking for recognition by their peers. So the challenge really is, how do you make something that allows for recognition, that is accessible, and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. That’s the fun of MMORPG design and I’m looking forward to how current and future  games tackle this difficult question.

D^t

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8 Responses to “Budgeted Gaming”

  1. […] will be an interesting year for CCP. Looking at the changes down the pipeline, they all cater to budgeted gaming – get in, do something cool, get out. With the skill queue, again they are bringing an unnecessary […]

  2. Excellent writeup! I used to frequent Vana’diel but stopped because I realized that it would often take me 1-2 hrs just to get my character ready to play. Also leveling was such a major chore. You would need to get the proper equipment, put up your (party) flag and wait for an invite. The wait itself could go for hours depending on your class and level. After getting invited, you would have to wait til the party was complete before you could start the level grinding. The leveling would be hours long and if you had a good party with pretty cool people, you wouldn’t want to leave because you knew that it would take forever to find another one in the future. Such a time consuming game. I admit I do miss it though. Curse you FFXI!

  3. Thank you for the kind words. I’m slowly getting better at conveying my ideas in writing so hopefully I’m starting to catch my blogging stride. ^^

    Yep, FFXI is slowly fundamentally changing it’s image. A better FFXI example would of been level sync, as now you don’t even have to find a person in your level range to play with. Literally now you can jump – find a party consisting of only your friends – sync up – and party where ever you like. Very much the budgeted gaming mindset.

  4. Landon Says:

    Great article, very clear and concise definition. I’m looking forward to hearing more from your mmorpg ideas in the future. As a ex-EQ gamer who never played wow or final fantasy 11 I was still able to relate and saw Sony change their philosophy over night to accommodate.

  5. […] back to my definition of Budgeted Gaming, the gamer should be able to get in, do something cool, and get out within a 2-3 hour time block. […]

  6. Pete Says:

    interesting take on it, i agree on your reward structure. In lotro i get titles and deeds that are cosmentic but still serve a purpose. More games would do well to mimic this.

  7. […] of what a mmorpg is.  Lets for time being examine a major piece (it shows up twice) of Budgeted Gaming, travel, and see if it is the right place to add convenience for the […]

  8. […] are more of a micro dynamic content enabler that servers as a backbone for not just micro play (or Budgeted gameplay?) but also  party and raid dungeons, storyline hooks, gated content passes (think of needing a […]

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