# MMORPG design for time-limited players

I believe that there is a significant market of players who would enjoy the exploration and interaction aspects of MMORPGs, but simply don't have the time for the endless grinding marathons which are part of the average MMORPG.

MMORPGs are all about interaction between players. But when different players have different amounts of time to invest into a game, those with less time to spend will soon lack behind their power-leveling friends and won't be able to interact with them anymore.

One way to solve this would be to limit the progress a player can achieve per day, so that it simply doesn't make sense to play more than one or two hours a day. But even the busiest casual players sometimes like to spend a whole sunday afternoon playing a video game. Just stopping them after two hours would be really frustrating. It also creates a pressure to use the daily progress limit every day, because otherwise the player would feel like wasting something. This pressure would be detrimental for casual gamers.

What else could be done to level the playing field between those players who play 40+ hours a week and those who can't play more than 10?

Edit: Thanks for all of your answers. They all were very inspiring and gave me some interesting ideas. I decided that the first thing I will do will be a rest mechanic, so I accepted the answer by Orin MacGregor. But I upvoted a lot of other answers, too. When you are interested in my first draft for the rest mechanic, you can read about it on my development blog: http://ontraindevelopment.blogspot.com/2012/10/rest-system.html

• You could always do the Guild Wars strategy. Make the level cap low (first guild wars was set to 20 which you can hit in a few days) or allow players to create a character that starts at max level (it sounds silly, but it really helped get people to use the PvP combat in guild wars.) – Benjamin Danger Johnson Oct 17 '12 at 17:51
• You could also offer an experience multiplier based on how long a player is offline and have it degrade with the amount of experience the player collects when they play. That way the multiplier only helps them progress to a specified level and can't be abused as easily. – Benjamin Danger Johnson Oct 17 '12 at 17:52
• Iron sights and killstreaks, obviously. – jcora Oct 17 '12 at 20:27
• EDIT: another angle to consider on time limits. Some players who fall into the category are on call or have other commitments that might interrupt their gameplay. For example, if activities in game generally take 1 hour, but a player only has 30 minutes free at a time. – tugs Oct 18 '12 at 20:13
• My answer is already long, so as for limiting players by time and frustration - yes, it is frustrating for players, and if you don't limit trading possibilities, One hardcore gamer will just use a few accounts. However you can make a game without trading at all, and then you can add a limit not frustrating for a casual player. Just make many limits, e.g.: 5 hours per day (or no day limit at all), 20 hours per week, 50 hours per month. – Markus von Broady Oct 19 '12 at 15:02

Any sort of resource generated while logged out. WoW and similar games have rested experience that helps those with less time to catch up. There could be other things generated that would help others to catch up, such as a rested currency used to buy items that can buff the player, but they must be implemented carefully to not be abused by those who don't really need it.

A more complex implementation could be temporary level boosts. If a player wants to play with a friend 10 levels ahead of them they could be boosted ~10 levels. This would require a balance of implementation, like do they temporarily get the skills associated with the skipped levels? (Later generations of Pokemon have this where stats scale up but they don't get any new skills, but that's not truly an MMORPG.) Should stats on items scale linearly? Should they earn experience toward their base level, and if so should it be scaled down to their base level? Can they earn money and items?

Expanding on your mention of limiting progress per day (which Final Fantasy 14 initially did with terrible results) is to implement it like the rested experience system. Still limit people to a reasonable amount per day, and have the leftover be rolled over into the next day (eventually capping out to curb some abuse). So while a player with time every day can get 1 million experience per day, his friend that can only play on the weekend can get 5 million on Friday (assuming resting started at monday and they don't play until friday). They don't use all 5 mil, say only 3 mil, then the rest carries over into Saturday so they can get the daily 1 million plus the leftover 2 million.

• I'm not sure a hard limit on progress is a good idea, since it basically makes the game unplayable for people who only have limited days when they can play (like people who can only play on Sundays, or during vacations). – Reinstate Monica Oct 17 '12 at 20:26
• I never said it was a good idea, but it's been tried in the industry. However, with my modification, it's less bad since you can roll up a week's worth of possible progress in a day and catch up to those who could play every day. Still a bad idea in general though. – Orin MacGregor Oct 17 '12 at 20:29
• At the same time, you have to be careful about not punishing players who like to play your game a lot. If I can get an hour's worth of double experience gain every day, you're encouraging me to play for an hour a day then leave to do other things rather than feel like I'm "wasting my time" at half experience rates (because I'm used to double XP as the norm now) – Bill Oct 18 '12 at 3:48
• ... and then the next step is to allow players to pay money to increase their experience cap, right? – user253751 Apr 8 '15 at 1:55
• Or you could implement something like Final Fantasy 11 Level Sync. Level Sync is a party leader-activated system whereby the level of all party members is restricted to that of a designated player ... all members of the party will be able to receive an amount of experience points corresponding to the level of the designee... – Soapy Apr 8 '15 at 7:59

What else could be done to level the playing field between those players who play 40+ hours a week and those who can't play more than 10?

A simple way to avoid turning off players who don't have the time available to invest in grinding is to remove grinding from the game as much as is reasonable; keep progression curves linear or shallow.

But, I think you're conflating "casual players" and players with players who simply don't have as much time as they'd like to play. There's an overlap, certainly, but fundamentally they are different demographics.

Casual players tend not to care that other players have invested more time, except if those other players are their friends and such they feel like they "can't play together." You can help reclaim their good will by including mechanics that make it worthwhile for higher-leveled players to return to previously-visited or otherwise under-levelled content and play with their low-level casual friend.

You can also include mechanical benefits for activities casual players are more likely to do, such as explore the world. Simply providing experience for discovering areas or engaging in social activities can go a long way.

In Guild Wars 2 we did both of these things (downleveled players to content so it was always at least marginally challenging, and reward non-combat gameplay), and it worked rather well.

The other market you're looking at are those who would love to invest entire weekends or more into your game, but can't. Maybe they have a family or other responsibilities, for example -- a very common method for appealing to these players is to offer microtransactions allowing them to catch up to players with more time. This also has the advantage of providing residual income; income via microtransactions can often dwarf that of subscription fees if implemented in a fashion that does not offend the majority of your player base.

Of course that last part is the tricky one. When considering a microtransaction that is designed to catch up players without as much gaming time, you have to make sure you're offering them an acceleration of some progress and not a direct purchase of that process -- in other words, sell experience boosters that increase XP gain rate, but don't sell levels or experience directly. This reduces the likelyhood that it will be used by both the time-constrained and extremely hard-core players, which in turn reduces the likelyhood you'll have to field a slew of "pay-to-win" complaints.

Allowing progress to be gained in some limited fashion while not active in-game is something else you could look at -- EVE Online does this, allowing skills to be trained regardless of whether or not a player is logged in, but requiring you to log in to change what is trained.

• Talk about the ideal person to answer the question haha. – Keith Thomas Oct 18 '12 at 3:36
• Most Korean "f2p" mmos have such exp boosters, and they're used by every powerleveller. Most casual players don't bother to spend money on the game, thus lagging behind even further. A better system might be a completely flat character development track, without levels. That way the only things determining your strength are skill and equipment (the former coming with talent and practice, the latter through exploration, conquest, crafting, purchase, or gifts from friends). – jwenting Oct 18 '12 at 6:10
• ctd... That may also discourage the rather unsavoury griefer elements who in many MMOs block essential quest locations and levelling grounds in order to prevent lower level players from progressing. – jwenting Oct 18 '12 at 6:11
• As a father of 3 and an casual (time) gamer there's three things that matter to me: 1) how much is my bang-for-the-buck? Tribes: cheap and I can play it over and over. Diablo: worst waste of $59 ever. 2) cost. I mostly play free to play games these days. I doin't mind spending$59 on a game, but I don't have the time to make \$15/mo worth it. 3) time-to-action. I love EVE Online...it's the best MMO in existance...but I don't have the time to spend 1.5 hours in-game before I finally get to shoot something. For me, it's about getting on, getting in action, and getting out. All in about 1 hour. – Timothy Baldridge Oct 18 '12 at 12:20
• As for solutions suggested, they are like balancing Poland with nuclear-armed USA by giving the former a Tomahawk rocket. – Markus von Broady Oct 19 '12 at 9:45

I think the inherent difficulty here is that RPG's are generally about investing time in exchange for character progress. People who invest large amounts of time should, almost by definition, have a further progressed character. Speaking as a person who falls quite squarely into the 'casual' label, I don't see this as a problem until it limits interaction between characters with different power/progress levels. As such, I would focus on ways of eliminating large power differentials that are the barrier to character interaction. It's possible that the 'hardcore' players require this power differential to enjoy the game, and in that case it becomes very difficult to balance.

I would do two major things different than MMORPGs I've played. I would put the bulk of the content in the leveling game rather than in the end game, and I would make some sort of power scaling system (such as seen in Guild Wars 2). I would do this in the hope that some players could play the same character through multiple parallel story lines, and some could start a new character each time, and they would be able to play together whenever they wanted.

The remaining issue is then why would a full level character play lower level content. I would try to solve this with distinct flavours or themes per area. This would make it interesting to explore the whole breadth of the game. I would also try to solve this by spreading out the best-in-slot equipment over as much of the game as possible, so that a min/max-er would have incentive to play the whole breadth of the game.

There are many other techniques that can be supplemented, such as rested XP for time logged off, micro-transaction purchases, and per-day XP caps. I wouldn't put too much focus on them because I've seen them implemented and haven't been impressed.

Make the lower level characters still useful somehow and also take up less "space". In a game like PoxNora or Magic, characters have a "casting cost" or whatever. So imagine a dungeon which only allows say 100 levels in, and whether thats a level 90 and a level 10 or 50 level 2s could be up to the players. Or you could even actually abstract it into some kind of summoning points based on more than level. There are probably tremendous balancing requirements for this and it might only make sense in things like "instances" where you can control entry.

Lower level players can still be useful in the world maps. In Eve, for example, lower level players can make "tackling frigates" which do some fun and useful stuff early on. You could make meta-game balancing effects as well to take this to another level. For example, make the higher level players physically bigger and easier to target and make the lower level players even possibly invisible. Lower level spells go unnoticed and higher level spells show up on the radar or something. Make it actually harder and different to play a higher level character, not just bigger numbers in the damage reports.

There could even be classes that are designed to stay at lower levels, and take on support roles while evading player detection or just not having much casting cost.

There could even be an upkeep cost which could happen on world maps. Maybe your team looses some points or something when you die and have to be reincarnated. The cost could be higher for the higher level character.

I've always wanted to take it a step further and make the super amazing items also have some "casting cost".

• Interesting idea, but taking this too far could give the players the feeling that they become less powerful instead of more powerful when they level up. – Philipp Oct 18 '12 at 7:01

## Let's analyze the problem.

Here is a funny definition of a Casual Gamer. If we consider it true, then there's simply no solution to your problem. That's why I'll define a casual player as: A player who doesn't spend a lot of time playing.

You want a system that lets casual players interact well with hardcore gamers (players who spend a lot of time playing, opposite to casuals). By interaction you can mean one of either:

• friendly interaction - healing, building guild cities together, trading etc.
• hostile interaction - fighting, blocking a quest (like in Lineage 2 by guarding an NPC), capturing a flag or a different object etc.
• technically neutral interaction - chatting, guiding someone in a quest (like showing where some important object is located) etc.

or all of them. In most MMORPGs a casual player doesn't have a disadvantage only in third option - he can chat with others, role-play with them with a success, and guide a pro player on a low-level area that he already forgot. As for PVP, he has no chance to defeat a hardcore gamer 1vs1 and is likely not to be taken into a group PVP where he will weaken his party. I will focus on how to fix the hostile interaction, as it's easiest to compare possibilities of two players (a hardcore gamer and casual player) by letting them fight and see who won.

You can choose your target balance as one of these:

1. A casual player has no chance to defeat a hardcore gamer. The chance may be not an absolute 0, but below 1% for sure. A good example is OGame.
2. A casual player has a small chance to defeat a hardcore gamer. All agility and luck based games fit well here. You can shoot down Quake master. Even when you play for 1st time, you can win with a world champion in a Battleship game.
3. A casual player has a nearly equal chance to defeat a hardcore gamer as to lose with him. This is possible to achieve by completely eliminating grinding (giving a player more strength as a reward for time spent in game), and basing player's efficiency on general attributes like player's intelligence, not particular game wisdom (a hardcore gamer knows game mechanics better than the casual). It can be also achieved by complete or nearly complete randomness, where even strategy doesn't help hardcore gamer to defeat a casual player (dices).
4. A casual player has a high chance (>50%) to defeat a hardcore gamer. This is very hard to achieve, but is possible. Such game can't be agility based, because if a casual player has statistically more agility than some hardcore gamer, then, as stated in Urban Dictionary, he is just a hardcore gamer in denial. This situation can only be achieved if hardcore gamers are in some aspect weaker than casual players in the target audience, or if a player gets a penalty equal to time spent in game, and he somehow can't just create new account or doesn't want to. However you should really reflect on if you want to punish settled players for playing your game!

## MMORPG casual-friendly: equal chances

Here are the advantages of hardcore gamers above casual players:

1. They have more friends in game - friendship is like a flower, not watered will fade away, and it is rare to have lots of friends from real life in your favorite game.
2. They have general gaming experience - should I maximize one attribute, or balance two? What is diminished returns?
3. They know the game better - Chess players know openings, MMORPG players know if it's better to go in dodge or armor.
4. They have usually more agility; not real agility, but perceiving 2D monitor view and using keyboard and mouse is easier for someone used to it.
5. This may be a duplicate of first point, but they are inside better guilds.
6. Not only they have all above advantages, but they also are further in progress, and therefore get a technical advantage: better gear, more skill-points spent, more waypoints reached, more abilities unblocked (e.g. riding a horse) are all devastating to already unbalanced hardcore/casual gameplay.

So how do we fix it?

1. You can fight this:
• Creating forum signatures and similar gadgets will let your players advertise the game on forums, their blogs etc. letting them bring old friends instead of forcing to make new friendships in new game.
• Also fixing the casual-unfriendliness will help: a casual player who discovers your casual-friendly game will advertise it among his casual playing friends.
• No inflation - if I'm a casual player, and I need help of my friends, these who didn't play for 6 months won't be helpful if there's a technology inflation, making their leather armors obsolete against AK47 guns.
2. Things like diminished returns are nice inventions. You want to use them, you just need to document them with tooltips and tutorials the way a new player gets it quickly.
3. The solution to make the game friendly for new players would be to create a system that is simple, and different from known systems (like D&D that also isn't that simple), or known very well to casual players (like card games). I wrote about it a little here: Turn based battle and formula
4. Here's where the very early design of the game (choosing a genre) is important for casual-friendliness. This rather can't be FPP, or a hard RTS game like Starcraft 2. Generally any game that you could imagine as an e-sport isn't friendly for a casual, unless you target your games to casuals that actually are computer-agile (then ignore this point). Best casual type would be a turn-based game without turn time limit (sometimes a casual player just goes on a trip and returns a month later usually it won't be longer than a day, though).
5. Remove the guilds, or don't give advantages from guilds, or set penalties for guild sizes.
6. And finally player's progress. It is obviously an unfair system for casual players:
• One option would be to completely remove progress. You just make your build, and play with it.
• Temporal progress - RTS style. You gain upgrades, but they are all lost when you finally win/lose/draw. Just like items and character levels in League of Legends.
• Server wipes - this solution is good for weekend or summer casual players. The point of the game is to achieve something in limited number of time a casual player can afford. Red Dragon works like this.
• Wealth inflation. Adding a possibility of lose, instead of only gaining. If you base a chance of negative events on player's wealth, he will progress slower and slower to the point of his skill. A new casual player who proves to be more skillful in a given game mechanic, will quickly overtake an old player who didn't learn how to deal with some difficulties. I don't know a good example of this mechanic, but every hardcore (death is permanent) game implements it partially (even if a player with more wealth has same chance of dieing as a new player, the former everyday loses statistically more than the latter). Of course this shouldn't affect offline players - I would suggest a chance of a negative event only after every player's action - therefore less active or inactive at all players wouldn't be a subject to the inflation.
• You really don't want to advertise your game with such limited progress as a MMORPG game! The phenomena behind new MMO success is the progress itself. People love to gain power, money and experience. Advertising a game that does otherwise is like creating a family car by a Ferrari company. In this analogy hardcore gamers would be people who like speed of Ferrari, and casual players people who like safe, cheap in exploitation and comfortable cars that Ferrari doesn't produce. In effect casuals who don't like other MMORPG games wouldn't try yours anyway, and hardcore gamers would go away with dissatisfaction.

## Higher chances for casuals than for hardcore gamers

If we want to achieve an equality for casuals and hardcore gamers, we should probably aim higher or we will never achieve it, just like Achilles will never get to the tortoise in the Zeno's paradox.

I like to think of people not as better and worse generally, but with different talents. If hardcore gamers are talented in playing computer games, then casual players are probably talented elsewhere. If we want to balance these groups, we should give casual players an opportunity to use their other talents. I don't suggest to balance healthy players with blind in a FPP shooter game, but to give everyone an opportunity to gain some bonuses outside of game mechanics, and the idea is content created by players.

If players who are possibly talented in graphic arts, programming, writing, can create their mods or prepare content on forums for awards from developers, this is really a win-win situation that hardcore gamers for sure won't mind.

## What a casual game is?

Once on a design stage of a game I decided this game's target will be casual players. So what does that mean? What requirements should it fulfill? That's what I figured out:

• You should be able to pause the game at any time. That's why it's easier to make a single player game for a casual player. Imagine someone plays at work and suddenly his boss arrives, or he 'works' at home and suddenly hears his dog fell from stairs and broke his porcelain bowl - how much time will you give him to pause the game? In games like League of Legends you just can't pause the game, and destroy experience of others if you don't finish the math that can take up to 90 minutes. If you have a small baby and your wife is not at home (or she is not cooperative enough) you just can't play LoL.
• You shouldn't be punished in any way for pausing a game. You may be forced to do some activities in a long period of time, like 2 days, but only if you ask for it, e.g. if you start a poker round, you should answer to every action of your opponent not later than 2 days from his last action.
• Your score should not be dependent on time spent in game, or there should be no score at all (you just fight with others for the eventual fun from winning).
• You should be able to install the game easily - that's why browser games are best for casuals.
• It's not the must, but a lot if not the most of casual activity comes from smartphones when the casual players simply don't have anything better to do. That's why it is a good idea to design your game as a touch friendly (there are also a lot of people playing on touchpads).
• Casual players often work, that's why casual games should be SFW: it doesn't necessarily need to look like Excel, but it shouldn't put players with muted sound at disadvantage.
• The game should not enforce you to be active at a particular time (like OGame does). Everyone, even most hardcore gamers have their life and awarding players who take the game as more important than their real duties is promoting "no-lifes".
• Downvoted for downvoting a wrong person. – Markus von Broady Oct 19 '12 at 17:37
• Upvoted as it is a good read – Valmond Oct 22 '12 at 14:19
• Upvote for all the content. Answers were Okay. – TheNickmaster21 Nov 1 '13 at 14:29

Another alternative you could try appart from those already said, you could maybe boost the experience, or some other bonuses, the player gets for the first hour he/she plays per day.

For example, the first 2 hours would grant 4x the exp gained from everything or something, that way even if one grinds too much he/she won't be that far into the game.

Or maybe some kind of feature that would allow the more advanced player to help the lower one in a way that helps both. 9Dragons, for example, had a system of master-disciple, in which the master would aid the disciple with the game and would also gain (and give) a permanent buff as long as the two were logged on.

• the master-disciple part is a really good idea – wes Aug 23 '13 at 15:09

I think it's almost impossible to make hardcore players play well alongside with casual, unless they are IRL friends. The solution, in my opinion, lies in analysing player stats, and grouping players based on their usual behaviour. This is how it's done in real world of chess (and almost any kind of sport actually). Grand master will not play with amateur, they both will not enjoy it (again, unless they are friends).

This solution is already implemented in some online games. When you are joining the game, you will join party which is close to you in experience and game style. If the player enjoyed the game session, he's more likely to be connected to similar, or even the same players again, if possible.

I guess it is now a general solution applicable to all MMO games, but so far it seems like the most natural. Limiting hardcore players or rewarding casual in some form looks like unfair play.

Turn based strategy MMORPG hybrids achieve exactly what you describe. You have a limited number of action points (or other resources) you can spend / units you can build, etc. per day. A casual gamer can log in for 10 minutes, perform all the basic tasks and log out. Or you can spend the whole day if you wish, by micromanaging resources, trading, forging alliances, discussing tactics, spying, etc.

While I think you already have a basic concept and it might be far from a turn based strategy game, you might take a look at such games to learn some tricks or methods you can use.

I would base the game on the player skills, i.e. his abilities to use the mouse and keyboard with ease, rather than on how much points he cumulated.

This means replace "experience points" with real human experience.

As it is already the case for fighting games or car games, it might seems a bit unfitting for an RPG. I'll take in example the RPG game "Monster Hunter" which focuses on the gamer experience : there is no leveling system in this game and you can, with a lot of skill, beat a dangerous monster with the weakest armor of the game.

In this game, cooperation is important and much more emphasized, because you need to consider the skills of your partners and prepare a team strategy before jumping into the fight.

I would see an MMORPG with this kind of system very interesting to play as it removes from the game the boring farming part.

A long time ago, some two years by now, there was a similar question in the site GameCareerGuide and they asked people to send their ideas to mitigate this problem. You cal all read my entry through the following link:

It's quite a long read, so the short version is: it requires the shift in paradigm from levels acquired through play to items scavenged or acquired through the success of the player in playing. This way players will make the extra effort to complete missions one single-time instead of going through them repeatedly and become stronger by absorbing the powers of the items they acquire from the world.

It allows people who WANT to keep playing to do so and allows people who CAN'T keep playing to have their characters grow just as much as characters from people who can afford to play 40+ hours a week.

The text's also an old one, so there might be some revision lacking. And sorry for the wall of text, I'm a designer - not a programmer, back then I tended to run wild when writing.

Cheers, Roni

How about going deep into the mechanics? If you reward a skill instead of time spent then people only investing a little time might do better. As an example, let the power of a spell depend on how poetically the player can describe its effect (as evaluated by other players, of course).

• you have to be careful there, very careful. If other players are to judge your progress there's among many mmo players a tendency to use that power to put down the masses and lift their close friends. This is especially apparent in games where death or injury costs experience/levels. Griefers gang up on lower level players, camping their bodies and killing them time and time again, just to prevent them gaining levels. – jwenting Oct 18 '12 at 6:14
• This is potentially a neat idea... but how do other players evaluate that? What is the in-game mechanic for that portion of the feature, and how do you incent other players to evaluate their peers? – Josh Oct 18 '12 at 16:21
• Well, it was just a spurr-of-the moment example idea. – user1409813 Oct 18 '12 at 17:01
• But award manna(the ability to use spells) to those who evaluate other spells, and make it totally random who is asked to evaluate which spell. – user1409813 Oct 18 '12 at 17:09

But even the busiest casual players sometimes like to spend a whole sunday afternoon playing a video game.

I always thought that good solution for this particular situation combined with daily/weekly limits is to replace periodic cap with total cap that extends every period.

So instead of allowing to gain 10 points every day, you allow to gain up to 10 points total (from start of game or relevant season), on next day 20, 30 on 3rd etc. That way every player who started on same day will still have exactly same cap, but those who missed some days for different reasons can spend extra time to catch up.

I think it depends largely on the game type, but personally I think focusing more on non-combat mechanics and balancing skills is important, at least for a game I'd enjoy playing. I always disliked the idea of levels as then you instantly put people at different stages in a game with or without their experience as a player but simply as the time invested in the game; which could be different. Ultima Online did a decent job at balancing skills: anyone could get good at something in a reasonable amount of time, but to master it took a long while and dedication. I would consider making a game where you can't simply master all skills, and especially such, some skill-mastery would decline opposing skill types which the player may be mastered in-- I wouldn't expect someone to be mastered in sword fighting and magic, except for the cheesy Game Master. In addition to this, skills could degrade over in-game-time when a player does not practice to a skill. This results in a player who plays the game constantly to need constant work on his character to be the best, and deservingly so, and someone who logs in a few times a week to potentially hold her/his ground in a competition. Much more could be written about this, but perhaps this will spark some ideas.

• I think most of this is reasonable, though I do balk at the idea of degrading progress over time (and purely over time; reducing one skill at the expense of another is reasonable) since it may tend to make players feel like they need to grind that skill constantly. There doesn't seem to be anything about a gradual decline that is fun for anybody. – Josh Oct 18 '12 at 16:14
• for example, if I chose not to work at black smithing for a few months I'd assume my ability to smith would be slightly degraded as I am 'rusty'. the amount of degradation of skill does not necessarily need to be large, nor would it be reduced past a certain point-- a master black smith would not always be a master if they didn't keep at it once in a while, but they would always likely be good at it. at some point a player should practice a skill, hopefully through fun gameplay and not specifically for practice, to sharpen her/his skill. at least that's how i see it could work – scape Oct 18 '12 at 22:33

Why not cut back the interaction?

EVE online shows the starts of this, you level up regardless of if you're actually playing or not.

I've been toying with a concept I refer to as "Poo-RPG", essentially, a game that you interact with for about as long as it takes for a decent toilet break (obviously mobile enabled).

Desktop Dungeons is going down the right path - short individual levels that are not trivial to complete. Completing more will give you more stuff, but you'll still only progress at the same rate - so long as you stay active.

Make levelling about what you can do, not how well you do it. The more you play, the more of the game opens up to you, but playing alongside others you're realistically no more powerful. I think Realm of the Mad God does this - progress unlocks new characters, but they're all about the same power.

One of the strategies I've employed was to make the hardcore players have a real interest in helping and/or mentoring the casual players through the game. Simplest terms would be guild but a more effective version is something like, as you get more powerful in a game you become the ruler of an area and the smaller players actually flock to you for your "coverage" and you in turn want them to do well for NO OITHER REASON than to make you more powerful =)