Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Paying for advancement

Blizzard's latest recruit-a-friend program, with it's triple xp and free levels, made a number of people recruit themselves as "friend", and start dual-boxing WoW for faster advancement. WoWInsider reports how to get from level 1 to level 60 in 20 minutes. But of course you need to pay for a second account to get all the benefits. So if you look closer, you are actually paying real money for faster advancement.

In Wizard101, which I just subscribed to, you can buy a second currency called "crowns" on the website. In game you can then exchange the crowns for gold, or buy special sets of epics for level 5+, level 10+, level 15+, level 20+ etc., which are much better than the gear you can get from questing and adventuring. The crown-bought gear increases your health, your mana, your spell damage, and reduces your chance to fizzle and the damage you take. Plus you get some extra spells. Again you pay real money for in-game stuff that makes you advance faster.

In the case of WoW and Wizard101 that is double-dipping, first they charge you a monthly fee, then they charge you a second time if you want to advance faster. More classic are the huge number of free-to-play games with microtransactions. In many cases you can pay for scrolls or items that grant temporary double xp or gold, thus making you advance faster.

If you consider a MMO like any other game, paying to advance faster seems wrong, a form of cheating. You couldn't imagine paying for an extra queen in chess to win games. But then MMOs aren't really like other games: Skill and luck only play a limited role in how fast you advance. The most important factor in nearly all MMORPGs is how much time you have to play. People playing twice as many hours advance twice as fast. Nobody remotely believes that the players who will get the new "first to reach level 80" titles in Wrath of the Lich King are those who are the most skilled. It will be those who either catass, that is play day and night with just minimum interruption for life's most basic necessities, or those who share accounts and play a character 24/7 in shifts.

So if you can advance faster by spending more hours, then why not allow similar advancement for money? After all, time is money, and people with jobs and family could well be willing to rather spend dollars than endless hours in front of the computer. The flaw in that argument is the premise that advancing faster is better. Do you watch DVDs on fast-forward so you can watch the same movie in half the time? Certainly not! The movie director timed the movie in a way that it is entertaining at its normal speed, and in fast-forward you'd miss most of what's going on. And the same is true for MMORPGs: The original leveling speed in World of Warcraft isn't so bad, at least not for your first character. If somebody actually used the Recruit-a-friend program to recruit a friend who never played WoW before, I'm not sure he's doing him a favor to speed him through the game at triple speed. The moral hazard for game companies is that by selling ways to advance faster, they are tempted to design the game in a way that the most fun speed is the one you have to pay extra for, while the no-pay default speed is feeling slow and grindy. If a game is designed so that players are tempted to pay to skip parts of it, there is obviously something wrong with that game.

If the different speed of advancement of the catasses and the casual players becomes too much of a problem, I'd prefer a Chinese solution: A character can only earn full xp for 3 hours a day, and gets no xp and loot at all after playing 5 hours. People who want to play more, need to play several alts. But at least the difference between the fastest character to level to the cap and the average isn't as huge any more. Better restrict the unhealthy behavior than encouraging it with extra titles.
You just described hour of power and it's been needed for years.

1st hour - triple exp
2nd hour - double exp
3rd hour - normal exp
4th hour - no exp
A system like that would make things more equal (if forced equality is desirable is an other issue).

On the matter of paying for advancement or items: i have no problem with it. It does suggest a flaw in game design though since it implies that fun can only be had with an additional investment, time or money wise. Or: the journey till that exact point is not entertaining enough to experience.
Good post Tobold. You are spot on about the moral hazard involved in "pay to progress faster" games. I have tried a number of free to play micro transaction games and in every case that mind set resulted in a boring grindy game.

On the other hand I am not against games offering ways to progress faster. I can see several legitimate reasons - levelling up alts for example, or levelling a character to play with friends or even just as a way to attract new players into an old game with mature server population. I don't think companies should charge for this service however. Make it a free option at character creation.

If companies want to supplant their revenues through micro transactions let it be for vanity items such as novelty clothing, non combat pets, housing and so on.
The hour of power concept will not make everyone equal, as players who can only play during weekends will be facing quite a penalty in terms of advancement. Unless the restrictions are taken to extremes, say 'log in once a week to advance a level', there will always be someone at a disadvantage.

Of course, this is an opportunity for game companies to create niche games for selected segments of gamers. Generic MMOs like WoW who try to appeal to everyone can't be too restrictive in that regard.

Regarding the 'restrict unhealthy behaviour' sentiment - be careful what you wish for. Or at least make sure that the people who will decide what exactly constitutes unhealty behaviour have the same outlook you have ;-)
Even if I had 2 queens in chess, I'd still lose :-)
There is no right or wrong in mainstream games: the company will design the game in the way that they get the most profit for the least investment. Period.

People want to be entertained and they like things easy. They will of course pay for improvements.

Imagine that Blizzard would release a payed set of BG gear. Imagine they would sell it for 600€ but that would garantee that you would be unbeatable (unless you faced off another one in that uber gear). Anybody would doubt that it would be a major hit? And most of the nay-sayers would be the ones who could not afford the set of gear.

I think that in modern day mmo's, people are more concerned with "beating the game" instead of just enjoying the leveling and the game itself. And companies are simply adjusting to "the demographics" and "consumer expectations".

Thank God for niche games...
Just give the ability to pay for a second level 60 after you have a max level character.

Seriously, once you have burned through all the content once, going through it again is boring as hell and offering a pay-for-character service would suit allot of people.

Obviously to restrict things for retarded gold sellers/powerlevelers ect you would need to make it non-transferable between accounts.
Catassess? Lol!

I do agree with Phantasmagoria's comment above where s/he suggests that it possibly points to a flaw in game design in that perhaps they've made level advancement too slow.

It's a pretty delicate balance - how much do you charge for a monthly fee, how much for micro transactions, how quickly do you let people level, and how much content do you have.
"But of course you need to pay for a second account to get all the benefits."

And you have to play characters on the second accounts as well to get the benefits.

I don't see the problem with that. They are not abusing the system.
And herein we have the same difference of opinion issue that's been raised many times.

People with time (and sometimes little disposable income) are often against any form of leveling other than ye old grind. On the other side of the coin, those with little time (and sometimes decent amounts of disposable income) and more than happy to fork over a few buck via a microtransaction.

I think it all comes down to a question of balance. Certain players will enjoy playing one way, others another way. And let's face it, even those that have triple xp'd their way to the top or those that have bought additional levels are still n00bs when it comes to overall gameplay, and very easy to spot.

So what if they ask a few more questions than the 'average' player, or cause a wipe in an instance, the game is, and should be afterall - fun!
In WoW's case, it does not seem practical at all. Sure you can get a L60 in 20 minutes, but you would have to level 2 L60 characters on the recruited account first.
I've spent almost the past two months getting my current druid to level 63. The recruit a friend bonus came out a few weeks after I started my druid. I was level 45ish at the time. I've since seen people hit 60 well before me. The triple XP bonus is total BS. I'm glad it promotes playings with your friends, but on my server(skullcrusher) it seems to have just promoted multi-boxers galore. There is an absolutely silly amount of paired-up shamans all over the place.

Now I don't care about multi-boxing, I'm not here to debate if that is legit(it isn't), but I feel it is kind of wrong to be able to level up two characters three times as fast as a normal player will.
You are confused! And your post is completely wrong.

You cannot level to 60 in 20 minutes!

You have to first level a character to 60 via the recruit a friend method, and then you can grant 30 levels! But only 30! For every two levels you can grant one.

So in fact you would have to level 2 characters to level 60 to get a free one. It is hardly the deal you make it out to be.
I don't know anonymous most of us have at least 2 level 60s already.
I'm sorry, Tobold, I think I missed the topic on this one again.

Let me go down the list:

- Shortened leveling period to 70, causing lost subscription money. Check.

- Perceived unfairness from players who can't afford to pay extra for advantage. Check.

- Use of some kind of third-party software to manipulate keyboard input. Check.

- Thousands of complaints on the forums and in GM tickets. Check.

Are we talking about Glider or RAF with multiboxing? Damn, I guess it really just matters who gets the extra money.

"For every two levels the new player earns, the new player can grant one free level-up to a lower-level character played by the veteran player."

So, to get the 60, you would have to level up 2 characters to 60 on the new account.

Note that you can refer multiple friends, so it's not that hard. If you have one account refer 2 friends, you can multibox the whole group to 60 very easily.

Then the first account creates a new character, levels to 1.999 and collects the granted levels from the other two characters originally ran.

Net effect: you have four level 60 characters in a third the amount of time it takes a regular player to create one. And, of course, you gave Blizzard a bunch of extra money.
Anonymous (4/9 @ 14:28), it's not Tobold's "deal", he's simply repeating what WoWInsider reported. Now because Tobold is reporting on a WoWInsider article and using their figures, he is repeating incorrect information, but it's WoWInsider who's to blame for the dodgy math, not Tobold.

WoWInsider's sleight of hand is that while the time from creation of that third toon to dinging 60 may have been 20 minutes, there was a lot of preparation that went into making that speed-leveling feat possible, and that time should have been factored in as well.

I'm not a fast leveler but I can ding 60 in approx. 5 days /played, so for approx. 10 days /played I could have three 60s, just on two accounts. That's a fast way to get three 60s, but it's not the same as dinging 60 in 20 minutes.

For some reason this reminds me of a recent Dilbert comic, where Dogbert gave a seminar on how to make a million dollars. Just invest $100 at 5% interest for 190 years. Thanks for coming.
And this is why I read your blog every day. Excellent summary of the current situation imho! :)
Ah it's a 60 on the NEW account, I get it now. thanks.

I wonder if you could transfer a character to that new account, then use that function? That would be rather expensive.
It's worth remembering that the first 70 in TBC was someone who played for 28 hours straight and had the help of his guild. He tagged mobs, and they killed them. His helpers played their own characters in shifts, but he played the full 28 hours himself. Yes, a big stretch of "catass", but obeying Blizzard's rules (no account sharing or botting).

You can argue that it takes a lot of skill to build strong relationships in a guild, such that so many people will work to help you accomplish this goal. Now that the new server-first achievements have been revealed for WotLK, that will be even more difficult, as the hardcore players will be competing among themselves for the titles. By helping someone else get first-to-80, you are giving up any hope of server-first titles yourself.
Gaining the levels necessary to level up via multi boxing takes a lot more work than what you were led to believe.

Practically you would need to level 4 characters to level 60 to get another 'free' one at 60.

This is because you can only gain the triple XP if the 'friend' is of the same level. Also you can only grant the free levels to a lower level character.

Thus you would need to take two pairs, (or a pair and a single char, but then this latter won't get triple XP), and only then you can grant a fifth character an all the levels necessary to get to 60.

I'm speaking strictly from the point of view of a multiboxer, who wants to trade money for a level 60. As you can see it also takes a whole lot of work. As leveling a pair to 60 will take about 2days. So you are looking at 4 days played. Now all you need is slog through BC five times to get them to level 70...

Of course if you do indeed have friends that will join and level two characters to level 60 in their spare time you do indeed gain a 'free' level 60. But that is not what your post was about.
Dumb program. Sign of desperation.

But anyway, I think the cut off for micro-transactions should be things that actively hurt other people.

For instance, the no selling top end gear. But leveling? Why not? Does it really hurt anyone else that you didn't do the grind? Some people might be annoyed, but really the only person who is arguably losing anything is the person skipping the content.

I hate leveling myself, its the ultimate grind. But apparently some people like it. Why not let each have what they want?
So it's ok to work on the computer for 8h straight, 5 days a week, 20 years long but it's not ok to play 8h of wow on the weekend?

That is what I call loss of reality...
I wonder if this will lower the price for chars on those evil RMT and char selling sites ;>

Meaningful and intelligent content has been missingfrom WoW for quite some time. They accomidate to the most dedicated no life players first, and then to their moneytap customers 2nd.

No wonder people are looking for other MMO's.

Hour of power. That is an interesting concept. Are there any games that use that, anonymous?

WoWInsider reports how to get from level 1 to level 60 in 20 minutes. But of course you need to pay for a second account to get all the benefits. So if you look closer, you are actually paying real money for faster advancement.

Hahahaha 20 minutes? Why don't they just give people a /level command that takes alts right to 60. Make it unlock when you get your first level 70.

In the case of WoW and Wizard101 that is double-dipping, first they charge you a monthly fee, then they charge you a second time if you want to advance faster.

Yes, it is definitely double dipping. This is reason #912731 why subscription models stink on ice anyway. At least in a pure pay-for-extras model you know in advance such things are going to happen.

Blogging about Online Gaming and Virtual Worlds:
Hour of power. That is an interesting concept. Are there any games that use that, anonymous?

In Ultima Online you got double skill gain (no xp in UO) for the first hour you played every day.
Not directly related to the post, but Blizzard has dropped the titles associated with server firsts to max level and max profession skill. They are still 'Feats of Strength' (achievements without points) but the titles are gone.
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