“200 Hours of Amalur” or “Amalurning to Not Trust These Numbers”
There are a few things I want to talk about today. But in order to do that, I need to establish some context. Damn context. Gets me every time!
First and foremost, 38 Studios’ lead designer, Ian Frazier conducted an internal test. He had testers play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and complete the game in a “speed run”. Since speed run sounds (intentionally) ambiguous, this is how it is defined:
“That means easy difficulty, skip all cut scenes and dialogue, sprint everywhere that’s sprintable, fast travel everywhere you can, don’t do any combat you don’t need to do… that all took around 200 hours, and that was a speed run.”
That is actually an astronomical number. In a day and age where single-player versions in video games take 3-4 hours to complete (hello modern Warfare 3!), a 200 hour video-game is an unprecedented, shocking and welcome event. Of course it is also said that the main storyline should take only 30-40 hours (which is between 15-20% of the 200 hours) to complete. So the 200 hours of gameplay is largely dependent on how much of an overachieving completionist you really are.
The second piece of contextual information you need is that since August 2011, I have invested about 14 days of playtime into my main character, a Night Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft. 14 days is approaching 350 hours of played time in WoW. This implies I spend around two hours daily playing WoW.
Beyond the Context
MMOs, by design, require you to invest a significant amount of time. The meta-game, at every level, is designed around grinding. If you want the best PvP equipment, you must grind points in PvP. These points are further gated by a weekly cap, so you cannot play for a hundred hours in a week and get the best gear in a week. Professions, PvE content, world events, daily quests, transmogrification, and just about every other in-game mechanic is designed around perpetual grind. The reason for this is simple and possibly forgivable. No developer in the world with a finite team and finite resources can create content fast enough to be consumed by the player base. Months of coding, tweaking and planning can be completed in a 20-minute dungeon run. I don’t like the fact that i have to grind everything in an MMO, but as a lifelong fan of the genre, I understand the rationale.
Lately though, it seems that this design decisions seems to be penetrating single-player games, particularly RPGs.
Take Skyrim for example. Prior to the launch, there was a statement by one of the developers that the quest system in the game would technically spit out an infinite number of quests for the player to take on. One example of such behavior was the Thieves Guild, which could send you on a wide variety of jobs across the land. The jobs were randomly created and you could pick from one of several mission types. A second example were jobs made available through barkeeps and innkeepers in towns and cities. These randomly generated quests could send you to go kill <insert antagonist> at <insert location>. Technically, you could have an infinite number of quests in your log. However, I personally found this to be incredibly lame, as it seems to add unnecessary, artificial padding to an otherwise great game.
I enjoy a complex RPG with a deep, compelling storyline and well thought-out lore. Dragon Age took me over 106 hours to complete, and I veered into every nook, cranny and cramped dungeon corridor I could get into. I was elated to find that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’s “speed run” will take you over 200 hours. But after realizing that only 15% or so of that is the main storyline, I can’t help but wonder how much of this game is fluff activity that yields limited to none player satisfaction.
My point is very simple, MMOs should certainly try not to artificially inflate content, but I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. Single-player games, however, don’t need to pad content with unnecessary grind mechanisms, random quest dispensers, and fluff, unpolished content simply to get more player hour mileage out of the title. 10 times out of 10, I would prefer a tight campaign with side-quests that have meaningful premise, meaningful consequences and meaningful rewards, than “the ability to complete an infinite number of quests”. I am hoping the the later is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when I open the box and install the game tonight. But I guess I will let you know in 200 hours of playtime!