Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
 
Competition or virtual life simulation?

Blizzard sent out a survey to some players asking how much they would be willing to pay for a level 90 character, beyond the one free they get in the next expansion. That caused the expected wailing and gnashing of teeth, including some original suggestions like forcing those new level 90 characters to play through the proving grounds in order to demonstrate that the player is sufficiently skilled in playing his class. To me such suggestions reveal a deep rift in the player base between the players who believe that MMORPGs are competitions in which you level and/or gear score are an indicator of your skill in playing the game and other players who believe that MMORPGs are virtual worlds in which players lead pretend virtual lives full of adventure.

The source of that rift is that the games themselves aren't really clear about what they want to be. On the one side the hardest content requiring the most skill is clearly concentrated at the level cap, and usually has some sort of gear requirement. On the other side it is today possible for a new player to start a new character in World of Warcraft and get to level 90 with full epic gear without ever doing any multiplayer activity, and without having learned how to play his character in a multiplayer environment. You can get to that point as a warrior without ever touching the Taunt button, or as a mage by only using your 1st level spells. So as somebody who is getting to level 90 by standard leveling doesn't need to prove his ability to be able to play his class, it would be somewhat ridiculous to demand it from those who accelerate the process by paying.

Now it may appear weird that somebody who is not playing World of Warcraft competitively would even want to pay for a level 90 character. But if you look closely, even the most peaceful activities of living a virtual life in the virtual world of Azeroth are locked behind level requirements. You need to be high level to gather resources for crafting, growing vegetables on a farm happens in a high-level zone and occasionally requires fighting high-level mobs, and I would be very much surprised if the new player housing would be accessible to low-level players.

I could very well imagine a very different type of MMORPG in which both competitive adventuring and leading peaceful virtual lives co-exist in better harmony. If you look at a pen & paper roleplaying game, you have the player adventurers interacting with NPC civilians who craft or farm or fish or do other things. Why not create a MMORPG where you can lead a virtual life of crafting and farming and fishing and whatever without any level requirements if you are inclined to do so? A bit like Ultimate Online or Star Wars Galaxies, where certain players were famous for being the best blacksmith on the server instead of for being a server-first raider. It should be possible to create an interesting player economy between adventuring and non-adventuring players. And there wouldn't even have to be a strict separation between the two: A farmer could always take up his sword when the mood strikes him and do some quests, while a high-level adventurer could always spend some time off fishing.

To me it appears that the decline of the MMORPG genre has very much to do with the trend towards massively single-player adventuring along a linear progression path. By adding more different options on how to live a virtual life and by adding more different interactions between players, it would be a lot easier to persuade people to play a multi-player online game with extra cost instead of a single-player game.

Comments:
Purchasable level-90 characters would be a viable option for those wo want to make a "comeback" but don't have any interest in re-leveling again a fresh toon.

Also, they would be a good choice for those who were outleveled by their friends and still want to login and raid with them, for example, without wasting their time doing basic quests or beating low-level mobs until they hit level 90.

It's all about choices. There will always be those who see WoW as a "real life" alternative, where you MUST deserve what you get. But this is a game and you should focus on fun, in theory. That's all.

Those willing to pay for their fun will be more than happy to pay for level 90 toons. After all... we pay for everything in the REAL life, right? Sports, hobbies, fun... they (very rarely) are free.
 
"So as somebody who is getting to level 90 by standard leveling doesn't need to prove his ability to be able to play his class, it would be somewhat ridiculous to demand it from those who accelerate the process by paying."

Only if your model is over-simplistic.

If one way of doing it is in some real way easier than another, it can make perfect sense to place a checkpoint in the easier path.

 
The only remaining function of levels in WoW is separating the "old game(s)" from the "current game". The "current game" always being the current expansion, the "old game always" being the neglected rest.

Could this be improved? Yes. But apparently Blizzard doesn't consider it cost-effective to do so. Normally, if a company doesn't strive to create the best-possible product, competition forces it try or die. Unfortunately, the competition of the last 10 years has been ridiculous.

For Blizzard, WoW is always about the current expansion and its lvl-cap. Hence, if they sell characters at lvl-cap they only try to sell the "current game" to as many people as possible.
All other interpretations make some sense too; but this one explains Blizzard's reasoning.
 
It is the devaluation of the virtual world that is Azeroth that saddens me most in Azeroth. Whilst the raid-finder tool has given us many advantages, it has helped turn the rest of Azeroth into a lobby where we chat with our friends as we wait to join our game of choice (the instance). Of course the other thing that has helped is the horrible levelling experience, lacking in much challenge.

How to fix this? Well slowing down levelling is one way. Also, give level-capped adventurers a reason to go out into the world. They should at least find the entrance to an instance before being allowed to queue for it!

Blizzard have tried this in the past, but without much conviction: the Timeless Isle is the latest example that gets people out of instances and out of the cities. But it doesn't get us out into much of the world.

Make Azeroth a virtual world again, and not a gaming lobby.

 
Curiously leveling doesn't teach you how to play the end game anyway. I also achieved a proving ground gold on my hpriest and in order to do this I had to spec and play my character in a manner that would have me laughed at and kicked from a flex mode raid guild.

It is a shame that the best mmo experiences I've had were leveling with friends through vanilla primarily.

Of course my friends are gone and these days I cannot commit to playing in groups. Interaction with others is always negative as they compete for mobs and resources.

I'd like a single player experience in a persistent world populated by others.

Sadly neither mmo's or the single player RPG's are filling that void.

Just living in a virtual real people populated world and doing my own thing unhindered is what I'm after.
 
Okay, condensed TL:DR from what I was originally writing:

1. In the pay for sports analogy this would be like paying to "win" the game. In regular sports we pay for gear, we pay to play, but we don't pay to win (unless there's something shady going on). For many people paying for a level capped character is exactly that.

2. As a casual who enjoys leveling and never sees endgame I'd be happy with this if it meant they'd take time to make the leveling experience more challenging and diverse. Right now it feels deliberately dumbed down to speed people to level cap. I do not want the leveling process lengthened, however....just more challenging and interesting.

3. A compromise I think would work: you can buy level capped characters, but only once you've achieved a level-capped character the old fashioned way. Under this model people can buy them once they've already made it to the end, so in theory they have "proven themselves."
 
It's paying Blizzard to solve problem they created themselves by consistently making leveling process un-fun by removing even option of having real difficulty there (remember red quests? elite mob zones?) and making zone progression ridiculously fast (big Cata screw-up that is still with us today). This feeds into other perceived problem - you don't learn if you never feel challenged, so you can level and never really learn anything.

And... i have no problem paying to solve problems. Any solution is better then no solution really. It's basically "unlock current expansion for THIS character".
 
I echo Woody's sentiments.

I think Nils completely misses the point of levels: it's a themepark game and they want to sell you the new levels/expansion. And one way they do that is to totally devalue all previous levels & gear. Some games have server wipes and others have new levels.

Daeching: Blizzard has said "The team is backing off the idea that leveling should be a long grind. " and "Leveling in WoD will be a fun and fast paced romp" So they are certainly not going to slow down leveling. They can't require visiting an instance because nobody would visit the Occulus and Stonecore instances to avoid getting them in their daily.


 
Blizzard *have* tried to invigorate the older parts of the game, but they are constrained by the top-heavy structure of a game that has grown beyond what its basic structure could support, and by social effects they have little or no control over.

It's making too much money for them to ever throw it away (their new MMO, if it comes, stands little chance of

being a fraction so successful). They are like Microsoft etc., they are stuck with both the advantages and disadvantages of history, and must do their best in the range that is afforded them - just as smaller competitors must do their best, with the advantages of flexibility etc. but many disadvantages too.
 
I ran a dungeon randomly in northrend while levelling a mage a year ago or so. Our pally tank was wearing a combination of green leather with agi and spirit on it. I don't think they spoke english or may have been someone's kid, because I could get much sense out of them, but my basic understanding is they upgraded gear based on what was being handed out at the time - no matter what the quest - or if it had higher green numbers on the comparison tooltip. No matter what those numbers were.

So yeah. Someone got to at least 77 without knowing a damn thing about primary/class stats or how gear works. And from their play, not much about how agro works either.

Anyone who complains about having to play with fresh folks who don't know how to play? They're imagining excuses to complain about someone getting something nice. We saw just how petty and moronic the community is about being a dog in the manger when they dropped the level requirement on mounts to 20. Do you remember that epic bitching and moaning?

To which I can only say, "Jackass, I had to walk to school in Azeroth up Blackrock Mountain. Both ways. Come talk to me when you only stock potions to stacks of 5, reserve an entire bag for arrows or soul-shards, don't use any bags larger than 16 slots, travel to each node of a flightpath manually, to dismount then fly to the next point (with no map telling you which nodes are connected), reserve a bag slot for a key to every dungeon, only use your heathstone once per hour, and if we're being generous, maybe we'll let you queue for dungeons via the meeting stone out front." Tools.

I really don't see 'new 90' as being a floodgate for incompetent players getting all up in peoples' raids or even heroics. 1) They won't have enough gear and will need to do at least enough challenging content to gear up and queue. 2) Anyone who decides to skip straight to the end is either a little bit unbalanced, or very confident in their ability. Someone confident in their ability is probably more likely to if not play better at least know how to find out how to - out of personal pride alone. 3) If someone can't learn to wear plate as a pally tank by level 77, they won't learn anything more in the next 13 levels. Some people just need to be taken under a friend (or stranger)'s wing to learn, and that's always been the case. How often have you heard people complain about incompetence due to being 'an ebay character'? Hint: the term has been around at least since before they launched the Blackwing Lair raid.

Anyone who complains about this MASSIVE benefit to so many players because of some miniscule chance that it may inconvenience them slightly more than they already are? That person/thing loses all my respect ever.
 
Oh, and one last point... the boost is to NINETY, not 100. It's not a boost to endgame. They still have to complete all the solo levelling content before being able to queue with the uber elite pro whingers in heroics.

They're not buying a place on the winner's podium. They're buying a ticket to the stadium.
 
Although I'm firmly in support of integrated economies (and was once the second best Armorsmith on my SWG server) I can iterate some of the reasons they aren't common.

First is the tension between dropped and crafted gear. If the best sword in the game can simply be bought in the town for gold why kill raid bosses? But if the best gear drops off high end pve mobs why craft?

Second crafting needs item destruction. It's terrible to make the best sword in the game sell it to someone then lose them as a customer forever. But players HATE item destruction. In WoW it's done by stealth, your items aren't destroyed but they might as well have been once the power curve moves on.

Lastly there's the issue of how the best crafter is determined. In SWG it was some analytical ability but mostly time. To get the best resources you needed to survey every planet as often as possible. Some resources like Yavin wooly hide you needed a band of friends to go to Yavin and hunt and skin certain mobs for you - skills you probably couldn't do on your smith character.
 
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