Scott Novis
It's Time to Embrace Video Games

Blog

Embracing the potential of video games

3 Tips to Manage Video Game Play Time - A Parents Guide

Copy of Copy of 3 Tips.png

One of the biggest sources of heartburn for parents is getting their kids to stop playing video games. Over the last 20 years, both in the game studio, with GameTruck (where we have had over 250,000 parties that have to end on time), and in my own household, we have created some strategies to make it easy(ier) for kids to stop playing a game they are “in the middle of”.

Of course, there are no magic bullets. And while none of these strategies work 100% of the time, they helped my wife, and our game coaches, make ending video gameplay much more manageable.

Why it can be hard for players to quit
There are a variety of reasons why players can have a hard time quitting a video game. While modern video games are engineered to be compelling beyond belief (I’ll write more about that in another article), for the sake of focus let’s dig into three common reasons kids struggle to stop playing a video game.  Quitting abruptly will cause them:

  1. To lose their progress (work).

  2. To miss a part of the game that cannot be replayed.

  3. Social pain with their cohorts.

The key to making it easier for a player to end a game in a timely fashion is to address these issues.  That leads to our three tips.

  1. Find out how the game quits/pauses (what kind of game is it?)

  2. Find out how the game saves.

  3. Set expectations.

When you know how a game stops, and how it saves its progress, you use strategies to manage expectations for the end of the game time.  Now let’s go into each of these in a little more detail.

 

Game Type.png


Tip One: What kind of Game is it?

Knowing the type of game is one of the biggest challenges for parents. All video games are not created equal, and some games are much, much harder to quit than others (FortNite, unfortunately, being one of the worst).  Parents struggle because how the game quits is not marked on the video game package, and games in the same genre can be wildly different in how they handle saving and stopping.  Games that you play by yourself on a portable console are often very easy to pause or quit, whereas multiplayer online games may not pause at all and can be nearly impossible to quit without significant social embarrassment for the player.

When it comes to stopping, video games can be broken into three categories.

  1. Single-player offline games.

  2. Persistent online worlds.

  3. Multi-player online games.

Single-Player offline games.

These are (whether your kid believes it or not) the easiest to quit. There are some technicalities here, but in general, you can pause the game and come back to it later.

Examples include:

  • Pokemon

  • Fire Emblem

  • Most first-person shooters played in single-player mode.

These video game consoles themselves often support some form of a pause without losing progress, but many of the games themselves can be paused or quit (after progress is saved).  It is a good idea identify a “fall back” game your child likes to play that is easy to pause or quit without losing progress.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
While it might be hard for players to quit, it should not be hard for them to pause. Modern video game consoles usually have a pause feature that makes suspending a video game as simple as flipping the lid closed or tapping the power button.

The big risk here is if the console loses power (battery dies, or someone unplugs the console) they may lose all of their work which can be heart-wrenching. Think about how you feel when your laptop dies before you can save.

Persistent online worlds

With these games, a player may not be playing with other people, but the world does not stop when the game is paused.  These games may also not support console-level pausing without losing access to the world.

Examples of this game include:

  • Minecraft (online)

  • World of Warcraft

  • Destiny


Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
If the game can not be paused, then there is a very real chance your child’s avatar (in-game character or identity) may suffer harm or loss of considerable work.

Often, you have to leave the game entirely which can be a problem if they are in the middle of a battle or other situation that could cause them harm.  I have even seen it where a player has moved to a “safe” location, only to come back and find their character “dead” after a short break because some monster wandered into where they were hiding. 

Multiplayer online games.

While playing solo is still pretty popular, the massive growth in the industry is from games you must play with other players. The big dog here is FortNite, but the entire esports industry consists of amazing multiplayer experiences that have no ready “quit” button.

Examples of online multiplayer games:

  • Fortnite

  • PUBG

  • CS Go

  • (the list is endless)

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
The single biggest issue here is one of social shame. Imagine walking out to the mound in the middle of a baseball game and yanking your kid off the mound. In 15 years of being involved in Little League, I have never seen it happen. Not once.

But parents do it all the time with video games.  Granted it is hard for parents to have the same sense of context with a video game, but the stress is real for the player.  Because there is no bench, gamers are always in the middle of the field.  Being yanked unceremoniously is very, very difficult.  Peer pressure makes it even harder, especially if your child is a good player.

The main issue here is context.  While it is possible to end these games, it takes some planning and communication.  It also helps if you are sensitive to the emotional space the player is in and who they are playing with.

By knowing what kind of game your child is playing and how it quits, you can have a better understanding of how hard it will be to get them to stop.  The second aspect of getting them to quit is to understand how they can save their work.

 

Save Game.png


Tip Two: Find out how the game saves.

Knowing how a videogame saves is particularly tricky because again, not all games are created equal.

Each game designer decides how they want to handle saving to prevent gamers from losing their progress. Some games are much easier to save than others.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
While many parents feel the games are frivolous, they are not for most gamers.  They feel like work.  Substantial work.  Meaningful work.  Imagine you lost a day worth of important, meaningful work and had to re-do it.  That is the emotional context many players feel when they risk not being able to save.  Some of the items they collected or achievements earned may not be easy to repeat if they can be repeated at all.  Saving your progress safeguards against these fears.

Here are the most common ways video games support saving:

  1. Save at any time.

  2. Only save when you are near a save point (marker in the game)

  3. Auto-save

  4. Checkpoint save

Knowing how the game your child is playing saves, can do two things for you.

  1. It can give you a better, more meaningful conversation with your gamer. Games might seem trivial to you, but because of the way they generate engagement, video games feel just as real to players as work does to adults. Think about how much you enjoy redoing a task you just finished. Taking a step into their world will help you connect.

  2. It can give you leverage to negotiate stops. You can use this one single vital piece of information to bargain how they will stop in advance. You can tell your player, “you can play an hour before dinner, but it has to be a game you can save immediately.”

Save any time

These games are the easiest to stop because players can save their progress and resume later. If you have a game that can be paused and saved at any time, this is the magic ticket.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
It shouldn’t be. However, it helps to know how long this process can take. It can take 2-3 minutes sometimes to save the data and then pause a game.

Save Point

Some games only allow the player to save when they are next to some specific object in the game (called the save point). Save points seem to be especially popular with Japanese games.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
Because they may have to spend time retracing steps to find a save point or keep playing until they come across one, finding a save point creates a delay when players can put the game down.

Auto-Save

Some games save automatically. Auto-save can be good and bad. If you are between saves, forcing a save can be tricky.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:
Because the player may not know for sure if their progress was saved.

Checkpoint save

These require that the player advances to some checkpoint on the map. Until they do, the progress between the last checkpoint and the next is in jeopardy.

Why it can be hard for your child to quit this kind of game:

Because your child might have no idea where the next checkpoint is, and they have to keep playing until they reach it.  This extra bit of play can create friction between parent and player because the player can’t stop the game immediately.

Set Expectations.png

 

Tip Three - Set Expectations

This third strategy builds on the first two. What we have found with younger players is that self-regulation is hard (at every age really), but players do respond (mostly) to having expectations set, and followed through.

If you understand:

  1. The kind of game they are playing and how it can be paused or quit.

  2. The way the game handles saving (so no work is lost)

Then you can begin to employ these strategies.

  1. Pre-negotiate the game and how it will end.

  2. Let them be part of the negotiation.

  3. Give warnings

Here are some examples, from work and my personal life.

After homework, before dinner

My wife would tell the boys, “you have an hour, but when dinner is ready it’s ready. You can play, but make sure it’s a game you can save/stop.”

Now there were times I had to go back and get them, but there was never a fight. Usually, just frustration that they got so caught up in the game. No murderous looks, no temper tantrums.

Hard Stop

At GameTruck, we announce when the party will and. Then, when we are within 10 minutes of the end, we announce the time remaining. We accompany this with two or three light flashes (turning the room lights on and off to get their attention).

These warnings with visual cues give the gamers time to prepare for the inevitable. Game time will end soon, very likely in the middle of their game, and they won’t be able to save.

Harder to at home, because you have to camp the kids, but when we did it, it was just as effective.

Put the Phones Away, Put the Controllers Away

Putting controllers away as far as strategies go is a little more radical, and not done nearly as often, but my wife would sometimes hide the controller or phone to force a conversation about gaming before the kids could begin to play mindlessly.

To get the gaming device back, they would have to agree to a stop. If our kids thought that they had enough time to play an unstoppable/unsavable game, they would work out how that would end.  But they had to agree to the end before they got their device back.

I was surprised the number of times our kids chose to play games that were easier for them to stop (via pause, or save & quit).

Summary

I’ve been in the video game industry since the late 90s. Stopping play can be really hard for a good reason. Some of the smartest people on the planet, with incredible resources, are trying to make games that you don’t want to put down. We shouldn’t be surprised. Some entertainment can be so compelling it’s hard to leave.

For example, when’s the last time you walked out of a movie? How about a movie you liked? What about a movie you loved?

Having said that, there are strategies you can use to help more effectively manage your child’s game time with less stress. I didn’t say (or promise) zero stress, but in my experience and our business, we have found that when you know more about the games, and how the players see the games, these types of negotiations become easier.

I hope these tips help you and your family.