While I cannot currently remember where I first heard it from, sometime last year I heard the line “our game respects your time” as one of the selling points of the game. Essentially, it was designed in a way to allow players to play the game for exactly as long as they wanted to. Whether that is an extended multi-hour play session or a brief half-hour distraction is up to the player. Most games nowadays allow the player to save and quit or at least pause the game and leave it suspended whenever they want so they can continue playing later. This quality of life feature could lead one to believe that games clearly respect people’s time and that there is no issue here. My main problem with that line of thinking is that when a player is having fun playing a game, they are not going to want to stop playing until they really have to.
People who have played a Civilization game have probably heard of the phrase “just one more turn”. It is a good example of how fun keeps a player playing irrespective of how much time has passed. Turns in Civilization are relatively short, they can get long if you’re involved in a war, bits of playtime that the player can partake in and stop on any turn whenever they are ready. Perhaps because the turns are short, players think that just one more won’t add too much more time spent to their current play session. It is when this idea is repeated that players suddenly have the urge to look at the clock and find that hours have passed.
Another thing that makes it difficult to put a game down is the idea of being at a good stopping point. Over the past few years I’ve played a handful of rogue-like games. These types of games have their core gameplay loops set up to be relatively short, perhaps a half-hour to an hour, and repeatable. I like to think of these loops as “runs”. To me, and likely to many others, the natural stopping point in a rogue-like game is after one has completed a run. Many of these games allow the player to save and quit in the middle of a run, but I find myself not taking advantage of that feature. I find that the experience of coming back to the game after a few days of not playing and finding myself in the middle of a run to be a bit unpleasant. There is a period of confusion as I have to remember what was happening during this run and re-acclimate myself to whatever play-style I was engaging in at the time. While this is generally not that big of an issue, it is enough to make me get into the habit of finishing runs when I start them.
Something that is tangentially related to the above point is that there are certain games I have that I know I will get very invested in and play for significant amounts of time. Knowing this actually causes me to be hesitant to start or avoid starting to play these games in my free time because I know they will take up so much time. This behavior leads to me not playing certain games I really enjoy and want to play more of because I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have time for them right now and it disappoints me to think that I don’t know when I will finally get back to them.
Some games do put in extra effort to try and respect the player’s time. I’ve played a game called Book of Demons that has a built in system called “Flexiscope” that allows the player to choose the length of a stretch of content they will play before they delve into the dungeon and play it. Choosing small might be 18 minutes while big could be 41 minutes for example. These are time estimates that will become more accurate the more the player plays, because the game has more data with which to analyze the player’s play-style. I originally thought this system was mainly meant for respecting the player’s time, but on further research it was actually designed to allow players to tell the game how long they want to play and the game, in response, generates an experience that still flows well in that given length. The flow increasing with moments of tension where there are many enemies to fight at once and decreasing when there are moments of reprieve with few or no enemies to fight. This makes sense as I could often find myself choosing to play another small experience just after finishing one, so it still has the just one more aspect to it.
I suppose what it really comes down to is the self-control of the player. Games give them the power to stop whenever they want, so the ball is in their court. When a player finds they are having fun playing, they are less likely to want to stop and since games are designed to be fun, I lean towards thinking that they can’t respect your time and I think that is okay. From a business perspective, games want as much of your time as they can get. In today’s day and age businesses are competing with each other over people’s time and attention. I think the lesson here is that it’s up to the individual to respect their own time.