Slate has an article on the ways in which World of Warcraft and City of Heros encourage less-than-obsessive gameplay. Lots of good observations, but the pedant in me is obliged to point out that the idea of rewarding players for not playing was previously explored in A Tale in the Desert.

In WoW, you get an XP multiplier that lasts longer depending on how “rested” you are. In ATITD (I only played the First Telling; if all this information is out of date for the current version of the game, someone should let me know), you could earn a number of bonuses for being logged out. Most of them were ways of avoiding tedious but necessary tasks: picking grass, growing onions, etc. It was mainly a way of supporting players who wanted to keep livestock but didn’t want to spend all their time growing the crops required to keep them fed. With this system, if you were a casual player (or had a guild member go on vacation for a week), your sheep could be kept fed with minimal effort and you could go on to do more exciting things.

The big bonus for logging out of ATITD, however, was “waypoint time.” Players were able to set a number of points for themselves to teleport between, eliminating long, tedious jogs between, say, your camp and the local public center. The cost for teleporting was waypoint time; the longer you were logged out, the more waypoint time you earned.

Unlike WoW’s “rested” state, waypoint time wasn’t quite a direct means of making up for lost time. Instead, it gives casual players an asymmetric advantage over power gamers: playing for two hours a day, you might not be as productive as someone who plays for eight, but you can definitely get around a lot more quickly, making it easier to complete trades or attend special events.

Of course, since my relationship with WoW is still in the flush of initial obsession, mechanisms for encouraging casual play are kind of moot. I’d say something about how many hours I’ve played already, but I’d have to go into the game to check, and the pile of work on my desk tells me that going into the game would be a bad idea right now.