Thursday, 22 November 2007

Capture the 26 minutes I'm in

Valve recently published some play statistics from Half Life 2: Episode Two (Episode One also available). The thing that really jumped out at me was the average session time: 26 minutes (at the time of typing) for Episode Two, 34 minutes for Episode One.

I'm not sure exactly what constitutes a "session" (their definition: "The average length of time that a player played before quitting. This is calculated by dividing the total number of sessions played by the total recorded play time."), whether you need to actually be playing the game, or whether just getting to the initial menu counts. If the latter, then I can see the average being brought down a bit by people who accidentally click on the wrong entry in their Steam "My Games" list (what kind of buffoon would do that, though, ha ha ha yes, all right, I did it myself just last night), and people who are violently repulsed by pictures of people with stopcocks embedded somewhere in their heads who quit the game as soon as they can after the splash screens come up. Then there's the ones who load it up, and are appalled to find it's some kind of disgusting, violent shooting game rather than a simulation of carbon-14 decay as they assumed from the title, they probably bring the average down a bit (presuming they quit after a couple of minutes, rather than waiting 5730 years just to be really sure). On the flip side, unless the stats exclude time when the game is paused, those aberrations are more than offset by people who stick the game on pause and wander off to answer the phone, or cook dinner, or sleep, or mix enough custard powder into the English Channel for it to become a non-Newtonian liquid, become the first person to walk from Dover to Calais and back again (without using some tunnel thing) since the pre-Cambrian era, get home, have a nice shower then resume playing.

Anyway. 26, or 34 minutes. Split the difference, half an hour; what could you do in your MMOG of choice in half an hour? Farm a few mobs, check a few auctions, run a quest or mission or two, fly from one place to another on autopilot while reading the paper? That's got to be one of the major challenges for anyone wanting to make MMOGs more mainstream, serving up content in half-hour chunks. More to the point, being MMOGs, half-hour *multiplayer* chunks, including the time for people to find each other, decide on what they want to do, travel to an appropriate location in-game... The latter aren't (entirely) in-game issues, of course, but perhaps an opportunity for the "ecosystem" NCSoft are talking about, which touches on social networking, and asynchronous play, and all sorts of other goodness dealt with in one of Raph Koster's recent posts...

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