There’s quite a wide range, depending on your game, of how long Character creation can take. Certain rules-lite games can have your group up and playing in minutes while other systems, like a lot of d20 variants, can take the better part of a half an hour or so.
I bring this up because the first meet up of the new group I’ve joined is going to be devoting the entirety of the first 4 hour session to character creation. With 6 or so players, that will be around 40 to 45 minutes per person if we do things sequentially. Why so long? Well, as i may have mentioned, we’re running a ‘gestalt’ 3.5 variant campaign. Now “Gestalt” in German means form or shape, and in English has come to mean the concept of ‘wholeness’ and in D&D, “powergaming”. In 3.5’s Unearthed Arcana, this “Wholeness” is referring to getting the “wholeness” of abilities from multiple classes: your fighter switches to rogue, she keeps getting her fighter dice, fighter feats while she gets her rogue skillpoints and sneak, then switches to sorcer, getting to keep her fighter dice, fighter feats, rogue skills, rogue feats, sneak, while now she gets a familiar and sorcerer spells, and so on and so forth. We’re starting at level 12, so I’m guessing everyone is going to be playing some kind of Barbarian/Fighter/Rogue/Mage/Cleric variant. So yeah, rolling up characters is going to be something of an ordeal. Because it’s so complex, it’s probably going to need some serious guidance and supervision so that everyone can be optimally twinked out so as to be extra disappointed when the DM fulfills his promise that there will be character death.
I’ve never had any real problem with or hate-on for 3e, but it’s the only edition I’ve played where character creation has seemed like a chore. Maybe because character creation and optimization is such a focal point of the game? Really, Character creation in 3e is not so bad on the fly, so long as you’re playing vanilla. Roll some stats, pick a race, pick a class, roll your hit dice, choose your feats, count your skill points, allocate. It’s also easier to roll up lower level characters than higher level characters; this is because you have smaller numbers of skill points to allocate, less modifiers from feats to track, and a relatively small pool of starting money to pick your starting equipment from. From there, it’s easier to add each level on top of the next. Sure, you may have some sort of ‘plan’ for your character, but it’s nice to watch them ‘grow up’ so to speak. Personally, I like RedBlade for 3e/3.5, because it creates any basic character or class combination in a few minutes with all of the feats and spells and skills to choose from. If everyone in the group has this tool, character creation can take about 10 minutes tops.
So, compare this full-on marathon session of character creation to a game like B/X, 1st or 2nd ed. Typically, one can roll up a character for one of those in about 5 to 20 minutes. And the 20 minutes only comes into play for Magic Users, who are rolling to see which level 1 spells they know and writing them down. At most, you’re looking at 1 full hours for character creation (give new players fighters; they’re easy for beginners, since they only have to learn the basic mechanics of armor, to hit, and saves, without a lot of the fiddly magic and skills bits. Plus they can be lots of fun!)
Personally, I think that being able to get people right into the game is key for getting people interested in your game, your campaign and your group. It’s nice to say “I had an adventure tonight!” rather than say “I rolled up a character tonight!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m still really looking forward to playing again. It’s just that the sooner I’m in a dungeon the better! My ultimate hope is that I can find some folks interested in running either some old school or retro modules, just dive right in and go. I just know I’d rather play as a player than as a DM for a bit.