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Hey guys, here's a concept I've been thinking about for awhile now when I think about "better MMO design" :
Putting a cap on daily playtime
Now before you dismiss this concept at face-value, please consider some of my thoughts on the issue.
I can see how such a system can look wildly unpopular. The mere notion of telling the player how much they can or cannot play seems absurd. But is it really in the players' best interests that we let them have the option to play day in and day out until they collapse from exhaustion? What are the benefits of this? Is the concept of total freedom so valuable to us that we ignore the potential game design as well as health benefits that we can extract from a capped experience?
A game is seen as the players' "property" and as such we have been conditioned to design games with the notion that the player should be free to play it as much as they want/can. With most genres this works just fine because they have an "end" and/or are not designed to be played for extended amounts of time. But MMORPG's are a whole different beast. The MMO genre prides itself on how much of the players' time is can suck up. An MMO is designed to be played to the exclusion of almost everything else. Where most other types of games have an invisible"playtime cap" built into the game designs themselves, a great MMO is built by design to suck you in and keep you playing till you truly can't do so anymore due to real-life restraints. But allowing players to play unlimited hours in these kinds of games poses a number of design problems for the developer to deal with:
-Players rushing through content too fast
-Players doing physical harm to themselves by playing too much
Is it really necessary to allow players to play 24 hours a day if they so chose? I don't think it is. If we examine the typical playtime of most "serious" gamers in MMO's, they typically play anywhere between 6-10 hours per day. This is even at most less than half of the full 24 hours per day that we allow players to play and yet by doing so we introduce so many problems for the developers to deal with. If we DID limit the amount of time players can play to 8-10 hours per day, most serious gamers would still get their fill of the game while we limit the potential for powergaming, gold farming, work-shift play and physical exhaustion that comes with games without a play-time cap. Not only would we substantially reduce these problems, but we'd also significantly lower the power gap between players with "skill" that play 3-4 hours per day and players that just grind it out.
I think our next gen of MMO's should seriously consider implementing "sleep" type systems where your character can be logged in for 8-10 hours per day and then get fatigued/tired and be unable to participate in most character/progression related activities until they rest. The benefit of this system would be allowing hardcore players to still play hefty amounts of time per day while eliminating the encouragement of powergaming and limiting the powergaps between players that play moderate amounts of time and those few that choose to play all day. Additionally it will make gold farming and botting more complicated and provide more stability to the player economy. The reason I propose this kind of system rather than straight up forcing you to log off is the allow players the option to continue to engage in the social aspects of the game once they've played over the capped amount if they so choose to do so. Players may still opt to stay online to chat and interact with their guildies for unhealthy amounts of time but it is my opinion that they would feel much less incentivized to do so if that's all they can do and they wouldn't be potentially ruining game balance or burning through the content too fast if they chose to do so either.