Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Parental controls for everyone? No thanks!

I didn't read books when I grew up. I devoured them.

Oh, those summer vacation days in our cottage in the mountains, where the only access to the outer world we had was a radio which barely could receive the late night weather report. Telephone and TV was out of my reach for weeks and no one had yet any personal computer at home. So much time! So little to do.

On rainy days I could easily read two novels a day. Asimov. Clarke. Bradbury. Lewis. Heinlein. LeGuin. Tolkien, of course. Sometimes I cried when I finished them because I didn't want them to end. My solution was to immediately start them over again, reading them a second time. It wasn't as good as the first time, because of the diminishing returns effect. But it was good enough for me to enjoy them.

Did I ever think that there was a problem with that I got so immersed into those books? Did I ever wish that my parents had put some kind of control over my reading, forcing me not to read more than at most an hour a day, to let the books last longer? Of course I didn't! And I don't think anyone else did either. We all knew that there was a natural limit to this excessive reading. Soon enough I would be back to school and I couldn't spend entire days in my bed just reading. (Only the nights, since my parents had a stay-up-as-long-as-you-like-as-long-as-you're-reading-policy, but that's another story.)

Final Fantasy
I come to think of this as I read last week about the player restrictions that are planned for Final Fantasy XIV. You won't be able to get full XP for your character more than 8 hours a week. If you still want to play after that, you're better off playing something else.

Some bloggers were critical, but quite a few seemed to think it was pretty much OK. It will even out the conditions that different players have, making it easier for players with a casual schedule to keep up with players who have a lot of time at hands. And it might also, according to some, help to prevent unhealthy addiction, which ever so often is brought up as an argument against gaming.

I'm not planning to play FF for my own part, but I'm definitely not a fan of this kind of constructions, where you're imposing versions parental controls on the players, using the carrot and the stick to direct them towards a certain pattern of how they spend their game time.

WoW has a way softer approach to this with the XP system, offering extra bonuses instead of putting up a limit like FF. But the game isn't free from parental controls. There are ways which will steer players into the assumption WoW should be played in small, regular chunks and nothing else. Log in every day. Spread the time, don't let it stack up on one day. Because such behavior will be punished! It will cost you frost badges and it will make some of the seasonal achievements impossible to complete.

A question of fairness?
You could ask why they're doing is. Fairness has been mentioned. I don't know. Is it fair that someone who can't spend a single hour on WoW during the week but can play all day long on Saturday, only will be able to grab two frost emblems that week, regardless of how many 5-mans he runs that day? Is it fair that players who are on a job schedule where they work intensively for three weeks but have one week off the fourth week, only can play those 8 hours on their favorite character in FF?

I remember that Gnomeaggedon, who was one of those who suffered badly from this, only playing WoW for one or two nights a week, campaigned about this in the past, demanding a more flexible system that would acknowledge that players will locate their gaming hours differently depending on their life situation. Some play rarely, but a lot once they're online. Other play in small chunks regularly. There's no reason why one should be punished over the other.

Actually it seems as if Blizzard has listened to Gnome. When they announced the new point system in Cataclysm that will replace the badges of today, they said that they'll change it. There will be a cap on how quick you can earn them, but the limit will be set per week instead of per day. A big improvement if you ask me! It won't increase the rate at which the players consume the game in the aspect that they're gearing up their toons. But it will add more freedom, which is about time.

In a world where more and more jobs are done on a flexible schedule, where you work more or less hours depending on the current situation, it seems out-of-date to clinge to a strict only-once-a-day-system. They've even found ways to soften the once-a-week lockouts from raid intances. It's a natural development.

Why they're doing it
Back to Final Fantasy. Tobold was a on the fence in his post, waiting to give his judgement on the design of the XP system until he's seen it in action.

I will take sides though. I just don't like it when you build in parental controls to a game that is intended for an adult audience. We should be able to decide for ourselves how much time we want to dedicate to a game and where in the week we want to put it.

I devoured books as I grew up and I don't believe it made me any harm, as I don't think anyone will be hurt from spending a rainy weekend day devouring a video game. If someone has an unhealthy addiction they'll find a way to work around it anyway, raiding an army of alts. Artificial limits won't help.

So what is the real reason for game companies to maintain this kind of constructions? For a subscribed MMO there's no doubt about it. It's about money. Subscription fees. If players can't maximize their character in XP and gear from dailies, it means that they'll have a reason to play the game a little longer. They can sell you another subscription month.

There are reasons to introduce patronizing limits. But I suspect that it's more motivated by profit than by concern about the players.

20 comments:

Bristal said...

I really don't believe not getting full XP has anything to do with play time. The developers are NOT trying to decrease the time you play the game. What would they possibly get out of that.

They are trying to limit the speed at which your character gains levels. Thereby increasing the time you spend in current content before moving on.

That makes perfect sense to me. I enjoyed my days of pokey leveling before I got into the endgame with Wrath. Zipping through Northrend was such a waste.

Enlynn said...

I think Bristal's got the right idea. Perhaps there is a parental control element to it, but slowing down how fast we progress slows down how quickly we turn new content into been-there-done-that. This in turn keeps more subscriptions for longer, which is the bottom line of any MMO.

I think Blizzard's design of capping points per week will be a good thing. It will slow down how fast we can earn things (especially since we can't farm badges in both raid sizes), but that will keep the encounters from going stale quite as fast. I'm looking forward to that, if the design goal is less of a sprint and more like a marathon.

I like your analogy of all the hours you spent reading (I had a flashlight in my pillowcase too :), but there are more great books than time in my life to read them all, while game encounters are limited. If reading becomes redundant for me, I must be choosing books poorly. If my raiding becomes redundant, I must be raiding too much (although I agree, what is too much is for me and me only to decide). Blizzard is discouraging the grind in hopes that it will delay the burnout.

I suppose it's a matter of perspective. As I read about the changes, I felt liberated: now I don't have to do dailies and a 10 man and a 25 man every week. I can see how others might feel restricted: now I can't do these things.

Windsoar said...

I read about this on and had the same reaction: ick! Rested experience plays no part in how I play WoW because it's a bonus;however if I had an experience PENALTY (or no experience at all) my play time would be done much differently or likely in fits of cancellations and debates over whether to return at all once the initial allure left.

Control over the speed of character's ability to meet goals is a necessary component in keeping your repeat business, however, negative enforcement is almost guaranteed to have a negative reaction.

spinksville said...

I think it's good to see games try a range of different things, and then see how it works out for the player base in practice.

WoW does a similar thing but dresses it up as rested xp and doesn't let the xp tail all the way down to 0.

Zandathor said...

I think limiting the amount of time you can spend levelling isn't a bad idea. If people want to spend more time in game and 8 hours in a day is a pretty long time already, there are other things to do. Unfortunately as has been seen in the Beta when players run out of content that interests them they instead often try to make life difficult for others (e.g. killing quest givers, trainers etc.) It's very childish but then a part of the player base behave like that.

Dwism said...

I think you need to remember that final fantasy mmo's have a different history than other mmo's.

This was a game that had one of its best guilds get kinda upset after they had been fighting the same boss (not wiping, *fighting*) for 72 hours straight, and their members started to pass out due to exhaustion.

So for final fantasy, I applaud any type of restriction. Mind you, there will be plenty of things for players to do when they are not gaining experience, so it is not all about forcing them to play less.

Tam said...

I know this is, like, my one story but the most insightful thing I ever read about game design was in the start of the Civ IV manual - basically they said they were going to implement "dark ages" to represent the crazy ups and downs of a civilisation's progress, but then they realised they were just going to dump arbitrary crapness on the players, which would be depressing. So instead they instigated 'golden ages' to create exactly the same random feel but *without* punishing the players.

I kind of feel the same way about rested XP - it's a nice bonus, and means you do get a 'reward' for taking a break from the game, but you're not actively punished for your gaming habits. I really dislike arbitrary limitations placed on players, whether it's supposed to be for "their own good" (another offensive idea, in its own right really) or not. I feel the same way about gated content, to be honest.

Larísa said...

@Bristal: Well. Yeah. I guess. But I can’t see why player X who plays 16 hours one week and 0 hours the next should gain levels at half the rate of a player who plays 8 hours each week.

@Enlynn: I think Blizzard will get it more right with the changes in Cataclysm. If you prefer to run in intervals rather than having a grinding slow marathon-running style, it’s up to you and shouldn’t be punished imo.

@Windsoar: yeah, even if it’s almost the same approach, I think there’s a different in the mindset here. WoW really has gotten the rested XP right.

@Spinksville: That dress-up makes it way more appetizing for some reason.

@Zandathor: oh dear. I just hate that kind of griefing. Like killing the flight master in Westfall. It’s just… mean and pointless. I wonder if we’ll see more of it now that Wrath is getting SO old and the players SO bored.

@Dwism: oh, you’re probably right. As always when I’m making an effort to ramble about other games, I haven’t got much clue what I’m talking about in reality.

@Tam: Actually the “positive enforcement” is a pretty much classic approach when you’re trying to change behaviour. In my job I keep advocating that kind of marketing strategy. Don’t punish. Reward. I find it a little bit strange that the stick/punishment strategy still is so prevalent. Like in this case.

Scattered said...

One thing I'd mention about this, is that Final Fantasy has a job system, not a class system like WoW. As I understand things, jobs will have limits on time. This will help diversify peoples' characters while they level up. It might fail, but it seems like a good reason to try out other jobs as you're levelling up. And I agree that this system likely wouldn't work in class-based games like WoW

Just a thought from the other side of the argument.

Falross
http://falross.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

The problem with the book analogy is that reading books by yourself isn't a competition with specific rewards. Imagine if instead, your whole family was reading books, and whoever finished the most got new shiny stuff.

Would you have enjoyed the vacation as much? Instead of taking your time with the books and enjoying them, you'd just be speed reading through them as fast as possible. This would probably end up being far less entertaining than just reading the books for yourself.

Final Fantasy wants people to be able to explore and enjoy the world they've created. For those competitive types like me, this is wonderful. I can actually have fun exploring without thinking that I'm "wasting time".

SpiritusRex said...

I am not in favor of any "time" based restrictions on my play at all.

The XP bonus is exactly that, a bonus. Further, once you reach level cap that "bonus" is no longer relevant. Limiting frost badges [insert other arbitrary award here] per day? Exactly why again? To keep us immersed and entranced for as long as possible? Hmmm, seems to me that there is an easier way to do that, make the content so it is not faceroll easy. (This statement is not intended to sidetrack our discussion into content difficulty, but, is intended to highlight that difficult content requires more time spent in game).

Most of us are grown adults and, as such, should be mature enough to manage our time reasonably well. I don't need "big brother" to manage my time, thank you very much. Further, my life experiences have taught me that everything is better in moderation, so I primarily play for about 2 hours every weeknight and about 4 hours each weekend day. So everything in moderation is the ticket for me, except sex and money - and I can never have enough of either of those. And, now that I think of it, when I spend too much time in game, I don't seem to ever get enough of the other. Positive reinforcement, you see. :)

p.s. To Dwism regarding the final fantasy boss-a-thon. Would you agree that the 72-hour boss fight was more of design/developmental error as opposed to a time restriction matter. I'm not being argumentative, just curious as to your opinion, as I don't have much experience with FF. It just seems to me on the face of it to be absurdly stupid to have an encounter which requires that much uninterrupted play time at one sitting - doesn't seem like that is a paradigm I could embrace, but, again, to each their own.

Syl said...

wow it's hard to comment on blogs today, I keep getting errors -.-

@topic: I was obviously against this 'parental control' which you so aptly named and I really favour bonus-systems vs. malus-systems. you are entitled to encourage your player base towards a certain playstyle and blizzard keeps doing that all the time. but active restriction of playstyle is just something that rubs me the wrong way, especially in sub-based MMOs. that said I am not forced to buy FF14 and i won't for now.

Chimpeh said...

I agree with the thoughts some people had on distribution of playtime. Game mechanics such as daily dungeons that require daily play are a real pain for players that have time to spend, just not every day.

I'm personally not restricted by these things at the moment and as such I'm not such a fanatic on it but there's a severe difference between favoring players that spend an equal amount of time per week in different doses, or those casual cry babies that want to have what the guy that spends 50 hours has.

To get into the FF situation, Bristal does make a good point on developers wanting to slow down gamers. On the other hand they could do this in subtle ways that don't come across as punishing hardcore players. Then again most developers seem to realize catering to the casual is where the market is at, and FF seems to be known as pretty hardcore.

Bristal said...

@SpirtusRex:

I don't agree that not allowing you to speed level your character in 24 hours is limiting your play time.

It's merely placing a limit on how fast your character can gain levels and rewards. That certainly is logical in the sense of immersion.

You as a person can't just decide to go to college 24 hours a day to get a degree in a year. But you can certainly study more than others to be top in your class.

You can still PLAY the game as much as you want, but your character will not be able to advance in levels as quickly, thus making leveling not always the best use of your time.

Imagine that group quests or instances actually progress the overall story, and struggling with them at an appropriate level becomes integral to the game. Or crafting rewards that are worth doing prior to level cap.

And you would actually have the time and motivation to play this part of the game, which would both prepare you for, and improve the endgame.

ecclesiasticaldiscipline said...

The only difference between a "penalty" as you describe in FF and the "bonus" xp in WoW (aside from the numbers) it is called. It's still a penalty on leveling if you play more than a certain amount, or alternately a bonus on leveling for x time when you play. The difference is calling it a glass half full or empty.

I believe I even read somewhere that WoW initially implemented it as a penalty, and changed to calling it a bonus so as not to upset players - but didn't change the mechanic at all.

Larísa said...

@Scattered: It’s possible that I don’t know enough about FF to understand this fully. However as a principle I dislike this kind of parenting.

@Falross: Well, you have a point versus the book analogy. But for players who have different schedules to what’s expected, those rules will feel restricting and unfair.

@SpiritusRex: That’s really another way to go – to make it harder. But I guess players who aren’t as skilled and will need way more time to beat the same content will complain then… It’s as always: regardless of what they do someone will grumble about it. However I prefer harder content to tougher parental controls. Any day.

@Syl: it seems to have been one of those days. Blogger hiccups.

@Chimpeh: It’s interesting that you say that FF is known to be hardcore. And yet they want to “punish” hardcore players… I really wonder if this will turn out well.

@Bristal: But why, why should a game that is available 24/7 work like college?

@Ecclesiaticaldiscipline: That’s actually true. PR trick ftw! But it works!

SpiritusRex said...

@ Bristal

While I concur with your general philosophy and approach, I beg to differ in a few respects. Namely, I am not a speed leveler myself, never have been and never will be (I find the lore and escape it provides a nice ending to my hectic days). However, I think that a game mechanic which dictates that a person is penalized for playing a game they enjoy (in whatever fashion they choose), is restrictive and should not be part of a game's design.

Consider the following as an example: You work your tail off and make enough money to go out and buy a shiny, new car [insert item of desire here] and drive that sucker all over the place to the admiring glances of all you pass. Suddenly, the engine sputters and you realize that you have run out of gas (petrol for you Euros :p). So, what do you do? Well, of course, you get gas to put in the car. But wait, the manufacturer of the car has decided that they want you to only enjoy the vehicle for 1 tankful of gas a week. Anything more than that causes the gas tank to be permanently lock until a certain time frame has passed. To drive more than that, the manufacturer maintains, depreciates the value of the vehicle and by inferrence assumes that your immersion in the joy of the vehicle will depreciate if you drive it continually. Ridiculous, I know, right? But how is that different from what we are talking about here.

What I have always tried to maintain is that how a person spends their spare time is an individual choice. To introduce false barriers in an attempt to control a person's use of time is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong. You want to charge me money to play your game, go for it. But, don't dictate at what pace I play in an attempt to maximize my experience.

Again, I reiterate, this is just my opinion and I'm all for each person to decide what is best for themself.

TL;DR Let the player decide at what pace they want to play the game. Artificial barriers do nothing but disenfranchise some consumers.

ps. As the length of my reply has already turned into a wall of text critical strike, I won't even go into (i) how play immersion is ruined by forcing someone to quit playing or to be penalized for continuing; or (ii) how crafting while leveling is fundamentally flawed in WoW.

SpiritusRex said...

/sigh

Multiple reply posting has left me with the dreaded Posting Sickness debuff - can I get a clense poison or abolish disease, please, my pink pigtailed innkeeper (only an uber-mage like yourself has this power). Thank you.

Larísa said...

@SpiritusRex: Your wish is my will. Or what they say.

Anonymous said...

Game designers pace character progress in a lot of ways: amount of xp per kill, proximity of quests or xp-granting mobs, xp/level, character travel speed, average time to kill, respawn rates, death penalties, bonus-xp rewards, the number of character levels until end-game. The list goes on and each affects how quickly someone can level up. Having diminishing returns on xp/kill is only one part of the mix and I just don't see it as the equivalent of parental controls.

It's not like they say you can't play anymore if you exhaust your xp gains. If the only reason you're playing is to gain XP, well, you're not enjoying the game very much at whatever level you are. An MMORPG should be more than an opportunity to grind monsters.