I found a fun bug in Borderlands2 a few months ago: Following the final boss fight, the Mechromancer’s Robot (loving named “DeathTrap”) will continue to fight the infinite supply of flying lizard-monster-things (“Rakk”) for… about 6 or 7 hours. After this, your computer will crash because it is trying to keep track of all of the Rakk corpses your robot zapped. I liked that I could just let my game play itself. I went to class, had dinner, read some homework, and all the while I was getting gold and experience points for my character.
I don’t have as much time to play videogames; I don’t have time to grind for 50 or 150 hours for cool gear or leveling up. How about a game in which I play a big boss fight and then set up my character to grind while I do other stuff- sleep, pay bills, mow the lawn, clean living quarters, shower, go to class, go to work, study, interact with humans, etc. Was this what made Farmville such a hit? Can we replicate that with RPG or even TBS/RTS style games? Make the fights count, make the 1-2 hours of gameplay per session count. Game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw mocked EveOnline for leveling you up while you don’t play, but he noted that it might be marketed to executives who need something to do while being soulless corporate drones and neglecting their wives (in his typical dry, cynical humor that compliments his rapid-fire delivery so well). As gamers get older, I think there’s an opportunity for a genre or game-feature that caters to people with busy, 21-century adult lives (rather than the dog days of a high-school student’s summer or a college student’s 7th or 8th semester).
The larger point here is the way in which games are growing up (and must do so). Just as the graphics have gotten better, the stories have become more mature (sometimes) and intricate, and even some of the mechanics have become more accommodating to a different audience (e.g., the unending games in the “quarter-guzzling” style of Pac-Man, Pong, or Galaxia vs current games with save points and conclusions). I speculate that as Generation Y and/or the Millennial Generation are forced into the “grown-up” lifestyle of regular employment and other adult demands on time, gaming will grow up in two ways. The first is already extremely prevalent: mobile games that grownups can play while at PTA meetings or while waiting in traffic. The second way gaming might evolve is into games that demand less participation, less grinding, less involvement. It would be a brave company that makes a product in the 21st century that does not cry out “PAY TO ME ALL OF YOUR TIME, ATTNENTION, AND MONEY!” But done just right, a non-addictive, non-demanding product could be a tremendously lucrative game. There’s a good chance I would play it and let it play itself.