Daily Archives: November 22, 2007

Capture the 26 minutes I’m in

Valve recently published some play statistics from Half Life 2: Episode Two (Episode One also available). The thing that really jumped out at me was the average session time: 26 minutes (at the time of typing) for Episode Two, 34 minutes for Episode One.

I’m not sure exactly what constitutes a “session” (their definition: “The average length of time that a player played before quitting. This is calculated by dividing the total number of sessions played by the total recorded play time.“), whether you need to actually be playing the game, or whether just getting to the initial menu counts. If the latter, then I can see the average being brought down a bit by people who accidentally click on the wrong entry in their Steam “My Games” list (what kind of buffoon would do that, though, ha ha ha yes, all right, I did it myself just last night), and people who are violently repulsed by pictures of people with stopcocks embedded somewhere in their heads who quit the game as soon as they can after the splash screens come up. Then there’s the ones who load it up, and are appalled to find it’s some kind of disgusting, violent shooting game rather than a simulation of carbon-14 decay as they assumed from the title, they probably bring the average down a bit (presuming they quit after a couple of minutes, rather than waiting 5730 years just to be really sure). On the flip side, unless the stats exclude time when the game is paused, those aberrations are more than offset by people who stick the game on pause and wander off to answer the phone, or cook dinner, or sleep, or mix enough custard powder into the English Channel for it to become a non-Newtonian liquid, become the first person to walk from Dover to Calais and back again (without using some tunnel thing) since the pre-Cambrian era, get home, have a nice shower then resume playing.

Anyway. 26, or 34 minutes. Split the difference, half an hour; what could you do in your MMOG of choice in half an hour? Farm a few mobs, check a few auctions, run a quest or mission or two, fly from one place to another on autopilot while reading the paper? That’s got to be one of the major challenges for anyone wanting to make MMOGs more mainstream, serving up content in half-hour chunks. More to the point, being MMOGs, half-hour *multiplayer* chunks, including the time for people to find each other, decide on what they want to do, travel to an appropriate location in-game… The latter aren’t (entirely) in-game issues, of course, but perhaps an opportunity for the “ecosystem” NCSoft are talking about, which touches on social networking, and asynchronous play, and all sorts of other goodness dealt with in one of Raph Koster’s recent posts

WoW fhtagn.

At the behest of Sir Bildo the Creepily Gazed, I decided to play a little more of my Draenei priest in World of Warcraft last night in order to see just whether the latest patch, 2.3.x, could really improve what I dub the ‘mid forties death grind’, where all but the most exceptional of one’s characters are usually abandoned, floating in the lifeless inky void of the quest hole.

A little back story: I currently have two level seventy characters, the druid was my main for the majority of the game when, I think it’s safe to say, fully half the known world was playing WoW. I played my paladin in the rare gaps when friends weren’t online in an attempt to not advance my druid too many levels ahead. After the initial rush, pun intended, was over I had a level sixty druid and a paladin in the mid forties where he’d been abandoned in the dark depths of questing hell, where even the light of the holy often failed to reach him. After a significant break I returned to WoW, as any player who has been touched by the game’s dark chaotic tentacles is wont to do, and found that a friend, who was looking for a change from their raiding main, had a character who was also stuck in the mid forties. We teamed-up, worked our way through various quests that wouldn’t have been possible solo, and mutually boosted one another through the slog, like a couple of mountaineers battling their way against the blizzard to eventually break through the cloud cover and, gasping frosty breaths, lay eyes upon the sunny summit. From then on it was the plain sailing of sunken temples and black-rocked depths as others succumbed to the Cthulhu-like pull of the Elder Game, allowed a little of the insanity to enter their lives once more, and returned to adventuring with us. Come the time of the Burning Crusade I found little trouble in getting both my level sixty characters to level seventy, and although many a group adventure was had, soloing was always an option when others weren’t around. The Burning Crusade came and went, extinguished as quickly as a candle in a waterfall, and the migrating players took wing and looked for the warmer climes of other games. I hung around though, and took the opportunity to explore the new content at the other end of the scale, creating my Draenei priest and blasting through the first twenty levels of excellent new quests, slowing somewhat as I went through the enjoyable but many-times-undertaken quests in Darkshire and Redridge, until eventually (having worked through all of the Night Elf areas up to Ashenvale in order to become Exalted with Darnassus by level forty, and thus be able to buy my Draenei a graceful, lithe kitty as a mount rather than some monstrous waddling mutant pachyderm) I hit a wall at around the mid forties and I drifted away from the game on the flotsam of disenchantment.

Fast forward to yesterday, which is an impressive manoeuvre if one thinks about it, and it was with some anticipation of disappointment that I took the five and a half hour journey from Ironforge to West Feralas where it had been determined that there were probably quests that I had yet to undertake. I found some quests of suitable level range, some below my character’s current level which are always good for warming-up and getting back into one’s stride, and a few more challenging ones. What followed was a couple of hours of insane experience gaining, loot gathering and general all round OMG and indeed, as those kids say, WT to the F. Yo. My character gained a level and half in what seemed like the blink of an eye and, although I’m not sure if this was due to the recent patch or that luck was having a day off from being a shrewish harridan and was now a lascivious lady of loot, I gained my first ever epic world drop, a mountain of green items, a fourteen slot bag and more pearls than I’ve ever seen.

Certainly, if Blizzard are trying to entice players back to the game, then this is a fine way to go about it, much to the chagrin of the ‘dedicated’, ‘hard working’, ‘skilled’ ‘elite’ of the game’s upper echelons I’m sure. I shall certainly be returning to my priest again tonight, and although lady luck might not be putting-out with the amply lubricated lootual favours this time around, I can already see the summit of Mt. Grind where the Outlands Express awaits to whisk me onwards to the golden land. Either that or I’m being fed a pleasant dream, an enzyme-induced euphoria, while the Elder Game wraps its dark velvety tentacles around my head and sucks away the last remaining ebb of life force through my brain.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh WoW R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

WoW fhtagn.