Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Paid Bypass For Levels

With one click of a button, my old Warden crafting alt in EQ2 gained 48 levels and presumably a variety of gear, perks, and AA's.  I don't even know what I won because I have yet to log on to check.  I made my decision to throw this free upgrade at a crafting alt based on why I do - and do not - play MMO's. 

Indirectly passing on the free 85
Before pushing the win button, I used the "try before you buy" feature to test drive a level 85 Beast Lord.  This expansion class would have been the most likely choice if I were rolling a new character to actually play the game with.  Even on the partially locked down trial status - you start with limited AA's but a full set of high quality gear - I concluded that it was pointless for me to spend the free level 85 token on that character. 

I was killing things so quickly that I could not get a good feel for the class.  More importantly, I actually enjoy playing solo content in EQ2.  If I ever do play a Beast Lord, playing it from level 1 would be the entire point.  Since the free upgrade is a limited time offer (for the next week), there was no reason NOT to use it to grab some random perks for my highest level crafting alt to facilitate future crafting. 

Now my 62 Tailor is suddenly a lot harder to kill for any mobs I encounter during crafting quests, and supposedly he has a free flying mount for his troubles.  I wouldn't have paid the $35 SOE is asking for this service, as there is a non-zero chance that I will never actually benefit directly from having this character at level 85.  Still, I don't have a problem taking the upgrade as a freebie.

The myth of the perfectly-balanced player
There are two real drivers for this feature. 

First, the modern MMO model of vertical progression is completely failing people who play MMO's because they want to play with their friends.  There is no way for games to maintain critical mass for group leveling in a game that's multiple years old using traditional MMO mechanics.  Even in games where there is some sort of down-leveling or "level-free" system it is almost always somehow less rewarding for players to come help their newer brethren.  Thus we have a situation where soloing to the level cap - 80 or more levels in MMO's that have been around for a while - is the frequently only option.  

This would be fine if everyone who played MMO's actually liked all aspects of MMO's, but many people do not - for valid reasons - enjoy soloing.  However, you can't just punt on allowing solo content unless you are willing to write off a significant chunk of the market (not a bad decision in principle, and I tip my cap to the games with the guts to go this way).  And thus the developer's dilemma.  No matter how many times you nerf the content, the player who does not want to be there soloing is still going to see it as a speed bump between them and the group content they want to be doing with their friends.  Meanwhile, you will ruin the content for players like myself who actually want to play it long before you make the grind palatable. 

While it was EQ2's producer who floated the idea of jumping players to max level back in early 2011, it was actually World of Warcraft who implemented it first, with a revised win-back program a year and a half ago.  I supported the plan then and I still support it now.  Developers are not going to change player preferences on whether or not leveling solo is a good thing.  Killing levels outright for everyone (which Keen proposed a year ago) does fix the on-ramp problem but it does not provide an alternative solution to the design problems that levels exist to fix.  Offering instant levels is the most expedient - and, with fees, mutually beneficial - solution that I've seen to date. 


  1. What I'd like to see is some follow-up information on these level jumps: how much do people actually end up playing these characters, do they ever get a good handle on them etc.? Because personally I suspect that for many players the theory of an instant high level character is a lot more appealing than the practice of having tons of buttons you don't know how to use and having little attachment to all the freebies you got...

  2. http://balkothsword.blogspot.com/2013/07/i-just-want-to-play-with-my-friends-on.html

    Just making levels much quicker and then having the solo content branch out at max level rather than throughout leveling might be an interesting solution.

  3. I agree with your point that, once a game gets to a certain age, paying for bypassing to a certain level point is one of the few ways of bringing the player base together.

    Reducing XP requirements between levels can have a lot of unintended side effects, but not doing something to bridge the gap between min and max level sees the player base spread thinly, particularly in early zones since all the max level players are off doing the end game content.

    It's actually a curious feature of MMOs - you spend non-max level content generally playing one way, but when you hit max level you have to adjust to (generally) a different style of play as provided by the endgame.

  4. It's long been my impression that MMOs should start off by including both a full, traditional leveling game *and* an instant max level "start at endgame" button. The two markets are simultaneously separate and complementary.

  5. One thing I'd like and which might actually work is the option to auto-level alts through any content I've done before.

    That way you can make interesting solo content that I'll enjoy taking my time with once, but let me skip past it if next time I don't want to repeat.

    In LOTRO for example, I'd be happy to level instantly to the point where I can do Enedwaith, which I've never done before.

    Equally I'd take other alts straight to 85 to have them available for grouping with friends.


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