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.