Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Hard caps, soft caps

I noticed from various Warhammer Online bloggers and friends playing WAR that very few people seem to have reached level 40 in that game yet, even less PvP rank 80. Personally I never got further than level 20, but already at that point the leveling speed had slowed down to a crawl. It appears that it is much faster to level up a WoW character to 80 than a WAR character to 40.

But when I thought about why that would be so, I noticed that of course in World of Warcraft "level 80" is not really a hard cap to your character development. Yes, gameplay changes at that point, but by doing raids and gathering gear your character keeps getting stronger. And if somebody already has the very best possible armor he can get from Naxxramas-25 and the other raid dungeons, he'll be able to further grow more powerful as soon as Blizzard patches in Ulduar.

In Warhammer Online, there is a lot less character power growth through gear after the level cap. If you reach level 40 and PvP rank 80, and buy all the gear you have access to from that, that is more or less it. Which makes sense, because for a PvP game you *want* to have a hard cap, at which all players are equal in power.

Of course Mythic could have designed the game in a way that you reach the level cap much earlier, giving everyone the opportunity to do PvP at equal footing. But they know how motivating making your character more powerful is. It isn't proven that RvR alone is motivating enough to keep players subscribing. So instead they devised a system in which people could play PvP in spite of level differences, and keep on gaining PvE and PvP ranks for a much longer time. Good idea, but it only postpones the inevitable: At some point in time the majority of players will be level capped, and the cap is harder than that of WoW. I wonder what will happen then.

Note that adding raid dungeons and gear progression afterwards to a PvP game doesn't work, and it was Mythic themselves with the Dark Age of Camelot expansion Trials of Atlantis who proved it doesn't work. Mark Jacobs has been very explicit in expressing that he wouldn't do that again. I get the impression that Mythic plans to expand the game horizontally, by adding more classes, and ultimately new race combos. I doubt we will see an expansion raising the level cap. But Mythic's marketing has been sending out hints that soon the slayer and choppa classes would be added to Warhammer Online. It will be interesting to see how in the long term a game with horizontal expansions fares against the vertical expansion model of World of Warcraft. And personally I think that WoW could use a bit more horizontal expansion instead of just adding new raid dungeons and 10 more levels at the top.
"And personally I think that WoW could use a bit more horizontal expansion instead of just adding new raid dungeons and 10 more levels at the top."

I second that.
I think alo tof people haven't hit lvl 40 in WAR because they're not in a rush to hit level 40. In WoW, there was a goal to leveling - hit 60/70/80 so you could start the endgame instances. In WAR, there's plenty to do with open rvr that people choose to do which slows down leveling. On my first character, I just quested and ran scenarios. I hit 40 in about 3.5 days /played. That's faster than I hit cap in WoW which I believe was about 6 days /played before they boosted leveling speed.
With my alt in WAR, I run more public quests and do more open rvr for keeps, so I'm leveling much more slowly. However, leveling is more of a side effect you get while enjoying the journey in WAR.
WoW's massive boost to leveling speed only reinforces my belief that the only thing to WoW is the endgame. People love to bash WAR, but I find the mix of scenarios, quests (for when I want quiet and solitude), open pvp, and public quests to be much more of an enjoyable journey than the frantic questing of WoW. In WAR, there's no pressure to hit max and start grinding out rep and heroics so I can do raids. How refreshing.

Instead of PVE dungeons they can add new RvR content instead. Isn't there a "copy" of some very popular RvR dungeon from DAoC in the planning? After that they can add the missing cities with fortresses etc.
I havenĀ“t reached lvl 40 since now. We love to play in our guild. No hurry up for max-level and thats fine!

after most players reached lvl 40 etc. there is enough room for "tactics" and other stuff. whats with the guild-level? also maximum reached? why not more bonus for the guild-banner?

enough to play with. lets see.

Guild Wars has been very successful at keeping the attention of PVP players who reach the level cap. I think part of the reason is the richness of the skill system in GW - there seems to be vast range of skill and team combinations for pvp players to explore and try out against one another. Arenanet help this along by constantly adding new skills and adjusting old skills. I guess you could call their model horizontal expansion. The net result of it is that you are never "finished" with your character. There is always some new combination to try out.
I still think that Blizzard inadvertently killed WoW when they decided to add 10 levels with each new expansion, but again, I'm more interested on the pvp side of things. Even if they add experience bonuses to make the leveling time aproximately equal to what it was originally, the 80 levels are very intimidating to new players. A hard cap is always the way to go if you want good pvp.
You aren't the only one who is striking notice that the leveling curve sharpens to climbing Everest. The sisters and No prisoners, no mercy podcast bring it up in every episode.
I would say rank 40 is the soft cap, and rr80 being the hard cap. rr80 takes a very, very long time to reach for most players (some have done it already, but I would compare those players to a guild like Nih in WoW). The actual power difference between rr40 and 80 is also somewhat small, so you don't need to 'rush to the cap' in order to actually enjoy WAR's endgame.

"It isn't proven that RvR alone is motivating enough to keep players subscribing"

DAoC, Lineage, AC-DT, EVE? I would say the exact opposite is proven, that solid PvP alone can keep a strong community going far longer than unsustainable PvE content. The key is creating solid PvP, which few games attain for various and sometimes uncontrollable reasons.
Anyone have some links to analysis of what makes for solid PvP? And/or a catchall of why WoW's PvP is so broken?
I'd love to see some more low level content in WoW. Currently, leveling an alt is pretty tedious as I've already done all of the zones. I'd love to see them introduce a whole new continent with a couple of new races with content from 1-60. EQ2 did this with their Echoes of Faydwer expansion and it was very well received.

I think Blizzard are definitely aiming towards the increased level cap concept though - Heroic classes stand as proof of this. Pretty much the only thing that tempts me about a DK, for instance, is that I don't have to do the level 1-55 content again.
I think part of the reason a lot of people didn't get to 40 is that once you are into Tier 4 (level 30ish) you can actually participate in pretty much all of the endgame.

So I got to play the endgame before I got to level 40. There's not a huge incentive to push to max level. I think this is really one of the strengths of the game, but does explain how people can get bored of it before maxing out their level.
I could have hit 40 in WAR ages ago, but I don't see the need to rush it. I mean from a levelling speed perspective I did 50% of level 38 in 2 hours last night, all in solo PvE. 4 hours to level when your close to the cap isn't exactly a grind imho.

I don't need to hit 40 to play in the end game, being you can enter the endgame at level 30+. Ok, it would help me be a little more effective in RvR, but the game isn't insisting I have to be rank 40. Nor is it insisting that I have a certain level of gear, addons, time or various other factors that WoW might ask of me.

So instead of rushing to 40, I've been playing WAR far more casually than I did WoW. I've got alts (I personally never had time for an alt in WoW), I play other games and I can do other activities outside of gaming without feeling I'm disadvantaging myself. And because of the lack of pressure (self generated or not), I'm enjoying WAR far more than I did WoW - or indeed many other MMO's I've played in the past.
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