Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How many hours to competence?

I can already see the snarky remarks from some elitists saying that most players never reach competence level, but I'd be interested in hearing your estimates of how many hours a new player has to spend before being basically competent with his class. The reason I'm asking is that in yesterday's discussion about people buying their way to the top the old myth popped up again, of the player who spent a fortune on buying a character and then didn't know how to use him. I do think this is a caricature, and conveniently forgets to mention some important facts.

If I look at any given character at the very top of any given MMORPG, and consider how he did spend his time in game, I would say there are three distinctive types of time spent: 1) Time actually learning to play your character. 2) Time spent learning a specific environment, like a raid boss encounter. 3) Time spent not learning anything. And I have a strong suspicion that the third category takes up the majority of our time.

Face it, playing a MMORPG is not rocket science. You don't need thousands of hours of training before being able to play a character, or being able to control a ship in a virtual world. Even a commercial airline pilot only needs 1,200 flight hours to be allowed to steer an airplane full of people, it is silly to assume that doing anything in a MMORPG could be more complicated than that. MMORPGs sometimes have issues on how to get your training, like for example the fact that you can't train healing and tanking roles if you aren't in a group. But in general I would say that you can learn to do anything to reasonable competence level in a MMORPG given a few hundred hours of training, and the motivation to do so. Some people are missing that motivation, and aren't even trying, but that isn't a problem of the activity itself being too complex to understand.

As learning is presumably fun, MMORPGs can get around the problem of people getting bored after having fully understood their class by creating specific situations, like raid boss encounters, which require players to learn specific moves to beat that encounter. Thus "raiding is hard", not necessarily because a player can't play his class, but because he has to learn playing his class while hopping on his left leg, jumping between platforms, or out of a fire every two seconds.

But more importantly players are being motivated by rewards, so to get to the next level, or the next shiny piece of gear, they are willing to kill the same monster a hundred times or more, even if that obviously isn't a learning experience at all any more, a.k.a. the grind. Games that don't have quests or xp forcing you to kill all those monsters have other repetitive grind elements for rewards. Because we want our MMORPGs to keep us busy for thousands of hours, but no game is *that* complicated that all of these hours could be spent learning.

So, for whatever game you are currently playing, and not counting time spent grinding while "leveling up", how many hours did it take you to become competent in playing whatever you are?

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