How does playing a game become a job?

Posted on 8th May 2009 at 10:40 by Mark Mackay with 22 comments

Mark Mackay
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) are potentially dangerous bits of software. It starts just like any other game, with a trip to your local Game store or a visit to Amazon or Steam, a quick exchange of funds and then the install process. With an MMO however, you could be putting your social life, relationship, job and personal hygiene all at a risk of serious meltdown. The risks are so real in fact, that the most precious assets to humanity, our own Mothers have put together a website to try and crack down on the problem.

I've often wondered why they are so addictive. Is it because you get that feeling that you used to get as a kid when all the other kids are playing and laughing outside in the sun and you just had to go and join in? Is it because you feel that all that time spent on menial tasks such as eating and sleeping could be better spent developing your character to go and stomp on lesser players in PVP?

How does playing a game become a job?

There's a host of other reasons that could be added to list. However, one common argument for why MMOs are so addictive is because they’re designed specifically to string gamers along with a new bit of armour hither, a new spell thither and a few more health points evither (sorry, I had to make that last one up), so there's a constant craving for playing for 5 more minutes.

This argument of course holds some truth. Getting new kit is a largely what made the RSI-educing Diablo II so utterly all consuming. But I remember many years ago (probably about 13 years ago actually, which makes me feel kinda old) seeing an interview with co-founder of ID Software John Romero saying that one of the keys to a good game was to string the player along with new guns and power ups. This is a tactic that has been employed since shortly after the dawn of gaming, so why are MMOs different? Is it just that they're exceptionally good at it?

How does playing a game become a job?

They're so good at it in fact, that for some the game starts to get taken so seriously that it becomes like a second job. I’ve enjoyed and been addicted to many MMOs over the years, but I’ve never reached the stage where it feels like an inescapable responsibility. Likewise, an MMO has never caused me to reject my real world responsibilities. I love MMOs, but I wouldn’t want to marry one and I certainly wouldnt die for one as has sadly happened on more than one occasion.

So how does it happen? Have you ever played an MMO that felt like a job? Has a game had a serious detrimental affect on your personal hygiene or worse?


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Bauul 8th May 2009, 11:10 Quote
Serious detrimental affect on personal hygiene? Ask Joe about Morrowind...
CardJoe 8th May 2009, 11:17 Quote
Originally Posted by Bauul
Ask Joe about Morrowind...

Please don't. I don't want to relive it. There was filth, cold pasta and stale mayonnaise everywhere.

This topic reminds me about how they design casinos too - bright lights, loud noises and the way machines are rigged to make it always appear that someone is winning, even if they only get something small. Combine that with the feeling of competition and skill, the utter exclusion of the outside world (there through a lack of windows, here through a fictional setting and shared goal) and the way that time is managed differently to remove any feeling that time has passed...dangerous stuff, potentially. Especially of use to games is music, where the tracks loop into a dance-beat rather than having defined singles and arcs. It stops people saying to themselves "I'll stop playing at the end of this song" and helps keep their mood (and thus commitment) level and focused on the game.

There's a brief and interesting article (google cached) about casino design here.
yakyb 8th May 2009, 12:58 Quote
god that MAVAV site is annoying
Tris 8th May 2009, 13:15 Quote
As a former hardcore wow player i can definately say that I went through a stage where the game became like a job. The most notable way that occurs is through being a member of a progression focused raiding guild - the guild i was a member of was one of the top ones on the server (which at the time was a source of immense pride), and the raiding schedule was pretty draconian.
It got to the point where I would get home from work about 6:30pm, grab whatever food i could find that took no time to prepare and then start raiding at 7 (raids often lasted til midnight if we were trying to do a new boss).
After a while i hated the game but kept playing for the people in my guild, took quite a while to just say to myself "this is ridiculous" and get out.

I think the main problem people have with quitting an mmo that they are really into is that it takes up so much of your free time that when you eventually stop, you kinda don't know what to do with yourself with all the time you suddenly have. That tends to make people fall back into it.
Cutter McJ1b 8th May 2009, 13:51 Quote
World of Warcraft is the MMO that Ive heard most about becoming like a second job. Personally, I start to lose interest about level 35, as has happened twice now. I'd really like to see some of the end game stuff, but can’t stomach the grinding in between level 35 and 80!

Second up is probably EVE Online, making money in manufacturing can (i.e, doesnt necessarily have to) involve spread sheets. Enough said!
Baz 8th May 2009, 14:02 Quote
48 hours straight of Rome:Total War, including the need to creatively make use of an empty bottle to relieve myself so I wouldn't have to face my flat mates looking like some kind of greasy dark eyes troll. The game just utterly consumed me. Luckily I was a first year uni student at the time, so school work didn't suffer too much, but it was frightening how into the game I was.
DraigUK 8th May 2009, 14:04 Quote
It happened to me once when I was GM of a US guild in DAoC some years ago.

It was one of the most popular and had at one point had well over a hundred members, all active and was in one of the greater alliances on the server as well.

As it was on the US servers, the timezone differences didn't help much either, but as Guild Master I did feel a lot of responsibility in "being there" as much as possible. In the end I was spending almost all of my time organising events, resolving disputes (of which there were many between different people) and having meetings. I would get home from work log on and "play" until 3 or 4 am. I would skip work and book days off for raids.

Meetings after meetings. Guild meetings, Officer meetings, GM meetings, Alliance meetings, Realm meetings.

Hours spent doing relic raids at silly o' clock and making forum posts on the guild page.

And the crazy thing is I loved it. So much so I was becoming a hermit and my girlfriend was, to say the least, unhappy.

For me it wasn't so much the game (which was brilliant anyway) that got me addicted, I think it was the fact it was a power trip for me, and the fact that there were so many just brilliant people from all over the world playing who thought along the same lines as me about this gaming malarky.

They were far more interesting and fun than the real life mates I had, or going down the pub all the time. We had gaming. Back then it was fairly unusual, at least in my area. These days of course, gaming is much more widley accepted and popular.

Sad, but true!

I guess one day I just woke up to the fact how crazy it was and quit. That and the fact me and my girlfriend were bordering on splitting up over it.

I did go back, but it was never the same, and quit for good. Since then though, I have yet to find another MMO that gripped me. Partly because I am wary of getting like that again, but mainly because no MMO since, even WOW, was as good imo. Not even close.

Oh and isn't it hither, thither and yon? Or yonder?
Cutter McJ1b 8th May 2009, 14:19 Quote
Originally Posted by DraigUK
Oh and isn't it hither, thither and yon? Or yonder?

Yonder would have been perfect, yes. Next time I'm stuck for an old english word, I may just send you a PM :)
Zurechial 8th May 2009, 14:23 Quote
Is everyone really so afflicted with addictive personality disorders?
I play WoW regularly, with a /played of 76 days on my main character, but I'd never consider myself addicted to it, nor to any other game.

I've been engrossed in countless games over the years, from Wolfenstein 3D to Crusader: No Regret to Morrowind to WoW, but I've never found it particularly hard to stop when I need to.
I would only concede that I may be slightly addicted to Gaming in general, because I'd miss it if I couldn't do it, but then that's true of anything that I enjoy doing so it's hardly addiction.

I think that WoW's gameplay model does have that "just another 5 minutes so I can get this next item.." hook in it, but you'll find that at level 80 there are people who play purely for the challenge of PvE encounters or as a competitive past-time in the battlegrounds and arena, and many will tell you that the real game doesn't begin until you hit maximum level anyway and can stop being so concerned with gear and focus on PvP or the other skill-challenges in the game.

When people at uni (particularly non-gamers) see the shortcut to WoW on the desktop of my laptop they'll exclaim "OMG you play that?! Isn't that like a drug or something?" and it'll inevitably devolve into talking about the South Park episode involving WoW.
I usually 'defend' myself by stating that I really couldn't care less about the opinions of people who just go by what they see on South Park or hear by word-of-mouth instead of developing an honest opinion by actually playing the game.

WoW isn't as addictive as the media make it out to be and there's plenty to enjoy in the game beyond 'grinding'.
Like any other game (from Bejeweled and Audiosurf to Planescape Torment and System Shock), if you have an addictive personality you'll get hooked on it, and perhaps WoW is geared slightly more towards that hook - But it's by no means the gaming 'drug' that it's made out to be.

...And no I don't work for Blizzard, I'm just embittered by people questioning my choice of past-time. :D
stonedsurd 8th May 2009, 15:03 Quote
Damn, and I thought the post was going to be about something like being a QA tester (or reviewer!) :p
Faulk_Wulf 8th May 2009, 16:07 Quote
I figured being a GM for an MMO. Guess i was half-right.
FeRaL 8th May 2009, 16:41 Quote
I played the first Asheron's Call for several years. I think the main things that attracted me to it was that the world was a open world for the most part, there were no walls of forest scenery to stop you from exploring. The world was huge for it's time. Character generation was the bomb, and it was more character skill/stat based than gear driven. There was some special gear, but it wasn't game altering for the most part. PVP in it rocked as well.
thehippoz 8th May 2009, 17:06 Quote
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
World of Warcraft is the MMO that Ive heard most about becoming like a second job. Personally, I start to lose interest about level 35, as has happened twice now. I'd really like to see some of the end game stuff, but can’t stomach the grinding in between level 35 and 80!

Second up is probably EVE Online, making money in manufacturing can (i.e, doesnt necessarily have to) involve spread sheets. Enough said!

lol =]

yeah I've researched games in depth before.. got pages of sheet, if anyone outside saw them they would just shake their head.. my girlfriend understands me though =-]

lineage 2 was pretty much a time killer.. actually every mmo I've played I can say that about..
themax 8th May 2009, 17:34 Quote
I was almost sucked into that mentality with World of Warcraft. I found myself skipping out on social gathers (going to the bar with friends and being holed up in my room when company was over instead of conversating). It's easy to fall into, and i've heard worse cases (as we all have I'm sure). I managed to step back, and re-evaluate just how much I was playing. It's easy to get addicted but when someone allows it become a second job I blame them, not the developers. Even though I still play World of Warcraft and actively raid, I have no problem (and I am upfront with it with my GMs) logging out, even in the middle of a raid if my girlfriend wants to do something or friends want to hang out and purposely take periodic breaks (3-5 months) from the game entirely.
Cptn-Inafinus 9th May 2009, 00:32 Quote
Age of Empires 2 for me.

That game is one of the most addictive I have ever played. I remember I used to start cycling home from school (I was ten or elevenish at the time) because I would get an extra five or ten minutes extra to play on the game... It got to the stage where I was spending from roughly 3:30PM right through to midnight every night for about a month. A pretty massive amount of time when you are ten years old... When I had the most vivid nightmare of my life about Jean of Arc, then I stopped.

I still go back to the game pretty regularly. LAN parties lasting 12hours are not unheard of with us. I certainly don't class my self on the extreme end of gaming addiction, but for a reasonably sporty person as my self when I take these figures into account it's pretty gruesome. Yet I still go back...
Red 5 9th May 2009, 01:49 Quote
I've not tried any MMOs, but I did have a problem with Yahoo Race Manager becoming a severe chore. It started as a nice little online game, but then I discovered that training on some skills gains more improvement than other skills on different circuits, so I had a training car to make sure I got the maximum out of your regular car. Then one practice car turned into four, three for the three skills and one more to be sure. Then I got volunteered as the organiser of one 'season' (two races per week) of the No Sleepers Challenge on the unofficial official forum, so I had that to organise.

It was worse for some, however. Many of the top players had more than one race car to take car of each season, maybe a dozen or more, plus their test cars, plus their sleeper cars for upcoming seasons (you could keep a certain amount of engine power and money from one season to the next. Sleeping a car over several seasons got you the maximum available). Some groups even had software to aid them which interacted with the browser in order to run several laps at once.

I ended up spending four or more hours every night clicking buttons to send virtual cars around virtual tracks with very little reward, on top of my regular surfing which takes at least a couple of hours. I wasn't working at the time, so no other part of my life suffered, but it was all too much. Once that season of the No Sleepers Challenge was finished and my responsibility was over I walked away from the game and the forum. I didn't even say goodbye to the friends I'd made, I had to get out right then and there.
Elton 9th May 2009, 01:56 Quote
Never happened to me, except maybe that one time where i played COD4 fanatically for about 3 days, Yes I slept, and every day was like a 7 hour session.

Still bad stuff.

Btw, RTW is really addicting.
salesman 9th May 2009, 02:52 Quote
Star wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, and WOW are the only MMOs I've played and in that order did I play them. Out of the three FFXI was the easiest to put down although I did put several months of play time into the game, I stopped playing because of it being hard to level due to the need of a party and walking everywhere but it has it's shiny spots. WOW is a mixed bag to me, fun yes, but it doesn't have some things that I personally like, however it is the one I play currently. Although, if I SOE did not mess up SWG with the combat revamp I would be playing it to this day. The feel of being on Tatooine and shooting Womp rats makes me go into my happy place *sigh*. I think it was a gift for God though that SOE did the combat revamp because I would have not given that game up for anything. To me it was the perfect game, the pvp in it was the best I feel. Everybody can talk to everybody in the game. You and travel so much faster to any part of the game (well to an extent and if you compared it to WOW it is fast travel). The pve in the game was my favorite, being able to solo and entire night sister camp including the elders, although not at the same time, take on a krayt dragon, a battle lasting 30+ minutes and it was just me and the dragon. Having to do the most damage to get the looting rights. Man that game had it all before the combat revamp and thank you SOE for giving me my life back.
Skill3d 19th May 2009, 20:55 Quote
hehe SOF2, RTCW and RTCW:ET at top world lvl made me a pc zombie
Dreaming 19th May 2009, 23:20 Quote
My personal opinion is that one large element of it is that it can be difficult in the 'real world' to feel a sense of success and fulfilment and these virtual worlds offer a way to be successful relatively easy without the risks involved with failure. It's a safe way to get a (fake) sense of self worth.
Star*Dagger 20th May 2009, 11:18 Quote
Run a corp, or even worse running an Alliance in EVE Online, nothing compares to that.

Bungle 20th May 2009, 14:26 Quote
Well just got my renewal for the TV license. £142
Now concidering you could play WoW for a year on that money. You just gotta ask yourself one question. Which would give me more hours of pleasure.
Makes more sense me clicking a mouse button for another herb to gather than clicking for another TV channel in the desperate hope of finding something worthwhile to watch.
I don't play WoW btw. Started playing Runes of Magic. Its free to play and grindtastic :D
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