How long is a piece of string? How long is an MMO?

Bioware recently noted in an interview that SWTOR would launch with approximately 200 hours of content (core gameplay) per class of gameplay.

Keen, perhaps surprisingly, responded immediately with, “That’s not enough” on the basis that he reckoned he’d spent 144 hours levelling his new WoW shaman and kitting it out, and he’d rushed it (ie. could have spent a lot more time on levelling.)

It wouldn’t take a genius to reckon that via that comparison, it’s pretty much impossible for any new MMO to satisfy players like Keen. (Unless they have really compelling non-core gameplay content, whatever that means. I presume he’d be happy with a good instanced PvP type game for example.)

Whereas I read 200 hours and immediately compared that with Dragon Age: Origins, the lengthiest game that I’ve actually played to completion within the last few years. It took me 45 hours to finish my first run through of DAO and I could have taken longer. I didn’t finish all the side quests and I played on easy mode because I wanted to follow the story. And at the end of that 45 hour stint, I took take a break from gaming for a couple of weeks because it had been quite intense (ie. I’d probably have been more comfortable stretching the playing time over more days). So SWTOR is potentially offering me four times DAO’s content for each class … and I’m duly awed.

What is the right comparison for a new MMO?

An existing one? An existing single player game from the same developers? I don’t know. I just know that 200 hours of Bioware-type RPG could easily be 4-5 months of my time (and I’m not THAT casual of a player) especially when padded out with crafting, PvP, instancing, and chatting. Not to mention alts. Or time spent in other games too.

The WoW comparison

Here’s another WoW comparison. The new Hyjal/ firelands dailies comprise a complex questing grind, including opening up new phases and storylines at various points in the endeavour. Someone on the official boards calculated, assuming you do every available daily quest on every day, that this would take about a month.

ie. 32 days of doing every available Hyjal/ Firelands daily quest.

So how long would that actually take in hours? Hard to say: if you assume on average an hour a day for the first half and two hours a day for the second (rough approximation assuming that it takes longer to get through the later daily quests since there will be more of them), that’s around 48 hours. Then you can add a couple of hours extra for slightly lengthier quest chains as you unlock each new vendor for a round 50 hours or so.

Would you rather spend 50 hours in an MMO doing a complex daily rep grind, or playing the equivalent of DAO?

That isn’t as loaded a question as it sounds, the firelands dailies seem very well done to me. But they are still daily quests. And it takes Blizzard around 6 months or so to come out with each new patch, containing that much gameplay. And however fun DAO was to me, it’s still a single player game.

9 thoughts on “How long is a piece of string? How long is an MMO?

  1. I think it’s been an issue all along that certain players would burn through the story then spend their time demoralising other players.

    200 hours at 20 hours per week (which is about average) is 10 weeks. If we finish in 10 weeks I think we will feel like the game is still new but we’ve run out of things to do.

    One solution is generally interesting alternative characters. And of course that depends how interesting the quests are. If we are skipping the dialogues to kill ten of whatever I don’t see how the Bounty Hunter kill ten whatever is going to feel different from the Jedi Counsellor kill ten whatever. That may mean that to get the best out of the game we have to impose a self-discipline, make ourselves pay attention to the writing without giving in to the urge of the treadmill.

    Unfortunately I think a lot of people will finish and will hang around being bored and whining – it may be a hard game to enjoy even if on its own merits it’s perfectly sufficient.

    I think giving it levels was a mistake. We’re going to split apart after the first character so I’m level 10, my friend who is slow is level 40 still on his first character and my other friend has raced to level 30 on character 2. We can’t play together. Now I could play with random level 10 strangers but most of them will be newbies and I don’t want to teach people how to open their bags or use their minimap.

    So here’s my plan: play it as a single player game with a communal auction house and a chat lobby. Any multiplayerness that emerges will be a pleasant surprise rather than what I buy the game for.

  2. I’ve been purposefully ignoring most of the information about SWTOR as I do want to play it, so this confuses me a little. Perhaps I’m way off base, but I’m assuming it will have

    * small group PvE content (instances/dungeons)
    * large group/endgame PvE content (raids)
    * PvP content of some kind
    * Quests/storyline

    Are the 200 hours for all of that, or just the questing/storyline part?

    • I think it’s a semi-open secret that there’s The Game, a worthy story based multipronged choose your own adventure in the Bioware tradition and there’s the other stuff which they ripped off WoW. Lightsabre Warsong Gulch etc.

      • The key question is – how good is the other stuff they’ve ripped off from WoW, if that’s what we’ve got to keep our interest between updates (best case) or expansions (worst case)?

        I think this is a case of Bioware not realising just how different MMOs are from single player games. 200 hours is huge by single player standards – but plenty of MMO players rack up that much time in two months, yet expect to still be playing the same game two or more years later. THAT’S why these games eke out the lovingly handcrafted story content with kill ten rats and do this daily quest fifty times for your sexy-looking dragon mount – because players expect to have so much time occupied.

        The nightmare scenario for Bioware is a steep drop-off of subscriptions after two or three months as players run out of story and feel cheated by what’s left. Given how much this game has cost to make, I doubt box sales plus a couple of months per player will cover their costs, let alone make the healthy ROI the suits at EA expect… and EA is even less forgiving than the Emperor.

  3. Several things:

    I don’t like the ambiguity of the whole “200 hours” statement. What does it mean, exactly? It will take roughly 200 hours to reach level 50 (in which case it’s far too short)? Is it 200 hours of JUST class-unique content per class (which is an awful lot)? Or is it being able to, effectively, complete the game (instances and all) in 200 hours on one character (which would be far, far too short)?

    And I wouldn’t compare it to the Dragon Age. I’d compare their quality (and, frankly, I thought DA:O beyond the tutorial was a bloody awful game, so TRO doesn’t have to do much to impress) not the length, since most of the MMO crowd is going to compare it to WoW in terms of longevity as well.

    I’d rather spend the time on the dailies, but only because I just don’t like DA:O. I don’t like dailies either, but I find the Hyjal slant interesting and I’m willing to work through them on the assumption that the outcome is good.

  4. Putting a time on an MMO is…Difficult, to say the least.

    If I add up all the time I spent on every WoW character until now…wow. Let’s say I’ve refused to do it on the grounds of I’d be afraid I’d want to hide. 😉 Suffice it to say, it’s alot.

    But even back in Vanilla wow? My first mage alone ended up with days and days on him loooong before I completed all the content(which I never did do in Vanilla. I raided casually-yes, I was in a guild who didn’t mind a few casual folks as long as they didn’t stand in the fire/blow up the raid.) But assuming yeah-20 hours a week, I played him much, much MUCH Longer than 10 weeks.

    Yeah, I’m not sure if I can really get why they’d say this on an MMO. It’s…too tough to really determine. There are so many factors involved…yeah, not sure I get it.

  5. ” 200 hours of content (core gameplay) per class of gameplay.”

    I read this to mean you’ll have 200 hours of gameplay specifically designed for your class. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s 200 hours straight of just you and your class.. but rather side quests and what not specific to your class interests as opposed to some common content. There could be another 400 hours of shared content.

    Another way to say it would be: If you’re a Jedi you’re going to do Jedi stuff all throughout the game. You’ll have quests, missions and content specific to that. If you’re a smuggler, you’ll have some content specific to that as well.

    As opposed to Rift where you start off doing the exact same content based on the faction you’re from (i.e. they have 2 branches). Bioware is suggesting there are 8 (?) branches or storylines woven in with the content.

    There is potential to do this really well or I could be letting my optimism get ahead of me.

    I do agree, it is somewhat ambiguous which can leave people to interpret it to be better than it is.

  6. The hand-wringing is a bit premature. On my main toon in WoW, I have around 250 days /played. As in, 6000 hours. Does WoW have 6000 hours of content? Of course not. I did not read the interview, but what I imagine that they meant is “200 hours until endgame.” If SWTOR has some analog to raiding or PvP or daily quests, then 200 hours is plenty enough content for even MMO veterans.

  7. I still think length for an MMO’s story is a bit odd. I’d expect it for an offline RPG, but the draw of MMOs for me has never been the devs’ storyline. I’m interested in the world and what I can do in it to tell my *own* story.

    If I want a big epic story driven by cutscenes and “decisions”, I’ll play an offline game. Specifically, if SWTOR was an offline sequel to KOTOR, I’d buy it pretty happily. As a sub MMO, it holds very little appeal.

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