Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 23, 2010
 
Downleveling is half a solution

LarĂ­sa from the Pink Pigtail Inn reports on Blizzard's plans to allow players of World of Warcraft to voluntarily play at a lower level, for example to be able to better play together with friends of lower level. Systems like that are well known in other games, and especially City of Heroes makes good use of it all the time. But just because a feature works well in one game, it isn't necessarily a good fit for another game. And in this case I would say that the ability to downlevel is only half a solution: The missing half is making people to *want* to downlevel.

Levels in World of Warcraft are an illusion. They make players think that content which is higher level than they are is harder, and content which is lower level than they are is easier. But once players downgrade their level, they will find that the Deadmines aren't any easier than today's so-called "heroics". And some of the dungeons of the past, for example Blackrock Depths, were huge and complicated. But the rewards you can gain in these older dungeons are mostly useless for level-capped playerd, and I doubt that Blizzard plans to "uplevel" the items you find while playing as downleveled character.

So while there will certainly be a few people wanting to group with lower level friends, I don't see this feature being all that popular. Unless of course if Blizzard gets the incentives right: Once we admit that the Deadmines aren't easier than level-cap heroics, we must conclude that level-capped characters should get the same sort of emblems for playing downleveled in the Deadmines as they get for level-cap heroics.

And that would actually be a huge opportunity for Blizzard to revive old content. The emblems made running heroics very popular, and if running older dungeons gives the same reward under the condition that you play them at the appropriately downranked level, the older dungeons would become equally popular. Maybe not all of them, as some are too big like BRD, or too boring like the Stockades. But it sure would be more fun to have a wider choice than just a dozen or so heroics at the level cap for getting your daily emblems. Some older dungeons are quite fun, and some players missed out on them, or at least didn't see them very often.

So I do hope that Blizzard implements both halves of the solution: Downranking levels and getting emblem rewards for it. Of course this is all still rather far away, and only planned for possibly a later patch in Cataclysm, not at release. But as Ghostcrawler said, heirloom items already scale, and Cataclysm makes spells scale with level, so downleveling isn't all that difficult. You'd keep you gear, and it would just decrease in stats. Visiting classic dungeons could be fun, but knowing WoW players I think they need some incentives to go there.
Comments:
Downranking levels and getting emblem rewards for it

Please suggest this in the WoW forums for it is a great idea. I would down-level if this happened.
 
It seems odd to me that so much discussion around downleveling centres around level-capped characters. I'd absolutely downlevel to play with newbie friends, but I wouldn't use my raid characters to do it - I'd grab one of the many alts I've left randomly distributed about the level curve. The only incentive I need for those guys is XP.
 
>And that would actually be a huge opportunity for Blizzard to revive old content.

In an ancient post, a blue made mention that it would be chaos if every dungeon had a max-level heroic version. They pointed out the issue that if someone wants to go to a specific dungeon and there are five dungeons available at that level, then you're more likely to get that group than if there were fifteen dungeons available.

The point is still there, with the exception that the random option of the DF tool can typically get you the group you need.

The primary problem I myself see is that you cannot instill desire for a specific piece of content in a player, except through making that piece much higher quality than the other places, at which point the rest of the game would feel lacking and uninspired (See argument of high polygon faction leaders vs low polygon playable characters.) The only thing you can do is make a player want a reward, at which point they will tolerate a piece of content (whether they enjoy it or not is irrelevant) to get the reward.

With zero tangible reward, players would only want to run content they liked for itself - either a boss mechanic, an art style, maybe a dialogue clip or whatever. So sure, adding emblems will reward players for running old-school dungeons at downlevel, but it won't make them enjoy it. They'll continue to skip optional bosses for the sake of reward-per-investment.

I also think e-peen deflation plays a role. Wiping in deadmines in your epic [downleveled] gear is more insulting than wiping in a top level heroic. As well, max level instances carry more prestige (since you've 'earned' the right to run those instances by leveling up.) I'de guess after the novelty of downleveling wore thin, a "Random max level heroic" option would see more use than a "Random downleveled old-school dungeon" option, even if rewards were the same.
 
Downleveling a character? No no no! WoW never really had a persistent world, now they also want my character to be non-persistent?

I don't know how anybody could like that. It is damn unimmersive!
*sigh*.
It is just one more minigame!

---
I doubt Blizzard would really scale characters back to the correct level. They won't want anybody to wipe (omg: a wipe!!!). They would scale characters back a bit, and keep them quite powerful.

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In my opinion, Blizzard should stop this exponential character progression and instead use a linear one (that would feel like diminishing returns!).

There is no reason for me to gain +2% power all the time. I am perfectly happy if I get any upgrade- no matter whether I can feel the difference right away (as if I could nowadays). I can say this with certainty, because I played for many, many months in vanilla, gained very small upgrades and loved it.
(Most of the time I raided only MC and only rarely).


Since you call Black rock deeps too long:
I my opinion there should be all sorts of dungeons. Short ones, long ones, epic ones ..
If I want to play 30 minutes before going to bed I should be able to do that.

If I want to play 5 hours this saturday afternoon/evening, I also should be able to do this. There is no need to homogenize everything! Just don't include the epic dungeons in the DF, if you want.

(Damn DF: They already start to argue like: We cannot do XY, because of the DF. Wasn't the DF supposed to help?)
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I'd agree with Xaxziminrax II. You are making the faulty assumption that the general community *likes* old content.

(ah, the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia ...)

You underestimate the number of players who don't care about the content, and who see it as just obstacles keeping them from getting the rewards ie. gearscore, achievements, ranks, etc.

By incentivising older instances, you will just spread players over that many more instances, and make it harder for any individual player to find a group.

And players would whine about incentivised old content as much as they whine current content.

Not quite the 'huge opportunity for Blizzard to revive old content'...
 
The Deadmines and other low level instances ARE easier than even the normal mode level 80 instances. Do you remember Gevlon soloing instances above his level with a Warlock? How many people are soloing Heroics?

You just don't realize the difference because at the time, you were doing Deadmines in mostly iLevel 20 greens, and right now you're doing level 80 heroics wearing iLevel 250 epics.

It will depend on how gear scales down, but you would likely still be doing Deadmines in the equivalent of iLevel 50 epics.

I understand your point, that heroics are already speed runs where you effortlessly brush aside enemies. So from a certain perspective, why not give away emblems for other super-easy instances?

But you are fixing the problem from the wrong direction. Heroics should be a notable challenge, rather than giving away welfare epics for every easy activity.
 
I just realized, this would work a lot better as a daily downrank instance quest. That way players aren't spread across every instance, just the one of the day.

Just a quick change of pace (if you want it) before going right back to grinding heroics.
 
If they downgrade items, but leave access to all spells and talents then downgraded characters will still be a lot more powerful than normal ones. Probably even more than alt characters in full heirloom gear.
 
In a kinda-similar-thing, LOTRO will soon be introducing scaling dungeons. So all the older dungeons will be able to be upscaled to the level cap. The reward system will be tokens. Not just up to the level cap either, all through the level range (although I don't thing they'll downscale a 50 dungeon for lvl 40's). That impending feature has made me sign up again.

p.s
about 4 months ago, i asked you where to get traditional Belgian food in Brussels. I went to Kelderke. Very very good! I also had some Waterzooi. Totally amazing.
 
We have this in EQ2. First we had "mentoring", in which a higher level character could drop to the level of a lower one. There were a few restrictions on that; you had to be grouped, you had to swap out your higher skills and spells for lower ones etc etc.

Apart from being able to help your lower level friends, the main rewards were bonus experience and the ability to get loot from mobs that otherwise would not drop anything, having gone grey.

Because it was awkward the system didn't get as much use as it might have done, the system was tweaked so that your existing skills and spells scaled down. This scaling was rather generous, so a level 90 mentoring to level 50 was extremely powerful. A level 90 scaling to level 20 was a superhero. Much more popular.

Finally the Chronomages were added. These NPCs allow you to adjust your level by 5 level increments for a very small fee. No partner needed. There's a penalty to experience, but it allows anyone to go back and use any content in the game without it going grey. Not only that, but because of the power-scaling you can solo a lot of it that you would definitely have needed a group for at level.

The system has its detractors, but they are a minority. Before it was intrioduced it was quite common to level-lock and complete whole level ranges before unlocking and moving up to a new area. Now you never need worry about missing content - you can always revisit it at will later on.

WoW may be able to implement their system in such a way that, as Tobold says, "they will find that the Deadmines aren't any easier than today's so-called "heroics". I doubt it, though. Much more likely that lower level dungeons will become a fun romp for heavily overpowered downlevelled superheroes.

If so, no incentive will be needed. Being really powerful is fun for a lot more people than it isn't. On the other hand, if Blizzard, being Blizzard, do manage to use scaling so effectively that a levelled-down character is indistinguishable in ability from a natural level character, then some HUGE incentives will be needed or hardly anyone will use the system at all. Few people want to take a voluntary massive reduction in the potency they have worked so hard to gain otherwise.
 
Nice idea, could be done in the form of achievements or quests ("clear deadmines while downleveled to 20 to get the mystical pick of mining +5")
 
EQ2 introduced the mentoring concept a few years ago and it wa fantastic for letting people for all levels play together. It was great when friends joined the game and you wanted to show them the ropes (and didn't have to start an alt) or if a guild wanted to run an old instance or raid. I'm quite surprised WoW doesn't have anything like it yet actually.
 
Why don't they allow players who have a level 80 to just make a new char at the appropiate leveling range and of teh same class, that can only be playing while grouped with an online friend who doesn't use this system?

Many other variations are possible. Is it really necessary to make my character even more schizophrenic? Just give me a new char !
 
@Nils:

I don't understand why you'd consider downlevelling so immersion-breaking. Levels are already a purely "gamey" mechanic as it is. While it's realistic for your character to get stronger and more experienced over time, being able to one-shot say, low-level instance bosses has always been silly. Van Cleef is a threat to all of Stormwind even if he's only in his twenties. King Ymiron isn't more dangerous than C'thun just because he's in an instance twenty levels higher. If anything, being able to scale down so content that is meant to be challenging can remain as such throughout the whole game strikes me as more immersive.
 
@Shintar.

I could agree with that. But as a consequence I would stop the exponential character progression.

Don't make my char become exponentially more powerful only to scale him down whenever convenient.
 
I know this sounds like sacrilege, but why not get rid of levels entirely? Conceivably, you could design a game in which progression is entirely horizontal, say, through skill acquisition. For example, you could use a collectible card game style mechanic in which you progress by getting new cards through quests and loot drops. You could even structure gear progression horizontally, by having gear give you skills instead of stats. I know that for me, learning new skills is the main point of leveling anyway; I don't even really notice the stat gains.

It seems like this kind of system would solve many of the problems of recent MMOs. It would much easier to pay with friends. There would be less need to do a leveling grind before taking on challenging content. Content wouldn't obsolesce, so you wouldn't have the problem of large portions of the world going unused. And it would do it all without immersion-breaking mechanics like downleveling, sidekicking, or chickenization.

What do you think?
 
I agree with Samus: Deadmines is much easier than heroics. I recently started played WoW again and dusted off my level 80 to try the 5-mans introduced in the last 2 patches. Wiped last night in FoS on the last boss in normal, not heroic, even though our party was well-geared for the instance. The problem was the boss special abilities, and not knowing how to handle his phase switches.

I also re-leveled a toon to 18 to run Deadmines with a level-appropriate group of newbie friends. None of the bosses did anything special that required extra explanation or player reactions. Good thing too, since at level 18 we had so few abilities on our not-fully-populated single hotbar.
 
EQ2 does the mentoring down and chronolocking very well but one of the reasons it works over there is because they have alternate advancement. If you lock your leveling so you can stay in an area, you don't really loose your exp because you are converting it over to AAs and still advancing your character in some way. When you mentor down to your friend, your friend gets a small boost in exp gain (5% I think) and you get a small boost in AA gain though you are taking a big hit on exp gain in general. Even so, at least you were getting something out of it and you were able to quest or run instances with your friends with without killing their exp gain.

I think this is a very necessary move for Blizz because they have two problems that most games have, that is, you can't level at your own pace and you can't run with your friends if they are not your level. Building a game to allow people to play it they way they want is one of the biggest selling points of something like EQ2 in my opinion. An by playing the game at your own pace I mean being able to slow your level gain down or turn it off so that you don't level out of the other regions that also have quests for you. But on the other hand if you don't want to complete every region then you can level up in just one by setting your exp/AA ration toward exp. It is up to you. Flexibility is a good thing in games.

But without something else to gain from leveling down I agree that it probably won't work well. They need at least some kind of mentoring points or a full up alternate advancement to make it work. That would take a major game redesign to pull off.

But one of the nice things about mentoring down that was pointed out was that you tend to be pretty uber compared to people who are naturally at that level. One of the reasons for this is because even though your gear scales down, you tend to have gear with more stats and gear of a higher grade (blue, purple) than people normally do at that level. Therefore, depending on how they scale things back you tend to have great gear comparatively. The second, and probably more important reason that the highbie mentored down tends to be uber is because he will have access to spells and talents that, even though they are being scaled back will still be available to someone who wouldn't have them at that level. That makes a HUGE difference. A warrior tanking deadmines at level 22 but with all the tools of a level 80 or 85 is going to make the place pretty easy mode even though he will need the group because he is otherwise leveled down.

Big question though, will they do this or will they try to disable spells and talents when people go below their minimum level. If they do the later I see the whole thing falling apart quickly. High level people will not want to change how they tank or heal or whatever just to run an instance at level. But it will be fun to see if blizz is smart enough to think their way though this concept to the end or if they will half-a$$ it.

Overall, I think this is a great idea, greatly overdue. Ever since seeing EQ2 do this I have believed that ever leveled game needs this feature. But I don't hold out much confidence that they will get it right the first time. At the very, very least, if they don't do something like alternate advancement, I think they will need something like mentoring points that can be built up while you are leveled down that you can use to buy things from "training coordinator" vendors, or something like that.
 
EQ2 does the mentoring down and chronolocking very well but one of the reasons it works over there is because they have alternate advancement. If you lock your leveling so you can stay in an area, you don't really loose your exp because you are converting it over to AAs and still advancing your character in some way. When you mentor down to your friend, your friend gets a small boost in exp gain (5% I think) and you get a small boost in AA gain though you are taking a big hit on exp gain in general. Even so, at least you were getting something out of it and you were able to quest or run instances with your friends with without killing their exp gain.

I think this is a very necessary move for Blizz because they have two problems that most games have, that is, you can't level at your own pace and you can't run with your friends if they are not your level. Building a game to allow people to play it they way they want is one of the biggest selling points of something like EQ2 in my opinion. An by playing the game at your own pace I mean being able to slow your level gain down or turn it off so that you don't level out of the other regions that also have quests for you. But on the other hand if you don't want to complete every region then you can level up in just one by setting your exp/AA ration toward exp. It is up to you. Flexibility is a good thing in games.

But without something else to gain from leveling down I agree that it probably won't work well. They need at least some kind of mentoring points or a full up alternate advancement to make it work. That would take a major game redesign to pull off.

But one of the nice things about mentoring down that was pointed out was that you tend to be pretty uber compared to people who are naturally at that level. One of the reasons for this is because even though your gear scales down, you tend to have gear with more stats and gear of a higher grade (blue, purple) than people normally do at that level. Therefore, depending on how they scale things back you tend to have great gear comparatively. The second, and probably more important reason that the highbie mentored down tends to be uber is because he will have access to spells and talents that, even though they are being scaled back will still be available to someone who wouldn't have them at that level. That makes a HUGE difference. A warrior tanking deadmines at level 22 but with all the tools of a level 80 or 85 is going to make the place pretty easy mode even though he will need the group because he is otherwise leveled down.

Big question though, will they do this or will they try to disable spells and talents when people go below their minimum level. If they do the later I see the whole thing falling apart quickly. High level people will not want to change how they tank or heal or whatever just to run an instance at level. But it will be fun to see if blizz is smart enough to think their way though this concept to the end or if they will half-a$$ it.

Overall, I think this is a great idea, greatly overdue. Ever since seeing EQ2 do this I have believed that ever leveled game needs this feature. But I don't hold out much confidence that they will get it right the first time. At the very, very least, if they don't do something like alternate advancement, I think they will need something like mentoring points that can be built up while you are leveled down that you can use to buy things from "training coordinator" vendors, or something like that.
 
As I understands it, come Cata the key spells fer each spec will be availables at a much earlier level then what they be now. So, fer example, a level 25 tank will play much more likes a level 85 tank than be the case today. Today, sheeit, all ya can do at 25 is walk in there and sunder. Me point being, since old dungeons is being redesigned with this new system in mind, is scaling may work way better in Cata than we realizes, given what we's lookin' with Rash of the Itch King-colored glasses.
 
If they'd just set the instances to downlevel automatically for anyone who zones in and give out emblems that could be used to buy leveling epics that would work
 
"I know this sounds like sacrilege, but why not get rid of levels entirely? Conceivably, you could design a game in which progression is entirely horizontal, say, through skill acquisition"

Seconded, and almost verbatim from what I've argued before and what I was going to reiterate here. (As in, it's a solid idea that I lay no personal claim to; it's pretty obvious.)

Of course, such a game would indeed lose those players who are in it for the numbers and the newest wave of loot... but for those who just want to actually *play* the things, it would clean up a lot of clutter.
 
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