It's been a while since I last updated the blog with anything. The summer has been enjoyably sunny, and at the same time hideously busy. I find that while working hard on the early stages of design my literary muscles are so spent at the end of the day that I cannot reasonably be pushed to produce any additional written content. But since production in our current project has progressed well into creation rather than design, I can again wax poetic about multifarious topics of my own choosing. (If any readers should be interested in what we're doing right now, have a look at this link.)
As I'm coming back to writing from a summer's hiatus, it seems suitable that the topic of today should be TIME. More specifically, time as a resource, time as a demand, and time as in ”there's never enough of it”.
It is fairly obvious that games demand various resources from the players. Like most other hobbies, they require an investment of money, but the importance of this has been diminishing in recent years: if you just want to play something, you can most certainly find a suitable game for free at this day of free-to-play publications and on-line sales (and, to a degree, piratism). Thus, I'd deem the time investment that games require more important in the current ecosystem.
It seems undeniable that gaming is growing up: studies show that the average gamer in the US and the UK is some 30 years old, most likely in a relationship, fairly possibly with children and a steady job (some statistics on that can be found there for example). This means that so called ”adult responsibilities” are encroaching upon the free time available for gaming and entertainment! Gadzooks!
Luckily, games have started increasingly to take this into account in their design, as they should. The concerns of the target audience should be the concerns of the designers, and seeing as many designers themselves most likely fit into the same demographic as their consumers (which in itself seems like an interesting topic to tackle, as it may create a distortion in the creative content of games in general), this should not be a massive issue.
I see especially indie developers reacting to this development. Games such as Faster Than Light, Desktop Dungeons and Rogue Legacy have this time constraint pegged down, as session length is easily estimated. You've got roughly half an hour to kill before the family gets back home, and dinner has to be orchestrated? No problem, let's see if we can save the galaxy this time around. Got a lunchbreak to kill at work? Do a quick dungeon run, it's cool: your gamestate is safe in the cloud, you can get right back into it at home. Feel like a couple of rounds of quick action before bedtime, after a long, discombobulating day at the office? Smash a few shiny monsters, you've deserved it; your skill and condition matters little, you're supposed to die a lot!
Larger publications seem not to understand the time constraints set by life nearly as well. AAA-list publications demand time for grinding to produce wanted results, not to mention sporting movie-length cut scenes to further hinder efficiently utilizing your precious stolen moments for gaming. Even ”smaller” titles from bigger companies tend to be unpredictable about their time demands: in Hearthstone for example it is entirely impossible to estimate the length of a match up, as a single game can take anything from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Perhaps this is something that smaller, more agile companies are simply better at, as opposed to the lumbering industry giants?
I picked the above examples purposely from the pool of titles fitting a very traditional definition of digital games, mostly because I've personally enjoyed the games and they are familiar to me. Mobile gaming obviously brings another angle to the discussion, with its easy availability and all-pervasive nature. Mobile gaming negates the demand for long, intensive sessions through building an environment which supports tiny, intermittent installments of time spent. This development can be seen as a response to the evolution of the game-audience, but I suspect it is more of a side product of the inherent nature of the specific mobile medium than an intentional choice.
In any case, it is important for any designer to ask themselves what exactly are they demanding from their audience? And what payment plans do their games support?