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Macro and Micro Play Sessions

September 18, 2012

Dear Reader,

I’ve always been a bit finicky about my play sessions.  Chalk it up to one of my many, many idiosyncrasies: I don’t like leaving things partly done, so I don’t want to play a game if I can’t make a fair-sized chunk of progress.  I’ve also never been a big fan of “coffee break” style games (though Strange Adventures in Infinite Space was an exception); I vastly prefer to have a nice chunk of time dedicated to any particular play session.  I like having time to remember the game, reflect on what’s come before and where I’m going, manage my inventory, check quests, and go forth.  Add that to the growing load time in many games, and frequently I’ve wanted a few hours to really sit down and dig in to a “macro” play session.

As dailies became more popular in WoW, I found that I could engage in “micro” play sessions by planning ahead and logging out near the dailies.  Then I could log in, grab the quests – which I didn’t need to think about or plan – and do the quests in a short play session. After months – and expansions – of doing that, though, I lost my taste for those “dailies” sessions.  Since I was still expected to do them, though, for various reasons (money or gear for raiding), I took to adding them back into my “macro” play sessions so I didn’t feel like I was logging in just to do chores.

The “macro” play sessions worked well for me, but it meant that when I had a half hour, I frequently didn’t feel like I had anything to do.  In those times I frequently read, watched a little trash TV, or responded to comments on my blog (at least in the last 18 months or so).  Recently, though, I’ve found that I’ve returned to some “micro” sessions thanks to Guild Wars 2.  It seems that different games present players with different “macro” and “micro” play opportunities depending on the activities within the games.  Honestly, any game can be broken into small constituent parts and played on a micro level or sat down and ground into for hours on hours for macro sessions, but I feel that different games cater more to one or the other, with a rare few offering up both.

WoW, for instance, certainly offers opportunities for both; you can dig in and level, raid, or run BGs for hours on end or you can hop on and do some dailies.  Still, I’d argue that WoW promotes macro play more because its micro play formula is very repetitive.  They’ve tried to streamline quests more in recent expansions, trying to make micro play more feasible, by making quests only in centralized hubs with the questing area right outside (as opposed to, say, the old Scholomance Key quest or the Linkin questline), but even that, when you have 5 quests to complete from a single hub, feels to daunting for a micro play session.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my macro play sessions in The Secret World.  Since it takes forever to get loaded in, I like to make sure to really eat up as much delicious content as I can during my play sessions.  I can’t imagine going through the hassle of logging and loading to only do one quest; I think you’d end up spending as much time dealing with the game as you would playing it, but the progressive story lines, the variety of quest types, and the opportunity to vastly and frequently change your character abilities makes macro play sessions very enjoyable.  You might do an investigation that takes an hour, a dungeon for a few hours, some red quests, then a sabotage mission.  Each of those presents an opportunity to change spec, too, so your play is varied across multiple dimensions.

Guild Wars 2, though, I think has moved towards mastering the micro play session.  Since anywhere you’ve been is only seconds from wherever you are and since you don’t have to run around picking up quests to get things done, I feel comfortable hopping into GW2 for 15 minutes and running to the nearest heart to start and finish it.  Seeing the progress bar fill, then cap over, then visiting the vendor afterwards feels like a nice chunk of progress even if it’s really just the equivalent of 1 quest in WoW.  The mechanical design of it, though, improves vastly on the laundry list quest log, allowing me to feel like I’ve done something with my time even when my time’s short.  Toss gathering in to that mix, too, and you’ve got yourself a nice micro play session.

I think MMOs as a whole have been moving more towards the macro spectrum for quite a long time.  Even as more and more conveniences appear to make play more streamlined – things like shorter hearthstones, mobile banking, instant quests popping up in your log, and so forth – I feel the emphasis has been to play for a nice, long time.  I don’t know what the end game will teach me about TSW and GW2, but it’s always been about macro play sessions, and I wonder what a “micro” end game would look like.  Perhaps something very transient like holiday boss groups; I don’t know, but I’m curious to see.

What do you think, dear reader?  Do you prefer micro or macro play sessions, or does this all sound like a lot of nonsense because you’re comfortable playing wherever for however long?


Stubborn (and idiosyncratic)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2012 1:24 pm

    does this all sound like a lot of nonsense because you’re comfortable playing wherever for however long?

    Definitely not! I’ve actually found myself thinking about this subject as well in the past. 🙂

    SWTOR is a very macro game, generally speaking, due to loading times, travel times, and the need to sit back and listen if you really want to enjoy the stories. If you logged in and out at the right spots you could conceivably play for only fifteen minutes and maybe do a single quest, but I don’t think that this would feel very satisfying. IMO the only true “micro” activity in the game is the crew skills system, because you can log on and send all your companions off on missions within a couple of minutes.

    I think that modern day WoW is extremely micro though. It’s one of the things I found increasingly dissatisfying towards the end, that other than organised large group content (raiding or RBGs), absolutely everything seemed to be delivered in five to fifteen minute chunks of content. If I sat down for a whole evening of play, there wasn’t actually anything special I could do – just chain lots and lots of dailies, dungeons etc.

    • September 18, 2012 4:00 pm

      My wife and I were actually joking about Star Wars when I was talking out this post with her, that it was a micro game session just to get from your ship to a planet with an orbital station. Ultimately, I decided not to put that in, since really it’s just a joking knock on an otherwise okay game; I certainly did what you’ve described, hopping on from time to time throughout a single day to rotate my crew missions and cuss out that lizard man for constantly failing to produce any results. (;

      I think part of my problem in WoW’s similar, too; I couldn’t find a guild I really liked, which prevented me from getting meaningful things done, so I just leveled until I was bored to death of the game.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. September 18, 2012 1:27 pm

    Great post.

    I just never put labels on it like you’ve done here, but I do have two different mindsets when playing a game – “do I just have a few minutes” or “everyone else is asleep, I’ve got several hours”? I find GW2 is a great game for the former as you mentioned, and I often dig into a single-player RPG when I have longer sessions (now that I no longer raid in WoW), or do pvp/dungeon runs.

    • September 18, 2012 4:02 pm

      Yeah, single player RPGs are great for really sinking an evening in to, as are 4x games. I never really thought of it in labels either until the topic struck me this past weekend, and then I really fleshed it all out in my mind using those terms. Perhaps one could create a spectrum of games from extremely micro to extremely macro, but I suspect that personal play style simply figures too much into the mix; I know people who are capable of taking only a few turns in Civ, then stopping. That would make me nuts.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. JD Kenada permalink
    September 18, 2012 10:01 pm

    I agree completely that the macro system was the standard for MMO’s (particularly RPG’s) for quite some time. Video games in general involved sitting down for time blocks and accomplishment.

    Most, including WoW, have shifted from macro to micro over the last few years. Mists of Pandaria seems to cater a bit more to the casual “hop on” player than previous incarnations of the game and Guild Wars 2 speaks for itself.

    The reason I think this is happening, is because of the driving force of video games. The industry has evolved insanely over the past 25 years and with it the player base on average as well. Yes, you do have the generations that followed, but I think the average age of an MMO’er is 5-10 years older than the average gamer. That means tighter schedules, and more responsibilities.

    The players who brought WoW to the forefront are essentially raising families now. The time constraints are there. We’re not quitting our gaming, we’re just continuing to adjust that aspect of our life to fit within our ever evolving schedule.

    • September 19, 2012 1:48 pm

      Yeah, I agree that our age demographic has certainly moved gaming towards more micro play sessions, but I don’t think that’s the only reason – or even the biggest one. I’ve got a few other ideas (which I’ll discuss in tomorrow’s post) about that, but I certainly do agree that our “forefront” generation is settling down into lives with more responsibilities and less free time.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Beshara permalink
    September 19, 2012 9:09 am

    I think WoW is moving toward adding more micro activities in Mists, with the Scenarios, pet battles, and changing dailies. I’m looking forward to it, since as a new parent my schedule rarely allows me to play in large chunks of time like it used to.

    I think the traditional MMO idea is very macro oriented, but I think some are evolving and adding more micro content.

    • September 19, 2012 1:50 pm

      I think the concept of “theme part design” certainly means we’ll have a nice variety of opportunities for different kinds of play sessions, but I also worry that the emphasis on micro play means that macro play opportunities are being left behind. I don’t know that it’s true with WoW or any other particular game, but it seems logical; there’s only so much dev time available, and if it’s being focused on micro, then less macro’s getting done.

      Thanks for the comment!

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