Perfect Ten: How to play MMOs on a limited time budget
One of the most frequent questions I’m ever asked here at Massively OP or on my own blog is, “How do you do it? How do you play all these games while handling a job and family?” Obviously the solution is experimental military-grade medication that’s kept me from sleeping since 2011. Another popular theory is that I’m one of a batch of clones that time-share my life.
The truth is that I don’t have any more time than anyone else and have had to organize my life and game smartly. It’s not like back when I was a bachelor and could play games for three days straight; now I have a wife, four kids, and way too many things that are always vying for my attention.
But I love to play MMOs, and along with writing, I see it as my hobby. So I’ve figured out little ways to make gaming work on a limited time budget, and if you’re in a similar situation and feel torn between wanting to play MMOs and feeling like you don’t have the time to do it, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you.
1. Everyone’s living situation and schedule is different
I guess the first thing we need to set out is that no two people’s living situations are the same. Some of us have more free time than others, some have more flexible work hours, some have more understanding family members. In coming up with a plan to handle MMOs with your life, you can’t carbon-copy what someone else has done because other people have variables in play that are different than yours.
So the first step is to examine your current schedule and living situation and see how you spend your time already, where you’re wasting your moments doing nothing particularly productive or fun, and what you would like to change.
2. Keep your priorities straight
I had a friend who was neck-deep in MMOs with his wife for years until he realized that he had let his interest in gaming get a little too big that it was negatively impacting their relationship, his health, and his quality time with his daughter. He chose to quit gaming and focus on other things, which I respect. Again, everyone’s situation is different and he knew he was more prone to getting sucked in than others.
For me, I have to constantly remind myself to keep my priorities in life absolutely straight. Gaming is almost always dead-last in my hierarchy of activities, topped by work, then household chores, then personal maintenance, then family and faith. Family time is sacred; the only time I game in the evening is when I can do so with a kid sharing the experience, and even then it’s only for a few minutes. If I haven’t gotten a project done that needs doing, it gets done first, even if that means I have to give up gaming that day. And if I’m exhausted, I’ll often choose to forego MMOs for an extra hour or two of sleep.
3. Learn to love 30-minute sessions
It used to be that I bought into the philosophy that MMO gaming meant that you needed to plunk down in a chair for hours at a time to do anything meaningful or get anywhere important. Years of gaming have since taught me that this is a lie. Little gaming sessions add up and get you to the same finish line as others, albeit at a slower pace.
So I’ve gravitated to embracing half-hour play sessions as a standard unit of time in which I can get something done in an MMO. A half-hour is enough to run a dungeon (usually). A half-hour can see a few quests through. A half-hour is some crafting and socializing with friends. I don’t always play for only a half-hour, but I feel like that’s about the minimum needed to start doing something in-game. If I’m trying to juggle multiple MMOs (and I often am), two hours can equal hopping around to four titles for those 30 minutes apiece.
4. Develop and hold to clear, concise goals when going into a gaming session
Listen, if you only have a little bit of time to game during the day (or even the week), then that time is precious and you cannot afford to waste it. Make it count. Make it something that you can look back on and feel as though you accomplished something or had a great experience.
It used to be that I would log in and do whatever, kind of drift along at whatever struck my fancy. I still do this if I end up with a few hours to game on a rare day, but more often than not, I’ll come up with a clear goal to aim for as I’m logging into the game. Maybe I want to play through a few quests and write them up for my blog. The second I’m in, I’m gunning right to do that. Even if my goal is “fart around doing some housing,” that’s what I’m going to do during that time and be happy for it.
5. Get past this rat race mentality
For some people, racing to the top of MMOs, being the best of the best, and pouring barrels of time into these games is something they both enjoy and have the luxury to do. But everyone who only has a few hours to game every week knows all too well the weird envious pangs that come with seeing the rest of the crowd shoot past you and live it up in endgame heaven while you’re toiling around in the midgame.
I say this is perfectly fine. I say get over the strange and counter-productive urge to be right alongside the rest of the pack. Enjoy and savor the game as it comes. Do it at your own pace. And if playing with friends who are at higher levels is important to you, then form a leveling pact or pick MMOs with sidekicking or level syncing systems that take away that pressure to progress quickly.
6. Invest time into finding a guild that fits your personality and playstyle
I can think of fewer things as important as finding a good guild match to keep you interested and encouraged in MMOs. If you’ve got only a few hours to play a week, logging in to silence or strangers is only going to make you feel more alienated and detached. Instead, make it a priority to find a guild that welcomes and includes time-strapped players. I’ve found many of them in my journeys and they’ve done so much to encourage me by showing me that there are a lot of other folks out there with kids, jobs, classes, little time, and a big desire to still game.
7. Acknowledge that, no, you won’t be able to do everything in an MMO
Here’s the thing about time: It’s a zero-sum game. You get 24 hours a day, the same as everyone else, and all you can decide is how to spend it. If you are unwilling or unable to sacrifice other time-gobblers to invest into MMOs, then you’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to do everything in MMOs.
You probably won’t be a raider. You probably won’t be the best at everything or have all of the best gear. You definitely won’t be on the cutting edge of new content and tearing up betas left and right. MMOs are designed to have incredible time sinks for players who want to do nothing but play, but I’ve realized that none of those time sinks is mandatory. Don’t let the game dictate how you play — you set the rules. You decide what’s feasible and what is simply out of reach. And once you decide that, be satisfied with how you play.
8. Don’t be ashamed of taking time to game
I’ve had to make a choice in my life what hobbies I would pursue and what I would need to forgo. And since MMOs are a hobby I’m going to keep — because they’re awesome — then I’m not going to apologize of enjoying them.
I’m not saying here that gaming is somehow shameful; we’re far past that in modern pop culture. But I’ve noticed that players with limited time somehow feel guilty for playing at all. I mean, there’s always something “serious” that needs doing, but you know what else is serious? Stress relief. Hobbies (and gaming) provide that. Playing MMOs at the end of the day are how I unwind before bed and are sorely needed after the struggles and complexities of the day.
9. Keep track of your progress
Sometimes when you game infrequently or for only little bits at a time, you can feel like you’re spinning your wheels without getting anywhere. But I’m willing to bet that if you can look at how far you’ve come, you’ll see that progress is being made — and you’ll be happier and more satisfied because of it.
There are many ways to do this, including a gaming journal or spreadsheet (seriously) in which you list your accomplishments and stated goals. Some of us blog as ways to record our adventures and provide a written milestone on which we can look back and marvel at how much of a noob we used to be. Even screenshotting through your adventures could have this effect.
10. Find little ways to get your MMO fix when you can’t game
Like any hobby, MMOs have the actual activity and then the surrounding meta. When you can’t get your gaming fix, there’s still some ways to stay plugged into the MMO world. There are podcasts, blogs, news sites (like MOP), Twitter conversations, video casts, developer posts, forums, comments, and even spin-off media like books and mobile apps. Sometimes I’ll find informative posts and guides about games I’m playing and will save those documents to my phone to read when I have a few minutes here or there.
I hope this helps some of you who, like me, count the few hours of gaming every week as a treasure and are looking to get the most out of them.