Smedley: Daybreak is Focusing on Shorter Session Times

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In a recent interview discussing mostly ‘company vision’ stuff, John Smedley made the following statement: “I firmly believe the days of the WoW-style MMO are over.” He went on to discuss how he believes the days of long arduous raids in World of Warcraft are over, and people now prefer shorter play sessions. That statement caused a bit of an uproar, and gave Smed cause to post the following on the EQ2 subreddit. I’m going to paste bits of it below.

I’ve read some of the threads about my comments in that interview. I wanted to clarify what I was talking about. I was asked in the interview about what things we’re doing differently for our new games going forward and that’s when I said we’re focused on shorter session times because not many people have the time anymore to spend on a 4 hour raid. [… insert minor back-pedaling and we will still support EQ/EQ2/EQNext raiding] […]

However, when we’re choosing what new games to make we’re focused on games with shorter average session lengths. Why? Because that’s the way the gaming world has evolved and we need to adapt. That’s precisely why we aimed so high on Everquest Next. We know we needed to change our aim on these games. We can’t just expect our users to want to grind through an epic 8 hour raid encounter or treat these games like it’s a second job. We need to make sure our games are just as fun in smaller time increments. […]

Well John… AMEN.

I completely agree that play sessions should be capable of being shorter, and MMOs should be designed in such a way that we do not have to wait for the fun to begin. HOWEVER, there is a caveat: Those shorter sessions must still have the same depth, investment, and experience of the longer play sessions. That’s a challenge for MMOs, and that would be a huge step forward in their design. Single-player and console games do this quite well. Why? Because you can just hit save and pick up right where you left off — often right in the middle of something epic.

My average play time now on a week day is roughly in the 1.5-2hr range. That’s much shorter than my 5-8 hour range, which was shorter than my 10-15 hour range. My time to play games has shrunk, but my desire to enjoy them the same way hasn’t. I don’t want to go on an 8 hour raid or even a 4 hour raid, but I want the same kinds of experiences of killing big monsters and getting loot. Etc.

If Daybreak wants to be the company to try and let me have my cake and eat it too, then I’ll happily cheer them on.

  • @Steve: Yeah, some of Destiny’s design doesn’t sit too well with me though. Pacing-wise it’s pretty good.

    @Werit: I’m feeling the same even at 2hrs on week days. That’s where Smed is coming from. Hopefully they can manage something that’s as fun as it is efficient in its usage of our time.

  • Actually most replies to Smeds comments have been rage. People want a deep hard sandbox game in EQ next and believe smed is going to break the dream by instead focusing on instant in/out Battleground or H1Z1 type games

  • I’m lucky to get 90 minutes uninterrupted anymore myself. I find that if I can get online in an evening and run a single dungeon in 30-45 minutes, then do my follow-up tasks in town with the bank, mending, market board, etc, that yeah… about 60 minutes have gone by and I’m ready to log out and do something else.

    That said, on weekends, a 3-4 hour session isn’t unheard of either….

  • My problem is rarely do I find hours straight to play on a schedule anymore. I might be able to play 3 hours straight put I can’t plan on it.

    I understand the nostalgia of raids of old but I don’t have time for that. I don’t know what the correct answer is but until a company figures that out better I am stuck playing single player gamed for now. I haven’t touched an MMO since hitting cap after WOW:WoD released.

  • I think the hardest thing I’ve had to come to terms with is that I will never have those awesome epic loots in games. I will at times look at the WoW armory and look up an old guild member to see his achievement score in the tens of thousands and his gear score through the roof, but I no longer feel the envy… I feel pity. I’ve slowly started to learn that my personal goals in any game can’t be being better than X or as good as Y. I will quickly find myself in a position where I am no longer having fun.

    So, do I play games less? No, honestly… I’ve just realized that I can have a lot of fun driving a car around in grand theft auto, or smashing monster faces in Diablo 3.

    I don’t think this decision by Smedly is driven anything except by a marketing point on a powerpoint deck he was shown. WoW style raids =/= a good business model for game company. (look at Wildstar) What does work? Casual/Freemium… The “Hardcorez” are an extremely niche audience. A niche audience that has a high twitch viewership but very much a niche audience. Smedly is going to have to walk a very fine line. Make it hard/deep enough so that “Hardcorez” give it respect and bring in their viewership, while also catering to the “filthy casuals” who spend the most money on the games.

  • Let me try to be as succinct with my point as possible because there is a big question mark in his argument. Of course – WE – the older gaming crowd don’t have time any more for weekend spanning play sessions, but what the hell happened to the new crop of 22 year olds with too much time on their hands? People are still being born, right?

  • And because I can predict a few responses along the lines of – well they just grew up in a time of more instant gratification – and since it seems to be Raph Koster month, I have to ask if what is “fun” changed in the last 15 years, or did all these game makers just miss the mark.

    Personally, I’m leaning toward the latter.

  • By shortening the game sessions, they might get more market share in the overall market. MMORPG is a niche genre, a very demanding one in time and effort from the player. By loosening the entry barriers, you may get a bit more players. The risk is not gaining enough new players to justify the expenses.

    It’s also a matter of competing products. You’re competing indirectly and directly with all mobile games, a medium not suit to long playing session. Older gamers are not really an issue here, but the younger generation is growing with a mobile device in their hand, that’s their new naturel gaming platform. MMOs need to adapt their offering to not be such a huge step from mobile. In general, I believe it’s the new reality in game development : making sure you can bring gamers from mobile to your medium (console or PC). It’s already an issue in Japan where console gaming is in heavy decline while mobile is becoming the new top dog.

  • So, decent point, but it’s basically “they just grew op in a time of more instant gratification”. And I guess to be fair I have access to 3 laptops at home now and I only fire one up a few times a month for an hour or two. It’s just way easier and convenient to do most things on my phone.

    Maybe mmos are really dead.

  • @Yotor: Very well said, I agree and identify with everything you said.

    @Baba Black Sheep: I had the exact same thought. Why was there a market for gamers with time 5-10 years ago, but suddenly not one now? My initial thought was exactly yours: Did there suddenly cease to be 15-22 year olds? Then my rational marketing side kicked in and the reality is that markets do change, and they are heavily influenced by so many different things — biggest of which can be the actual products in that market changing as business models change. Maljjin is spot on with his statement about mobile games — those did not exist like they do now 5-10 years ago. That right there redefined what it means to play games and consume entertainment of this kind. Oh, and I too haven’t used my laptop in almost a year because of my iPhone.

    @Maljjin: Exactly. You’re absolutely correct.

  • What happened to the younger generation? They’re there. But spread out over multiple MMOs. At EQ’s peak it had around 500k subscriptions. That’s 500k hardcore players. Eve Online all by itself probably sucks up 150k of those now days. Leaving 350k for the rest of the MMOs to compete for. Those players are sprinkled all over the place instead of concentrated in a single product or two.

    There isn’t going to be one game to rule them all built on the backs of players who can spend a massive outlay of time anymore. If a game is lucky, it pulls in 100k of the hardcore on launch. Unfortunately, launches suck for those type of players. They burn through the 1-2 peices of token high end content quickly, then return to whatever they came from. They may have ran the stuff from their old game 1000 times, but at least there is a change of scenery each raid because those games have had time to build up a catalog. Besides, they have a community there. For some of the hardcore starting a game at launch it may be their first MMO, and that game may become their primary game, deluting the pool of players even further.

    So developers have to cast a wider net if they want to be able to spend the increasing amount of development cost to actually create an MMO. They aren’t going to have 500k hardcore players anymore that they can count on to pay a bill month after month, year after year. It’s debatable if 500k players can actually keep an MMO afloat anymore. After the game has paid off it’s initial development costs, sure, 500k is a perfectly respectable amount. For AAA games now days though, not any more. 500k at a 60 dollar box cost is 30 million, with usually the first month subscription rolled in. Which seems like a lot, but not in AAA game development.

  • I usually only spend 1-2 hours A WEEK on games these days. Most of that restriction honestly comes from personal priorities, I put several other hobbies ahead of gaming now (D&D, brewing beer, wargaming, painting, gardening). But a lot of it comes from the fact that a lot of my spare time comes in small blocks. With the amount of updates games get in a given month, if I only have an hour open I seem to find that the entire hour is spent updating whatever game I wanted to play. So I go paint while stuff updates, or I wash some brewing supplies and fiddle with recipe ideas, and the hour I could have gamed is now gone and next week I’ll sit down some time, start an update, and go weed while I listen to a podcast.

    I can’t imagine it is an issue of instant gratification, as the payoff for brewing and gardening comes months down the line. I’d love to sit down and get in a LoL game, but if I have an hour odds are I won’t be able to get in a single game once updating is done.

    Removing the update hurdle, though, makes me think that if I’m willing to spend an hour a day doing something that occasionally requires a few huge blocks of time on tasks that I wind up practically studying for that don’t have payoff until months down the line… I honestly cannot figure out why MMO’s don’t work out for me anymore. Maybe I’m just tired of the Skinner Box. I know if I plant a garden I’ll get to eat something by fall, even though some of it will inevitably fail. The worst beers I’ve made have been more then drinkable, and better than anything else I could get for the price. But so many MMO’s have ended for me when, after months or weeks of playing, I realized the reward was… grinding.

    I think it has also become an issue of Games as Art. The games I do play are generally once through a story, that I can save and pause and come back to. They’re like interactive books, now, and I really enjoy that aspect. The three-monthers are the same deal, to me. I play through the content, I enjoy the story, and once it turns into work to be able to keep reading I drop them. If you had to read chapters 12-15 of a book 30 times over before the book let you read chapter 16, you’d burn that witch-book for having mind-control powers. But, more importantly, most people would never read chapter 16. Enough “epic” MMOs have this setup for the ending, pointless busy-work to stretch out the game so you can get to the VERY end. Sorry, but I’d rather just have to take off a bottle cap.

  • My average play time now on a week day is roughly in the 1.5-2hr range. That’s much shorter than my 5-8 hour range, which was shorter than my 10-15 hour range. My time to play games has shrunk, but my desire to enjoy them the same way hasn’t. I don’t want to go on an 8 hour raid or even a 4 hour raid, but I want the same kinds of experiences of killing big monsters and getting loot. Etc.

    AMEN! – As I have gotten older this is exactly the time I have to play. This is why I have been playing Diablo 3 mostly right now, as its small quick games, that I can get up and help around the house and come back and nothing is missing and no one has missed me!