The thing is that I'm just always enamoured with so many MMOs that I can't just play one and nothing else. I have to be a "juggler:" a player who balances online worlds. With limited time at my disposal and a desire to be in three or four MMOs at any given time, I've done a lot of experimenting with different ways to juggle titles.
There is no one best way, I've found. It depends on how "fair" you want to be to your MMOs and whether it's a priority to you to give each of them more or less the same attention and time. Each of the following strategies has pros and cons, and if you're trying to handle two or more titles, you're simply going to need to figure out what works best for you and your allotment of time.
So: multiple games, limited time. Probably one of the simplest and cleanest methods is to line your games up and rotate through them, one night each. It's extremely flexible, since it allows any number of games to be in your rotation, whether it be two or 10. You can add in games, take some out, and keep on trucking as long as you stick to the rotation.
For example, I'm playing Hogwash Online, World of Spiders, and Massively Massive. On Sunday I log into Hogwash, Monday I go to Spiders, Tuesday I check out MM, and then on Wednesday I'm back to Hogwash. But maybe I want to add in game Age of Waffles, then I'll do that on Wednesday instead and go back to Hogwash on Thursday.
Fun fact: The preceding paragraph had the most mentions of "hogwash" on Massively in its entire history.
2. Rotate by hour (or half-hour)
Set a timer for an hour, 45 minutes, or 30 minutes and play. When the timer dings, move on to the next game in your rotation. It's basically the above method at an accelerated pace. Some people have remarked that 30 minutes may be too short a session, although I think that depends on the game and what your goals are.
The idea here is that each game gets its fair share of time, allowing for a flexible system that adapts well if your free time varies. Maybe you get one hour to game on Monday but have three on Tuesday; this system ensures that you're progressing through your stable of titles at an equal pace without any pressure to play all of them in one sitting.
3. Dedicated game nights
If you're OK with stepping away from a game for extended periods of time (such as two to three days), then you might want to consider a fixed nightly schedule. I tried this for a while with three MMOs, giving each two dedicated nights during the week (Game A being Sunday/Wednesday, Game B being Monday/Thursday, and Game C being Tuesday/Friday), with Saturday being an "anything goes" day.
I feel this is a good method if you don't like game hopping several times during an evening, but you do have to contend with a gap of a couple of days between returning. I actually started up a game journal to keep track of what I was doing in each game so that I wouldn't spend my first 15 minutes trying to remember what I did earlier that week.
4. Times of the day
Say that you don't have just one regular window to game but instead have several opportunities during the day or week that vary depending on your schedule and circumstances. An idea to take advantage of your strange life is to assign an MMO to a time of the day, if you get it. For example, if you regularly have a half-hour free before work or school, you can dedicate that time and that time only to an MMO that will make the best use of those 30 minutes. A more time-intensive game might get your evening hours, on the other hand.
Again, this strategy depends on your schedule, but I've poked at it from time to time and found it quite useful. Sometimes there are fun guildies who only show up in the morning or during lunch, and by fixing your play schedule to that time window, you can actually build relationships while maintaining multiple MMOs.
5. Three quests and you're out
So if the idea of dedicated anything annoys you, then throw time out of the window and fixate on personal achievements instead. For a long time I was doing what I called the "three quests and you're out" rotation, and at least for me it worked really well.
How it works is that you play an MMO until you accomplish three good-sized tasks (usually quests, but you could substitute PvP scenarios, crafting sessions, or whatever feels like a good equivalent), then you log out and go on to the next game on the rotation. This method focuses more on keeping your progression in each title more or less equal without being concerned how long it took to do your desired tasks.
I've known a few gamers who take the time rotation concept and go much bigger by playing games on a weekly or even monthly basis. Age of Waffles gets January, Fall of the Risen gets February, and then we're back to AoW in March. I have a hard time seeing this as true "juggling," but if you want to avoid burnout and are fine with departing your community for a chunk of the year, then it could have a benefit, especially if you plan it out. I guess it could also help you stave off temptations of adding in more games, but honestly, is that fun?
7. Go with a gaming group
If playing with friends is more important to you than what you're playing, then another option is to hitch your wagon to a group that likes to float between games and simply do whatever the group is doing that night. The power of social connections would need to be a driving force for the player because we're talking about a huge surrender of personal drive and desire, but I've seen it done, and the players who do so appear content with it.
8. Random draw
If you want to ensure fairness yet don't like sticking to a routine, then get a hat, write down your desired MMOs on slips of paper, toss them in, and draw out one each night to play. Once you empty the hat, refill and repeat.
I've never done this but it's an interesting notion, as long as you're OK with an element of randomness in your schedule. That should come pretty naturally to MMO players, yes?
9. Play two MMOs simultaneously
When I've gotten into conversations with friends about juggling MMOs, a couple of them have mentioned that they actually play two MMOs at the same time on dual monitors. Usually one is a much slower game that requires the occasional command between long periods of time (such as, say, a space-based ADAM Online) and the other is a more traditional MMO. This is really not my scene at all, but it's a possibility that depends on your ability to divide attention and perhaps the types of games involved.
10. Play whatever you feel like playing at the time
"Well, DUH!" you exclaim. "I've been saying that since your introductory paragraph!"
Yes, you can simply throw any plan out and just do whatever you feel like at the time. But when it comes to MMO juggling, it's not always the best idea, especially if you want to be fair to your current crop of games. I've found that if I don't have a plan, I'll play in illogical spurts (four days with one game, two with another) and then realize that a game that I genuinely do like has received only a single play session from me this month. It's up to you and how personally disciplined you are, really.
So for those of you that handle two or more MMOs at a time, which strategy do you employ?
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.