Friday, July 31, 2009

What makes EQ2 alts so tempting?

Lyriana, my EQ2 Dirge, has been stalled out at level 70 for a while now. There are some meta-gaming concerns at work here. The coming expansion will raise the level cap, and I had a hard time getting from 60 to 70, so I'd rather save any content I don't use en route to level 80 for the expansion. But a bigger part of the delay is that I'm focusing on my level 28 Warden/44 Tailor, one of EQ2's melee healers.

Kreejak is at that sweet spot in the reward curve where he's leveling quickly, but not at the lightning fast pace of the tutorial that most level 1-10 games run at these days. He's raking in meaningful upgrades in new abilities almost every evening. By contrast, I didn't know how to spend Lyriana's most recent AA point because I was choosing between three lackluster options that I cared about only because they unlock a future upgrade (yet another passive buff ability).

The Tetris Question
Wilhelm made a post yesterday on a question from his daughter: Why does Tetris get faster?

Applying the same approach to my plight, it becomes "why does the game offer fewer and fewer rewards as you progress?"

The cynic will say that this is simple Pavlov conditioning. Player power levels cannot continue onward and upward exponentially with every level (by design, I will basically be critting with nearly every swing from here on out), so progression must have a limit. Given a limited number of total rewards, the psychology says that you're better off concentrating them early on, as you teach the behavior (in this case, grinding out increasingly time consuming levels) to reinforce it, so that the player will continue to play (and thus pay) as rewards get farther and fewer between.

That said, I wonder if there isn't something different and specific to EQ2. Obviously, I do have quite a few WoW alts, but those have been leveled over the course of five years, generally in bursts of a handful of levels at a time, and never if there was something new and interesting I had yet to do on my main.

Perhaps I merely chose the "wrong" class for my main in EQ2 - for example I got my WoW Paladin to level 50 back in 2005 before deciding that I really wanted to be a mage, and ended up leaving the Pally to languish below the level cap for over two years. But, if the Warden is the class that I was really meant for, why do I have plans for numerous alts beyond him? Collectively, I have tentative plans for all but one of my character slots: a Ratonga Bruiser/Alchemist that I plan to switch into a good-aligned Monk, a mage of some sort (probably an Erudite Wizard/Sage), a Barbarian Paladin/Armorer when their new home city debuts in February, and a Ranger/Woodworker that will probably be either a Froglok or a Wood Elf.

In some ways, it all makes sense. The transition to level 70+ content in EQ2 is pretty rocky, while the early content offers the widest variety of options and polish, along with the opportunity to really sound out the feel of each of the game's class/race options. Perhaps that contrast makes starting your next alt seem more attractive than pushing ahead on your current character, especially if you do not plan to raid.

Either way, it seems to me that the average number of active characters per EQ2 player - at least among bloggers - is quite a bit higher than the average number of active characters per WoW player. SOE must be doing something right.


Stabs said...

For me the big draw towards alting in EQ2 relates to crafting. Crafting is designed to make you want to alt.

They draw you in at levels 1-9 when you can make any item. So you make some boxes and some bigger bags.

At crafter levels 10-19 you'll start to miss not being able to make the other stuff. The way the harvesting respawns work you'll probably be grabbing every kind of resource even if you only want electrum because that's how more electrum spawns. So you'll think hmmm, I have a great stack of resources and it's not much effort to powerup a carpenter and those nice big boxes would be awesome.

Before you know it you're cursing that you only have 8 character slots in a game with 9 professions.

Loredena said...

I've always had at least a few alts, but EQ2 really feeds into it. Crafting is part of it but also there's just so much -- 5 starting areas, each branching out, 24 classes (albeit 12 pairings), a dozen different races... there are so many choices that it isn't hard to play each in a 'fresh' manner.

WoW I had fewer alts in part because I got tired of the starting zones and the funneled leveling.

Green Armadillo said...

@Stabs: Crafting is certainly a part of it - you'll notice that my list of alts all include professions. Then again, it's not exactly as if crafting is what I want to do all the time.

@Loredena: Ironically, WoW launched with 6 starting areas (since expanded to 8), so they've never been behind on that front. Both games start to get increasingly bottle-necky from level 40 or so onwards, so I'm not sure that can be the secret ingredient either. The different feel of the races and classes definitely has some more potential as the major selling point.

Anonymous said...

I feel like the WoW starting areas bottleneck way earlier than 40 - there are very few zones/quest hubs you can skip running most of the quests in without having to grind mobs or instances.

Chris said...

The funneled levelling/bottleneck described is certainly part of the problem with WoW alts.

I suspect a lot of alts never make it past the 20-30 range, because they hit some horrendous grind or run out of 'fresh' options.

At this point, the number of new abilities also slows down dramatically. Most of your spells just get upranked, which isn't hugely exciting.

I've also noticed that achievements have had a substantial impact of the number of alts people have. Starting fresh is considerably less attractive when the collective rewards of all your grinding are lost.