Awful Ideas: The Limited-Time MMO

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor


What I'm about to suggest is a terrible idea and no MMO developer should implement it... probably.

Suppose there was an MMO that limited your play time to an hour a day – or maybe just a total of seven hours per week. After your seven hours are up, you're disconnected from the server, poof, good-bye, see you next Monday.

Horrible idea, right? Yeah, it is. But let's think about why I came up with it...

MMO developers have been trying to walk that fine line between giving us as much as we want while also limiting our progress so we keep playing their games. I touched upon this a little bit in the ArcheAge Labor Point article, and tried to think of other ways it could be addressed or maybe even solved.


Put simply, some players have more time than others and thus can progress in games faster than others. While there may not be many open-world ganking-style PvP games any more, I think it's still something of an issue. You feel like you need to stay “caught up” with other players or your guild so you can run level-appropriate dungeons with them, or so that you can chase down open-world bosses together, or even so that you can just get cool-looking armor and weapons and not look like the low-level vagabond you are. And in a sandbox game, where you're in constant competition with other players for assets or plots of land? Better sign away your life (or invest in a good bot) if you want to keep pace with the others.

I'm not suggesting a game should be “play for an hour and you get everything.” Rather, I'm wondering if “play for a reasonable amount of time and get everything” is possible. The question is, what is “reasonable”? If I'm really into a game, I might spend 20 hours/week on it, but I still feel inadequate compared to the people who spend 40 or 50 hours a week on it, speed-running dungeons, farming everything in sight, and showing off all their fancy gear by the time I'm level 30. To me, those people are insane.

But, to someone who has a full-time job, family, and other obligations, my 20 hours/week pace is “insane.” Maybe that person only has a couple nights he or she can play each week, for a couple of hours each time. It'll take him a year to get where I am in the game after only three months – and where the super-hardcore guy is in three weeks – so maybe he just completely throws up his hands and says “forget it.” A lot of people quit MMOs because they see the months-long grind that lies ahead of them and just don't want to deal with it.


MMO developers realize, though, that they can't make it so that you can get everything you want in a game after, say, 200 hours. That might be OK for the guy who only has five hours a week to play, because it'll still take him several months to “finish.” For someone like me, it'll take 10 weeks. Maybe I could live with that. But for those super-hardcores, they'll be through the game in a month or less, which is almost certainly less than ideal.

So let's go back to my “seven hours per week” game, which I'll again stress is an awful idea that nobody should do. But if they did, what would happen? The casual player will usually maximize his time. Meanwhile, the more hardcore players, like me and those beyond me, we would “max out” at seven hours played. The result? Everyone's on an even playing field and nobody gets “left behind.” You could build that “200-hour game” and make it a lengthy-enough process for everyone.

At this point, you're probably thinking, “commie care bear casual Jason doesn't want anyone to have to work to succeed in a game.” My first question would be why you think a game should be “work.” Beyond that, though, I think the (real) time required to do things could still be the same. If it currently takes you a month of playing 20 hours/week to get to max level, and two more months – 260 hours total – to get a full set of raid gear, I say it would be fine to keep that kind of long-term time commitment, but with less actual time spent in game – about 91 hours over three months for the seven hours/week game. The game would just have to be set up to allow that, instead of requiring 50 to 100 hours or more of raiding to get fully geared up. Really, we know all MMOs are a grind, and that beating the raid for the 10th time to get that last piece of gear isn't a sign of your being skilled – it's a sign of how much free time you have. You've already “beaten” the game. “Beating” it 10 times doesn't prove anything else.

Of course, MMO devs want you in the game as long as possible, either to convince you that your subscription is worthwhile, or, in the case of free-to-play games, to encourage you to spend in the cash shop. That's the main reason why a system like this wouldn't work – nobody would want to make a game that actually forbids you from playing it at times. A few games have diminishing returns mechanics, which lower your rewards after you've been playing a long time or something like Star Wars: Galaxies' battle fatigue, which reduced your combat capabilities. Rest XP is the opposite side of that – instead of being punished for playing, you're rewarded for not playing – but the former seems oppressive while the latter is at most, a minor feature.


But let's get super-meta here. When a shiny new MMO pops up, something that you think looks cool and you'd like to play, what's going to be one of your first thoughts about it? “Man, that looks great, but I just don't know that I'd have the time.” There are hundreds of games out there, all of which require us to devote huge chunks of our time to them, and it's impossible to play them all. Maybe, just maybe, knowing that a game wouldn't require that kind of life-altering schedule, that it's something we could squeeze into our lives without sacrificing anything else, would be attractive. Maybe “You can only play for a limited number of hours a week” could be marketed as a benefit to a game, rather than a detriment. Will I be happier playing one game for 20 hours a week than I would be playing three games for seven hours per week? I'm not sure.

Unlike a lot of things I advocate for, though, I'm not going to push for any MMO developer to go this route. Games are risky enough ventures without messing with something this fundamental. Still, it's an interesting thought exercise, and maybe by exploring it, someone will come up with something that finds a way to entice the busy player and engage him just as much as it does the player with all the time in the world.

Well, something better than cash-shop XP boosts, that is.

Editor's Note: Some images used are from B2P MMO titles. Images are used to display tedious tasks or involved completion aspects of MMOs that help display the author's point.

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

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Discussion (25)

Secular 9 years ago
They tried this system in the first iteration of dreamlords. You had something like 1000 "turns" in the overworld (civilization like but population and resources were on timers) per 24 hours and once those were out all you could do was pvp. It was retarded to say the least. People that enjoyed the game couldn't keep playing it and thus there was never a base of players online at any given time. Everyone that played the game assumed it was a ghost town because people would only pop on for an hour a day.

That meant that the only activity that was available, pvp, was also dead because no one was ever on. There is literally no workable or even not-stupid way to implement limited play time on an actual mmo.

delve 9 years ago
there are some game out there that do limit your gameplay completely. I guess that why people say it not a good idea to do that to the playerbase. it fun to play a little bit but I won't recommended to stay with a game that make you hate more down the road for a game that has a stamina system. it is not really worth it to go though the nightmare with those kind game and it is a complete let for anyone who looking to play a mmorpg game.

Ness 9 years ago
limted stamina system on games are fun to play for a little bit but it is not worth it throwing money down the drain if the developer isn't going to take it off. many people tried to ask the developer for elsword to have no stamina system on that game but the developer say no and many people soon dropped elsword and moved to another game that won't limit there fun down the road.

Merideus 9 years ago
Lolz I dont understand at all. If your looking for a game where you can "Play for a responsible amount of time to get everything." it has nothing 2 do with time. But difficulty. If your able 2 get everything in a small amount of time then the "difficulty level" of the game would be poor. Meaning investing anymore time in the game would be pointless & coming back 2 the game would be point less.

You lessen the difficulty of a game you lessin the quality there for the player base. games that cling 2 the minority die off. If the game gives everyone everything then whats the point of playing?

Bic Boi 9 years ago
"But, to someone who has a full-time job, family, and other obligations, my 20 hours/week pace is “insane.” "

Is that really such a bad thing though? Ask yourself what is more important--your family and your financial well-being or being Agathor, level 56 warrior in DragonRape Quest Online? Games were always meant to be a pass-time. If you begin to feel like you're obligated or pressured in any way to play, perhaps it's a sign that you need to let go. Keeping up with friends is nice and all but ultimately, if they're friends they'll understand and be willing to help when you have time. Otherwise it becomes plain to see they're not friends..just people who happen to play alongside you when it's convenient for them. There's a large difference guy..

If it's a choice between life or a video game, it isn't a hard decision. To even suggest that a developer should attempt to govern your free time is..a tad absurd.

Annonymouse 9 years ago
Path of exile already tackles this issue in a sense with their ladder system. I think that system is pretty awesome, minus the fact that it gets a whole lot of players to log on at once and put a heavy load on their servers often causing jumps in network latency.

Time limited competitive ladder systems that run alongside the core game is a much better solution IMO than time limiting the entire game. Not gonna lie I only read the first few paragraphs of this article, so it's entirely possible that i'm just repeating something that was already said.

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the6freak 9 years ago
Great article as always.

Merkadis 9 years ago
More nonsense.
Think anyone will actually stick with your ideas? nah, of course you don't.
There is no way in hell it will happen.
Say, why must i be limited just because some other guy i don't even know has family/job blah blah... it's his lifestyle and it has nothing to do with me so why must i suffer because of him?
There is absolutely no reason for that right?
You say everyone should be "even" if so why should cash shoppers have advantage over f2p gamers? just because they can pay?
Sounds kind of ridiculous right? thats how you sound right now.
Most games are competitive so the gamer will use any and all advantages they got and there is no reason to limit the advantage of investing more time same as there is no reason to limit p2p gamers having a bit of an advantage over f2p gamers since they do pay and support the project after all.. as long as it's not taken to a rather uncomfortable p2w levels.
You don't have time for your games? well that is your problem, and your problem shouldn't become mine as well.

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Tris 9 years ago
I did not read this whole garbage wall of text but did that retard actually suggest they implemented that in games?! Retard, how about instead they make games like dota 2 , counter strike, lol etc. where you do not need to grind to be competitive

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wolf pelt 9 years ago
any easy way to fix this would be to take away levels i don't see the point to leveling up any way if every one started out at the same level then right off the back you could go do raids or dungeons i mean really all you do is grind mobs and do the same quest over and over again i hate it dont get me wrong i like the grind and the hard work to get some thing u want but that only apply's to skills gear and weapons ect i never cared whether i could reach max lvl or not but i was forced to do quests till my eyes pop out just so i can do a certain dungeon and by that time i rather die then play the game for another second so in stead of limiting time just limit lvls or take them away completely example Guild Wars 20 lvls thats it any one could get there in a day there was still a lot of shit to do in game for the people with allot of time and the people with a lil time to play to it was the perfect balance. 2 on the other hand "Cough"

Trenix 9 years ago
First off, MMORPGs are crap and is an old idea, as are monthly subscriptions. Very few games survive with a monthly subscription for various of reasons. Also what you're asking for is very selfish, you think that because you have a "real life" that means people who put more effort into a game than you, should be penalized. Unfortunately that doesn't even work in the real world, so I wouldn't want that in a virtual world. Games that exercise this concept are crap, as are social games that from what I can see, are dying as well.

Social games were developed because they were very basic and capable of withstanding the limitations of being an app, but nowadays we have real games making their way into our phones and who plays games on facebook anymore? You do realize the reason we have pay to win games is because of people like you, so if you feel like you're entitled to earn what you don't deserve, then go pay for it like you should be forced to. We don't need limitations, in fact we need the opposite, more sandbox games and it's exactly what developers are now giving us. I still stand by the buy to play payment model, it's the best thing you can have. Take a look at Minecraft, a buy to play game that continuously gets updates and has no limitations. That's why it's successful, Notch wasn't even a real pixel artist or a programmer, that's why he stepped down from being the lead developer and eventually sold his game to Microsoft. MOBAs are also now dominating because they lack limitations!

MMORPGs are meant to be a grind, they have extensive limits, and that's why it's a denying genre...

Padsoldier 9 years ago
The idea you started out with is the concept of Facebook 'games' (things like Farmville, mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, Travian, etc), except instead of opting for "1 hour a day" or even "7 hours a week", they're trying to tread the "half hour every half day" or even "10 minutes every 4 hours" way. The idea behind this is that whenever you have free time you should think of the game and play it for a short time - this way you're more likely to spend money on it *.
The mentioned diminishing return mechanics are a good way to have such systems without them being forced, players don't have to know normal leveling speed is achieved while rested, the amount of exp and credits/silver lions required for a high tier tank/aircraft in WoT/WT could originally be determined with a premium account and then have modified **.

"play for a reasonable amount of time and get everything" - As you said, it's impossible to determine what's reasonable, people have different standards, but no game can target everyone, they have to have a target audience - this is what decides how long the grind phases last, how easy getting into the game is and so on. If they still wanted to make a difference based on how much people play, they could use alternatives to playtime like their skill levels (which is affected by the amount of time played, though again, its effect differs by person), but that would directly exclude some people from reaching their goals (or just make them take a lot longer to reach than it otherwise would take), which would make those pay less money, so they have to go for the grinding in order to have everyone on equal terms - and let's face it, if someone is not ready to grind they probably wouldn't spend money in the first place.
Some games (Heroes of Newerth, DotA2) require extremely little grind to unlock everything that affects how the game plays - this way they gave up on keeping people with promises of "endgame", they're forced to create good gameplay in order for people to keep playing the game.

While the grinding is part of the actual game - and usually has most of the gameplay in it already - the difference between a leveling dungeon and a levelcap raid in WoW is in the number of players, the abilities the players and the enemies have; the combat system is already in place from level 1 on, players get their core abilities around level 10-30, there aren't many changes - it's probably the least interesting part because how repetitive is, be it leveling (low quest variety) or farming raids to get specific pieces of loot (speaking of the ones already defeated, progress raiding is as far from grinding as PvE ever gets). Probably if a game had an interesting and varied enough grind it'd still be worth playing - the class story missions in SW:TOR are a perfect example, too bad that they don't cover all the exp needed for leveling and you still have to complete the "kill 10 dudes" quests in order to progress.

*When you're thinking how you could spend your money, the game will cross your mind more likely, or you'll pay so you can pay more freely (without the time restriction) - they're trying to get people addicted.
**Explanation: X thing requires 1000 experience in the base system, a match awards 100 (10 games to get it) - after these numbers are established and they determine that premium account awards 200% exp (so one match is 200), they simply change the base numbers so X needs 2000 experience, the normal time required is based around having such boosts available, without it you need double the time (or 50% more time if the boost is only 50%, etc) to get it. (Numbers are purely fictional and made up by me.)

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RyuKaiser 9 years ago
They already have this. See Elsword, and other Korean games. It's called a Stamina System. Seriously, I see ads and news stories on here all the time about games with these systems on this sites, and you just described them down to the letter...

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