Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The flexible solution

In the third and last article on how to solve the problem of new players solo rushing through old content to reach the level cap and then not knowing how to group once arrived there, I'm going to talk about flexible levels. The last group I did with my mage was running a level 11 warrior and level 14 shaman through RFC. Seeing how a high-level mage with AoE kills a whole room full of mobs at the same time is fun, but of course the dungeon trip was very short and didn't teach the low level players anything about real grouping. But what if I could have lowered the level of my mage to 14, and get some more players of other levels to join us in a level 14ish group? Similar systems have great success in games like City of Heroes.

Rushing through a dungeon with a character of too high a level isn't all that exciting. The challenge is missing, and there are no rewards. Nevertheless level 70 players visit low level dungeons more often than you would think, to help friends, out of nostalgia, or because they are bored of the limited number of level 70 dungeons. It would be easy to increase the participation of high-level players in low-level content if we just added some challenge and rewards.

Adding challenge is easy enough. Most stats, spell effects and abilities are numerical values and can easily be scaled. Blizzard already changed most low-level dungeons to have a less wide level range. For example Shadowfang Keep used to have mobs from level 18 to 26, but now all bosses are level 20 to 21. Thus we could downscale everyone joining a Shadowfang Keep group to level 21, and make the dungeon interesting for everyone in the group. Of course that will need some intelligent design decisions from Blizzard, deciding whether people lose spells or talents they wouldn't have at the lower levels, and how to downscale the effect of equipment. I think it would be best if a downscaled character wasn't any more powerful than a real character of that level, even if as level 70 he was wearing full epics. The purpose after all is to keep it interesting.

Adding rewards should be possible too. We already have a faction of time travelers, why not add a new faction of level travelers? Whenever a higher level player would join a lower-level dungeon group, he would gain reputation points for every kill and badges from every boss to make up for the lack of interest in the low-level loot that drops. The players in the group that are actually of the level of the dungeon don't get the points and badges, but the loot should be more interesting for them. The reputation and badges could then be used in the usual way to buy recipes and gear for the high-level characters which is actually useful at their high level.

Giving people the possibility to downscale their level and join groups of lower level players fulfills several purposes. For the lower level players it makes finding a group easier, because there are now more people interested in joining one. It is to be hoped that by mixing veterans and new players there will be some transfer of knowledge, with the veteran players teaching the newbies how to group. For the high level players the possibility to revisit old content in a non-trivial way opens up more possibilities and choices. The more choice a player has on what to do next, the better.
People won't downscale voluntarily when they've been used to walking through the instances with a level 70 doing all the work.
They will if you have a good incentive. EQ2 has a mentor system (allowing you to drop your level to that of any player in your group) but what drives people to actually do it is the Achievement System:

When you're at the level cap the only way of earning Achievement Experience for low level stuff you missed first time around is by mentoring down and helping lower level groups do it. It works really well. Often higher level players will be asking to mentor down and kill XYZ with you for the AA.
You would also need to make different badges for each instance, otherwise players would figure out that instance x has the best time/badge ratio, and they would only run that instance.

The benefit would be that players are encouraged to run ALL instances in order to get all the possible gear. For further motivation, the whole 'lower level badge' rewards could be one big set, with the real power coming from the set bonuses.

That would give you raid, pvp, and instance armor/weapon sets, with each being similar enough to be viable.

Playing through all the old world content now with 10 or so friends, its really sad most WoW players will never experience that content 'as intended'. It really is high quality stuff.
Something along this idea would help. but I still say remove the grouping penalty below 60 and that will go a long way to solving the problem. It would then be most efficient to get a group of the appropriate level and do the instances.
I like this idea! Especially the part that makes it no longer a "charity" event - that the experienced/higher level toon actually gets something useful for the time spent.
Sounds an awful lot like City of Heroes' "Exemplar" system, otherwise known as "reverse Sidekicking". Even the badges as rewards fits into that.

Sidekick / Exemplar worked so well within that game, I was actually shocked (and dismayed) that Blizzard didn't adopt the feature themselves when WoW was released. It certainly gained Cryptic accolades from the press for it.

The cynic in me eventually decided that Blizzard didn't really have any interest in solving this particular problem. I do think they'd rather have an EQesque "Vision" roadmap for leveling, where players are pushed into finding groups of equal level rather than play conveniently with the friends they already had.

(I posted an earlier comment that went *poof* so apologies if this is more/less a repeat)
This is probably the best solution and the one that would take the most time for Blizzard to code.

Unfortunately all the developers are currently trying to tune the raid dungeons in Wraith of the Lich King which only 10% of the playerbase will ever see. Games that depend on payed expansions will always get into the problem of putting most developers to work on the next expansion rather then actually improving the base game.

While Blizzard has done a good job of releasing content over time the truth is that most of this content was orginally developed for the expansion.
BTW, I believe Age of Conan is still planning on a Sidekick-like system, at least it has been on their feature lists.

I'm glad to see it brought up anytime, I'd personally like to see it as a minimum feature in pretty much every MMORPG.
I think this system would work only if the instances don't "allow" people over that certain level range (so you get automatically down-leveled once you are inside the instance=no more farming low level instances). What type of gears and spells your down-leveled character should have might be an issue though.

In order for the system to work it would have to force all high level players to down level if ANY high level players downlevel. Otherwise, you'll have one level 70 running his other level 70 downleveled buddies through low level instances for the rewards. Each person could take a turn being the runner, and everyone would get rewards quickly with no risk.

In general though, WoW really needs some sort of mentoring or sidekick/examplar system. A friend and I started some alts to play together a few months ago. He has been rushing to 70 and is now level 67, but I'm still level 51. I don't have any characters on that server near 70, and he doesn't have any characters near 51, so we can't play together.
"Rushing through a dungeon with a character of too high a level isn't all that exciting. The challenge is missing, and there are no rewards. "

I'm probably not the norm here, but i typically take my 70 mage or 70 lock into the old 60 instances, and don't rush, i go mob by mob and either try new things or try to perfect techniques. BRD is one, where i actually got better at sheeping mobs and learning where my aggro works best, and if i accidentally pull too many mobs, i can go down. At the appropriate level i could never get groups for any instance really, and people who do look for groups for any non-outland instance get mocked in chat. I'm okay with the rewards of doing these, as i get all the treasure and it's fun for me to take my own time, and explore. I do wish there was a way to make difficulty or such different though, sort of like COH or DDO (which wouldn't be too difficult to do with WoW really).
It probably needs to be coded in at the time of game design, not later. I also think that Sony did it right by giving people on both sides in EQ2 incentive to "mentor", AA's and Xp respectively. I just had someone mentor me last night. I received a guild invite, the GM mentored down to my level and assisted me for about 2 hours. He earned AA, I earned +10% xp. What I REALLY got from him was actual mentoring. He helped me learn to play my class better. I learned about the guild. And you know what, it was FUN. Much better than waiting 80 levels to "learn2play" with a guild I hardly know.
City of Heroes/Villains have multiple systems in place int he area of making it flexible for people to team up together.

One is the sidekick and exemplar system, whioch is mentioned here. Another one is the level-less mobs. Initially used for the Giant Monstwers in the game, this was also added for the Rikti invasion forces that may attack in any outdoor zone.

Each of these mobs scale appropriately for every player individually. E.g. if a level 5 player, a level 25 player and a level 50 player team up and attack the same mob, damage taken and given and xp are scaled to match each player. If the mob would be a +3 level mob it would effectively be as a level 8, 28 and 53 mob at the same time for the 3 players mentioned above.

Everyone can team up with anyone pretty much, playing any content where this feature is in place.

Loot drops would need to scale accordingly also.
Right now, as much as is possible, I play "flexible WoW".
Socially - I play mostly with the wife, relatives, and RL friends.

I have alts over several level ranges that allow me to jump into social groups most of the time.

So we quest, do BG PvP, dabble in Arena PvP, and help each other out -- parts of the game that aren't so strictly-tuned.

We instance less, because you really need 5 of the target level range to do it 'as designed', IMO.

We raid very little -- my social circle is not a raid-sized, raid-level, raid-attuned, raid-geared, raid-schedule-ready group. But for me, I play for fun, and socially, and WoW's arbitrary design decisions locked me out of that part of the game.
Pretty decent idea, I've considered similar things myself. It relieves a fair amount of problems like level gaps from people leveling at different rates. Provides more variety for level 70 players without requiring the creation of an alternate character. Gets some additional use out of those old dungeons.

It's effects on PvP would be interesting as well. People could choose to play in the particular level bracket that they prefer. The changes in abilities and talents available in the various level brackets has a very noticeable impact on team and player tactics. It also tends to emphasize certain classes over others in each individual range since class balance shifts around over the level continuum. It would definitely add some much needed variety to the PvP scene.
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