Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Poll Results: Would you play Blizzard to start a (non-DK) WoW character at level 55?

My latest poll got a lot of votes - apparently the expansion day traffic took the time to vote while they were here, and the results were interesting.

Would you pay Blizzard to start a new (non-DK) character at level 55?
31 votes, 22% - Yes! 20-60 is the worst content in the game.
32 votes, 23% - Maybe, if the price was right (e.g. $25/character)
13 votes, 9% - No, I don't need more alts.
61 votes, 44%- No, there's no point to paying NOT to play the game.
Total: 137 votes

A divided community
I deliberately split out people who have no need for the service from people who are opposed to it on principle, and the results are interesting. Without the people who don't need more alts, you're looking at an almost dead even split between people who are opposed to paying for a head start and people who would be open to it at some price.

I was concerned that even offering a "maybe" option (for a cost in the range of what Blizzard charges for character transfers) would bias the results - wouldn't EVERYONE who wanted the service have some point at which the price was wrong? Apparently not, as the votes fell evenly between the two options. Maybe those 31 people were more concerned with making the statement that they want out of the game's pre-TBC content than with the caveat that the price had to be reasonable, but it's a striking result none the less.

What was I getting at?
There were serveral things going through my head when I made this poll:

- Blizzard had just confirmed at Blizzcon that some form of paid character customization was in the works. (The implication in more recent interviews has been that this might allow face changes, perhaps even race/gender, rather than anything that affects gameplay, but there's no real hard information on the topic.)

- Death Knights get a 54 level head start (well, call it 50 due to the speed with which you can get those first four levels, but still) and various other goodies that seriously discourage new alts of any other class.

- Blizzard does not have the time it would take to revamp old world Azeroth up to TBC standards, even further discouraging playing other classes though said content.

- The new "recruit a friend" program is designed to help new players skip past the old world as quickly as possible to help them reach the level their friends are playing at. It also allows dedicated players willing to dual box to level one or more alts of their own from literally one to 60 by abusing the free levels granted to help the veteran's low level alt keep pace with their recruit's new character.

Collectively, I've long argued that Blizzard will have no choice but to allow all classes to start at a higher level at some point in the future. The precedents I listed above suggested to me that they might at least be considering offering the higher starting level for outright sale.

Is cash for levels a good idea?
Pidge sums up the argument against cash for levels pretty succinctly in a comment on the original poll:

"After playing since launch and levelling multiple characters to 70, I couldn't see such a move as anything else than a shameless money-grub and slap in the face. I bet a LOT of other players would feel the same.

There's nothing "heroic" about starting a character at level 55, so that justification for making it free for DKs just doesn't wash."

I don't disagree in the slightest. A certain portion of the staying power of World of Warcraft is built on consumer confidence of sorts. Players are willing to put up with a time-reward curve that gets slower and slower as you get closer to being out of content in part because their time is an investment. For me personally, that is a big part of what has kept World of Warcraft at the top of my playlist for four years while I've tried and left quality offerings from Turbine, Mythic, etc al. I'm confident that Blizzard WILL (eventually) put out a next patch or expansion that I'm going to want to play, and therefore I'm willing to spend time earning temporary upgrades to help me take on that content more effectively.

Messing with that investment is a fine line. Most MMORPG players accept that it will be easier to level down the line, and that their gear may be reset from time to time. Actually removing earned honor points, however, was more than players were willing to tolerate. It's a fine line to walk, and, while charging real world money may add insult to injury, even a non-paid level 55 service would rock the boat.

That said, the fact that so many people in my unscientific poll were not only eager to skip past the low level content but were willing to pay actual money to do so suggests to me that the current state of the game is untenable. There are other problems to be faced in skipping players past content and dropping them into a high level character they have never played before - Blizzard handled this very well when it came to Death Knights, but probably does not have the time to plan a similar rollout for the other nine classes. Perhaps we will see a leveling improvement patch, similar to patch 2.3, sometime during Wrath's patch cycle (such as the largely mysterious 3.2 patch).

The fact remains that something has to change, and that Blizzard's ongoing course has been to facilitate skipping the content in whatever ways they can. I hope they come up with something more creative than asking for straight up cash, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.


Anonymous said...

I think I said this a few weeks ago, but I only recently started reading your blog, and it's fantastic. Well done!

I can't recall whether I answered your poll question, but I would probably pay to start a character at a higher level. I would prefer 58 or 60, though, because 55 means having to do a bunch of old world stuff I have done twice and don't wish to repeat. The DK solves that problem by getting you to 58, at which point you can start Outland. Obviously, starting at 70 and jumping right into Wrath would be optimal, but I don't think they will offer that.

A few issues that I think are relevant to this discussion:

1) How does someone know what class(es) they will like well enough to play at the end game? Under the current system, you learn a class over a long period of time. You really know nothing about it until 10, and only start to get going at 20. Paladins are boring and undistinguished until at least 40, and a Ret Paladin doesn't get Crusader Strike until long after that. Shamans can't dual wield and Stormstrike until 40 (41 to do both at the same time).

2) What will the option be for a brand-new player? Will they get one free character that starts at 58 - which they recommend you save until you've played at least one class to 20? Would they really make the "default" option for a new player to start 58 levels earlier than everyone else?

Both these issues are far more serious if you charge money to create the higher-level characters, obviously.

3) Given the vast difference in quality between Elywnn Forest and Howling Fjord, at what point does Blizzard want a new player's first impression to be based on the quality of what the game is like now, rather than four years ago? I would even suggest that Hellfire Peninsula has much more in common with Elwynn than with Howling Fjord. And strangely, although I've barely touched Borean Tundra, it seems very, very old-school compared to Howling Fjord.

4) A lot of people buy this game in order to play with friends who are already playing the latest content (and this near the expansion, are loathe to leave that content in order to quest with a friend through the 1-70 content). I think that making someone who just bought the game in order to play with friends play through 70 desolate levels before they hit Northrend is a terrible model, and obviously it's only getting worse with time. Speeding up levelling and refer-a-friend are not full solutions to the problem, imho. A few weeks ago I wanted to get in on a multiplayer Gears of War game that was happening on Saturday night. I went to Best Buy a few hours ahead of time and was able to play that night with my friends. MMOs are the most definitive multiplayer experience, but they also have the most barriers to playing together.

If I were King of Blizzard, I'm really not sure how I would address these issues.


Argon said...

I don't think I'd want to buy a level 55 character, but I'd probably pay money to get the Refer-A-Friend bonus for a character (triple XP up to level 60). I have only started playing recently, so there is plenty of the old world I haven't seen yet. I actually got one character up to 60 via Refer-A-Friend (and 2 more to 30) and the pace is fairly quick, but I doubt my friend (who has been playing forever) will be willing to tag along for all of the alts I want to make.

I'm sure they'll wait a bit for the Refer-A-Friend dual-box money train to die down a bit before they would do that, or allow you to pay to create a level 55 character. RAF costs the price of a box plus an extra $15 a month!

Dorgol said...

I'm a cheap bastard, but I would be willing to pay a few bucks to get a character fast forwarded to 55. After leveling 5 characters from 1 - 70 in the last 4 years, I really don't need to see that content again.

I like the idea posted by Argon that would allow me to get triple XP, though.

AJ said...

Very good analysis there, loving the blog :) I posted yesterday about the story and why we play. I think there's a missing link in the graph tho that doesn't account for the background of the people replying to the poll. Alot of people that are against "Skipping content" as it were are the ones who haven't hit max level multiple times and don't know the quest text line for line (blatant speculation, but that's my experience).

It seems to me that the biggest proponents for skipping content are people that have take multiple toons to the level cap and still haven't found the class they were dreaming of. There are a myriad of reasons people play and for some, especially the PvP crowd, class makes 100% the difference to their experience. Every patch is make or break with it's class tuning, and when their class of choice becomes impossible to use for the purpose you love playing (Shammy, meet 2 man arena...) it is often a case of re-roll or struggle on valiantly and futilely.

I'd find it interesting to see the results graphed against the number of 70's a person had when they voted, or a person's motivation to play. I play for the story, any class that can allow me to experience that without much fuss is fun to me, not because of the mechanics of the class, but because it lets me do what I like in the game. Maybe the question isn't who would pay to reroll at a high level, but who would pay to start playing the game the way they wanted in the first place...

Xtian said...

The "best gameplay" answer is to create a tutorial for each class that has the same lore/story quality as the DK starter scene and combines it with introductions to the basics of each spec. It would also allow the game to teach some game mechanics which currently aren't taught to new players (threat being the prime offender). Conceivably, each "tutorial" zone would bring the character up a couple levels and start them off in the high 50's ready for outland and equipped with an understanding of their class, the roles it can fill, and how the game works.

That's a hell of a lot of work for admittedly very little material payoff (lots of artistic bonus points though). It would make sense in a future expansion that sunders old world Azeroth - if all the old world content is now unplayable because the Faceless ones took over the Barrens and whatnot, it makes sense to start everyone higher.

Green Armadillo said...

@Fedaykin: The starter content issue is non-trivial, but Blizzard might presume that anyone willing to pay extra to skip the early going is not a novice and can figure it out. They probably didn't intend people to use recruit a friend to level characters instantly to 60, but some people are doing so, and they're getting by without a tutorial. Sadly, I can't see Blizzard taking the time for a new tutorial, especially since the DK version ALSO comes with gradual acquisition of class skills over the next 15 levels.

@Argon: We'll see what happens with RAF in the future. I'm curious what portion of RAF accounts were actually made solely for short term dual-boxing. Some of those accounts might actually close up shop after the obligatory 2 months, though Blizzard could also collect paid transfer fees for rescuing any characters on the second account before it goes away. Like you and Dorgol, I'd certainly pay for triple exp, I might even prefer that to an insta-55.

@AJ: That would be a more interesting survey, it's just slightly beyond the capacity of the free poll system at Blogger. Also, the more variables you're tracking, the larger the number of responses you need to make sense of them - you can't conclude anything about people with 3+ level 70's if you only get 2 of them to answer your survey. I've never gotten anywhere near 137 poll responses before, and I think I owe most of those to the expansion launch - a poll like you're talking about would need to be conducted at a site with more traffic.

@Xtian: Tobold proposed the "shattering" idea a while back, and I can't see what Blizzard's motivation would be for actually removing content from people who WANT to use it. I think we could see the future idea but I expect that they will handle it via the Caverns of Time (basically a new Dark Portal of sorts, only it leads to the future) and leave the old world intact. As Tobold conceded, the idea he talked about would basically relaunch the game with TBC as the base game and level 55 as the new level 1. That's a job for a sequel, not an expansion.

Daria said...

Another wrench in this is crafting. You need the old zones for materials to level a crafter. Right now the people playing low level toons can supply those materials.

If you gave people the option to start at level 55, there would be a lot less of the "classic" materials and gear in the marketplace.

Would Blizzard also have to offer a paid service to start at 300 tradeskill? Because I know I wouldn't want to have to go back and kill a bunch of low level animals to skin them, or low level humanoids for their cloth.

Dracon said...

Although I enjoyed reading your interpretation of this unscientific poll, there is another way of interpreting the data: The majority of those answering the poll are opposed to paying Blizzard to start a WoW character at level 55. When I answered this poll, I took the "principled" side of "no," but the "alt" side of "no" was almost the same to me. I think it is ill-advised to charge for almost anything. I question charging for transfers of characters. I even question charging $15 a month for next to nothing. And that is not just directed at Blizzard but at any pay-to-play game. Yes, I am cheap.

Tesh said...

I've got to point out that you already pay for a level 55 character, just in time and sub money. The cost for one is heavily gradated according to the time people are able to spend in the game.

As such, there will definitely be a price point inflection that makes selling characters profitable for the bulk of players. That's all there is to it. All the ranting about "it sullies the purity of MY grind" or "that's just not how it's done" is irrelevant. If Blizzard can make more money selling high level characters than making people grind them up on their own, they will do it.

This will be increasingly true as they keep designing for the "endgame" rather than constantly revitalizing the whole game world. There's no compelling reason to pay full price for four old game data.

Tesh said...

To clarify a bit what I meant in the first paragraph, there will be those who can grind out a level 55 alt in a month ($15 + what, a hundred hours?), and those for whom it would take several months to grind out the same hundred hours of game time, with a concurrent increase in sub cost. Even assuming that players do the exact same thing and level up in the absolute most efficient manner, normalizing the in-game time to achieve a level 55 character, there is no guarantee that new player A will have as many hours *per month* to play as the jobless basement dweller will. That level 55 character will always be more expensive for the player who has less time to play *per month*. As such, a pure cost/benefit analysis may well mean that they would be willing to pay for that character.

The inflection point comes when they are NOT willing to pay to play the game to grind up that character. Find the sweet spot between "not willing to pay for six months" and "OK, I can pay that much for a six-month character", and you'll do more business than before, because those who have been avoiding the game now have a reason to pay and play.

(Which, in a nutshell, is the same argument for microtransactions and gradated payment models.)