Is it a good idea to delay burnout?

In the same vein as ‘slow food’ , ‘slow travel’ etc there is a philosophy of  ‘slow gaming’.

This is all about getting out of the rat race, playing at your own pace, and taking time to smell the flowers and enjoy the scenery. And adherents to the slow gaming view of life often claim that playing in this way delays the dreaded burnout.

I’m a  big believer that one of the strengths of MMOs is that there are lots of different ways for people to enjoy the same game, and the key to having fun is to either cut a solo swathe or find other people who want to play the game in the same way that you do.

So in theory I’m all in favour of ‘slow gaming’ if that’s what people want to do. In practice, I’ve seen people in game get up on their high horse about how pointless the endgame grind can be and how much better they are for delaying it for as long as possible.

This I find stranger. Yes the endgame grind in any game can be pointless and dull (the clue is in the word ‘grind’). If you find it pointless and dull you can go find something more fun to do. There are other games. There are other hobbies. Although some people do get addicted to MMOs, it’s not actually compulsary.

I do think people find it a wrench to stop playing an MMO when they’re no longer having fun. There are social ties, it’s become a part of your life. In a sense you’re walking away from a social circle and hobby all in one. This is really not a dilemma that anyone faces with single player games. But if you are avoiding the endgame then you’re less likely to be in a tight social circle in the first place since that is where all the scheduling and team play is focussed.

So it’s one thing to take your time, play casually, and enjoy the levelling game at your own pace. It’s quite another to pathologically avoid the endgame by finding increasingly eccentric timesinks and goals for yourself that don’t involve xp. I don’t mean that Big Brother needs you to level up and take your place at the millstone of endgame, comrade. Just that going out of your way to avoid it because ‘omg endgame!!11!!!’ isn’t necessarily better.

Or is it?

This is the game that never ends

If you’re enjoying the game and the virtual world, maybe you just don’t want it to ever end. The real world keeps going until you die, after all (presumably it keeps going afterwards also but that’s more of a philosophical question).

Most MMOs are heavily focussed these days. You start at low level, you explore and quest and meet people and do things and eventually get to high level. Then you do whatever people do at high level.

But if what you really wanted was a sandbox virtual world, this makes no sense. And particularly for games with a strong raiding theme, the chances of having to march to someone else’s schedule at endgame if you want to do all those raiding things are very high. Slow gaming is a rebellion against this, but in a game that’s not really set up to support it.

It’s also a lonely route. The majority of players will tend to go with the flow of the game. They won’t all race to max level, but they also won’t want to go out of their way to avoid levelling. They will not understand the slow gamer, who seems to be playing a different game for no good reason.

So I end up asking myself, is slow gaming just better suited to single player games? The answer may be yes –but it’s not a good answer if what players want is the social contact of an MMO.

Delaying Burnout

So I’m coming around to my actual main point here. Is there any point deliberately delaying burnout? Maybe it’s better to just play at whatever pace best suits you and if you feel bored or burned out … just stop. Go do something else. Take a break or move on.

So if that means you speed through content, run your own guild, spend 6 months being hyperactive and then burn out, then do it. Just when you do burn out, don’t torture yourself. It’s a game, not a job.

But burnout is miserable and frustrating, and we like to avoid those kinds of experiences. And although it may be inevitable in games, MMOs offer the illusion of ‘the game that never ends’ so if you can just avoid burning out, maybe you really could keep playing the same game until the day it closes up shop.

I think the lure of the virtual world that never ends is very strong. And it’s based on the notion that everything we do in game is persistent (even though in practice this may just mean until the next patch, if not sooner) that we invest so much effort into progressing our characters.

So I do wonder if slow playing, and any other methods we use to avoid burnout and find ways to make a game more fun for ourselves and others when deep down we know that we are already bored, are ways to try to make the game we WANT out of the game we HAVE.

There’s such a demand for a good sandbox game. I wonder if we will ever see one again.

18 thoughts on “Is it a good idea to delay burnout?

  1. VEry nice post, quite on the similar veins as my recent musings over the subject of speed levelling, power playing and all.

    I agree that there is a demand for a good sandbox, but what should it contain? What should be the rules to abide, to prevent unnecessary ganking and griefing and to cater a solid and enthusiastic subscriber base?

    You see, I cannot imagine an open sandbox game being mainstream or ‘WoW killer’, I see it more as a niche.

    I suppose I’ll write more about this on my own.


  2. I find that I have the most trouble delaying burnout because I’m often trying to keep up with the levelling wave of friends and guild mates in order to be able to enjoy an MMO’s group content.

    It’s as though the Solo Gamer in me wants to take a chill pill and go exploring and aimlessly adventuring without any real goals, while the Social Gamer wants to burn through levels so that I’m ‘up there’ with everyone else and thus able to enjoy all the sights and sounds the game has to offer that are beyond the reach of the individual.

    I think it’s primarily due to the sad fact that, these days, levelling in MMOs is generally viewed as a blockage on the road to end-game content, rather than being a journey on that same road.

  3. As far as I can tell, the concept of “end-game content” pretty much kills the concept of “sandbox” — the former assumes the only thing players want to do it reach said content asap, while that latter assumes players will work out what they want to do for themselves. Actually, they might even be diametrically opposed in some ways — one is highly directed (usually by quests), the other isn’t, etc.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s true that only one of them appeals to any given person. Personally, I find the whole “game begins at max level and then you can raid, raid, raid! wheee!” idea a little ludicrous, but I don’t like raiding. I know lots of people who can’t begin to believe that sandbox games don’t have overt and immediate goals for people to realise (do this quest, get this level, earn this gear, etc).

    As for burnout, I suspect it’ll happen on a given player’s internal burnout schedule and not on a game’s schedule. Forcing oneself to play a different way is only going to hasten the process.

  4. If you play in your own pace, you don’t burn out and enjoy it. But, just as you said, you are excluded from the social interactions.

    It’s good to be antisocial! 🙂

  5. Sandbox games do have endgame content, unless they have no progression at all (I’ve yet to see such a game). As your character progresses, be it via skills, gear, or even player skills, that character needs tougher opponents to present a challenge. So somewhere in the world there are the toughest challenges, and those, by default, are the endgame encounters.

    I’ll grant you it isn’t quite the same as a leveling game where all the rules change once you hit cap, but any game with progression has an ‘end’ in the sense that “OK, now I’ve mastered the toughest challenge in the game, what do I do now?” boredom.

    Anyway, I’m someone who plays these games slowly and has no interest in hitting cap. But it isn’t a deliberate decision. It’s partially who I am (distracted easily..I bounce around between different games a lot) and partially my lifestyle (not a lot of time) and this style of play is eased by my personality (not very social).

    But if you mean someone deliberately slowing down… like saying to themselves “I can only play 1 hour tonight…don’t want to advance too much” then I’m with you: that seems kind of pointless.

    Everything ends: games, friendships, people, the planet. 🙂 Change is the only constant, and all that. Trying to keep things from changing is an exercise in futility. As always: Play the game the way you enjoy playing it.

  6. I think you can go at your own pace, mainly because the guild exists around you. So regardless of what pace I am leveling at, there are still people around. There may be content I miss, but I will get to it, eventually.

    I am a strong proponent of slower leveling at the start of any new MMO, since the “End Game” is never ready for the cap level pioneers.

    With warhammer I am just putting a character into each of the 4 tiers, so I can respond to what ever the guild decides to do. Then I will level characters between tiers.

  7. When I get a chance to play, I play hard. I dont get to play a bunch everyday which helps. My playtime is centered on the weekend. There is ALWAYS something for me to do.

  8. To quote from a wise man who I played with back in the days of Everquest: “The problem with a massive multiplayer game… is that you have to play it with other people.”

    It’s just like the real world in that way. If you have trouble setting boundaries and managing your time, you’ll burn out the same way people burn out on their careers or social lives.

  9. I don’t see this burnout you’re talking about. I just think you’re doing it wrong. Just like every other person in WAR that complains about the “end-game content”. This is an ONGOING WAR. It’s not going to end, it hasn’t stopped in the past 30 years, why would it for an MMO?

    Here’s how it breaks down for me. RvR, RvR, PvP ganking, RvR, Scenario, RvR, Instance, rinse-wash-repeat. There’s things about the game that can drag you down (like some issues I had with a T2 warband last night), but the fun is what you make of it. If you try and run instances all they time, you’ll be spending a long while bitching about the /lockout timer on a dungeon that takes less than an hour to roll.

    I’m not a slow-gamer by any means, I’ve been playing since launch, and I’m working on my third T4 character now. Think about each character you get to T4 as another miniature delicately hand-painted and battle tested on the open field. Build an army of them to call upon, your own personal arsenal of doom.

    • It’s funny you say that because I wasn’t thinking about WAR in particular. (I know lots of people have burned out on it or got bored, but lots of people are getting bored/burned out on other things all the time!) I did enjoy the RvR – for me it was just that something else came along that ate up my gaming time.

      Having said that, if you’ve found a game you love and that you want to play a lot and that you aren’t burned out on, good on you!

  10. The trouble with playing at your own pace in a sub model is that you’re paying the same flat fee as someone who burns through the game by playing 10 hours a day. The value calculations are as divergent as the player schedules.

    I’m all for playing at your own pace, but it’s galling to pay $15/month for puttering around on a very casual schedule. It’s just not worth it, even if I enjoy the actual game play.

    • I don’t think I agree here. You pay your money for access to the game world. If you then choose to spend your 10 hours a day wandering around looking at flowers, well that was your choice.

      • Well, sure, if everyone is playing ten hours a day. My point is that not everyone plays the same amount of hours per sub unit. If everyone were paying just for the hours they played, and then they chose to spend those hours differently, that would be fine.

  11. Put another way, everyone plays the game of “life” differently, but we’re all guaranteed 24 hours a day for our “payment” of being alive. If I were guaranteed 80 hours for $15 in WoW, for example, how I spent that time, slow rolling it or not, is entirely up to me, and I have no place to complain how someone else spends their time. The trouble with monetizing per month (and to a degree, for time *at all*) is that real life interferes. It’s no longer a “level playing field” with paid access, it’s an imbalanced field heavily weighted to those with more time to spend per sub unit.

    That’s why I like the GW model of paying for content; you can spend one month doing nothing but power leveling, and another playing on hour a week puttering around with a friend, and the total cost doesn’t change; you’ve already paid for the content, how you play through it is entirely up to you.

    • I think we’re talking about something slightly different here. You can certainly argue that a flat fee gives better value to those who play longer hours. Which in terms of hours of play, it does.

      But would that still be true if player A was in a raid guild that raided 3 nights a week, and player B was still level 4 and spent the same amount of time in game, but was mostly roleplaying in the local tavern? Because I think the latter is what I’m talking about here.

      I am definitely intrigued to see what a more mobile-phone type of range of subscriptions would bring to the genre (ie. pick the sub which suits your play and don’t pay for features you don’t need), but I think there are big downsides to charging for a MMO by the hour. If only because it actively discourages a lot of social play due to it being ‘a waste of time’.

      One of the big appeals of the Guild Wars charging system is not just that it’s a one off charge, but that it’s also cheap. Compare with LOTROs lifetime subscription which is pretty much the same model.

      • Well, as for a flat fee giving more value (one time fee, that is), it’s not just a sheer numbers thing. With the GW/lifetime (ouch $$$) model, players can just do their own thing without worrying about the clock ticking. That peace of mind has to count for something, whether someone is RPing in the inn or raiding like a madman. Also, at that point, it really doesn’t matter how they are playing, since progression is completely in the hands of the player, rather than trying to consume all the dev-created content before the sub runs out. That’s what I’m getting at.

        I’m totally sympathetic to the notion of slowing things down; I’m a heavy Explorer, myself, and I love just meandering in the world. Even so, I can’t help but feel a bit rushed when I know I’m paying for the time I play, and the game *by design* needs me to level grind or quest in order to see new content.

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