19 Aug 2011

Getting the Most out of Game Time

I find being a gamer these days is pretty tough. There are a ton of good quality titles out there that I’m desperate to try out. I want to get my teeth into every single one of them and wring them dry of every single droplet of Fun Essence. I want to be able to talk about the phases of the game – how they start out, what the endgame or finish is like and so on. I want to both have my cake and devour it in a noisy, icing-shrapnel inducing manner.

Do I have time? In a word, no.

I’ve become one of those “mature gamers” you hear about these days – people who read Edge and Retro Gamer and talk about how good games were in the good old days. The kind of gamer who holds down a full time job and a family, trying to fit gaming around everything else. Add to that running a blog, doing podcasts and everything else and it’s easy to see time vanish. Apparently I have twenty minutes a week to play Warcraft, and that’s during server maintenance.

I needed a plan. Something to help me manage what time I have available to make sure I get the most out of the time I have. It’s not perfect but it’s useful to me in helping me work out what’s important.

Why share all this now? A while back, Windsoar asked me this very question at her A-Muse-ment Party:

I know you recently started playing and blogging about your time in Rift. How do you balance your time between two games? What, if anything, have your experiences in WoW/Rift helped you with or made you wish was different in the other? How has being involved in multiple game worlds affected your in-game goals and expectations when embarking on a new MMO?

I’ll be honest with you – this isn’t the first time I’ve been playing two games. I’ve had Warcraft running while playing Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Age of Conan, Aion and more, as well as a handful of betas and single player RPGs. How do I manage that balance? Let me explain.

Do Your Homework

The fist thing I do when considering any new game is to start researching it. Blogs are a great starting point for this as they usually contain two useful things – consolidated findings from a number of different news sources and interesting insight into what the news actually means. I have a list of about three hundred blogs in my reader that I’ll skim through on my way to or from work.

I try and build up a picture of the game world or setting, the characters and classes or abilities. I’m also interested in finding out if there are any quirky mechanics or design choices that might interest me. Gameplay videos, developer interviews and so on all help. If something really grabs me I’ll usually sign up for their newsletter or bookmark their website.

Work Out What’s Important

Everyone has their own view on what they want out of games. For me the definition of what’s important changes with what I’m playing. In Warcraft I’m usually playing the game to raid and socialise with others, but that’s about it. With a new game life Rift I’ll be playing to get a feel for the lore/storyline and game world.

I tend to play the same classes because I know I have a preferred playstyle, and that playstyle usually involves throwing around obscene amounts of damage from a distance. I’m not a big fan of healing or tanking (the other roles that make up the “trinity”) so I tend not to focus on them. If I really get hooked on a game there’ll be time for trying out other roles later.

It’s also meant that when I log in to play a particular game I become very task-focused. I’ll concentrate on getting dailies done or doing a raid or completing heroics. I’ll aim to get a few levels on a new game I’m playing or try out a new dungeon. It means that some of the less time-bound activities like roleplay tend to suffer unless I make specific time for them – having organised roleplay events is great for this.

Junk What Isn’t Important

Just as I’m looking at games that I think I’ll like, I also discard games that just don’t do anything for me. All Points Bulletin, City of Heroes and DC Universe Online all got dropped fairly quickly. What can I say – I’m just not into the MMO equivalent of Mafia Wars and I never really got into superhero comics. A Judge Dredd MMO would be a completely different story.

By the same token, if I’m not enjoying a game then I’ll usually drop it before the initial month is up. Sometimes I’ll take a holiday from the main game of the moment to focus solidly on something new for a few weeks, but if it doesn’t hold me then I’m happy to shut up the subscription and move on.

It’s the same with a beta. If a game at it’s most fundamental is not fun to play then I won’t keep slogging away at finding bugs and providing feedback on quests. Instead I’ll make a few forum posts about how the game needs to be improved and what can be done to fix it, then move on. I won’t hang around to hammer a point home – either a game works or it doesn’t.

Take Regular Breaks

I reckon that not playing games is just as important as playing them. Before you condemn me as a madman and call the men in white coats, hear me out. A game that starts out incredible and full of wonder can grow tired and stale over time. It’s like eating cheesemelt steak for every dinner – the novelty wears off and you start craving for anything but a slab of beef.

Burnout is common in a lot of MMOs where you start off intensively playing a game, trying to complete as much of it as possible in as short a time as possible. As soon as things start to become repetitive the fun starts to plummet, as I’ve written about in the past.

I try to keep contrasts in mind when mixing up my games – if one game has become business like then I’ll trim my time in it back to the bare minimum. If another is feeding me story by the bucketload then I’ll happily dine on content. If something’s becoming a grind or a chore or just no fun then I’ll walk away. Why? Life’s too short.

Keep Having Fun

I could go all higbrow and describe how I play games because they hold up a mirror on our society, or because they help us explore the human condition. Who am I kidding. I play games to have fun. I know that fun can take many forms and shapes, but ultimately it has to be there. If something’s not fun then why do it? If a game has become a chore and is consistently boring, kick it to the kerb.

Time is possibly the most precious resource any one person can have. Why waste it?

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