Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Selling levels

Decisions, decisions. I still haven't decided yet whether I want to buy Mists of Pandaria and play some months of World of Warcraft. I'm tending towards no, but that is in no way based on my feelings towards pandas. I find the discussion of pandas in various blogs a bit ridiculous. I've been playing a cow who is a druid already, so why should a panda monk be more silly than that? No, for me the problem with MoP is more related to what Cataclysm did and didn't do.

You see, if I play a panda from level 1, I am pretty certain that this will be reasonably entertaining up to level 60. Due to Cataclysm having redone old Azeroth and me not having played through all the remade zones yet, there would be plenty of content for me to explore up to level 60. But then there is Outland, which I hate with a passion. And Northrend, which wasn't bad, but I did already often enough. And the horrible, horrible linear Cataclysm level 80 to 85 zones. Furthermore due to way the leveling curve works, I will reach need at least as much time from 60 to 85 as I needed from 1 to 60. And then I can only hope that Blizzard learned something, and the MoP zones from 85 to 90 are better than the 80 to 85 zones.

When discussing whether the "faster leveling speed" items in the Guild Wars 2 item shop constituted "pay to win", most commenters felt that those didn't matter, that levels and leveling speed didn't matter in a MMORPG. I wonder why Blizzard isn't selling a "Character Level Adjustment" service for $9.95 per character, where you simply enter a target number and get your character leveled up to the level you want him to be, including a set of level-appropriate gear. The mechanics for that already exist, if you accept a "scroll of resurrection" from a friend you can level up one of your characters to 80. So why not allow the panda monks to skip from 20 or 60 directly to 85 for a fee?

Besides customer satisfaction, selling levels would also solve another problem of Blizzard: Third-party power-leveling services. These are a headache for Blizzard, because people who use those services necessarily need to give their password to somebody else, and then get into all sorts of troubles with their accounts getting hacked. By selling levels, Blizzard could make these power-leveling services out of business.

If people could buy levels, Blizzard could also stop to speed up leveling with every expansion. At the lower levels, leveling already feels far too fast compared with the available content. It feels like you enter a zone, kill a mob, and already outlevel that zone. If those who don't want to level up manually can skip the content, those who enjoy the content can explore it at their leisure instead of being force-fed it as fast food.

Blizzard has said they wanted 1 to start of current expansion to be a constant time. So the leveling curve gets adjusted; e.g. recently announced that the XP of level 84 will be halved.

But leveling does seem in an awkward middle. If you like leveling, it is too short; If you are one of the cool kids who hate leveling, it is too long. If you really believe that the endgame is the game, then why not believe in it enough to offer direct end game? My theory is the toxic or zealous fight against RMT by a large segment of gamers would make this a huge news story if WoW did it. As more games become "F"2P, the resistance may, or may not, decline.

If one assumes no retrofit, if a new game is going to offer an alternative to leveling, why not just really bite the bullet and do some sort of non-leveling sandbox. (Other than the fact there are no real examples of successes ofc)

Blizzard does offer paid race transfers. Do the Scroll and get a level 80, then pay $25 after MoP comes out to make that a panda.

Oh, you want a panda monk? Well, avoiding those levels will take more effort, but if you start your account up again for a month at the end of the month with a game card, buy and load MoP, start a monk, then let the account lapse again. Start up with Scroll, presto - level 80 panda monk! This is actually cheaper.

Yeah, no avoiding Cata. Sorry.
If I recall from my own scrolling, a person has to have been gone for a certain time before being eligible for resurrection, so at the very least one has to plan tweell's manoeuvre well in advance and be prepared to wait.

However, one can speed things along with two accounts using RAF, or one can level primarily through dungeons (with their associated quests) and PvP - slower, but preferable if you truly hate a particular stretch of levels.

While I won't be subbing not out of panda hate but because TOR fulfils my themepark MMO needs adequately, I can understand the revulsion. Tauren were always quite ferocious, and gnomes justified by the crafty halfling/hobbit fantasy tradition. Pandaren, on the other hand, are a clear, coldly-calculated sop to a particular demographic.
Good point. I love levelling, and I am not happy with it being shortened every expansion. And I too do not see what could possibly be wrong with blizzard selling powerleveling.
I suggest you make a character capable of tanking. Outland requires roughly 2-3 instances per level including all the instance quests which are now located at the entrance. Northrend would take more instances (4-8 per level), but you can do some questing inbetween.

Tanking has the advantage, that you are very much in charge of how long you need to clear the instance. Every second the tank is not moving towards the exit is a second the best damage dealer can not make up.

The experience needed to level through Cata will be lowered by roughly a third.
Re-playing old zones becomes old after you've been there about 5 times. And Outland .... I've spent too much time there.

Level 1-60 is definitely still worth it for me as I have not explored all the new stuff from Cata because I quit playing when my latest character got into Outland.

I would definitely pay Blizzard to skip through Outland and Cataclysm. Not sure but probably for Wrath as well.
I think there would be few objections so long as you had to to level one character 'honestly' first.

But this is not something they will ever bring in at the start of an expansion. If they do it, it will be late in the expanhsion's life cycle.
If you didn't like the high-level cataclysm zones there's a good chance you'll not like its 1-60 content either. The quest structure there is also extremely linear. It was also incredibly easy.

I gather that they are trying to get away from that somewhat with MoP, but I suppose the panda area's content will only take you to level 20 or so.

Isn't the game free-to-play up to level 20 now or something? You could check out how questing in Westfall (or whatever) works now to see if you like their approach. I hated it, but that's just me.
"And I too do not see what could possibly be wrong with blizzard selling powerleveling."

I do. It cheapens the value of a max level character, some of which are nearing a decade old. A newer player might find that silly, but there is a reason that people have played so long. Monetizing and messing with that magic quality is risky.

It would also encourage inexperienced players hopping from one max level character class to another, potentially creating frustrated and even more poorly trained end game players than we have now.

The time and complexity required to play at end game favors focus on a single character.

That said, the barrier to leveling after a 4th expansion is becoming extreme. An optional but not trivial path for players with at least one or two max level characters is clearly needed, especially after lvl 60.
tobold said: I find the discussion of pandas in various blogs a bit ridiculous. I've been playing a cow who is a druid already

What I find ridiculous is people who call the Bull or much better a minotaur
, their pathetic try to save what it cannot be saved anymore...

and Minotaurs are in no way silly, let alone cute...
How can a female Tauren be a bull?
Also you don't like the horrible linear Cataclysm level 80 to 85 zones but you like 1-60 that is much more linear? Because you can chose between 2 zones does not make it less linear. You go into a zone and you go into a quest hub. A specific quest hub. If you don't complete ALL the quests of that hub you cannot go to the next quest hub on the same zone. This is most linear than Final fantasy..

I do not disagree though blizzard to sell high level characters. The designed their games just for the end game. The leveling process is so linear and so trivial, that you end up playing a completely different class once you hit max level. There is nothing level up can teach you, only to spoil new players that don't know what to expect at max level
the Female tauren is not a bull but that doesn't mean that the male tauren cannot be a bull, is it? You see the nature made the bull male only but he game him a female to **.

That also doesn't prove anything..You don't see a tauren and say "oops a silly cow passing nearby, or a cute cow" you see a Minotaur, a bull. Also I don't know any silly movie with "cows" as you name it. Panda are silly and cute, WWF didn't chose to have a panda in their logo because they are ferocious animals.
I agree with this 100% It was never 100% serious game, but now the core of the game is silly and funny. You can say about "cows" and about "gnomes" but really I do not remember thousands posts back in the old days say cows are silly or anything else.

It is no bad people like pandas and like funny games with lots of humor. Not bad at all. But don't try to make it seem like it was always like wasn't
There is one problem with "buy levels" solution: a customer may be paying less than s/he would pay levelling manually.
For example, for very casual player playing 4-5 hours per week, it may take 2 or 3 months to get to max level. This earns $45 to Blizzard, much better than taking $10 for instant level 85.
If this kind of casual player constitues more than 50% of playerbase, instant levelling is a financial suicide.

If you don't like Outland, make tanking panda and queue for random dungeons nonstop. You will go 1-90 in a week.
"It cheapens the value of a max level character, some of which are nearing a decade old"
Well, having 7 years old main char and 8 max level chars at the end of Wrath, I am hardly a new player, and I dont see how selling max level character devalues my characters.
Having Plagued Proto-Drake I am hardly a casual. Raided on several classed in heroic raids during Wrath, and I dont see why should I focus on one character.
Tobold is right, IMHO, what huge gap between leveling game and max-level game completely devalues skills acquired during leveling. Leveling is not a training before end-game, it is a completely separate game. So having and option to completely skip it is pretty good, IMHO.
But yes, marketing concerns can be a problem.
"It cheapens the value of a max level character"

What makes you think max level characters possess any value at all? At most, they mean that the player has subscribed for at least one month.

I too don't understand any of the objections to Pandaren. ESPECIALLY after the goblin race, the pandaren seem more serious than the goblins.

Have the people objecting even played any of the Pandaren zones in the beta (Pandaria, plus pandaren starting zones) or are they making some sort of sweeping generalization based on vague impressions?

If you didn't like the high-level cataclysm zones there's a good chance you'll not like its 1-60 content either. The quest structure there is also extremely linear. It was also incredibly easy.

I believe Tobold is more hating on the macrolinear aspect of cataclysm zones, not the microlinear aspect. Inside each zone in the redone content, questing is very linear, but unlike cataclysm zones where you have an incredibly tiny degree of choice in which zones to go to, the old world content has multiple zones in every single level range so there is a lot more macro choice involved.
In the new level 1-60 zones you can still skip quests. You can't do that in the level 81-85 zones. That is what I call linear.

By the way, currently playing an undead mage in "free trial" WoW to see whether I can still stand the game.
Interesting topic. There are possibilities beyond just speeding up the leveling for WOW to make money. Why not allow people to buy buffs for their characters that would last for a certain duration. I'd like to down DS10 but I dont have the gear. For $20 buy a buff that you can put on your character for a week that makes all your gear max I-level, gems and enchants. Or , its taking too long for my guild to get to level 25, buy a "guild up" at the store for $20 to add an additional level to your guild. The possibilities are endless.
The problem I see with the idea is that Blizzard wants you to invest hours of actual time in the game over as they dribble out new content. The more characters you have the better. Being able to buy "speedups" does jeopordize their business model and an earlier comment correctly pointed out
As I recall, you greatly enjoyed the 81-85 zones, you just said they lacked replayability. I'm not saying you are wrong that you would hate going through them again, I'm saying Blizzard received overwhelmingly positive feedback at the time, and you should expect the 85-90 zones to be very similar.

Also, if you play a tank or healer capable class, you can respec at 60 and just go through 61-80 using the dungeon finder. It is about the same leveling speed, probably faster (if you don't have to wait for the queue).
Why do people think the dungeon-finder is an acceptable alternative to levelling by questing, for people who hate repetition of Outland?

It's like saying, "Oh, you hate the pain of getting stabbed? You should try getting shot, it's much more effective."

If I have to do ramparts again or mana tombs or... god. I don't even want to think about it. But to do it REPEATEDLY?

I'm pretty sure that the only reason they don't sell levels is because someone somewhere is hearing, "We pay people to subscribe... and we want to reduce the amount of time they spend playing, by removing levels? Are you insane?"

The idea has been floated so often, it makes so much sense, that the only thing that could POSSIBLY be standing in the way is either stupidity, pride, or greed. And I don't think they're that stupid.
You are saying you like the 1-60 content, but the Cataclysm levels 80-85 are horrible because too linear?

Newsflash: the 1-60 content is in MOST zones as linear and horrible as the 80-85 content. There are some exceptions though, some low-level zones weren't changed to the linear quest-model which came with Cata.
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