How long should it take from pressing "Start Game" to player's first battle?

Touchfuzzy

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See the thing about trying to find some absolute answer to any game design question is that each part of a game is like a cog.

And it isn't about finding a whole bunch of shiny, amazing bejeweled cogs. It is about finding all the cogs that work together the best to make the whole game tick.

Removing the context of the surrounding game while attempting to discuss any individual design decision has very little use, as there are very few design decisions that have literally NO place in gaming (I do believe Russian Roulette has managed to find one, but that is about it), it is always about how something FITS into the game, not the design decision itself in a vacuum.

That said, my answer to the question is generally: As early as it makes sense to.
 
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I would like to add that story is a 'critical part' for most RPGs, it is probably the genre which relies upon story more than any other. This is excluding non-rpg visual novel style games. The point of a 'Role-Playing Game' (at least how I see it) is that you are 'living' the story of the character(s) rather than simply 'reading about' it in a book. Because of this you could say that the story is the 'primary mechanic' of the game and everything else is about 'transforming' the story into 'gameplay'. Even a 'mindless' battle against a sewer rat is still technically 'story', "ah so this is why people avoid the sewers!"

Taking what @Touchfuzzy just said: its "As early as it makes sense", not, "As early as possible". Very important to know the difference.

Rogue-likes and dungeon-crawlers fall under their own little sub-genre, so they have their own rules and expectations. And just a side thought, the player's first expectations are perhaps more important than the first battle's placement. These expectations tend to come from how the game is 'marketed', 'advertised' and overall 'presented'. I for one would not expect early battles in a Persona game (though P5 was cleaver in how they handled it) but would expect the opposite in a dungeon crawler like Etrian Odyssey.
 
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Frozen_Phoenix

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Action (not necessarily a battle) should come as fast as possible, it's a game not a movie.
 

TheoAllen

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Action (not necessarily a battle) should come as fast as possible, it's a game not a movie.
Are you saying "Action" as a "Player Input"? Or something else?
 

Frozen_Phoenix

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Are you saying "Action" as a "Player Input"? Or something else?
Battles, gearing, puzzles... anything that is actually playing the game instead of just reading plot.
 

Milennin

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This topic kind of blew up, and it makes me want to expand my answer on it, lol, since my first post didn't really explain anything. So, I'll agree with those who said it should take as long as you need to establish your intro; that there's no true one answer that fits all games, so I'll just go with what I, myself, prefer to see in games (RPG Maker games, specifically) for this.

Say I download your free RPG Maker game to try it out. See if it's any good (read: fun for me to play). My main interest in RPG Maker games is seeing interesting combat design, so if you start out your game with a lengthy intro that doesn't really let me do anything but to walk over to NPCs and read dialogue boxes, I'm going to be turned off.
See, if a game has a good story, but bad combat, I'll not be compelled to finish the game. Your game can be the next Shakespearean masterpiece, but if your combat is bad, I'll not play it. When I play your RPG Maker game, I'm short on time. I don't have a lot of free time to play a bunch of games, so if your intro needs a bunch of time before it gets to the part I want to play, I'll drop it. Keeping story telling concise and to the point is, in my opinion, a key element to writing for games.
On the other hand, if a game has good combat, but bad story, I can live with that. I'm here to play a game, not to read a novel. Well written story is a bonus if it happens to come with a game that already has good combat. The only way to judge whether a game has good combat or not is by playing it, so the earlier I get to play your combat, the better. If it turns out to be bad, I can drop it early on and I'll have little time wasted on a game I wasn't going to finish. If it turns out to be good, I get to the good part early on, and that is a good thing.

I respect developers that show their gameplay early on. It means they are confident in their gameplay and that their game is fun to play. Developers who lock me into endless boxes of dialogue give me the feeling they're hiding their lack of game developing skills behind walls of text, in the hopes I'll find their story interesting enough to overlook poorly thought out gameplay mechanics.

tl;dr: I play RPG Maker games to play them, not to read them. The sooner you give me combat to play, the sooner I'll know if your game is worth keeping playing.

What's my ideal time to first get into combat?
<1 minute. Great if your game is mainly gameplay-driven. I like this.
1-5 minutes. This is pretty much the ideal window of time, giving just enough time to establish an introduction to your game world and story, but still getting me to play fast without waiting a long time.
5-10 minutes. A bit on the long side, but I can live with it if your intro is well made and engaging in some way or another.
10-15 minutes. This is really stretching it. You need to be doing something very right if you can keep me waiting this long without dropping it before my first encounter.
15+ minutes. I'm moving on to another game.
 
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Ksi

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And that's fine for you, but some of us like to take our time, get to know the characters and their story, the world they live in and why we should care enough to fight for them. That said, some action is always recommended as soon as you can manage it - that is, letting the player PLAY the game. Or that's my take on it, anyway. I've started games with battles, I've started games with story, I've started games with a mix. It depends on the game and what you want the focus of it to be, but battles are PART of a game, not ALL of it, especially in RPGs - else that game would just be a fighting or boss rush genre game.
 

CraneSoft

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<10 minutes. Any longer than that, give the player a choice to skip everything before the first battle and give a quick summary of the plot that leads to said battle.That's the least a developer can do to give impatient players a chance to decide if they are willing to stick around for long enough before the meat of the game kicks in. (For any plot-driven RPG that needs significant time to establish its characters before you get into action)

Personally how long I stick around before the first battle depends on how I like the artwork and the characters, and first impressions of the game give me. That's a developer's role to make it appealing.
 

onipunk

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Funny, I generally think the exact inverse of Milennin - if a game throws me into a battle within two minutes of hitting New Game, I often feel like the dev is covering up poor writing skills with the hopes that their battle system is enough to make players stick around. I can't help but wonder if the dev's thought process is "uhhhh...I have no idea how to make this scene interesting or how to continue the story from here...so...battle!"

Arguably the intro is the most important scene of your game, as it's the first impression you make and sets the entire tone of the game If I get the sense a dev can't make a 5-10 minute cutscene interesting without resorting to combat, how can I have any faith that they know how to make a 40 hour story engaging?

Obviously there will be exceptions to this, depending on game length and core aesthetic goals and ideals, but this is a general rule of thumb that's never led me astray. Unless the dev has mastered brevity and knows how to create investment in such a short period of time, any battles in the first five minutes are a big ol' red flag to me.
 

Kes

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@onipunk I'm right there with you on that. The Studio Blue Let's Play that I mentioned in an earlier post on page 4 illustrates this to perfection. Early battle followed by stonkingly bad cut scenes and writing.
 

TheoAllen

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I honestly have no problem with either. I could adapt both ways. If the dev decided to put longer intro, then they're confident with the story, so alright I will enjoy the story. If the dev drop me right away to the battle means the dev is confident with their battle, so I will be enjoying the gameplay. I could stay with the game for either of the reason.
 

Tai_MT

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@Milennin

I can understand that point of view. The vast majority of combat systems in RPGs are "par" or just "standard" anymore. It's easier to tell if someone might've put some effort into their game if they throw you into combat immediately so you can see if they just did "the bare minimum effort" in a combat system, or if they decided to try to be unique.

Makes sense to me.

My personal point of view, however, disagrees with that. See, I see a lot of "standard" or "boring" combat systems. For me, the only thing to save your game at that point is the story. To that end, I need that set up on why I'm fighting and why I care about your combat system. Because, I guarantee, even if you have a great combat system... 4 hours into your game, I'm bored of it. I've essentially seen everything it has to offer at that point unless you are constantly pushing the rules of that combat system and constantly introducing new aspects of it.

Let's face it, most devs don't do that. They get bored of designing their combat systems roughly 30-50 monsters in. Pretty close to that 4 hour mark of gameplay. So, combat just becomes "Lather. Rinse. Repeat." over and over again. All the "uniqueness" in combat is then reserved for the boss monsters, which means your combat is cool for about 12 turns of combat... then back to the slog of boring combat again.

See, for me, that story has to carry the weight of the game due to that "seen everything the combat system has to offer after only 4 hours of it" aspect. I find it a more reliable way to find a good game.

Why?

A game dev designing monsters and skills and weapons and elements and combat systems... gets burned out easily. They repeat themselves a lot. Even if they do a fantastic job in the early game... There's very little guarantee that quality holds up for the next 10 hours or whatever. No guarantee that they even had enough content for half of the game. I mean, if combat sucks from the word go, yeah, you avoid a terrible game quickly by having that combat come as soon as possible. The same can be said of a bad story. The difference is, however, that if a writer is good enough to hook you at the beginning, that skill tends to carry them through to the end of the game. That is, the story quality doesn't tend to drop off at any point when you've got a good writer. Whereas, combat quality tends to rapidly drop off, the longer your game is.

So, for me, I just prefer to have that combat set up with story first. I need a reason to be engaging with your combat. Because, frankly, even if your combat is good... I'm going to be bored of it by the 3 or 4 hour mark anyway, and it's quality has dramatically reduced by that point anyway. The story is what is going to carry me to the end of your game. Not the combat that provides diminishing returns on enjoyment the more you have to engage in it.
 

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Skimmed this topic since I came late to the party, so this may have been brought up already, but what I believe in as a designer is:

WHATEVER IS GREAT ABOUT YOUR GAME, SHOW IT OFF IN AN APPEALING WAY WITHIN THE FIRST 15 MINUTES.

This makes questions like "how long should it take to have your first battle" highly relative to the game you're asking it about. If combat is the coolest, most appealing thing about the game - if combat is at the very heart of the game - make sure there are at least two battles in the first 15 minutes, and try to make both of them feel like "real" battles (not barely-interactive tutorials). If your game is more about exploration or storytelling, then you should start out with several minutes (or even up to a full hour) of amazing environs to explore or (preferably interactive) storytelling, and you can leave the combat out of the first hour. It's very possible that your game will have multiple things at the very heart of it, and if that's the case, work hard to find a way to interconnect them and show them both off in the first few minutes of your game!

In a game that I'm working on now, where I feel that action stages and combat skills are probably at the heart of the experience, the first half hour of the game breaks down like this:
  1. Introductory Cutscene (~3 minutes)
  2. Quick Explorable Area, no combat (~3 minutes)
  3. Action Stage (~7 minutes)
  4. Cutscene (~3 minutes)
  5. Tutorial Battle (~10 minutes - note that this is a minor flaw in my design necessitated by a combination of complex battle mechanics, a lack of non-boss encounters, and a relatively high level of challenge; therefore I needed to give the player a bit of time to freely play around with their skills before taking on the rest of the game. If I could do it all over, I'd include some non-boss encounters and give the player a bit of time to ramp up their mastery on some easy monsters here, perhaps saving the first boss for an hour in.)
  6. Boss Battle (~10 minutes)
  7. Skill Shop (~2 minutes)
 

Argon_Avers

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As long as it's interesting as a hook that draws me into the game, then you can take as long as it makes sense before a battle happens. I've seen even some RM games do this, but usually combat isn't the focus.

That being said, my current game's story is very combat centric, so these replies have been very interesting to read and get the ol' juices flowing.
 

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