Monday, May 2, 2011

A Case For Paid Max Level Characters?

The blogosphere all jumped down Smokejumper's throat for the suggestion that EQ2 might give out max level characters, in no small part because we don't trust SOE not to monetize such an offer in ways that no one would enjoy.  Looking back on the controversy, like Massively's Karen Bryan, I'm starting to wonder whether selling max level characters for cash would actually be less damaging than the current approach to vertical progression. 

Solo content in big budget MMO's is not going anywhere so long as the majority of the revenue comes from players who would rather solo. At the same time, the communities that make MMO's worth a solo player's monthly fee are built around players who tackle repeatable group content week in and week out, and those communities seem increasingly threatened by the sheer number of barriers - server, faction, archetype and level - that stand in between players and the friends they would like to group with.  Even solo content is suffering from constant reductions in difficulty that are needed to keep the leveling time for new group players in line. 

We already have a de facto split where the leveling game is primarily solo and the endgame is primarily group-based.  Perhaps it is time to make it official, allow group players to buy their way out of the "chores" they don't want to do anyway, and go back to balancing solo leveling content on its own merits, rather than on the basis of how much leveling it is fair to force group players to endure. 


  1. Yes. I've argued this before. If players just want to do endgame stuff, let them already.

    Alternatively, I'd redesign games from the ground up, but selling capped characters is good life support for older games beholden to the leveling grind.

    ...I don't even *like* raiding, but I can play without it. Why not allow those who don't like the solo leveling grind get on with the part they want to play?

  2. I'd flip the question. Why is there generally nothing fun to do at the cap solo? Procedural content that scales to party size could theoretically offer compelling content to soloers and small parties at the cap. It has in fact been done in Phantasy Star Online (parties max at four players) the Diablo series and several other non MMO online RPGs. That style of play has just never been embedded in an MMO.

    If we level all the way up solo and in five mans, it's not very realistic to expect us to transition smoothly to a new game that requires big parties.

  3. But then they should also allow solo players to buy their way out of the "chores" (of raiding) they don't want to do anyway and sell raid level gear to them.

  4. I think this is an area of game design where the cart has led the horse.

    No one sat down and designed a two tier system deliberately. Raids were tacked on the end of Everquest to occupy the astonishingly hardcore few who cleared that game but the game wasn't designed for raiding, it was designed for leveling. It was an accident that they underestimated and people finished.

    Once raids were in and became established in the culture as the thing the Awesome Players do then more and more people wanted to be an Awesome Player. So raiding got progressively more accessible.

    Now this gimmick busywork tacked on the end of the game has become the game. Without anyone at any stage sitting down and deciding this would be a good idea, then implementing that decision.

  5. @Stabs: Could not agree more to your summary. It's so spot on.

    @Yeebo: Exactly, that's a very good question. I usually play with 1-2 buddies or alone. We often take other players along, but in most MMOs it is "fill up with random players to party size" - and search for them or use the latest idea in WoW, the dungeon finder.

    This is one of the reasons I still like Guild Wars. Yesterday I ran Sorrow's Furnace and defeated the Iron Forgeman with a buddy, only the two of us and our henchmen/heroes.

    I also like the idea of "Skirmishes" in LOTRO with flexible party size and for various level ranges. They leave something to be desired at times unfortunately, I am talking positively about the general idea behind them.

    Back to "Sell Chars at the Cap" discussion: Well, why not... I think the TRUE underlying issue is the development the games have taken that Stabs described.

    Soloing till level cap and then you suddenly can't do anything but the "daily quests" alone anymore? It's perverted, grouping during the levelling process is often impossible, gets penalized or nobody does it, and then suddenly you have no choice but to group in fixed numbers for the only endgame activities, aka raiding and dungeons.

    Guild Wars often got criticized for the heavily instanced world, but funnily there is still a world, at cap WoW players and those of most other MMOs unfortunately seem to disappear into about as heavily instanced dungeon holes - with raid/dungeon lock timers and all that. GG...

  6. Like I said when Spinks posted about this the other day: giving people max-level characters would also harm the game for others. You could argue that it shouldn’t affect other people whether someone else wants to be max level instantly or not, but nothing happens in a vacuum. People skipping levelling would mean that levelling zones would be even emptier than they already are now, lots of people would run around at max level with little knowledge of their class etc. Also, if you give players a way to achieve something more efficiently, there will always be psychological pressure to do it like that all the time.

  7. The original EQ was "before my time" so I'm only really familiar with the "raiding era" of North American MMO's. I would love to see a game that really broke this paradigm in a way that is engaging and fun. But the problem is that innovation requires risk, and most gaming companies now are content to simply follow along in WoW/Blizzard's shadow.

  8. @Shintar: Games would only be more empty if the game design also kept the level segregation - this is not a requirement.

    The mentioned Guild Wars is a good example where this is a non-issue because of the rather horizontal content distribution.

    There are many other potential options to allow people to figure out how to play their characters than to go through a traditional leveling process - they will still not have learned everything they need to know if the so called end game is a different beast from the leveling game.

    Just let people have the option to play whatever type of gameplay that the game will offer, whenever they want to play that - be it raid PvE, solo/small teaam PvE, small scale PvP, large scale PvP etc, construction, decoration - no need to segregate types of activities beyond a brief introduction.

  9. @Sente: Oh yes, I have no problem with developers trying a different design altogether. My point was just that I believe that suddenly allowing instant max level characters in a game that already does have this kind of segregated gameplay would probably do just as much damage than good.


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