The Casual RPG: The Platypus of Games?

I was thinking about this a while back: in nature, the platypus seems to be a real oddball of an animal. It lays eggs, yet isn’t a bird. It has a bill like a duck (sort of), but isn’t a bird, and yet produces milk like other mammals. So what would the equivalent genre of game be? My thought – the casual role playing game (RPG).

A traditional role playing game, such as anything from the Final Fantasy series usually involves a character with statistics, a long story line, and a whole lot of play-time (usually measured in tens of hours). What if someone were to create a role playing game that could be easily picked up, played for 10 minutes, and put back down? With a traditional role playing game that would hardly give even enough time (at least for some) to create a character let alone get a feel for the story or even make it to the first save point. Because of the 10 minute pick-up and put-down goal, there would definitely have to be some interesting design decisions made to allow for this.

If you think about it, the average half-hour TV program is really only about 22 minutes long (trim off the show’s introduction and credits, and throw in a few advertisement breaks), yet they manage to do a decent job of creating a story arc, building up that arc, and then lowering it back down all in that short of a time period. I should think that it’d be possible to do something similar in a game.

For example, the following could be done:
0:00 – 0:10: Start a new game, create a new character
0:10 – 0:20: Introduction to story, control scheme, style of gameplay
0:20 – 0:30: Practice of control scheme in first battle/encounter, introduction to first quest
0:30 – 0:40: Travel to location of first quest, first battle/encounter of quest
0:40 – 0:50: Further battles/encounters of first quest
0:50 – 0:60: Completion of first quest, further development of overall story arc

If something is to take more than 10 minutes, break it into multiple segments. For example, a quest could be broken into two or three segments: the introduction of the quest (and travel to the location of the quest), the build-up/encounter section of the quest, and the release/conclusion of the quest and return to the main story arc.

Now you may have been thinking all along – what is the point of all this? Why would someone even want to play an RPG in ten minute segments anyway? Well, not a lot of people have the time to sit down and play a traditional role playing game for a few hours. If this could be broken up into smaller segments of time, it’d make it a lot easier to find the time to play the game. Riding the bus to/from work? 10 or 20 minutes. During lunch hour? Another 10-20 minutes. Waiting to pick the kids up at school? 10 minutes. It isn’t difficult to find an extra hour or two in a day, albeit in smaller pieces.

Again, this really would take some careful design and play testing. Trying to develop a game that draws in the player in less than 10 minutes could be a challenge. Developing a story that can be segmented into 10 minute bits that are appetizing enough to keep the player coming back is also a challenge.

That said, I think the idea does have some merit, and it’ll only be a matter of time before someone does create the casual role playing game.

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