Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Time to level cap

A reader wrote me because he was worried about the effect of server age on the RvR combat of Warhammer Online. RvR in WAR is divided into 4 tiers, so that even the outcome of the RvR between the lowest level characters has some influence on which realm is winning. What happens if like in WoW everybody hits the level cap after a certain time and there are few or now low- to mid-level characters around? I told him not to worry. As far as I've seen in the video podcast the lower tiers contribute to the result of the higher tiers, but it isn't necessary to win the lower tiers to capture the enemy capital and win the war.

But the question assumes that the time to level cap in WAR isn't significantly different from the time to level cap in WoW. And that might be a bit too early to presume. Time to level cap is not the same for all games. With World of Warcraft having been such a huge success, there is a danger that other games copy as many features from WoW as possible, not knowing which one is the secret ingredient. But I don't think that WoW got their time to level cap exactly right, there is still room for optimization.

Early in World of Warcraft's history the PlayOn blog made a census and determined that the average player took 21 days, or 500 hours to level to 60. But their latest count has people leveling to 70 in 15 days, because of players now being more familiar with the game, there being more spoiler sites, and because of all the twinking going on. Wrath of the Lich King raises the level cap to 80, but makes leveling up through the mid-levels faster, so time to level 80 will probably stay below 500 hours.

500 hours or less to level cap is rather short. Everquest wasn't as meticulously studied by third parties as WoW is, but inofficial polls at the time of the Kunark expansion revealed an average of over 2,000 hours to level 60. Personally I never got to the level cap in EQ1, I got stuck at level 42, with some unfortunate deaths costing me so much xp that I didn't level up for weeks until I finally gave up. The problem with the time to level cap is that people tend to experience that time in real-world weeks, regardless of how many hours they play per week. If you'd play only 10 hours per weeks, even WoW would take you a year to reach the level cap, and Everquest would take 4 years, which is way too long. But if you play 40 hours per week, you finish WoW in 3 months, and Everquest in a year.

People like their characters to progress. Advancing too slowly along the leveling curve is bad, but hitting the level cap and not advancing any more except by gathering better gear and reputation is bad too. Some features of a MMORPG, like raids and the ultimate PvP, is only available at the level cap. The level cap is the big equalizer, where all the people playing at different speeds finally end up having the same level and thus being able to play with or against each other without level difference getting into the way. With time to level cap being so short in World of Warcraft, the level cap turned into "the place to be" far too quickly. Many people nowadays just rush through the game to get to level cap, some even paying powerleveling services to level their characters up for them. It is a game design which places the best content at the end which makes people want to skip the leveling part of the game. And I don't think that is the optimum way to do it.

Other games, for example City of Heroes / Villains, did a better job of overcoming the difficulties of level differences before the level cap, by giving players the option to adjust their level to that of their friends and play together with them. It is easy to imagine a game having more content in the low- and mid-levels, and not reserving all the epics for end game raiding and PvP. If there was simply not much interesting stuff to do at the level cap, people wouldn't be in such a rush to reach it. You could make games which took longer to reach the level cap, lets say 1,000 hours, and make all of that time more interesting.

Unfortunately EA Mythic thinks that by offering end game RvR they have found the miracle cure of MMORPG longevity. I'm afraid leveling up in WAR won't take any longer than leveling up in WoW, and after an initial phase of exploration many people will rush to the level cap as fast as they can. It might get even worse than WoW, because some people derive their self-worth out of being able to beat other players in PvP. That is a bit pathetic, but sadly it is part of human nature. And I am not sure that the first rush of kicking ass in realm wars will last very long. I might not be the biggest fan of raid content, but at least it is some sort of content. Relying on players to entertain each other in RvR without the developers contributing any content is probably not going to work for years and years. My hope for WAR is more on the PvE side, because apparently all 6 races have their own zones from level 1 to the level cap. So even if the end game turns out to be boring, WAR might have good replayability. There is always hope.
Other games, for example City of Heroes / Villains, did a better job of overcoming the difficulties of level differences before the level cap, by giving players the option to adjust their level to that of their friends and play together with them

Doesn't EQ2 have something similar calledmantoring system?
The EQ2 website is down so I cannot check, but I found this link
And I am not sure that the first rush of kicking ass in realm wars will last very long. I might not be the biggest fan of raid content, but at least it is some sort of content. Relying on players to entertain each other in RvR without the developers contributing any content is probably not going to work for years and years.

I think you are making hasty conclusions here. How come end game RvR would mean relying solely on players entertaining each other? (Not that there isn't any proof of it working. Just see any random multiplayer FPS shooter). We already know players will get to kill NPC bosses in captured cities, and my undertanding of RvR (trademarked by Mythic :) is that it will be compined PvP and PvE to gain upper hand over your enemy faction.
Well there are different types of players which is easy to forget. Personally when I level I do it for the PvP at the level cap in the end. Sure, the PvE is fun for a while, but don't expect me to enter an endgame raid treadmill. While I like WoW in general I hate it specifically because it's horrible for PvP. Mainly because there's such a huge gap in power between a newly dinged L70 and a fully epicced out character of the best tier/gladiator armour. Sure, I tolerate it for now but as soon as I find some better game for PvP I'll be out of there. Well, possibly except for leveling my characters to the new level cap in a WoW expansion, just to see it.

So concentrating on RvR isn't such a bad thing really. I think there are plenty of people out there that will appreciate a well designed RvR concentrated game. But of course there are people who don't have the slightest interest in PvP. Those I'm not really sure they'll find exactly what they are looking for in WAR.
The fact that everyone reports that the most interesting content is in the End Game results the fact that people rush through the levelling without learning to play their class. People seem to rely on the 'guides' and 'addons' to take care of the learning process, and then they expect to be able to complete end game raids as effectively as those who have taken their time to learn their class.

The end game content comes all the more harder when people rush through the levelling game: there is no need to learn the team play, the group mechanics or the raid specific positions for the classes. This in turn will show in the first end game raid, which may well be the first grouping ever for the toon, let alone the player may have played another toon to the cap earlier: the classes function quite differently anyhow, and to master is to rehearse.

I restate my opinion: because people play the 'game' to win, there is always competition to reach the 'end game' be it whatever. MMORPG's don't have the 'game over'-screen, so they aren't games per se, but entertainment, and the content should be entertaining for all. From the casual explorer to hardcore arena grinder.

I don't think increasing the time to level would be beneficial in any way for the vast majority of people who play MMORPGs.

If WAR doubled their leveling time and doubled their pve content, you'd still have hardcore players rushing to the level cap as fast as possible. Casual players on the flipside would be stuck spending extra months of real time trying to level up. If it takes a hardcore player 1 month to cap and a casual player 3 months, that's a 2 month gap. If it takes 2 months for the hardcore, then 6 months for the casual, that's a 4 month gap. Decreased leveling speeds punish the casual more severely in 'real time', even if the proportion of time is the same.

You say you don't care about the gap because you don't care about endgame? That's fine, it still matters as its indicative of how long you'll spend at any given level. Some people enjoy messing around, seeing as much as they can see and don't worry about leveling - they're explorers. But the majority of MMORPG players don't fall into the explorer type. The addictive lure of MMORPG is character advancement. If it takes too long to advance, people quit. Just like you did with your level 42 in EQ. It was too slow, you burned out, and were done.

The only way slowing a leveling curve would become viable for the masses is if the gameplay itself is rewarding enough that leveling becomes a side effect of playing, rather than the goal and reward of playing. No MMORPG to date has managed this. MMORPG gameplay is repetitive and 'grindy' due to the very desire to stretch out leveling to hundreds of hours of gameplay.
I don't see how a company could both increase the time it takes to level and increase the amount of engaging, original, non-repetitive content without astronomical development costs and a monthly fee nobody would be willing to pay.
Doesn't EQ2 have something similar calledmantoring system?

The mentoring system in EQ2 is basically one half of the sidekick/exemplar system in City of Heroes/Villains - the exemplar half. The other half in CoH/CoV is the sidekick part, where a lower level player is raised to a level close to the higher level player.

This means that a player can experience almost all content regardless of level, as long as there is another player in the appropriate level range that they can make a duo with.

And there is not really and end-game in CoH/CoV either, so there is not really anything to rush through the levels to - the real game is what you get on the way up, not anything at the end.

In WoW it took me perhaps 10-12 days of play time to get to level 60, 7 months of calendar time. In City of Villains it took me almost 11 days of play time to get to level 50, in about 14 months calendar time. I have still a fair amount of content I have not played in CoH/CoV - but also a lot which I have played many times. The game has been a bit thin on content in the 30s, but they have improved on that.
WAR has already said it will take less time to level max than in WoW. Maybe 10 days played.
There is a very easy way to get rid of level-cap problems -.-

Simply cease to use level systems, and make characters evolve solely on stats and abilities.

That way, it`ll take much longer untill you evolve your character. and without lvl constraints, there`s more freedom in gameplay.

The exp could be used to directly raise statistics, which will give more freedom in character evolvement.

and if you so as much want to have constraints on items, make some realistic ones, like strength and dexterity, rather than "you`re not level x, so you can`t lift the feather". which is simply stupid, and makes most people focus solely on "lvling" instead of playing their role.
I would love it for WAR having a fairly low lvling time. As you mentioned there are plans to make it so each race can lvl up in a completely new area so prehaps Mythic's aim could be for everyone to have numerous characters at the lvl cap. This would sort out a lot of problems such as 'need tank/healer' as anyone can just jump onto their alt and fulfill that.
Having played WAR Online in its release you will find that you can now level up whilst RvR'ing quite succesfully. One minute you could be with a group of friends completing a public quest and earning influence rewards, and then you may choose to get zapped off to a scenario and do some PvP. In both cases you are earning equivalent exp for what you kill and with scenarios boosting lower lvl players to the HP of higher levels everyone can compete. Being a higher level gives you more abilities obviously but you are able to hit people for the equivalent amount and heal for an equivalent amount so you can take part! Add to that the wealth of quests in and around the RvR areas ( surrounded by cannons and such) you could find yourself questing with a group of friends and having to stave off an attack from some nasty PvP'ers before completing your quest.

All in all you can level up pretty much how you want , but the only constant is how much time you can play for. Hardcore players will level faster but not necessarily by skipping the PvE content.
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