Wednesday, September 3, 2014

. . . A Mobile Gaming Day Examined

My day job is Writer and Journalist - and being a freelancer I write for a number of different outlets and publications, some with by-line, some without.  It is as busy a day as your typical office worker's day in the sense that there is certainly a solid 8-hours of work in it - if it is a light day.

Unfortunately a typical day can easily run to 12 hours or more, and lately due to demands that are being placed upon me on the Gaming Beat side of my work, the days have been running to 16 hours as a result of major events running in mobile games of the city-building grinder type.

Specifically the iOS games Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and The Simpson's: Tapped Out are factoring pretty heavily in the daily load just now, because both of those games have major events running.

That got me to thinking - what is the average gamer experiencing in terms of game play demands on their time right now?

This is actually a very sticky issue largely due to the fact that for the most part, the typical consumer for games like Tapped Out and QfS are actually men and women (but more women than men) who are otherwise regularly employed and who use their mobile devices - most often an iPad or an Android tablet - to play the games during work hours.

That is to say, they sneak time away from their otherwise paid employment to get their moves in, and this is especially true when major events are running in the games that they play, because the timers that are a foundation element in events - and major events in particular -require more frequent game play if the player is going to complete all of the missions and quests for the events!

The typical player wants to do that - complete all of the missions - largely because there are some very significant and desirable rewards for doing so.  Rewards like special characters, special outfits and costumes, special event-specific and unique objects, and perhaps more important, special buildings for their games.

That Got Me To Thinking...

What does a typical day of play mean then?  Just how much work time are these average players taking away from the time that they owe their employers?

Before I got to adding up the game play time, I decided that whatever the total was that I arrived at, roughly half of the game play time would take place outside of work - so off-the-cuff I concluded that it would be some modest and reasonable number.

Then I factored in that most of that game play would be very brief sessions - five or ten minutes at the most, during which the gamers updated their status in terms of collecting rent, defending buildings, and updating missions, that sort of thing.

I then realized that I would also have to deduct the time that I spent in actually writing up the various activities - since that is a major part of the work I do on the guides I am writing. 

So with those qualifications in mind, I created a paper log in which I recorded all of my game play session times for a single day.

There are actually three games that I am presently guiding that qualify in the city-building, grinder categories of mobile games: Quest for Stuff, Tapped Out, and The Sims: FreePlay.

Of the trio, Tapped Out and FreePlay were taking the least amount of time since their missions tend to be longer in hour count to complete - I am not sure why that is so but it is.  With FreePlay I am actually in something of a holding pattern as I work towards completing a lengthy collection of missions and quests that are, by their nature, time-consuming.

The reason I am in that holding-pattern is that I need to get all of that done BEFORE I work on the most recent of the primary story missions in the game, because if I start that one, it will alter the game dynamics in a major way by adding and triggering finite life spans for the game characters.

That being the case, FreePlay for all practical purposes does not really count for the purposes of this inquiry, so I ignored its times.

With Tapped Out, the major event that is presently running is actually in its early stages, having only recently started and having quite a while left on its game event timer yet to run (the special event in Tapped Out is the Clash of Clones Event, and it does not end until 7 October).

The event in Quest for Stuff on the other hand is a horse of a different color entirely!  It is nearing the end of its timer - it officially ends on 8 September - but it is also one of the most time and effort intensive special events that I have ever experienced or covered for this type of game.

It has lots of ongoing missions and quests to be sure, but the true nature of its time-sucking ability is the necessity to not only defend the buildings in my QfS town from attacks by mutant Stewies but also to constantly both Bomb the Stewie Minions but also keep ALL of the characters who have quests and missions that apply active with as little downtime as possible because there is so much to do in the event that if I don't, I will NOT finish them all before the timer runs out.

In fact the pace of that special event seems to have been diabolically engineered to obtain that direct result!

The QfS Comic Con Event

In the world of game geeks there are few real-world events that carry quite the massive cred as does Comic Con, so making that the theme and focus for the major summer event for QfS was bloody brilliant on the part of the wizards behind the game.

That said, the time-intensive and effort-intensive nature of the resulted in a rather shocking total play time for this average day of almost exactly six (6) hours?!

Now once I deducted the writing time - 3 hours - and then took away half of the play time that remained - 1.5 hours - under the assumption that it would be taking place when the gamer was not at work, that left a very shocking 1.5 hours of game play that must be taking place in the workplace!

Could that be right?  I asked that question seriously.

Simple math dictated that those number meant that the game was robbing employers of roughly 7.5 hours in a typical work week.  If we presume that the typical worker gets half-an-hour for lunch, what that means is that any company who is employed a gamer who plays Quest for Stuff is basically losing AN ENTIRE DAY each week!

Those gamers are getting paid for an entire standard day while they play a game each week!

I suspect that at least in corporate culture, the gamers must not be using the WiFi side of their devices to play - more likely they are using the cellular network connection - they would have to be, because the IT gnomes would easily detect their activities via the network, and if they were smart they would be blocking the ports on the network that those games use...

Unless of course it is the IT gnomes who are playing the games, in which case they not only would have a vested interest in keeping those ports open, but would also have reason not to bring the abuse to the attention of their company and its managers!

As It Turns Out

The idea that a typical corporate gamer was pulling down a paid day of gaming each week during this special event struck me as very hard to believe.  In fact so hard that I started to discretely make inquiries - first of the players who are on my friend list via Facebook and iOS's Game Center, and then by networking via Facebook, to others.

What I found out was shocking.

Not only were these gamers pretty much doing exactly what my theory suggested they were doing - playing the game at work and on company time, but they were doing so in numbers larger than I had estimated. 

When I added up the time estimates that they were admitting to it was not 1.5 hours per day, but closer to 2 hours a day!

This has to be having serious impact upon the business world - worldwide - and the next logical direction I needed to follow was to look at the corporate networks to see if they were aware of the issue and what they were doing about it, if anything?

As it turns out they are very aware of the issue, thanks to studies, articles in magazines like Forbes, and books.  In fact according to just casual research on the subject via Google searches, the costs run an estimated $650 billion a year for Smartphones alone in terms of time-wasting on websites - and games (Business Insider).
According to the book Using Information Technology: A Practical Introduction to Computers & Communications, 7th ed. (Montreal: McGraw-Hill) an estimated 8.3 hours a week are involved in non-work-related activities, particularly playing games.

Not only do they KNOW, but there is an entire sub-industry of the network apps and logging utilities whose purpose is detecting that sort of thing on corporate networks, and identifying the abusers!  Those apps generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the companies that create them.  Oof!

Chances are if you work for a corporation and you are a gamer, the company is aware of your activities on their network - which probably means as noted above, you are using your own net connection via your wireless provider, as otherwise you would probably have been fired by now.  Just saying.

When I set out to look into this topic I did not realize that at most corporations and large companies the act of gaming on the clock is actually considered a crime against the company - and the idea that thousands of gamers each year get fired for it?  Well I didn't think so but I am not surprised.

The issue - and problem - is not unique to the USA - if you are bored or have a few minutes, Google the phrase "Fired for gaming" and check out the results.  China has a big problem, as do all of the nations of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, heck, pretty much anywhere the 'net can reach.

And how was your gaming day?

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