More Pressure to Remove Leveling for MMO’s

levelingJust this week, Cameron at Random Battle called for the removal of the first 20 levels for veteran MMO players. What is the reason for his discontent? It’s the problem we’ve been hearing quite a lot of lately: tedium. Almost every blog and rant about MMO’s these days is talking about MMO burnout and the drudgery that results from having to replay old content. He says that veteran players should be given the opportunity to exempt themselves from the beginning levels because those levels are intended to be a tutorial; since veterans know the MMO ropes they should be excused from having to grind out those levels. Cameron also talks about how the game play really isn’t challenging enough during those levels. I don’t disagree with him regarding that point but the call to reduce leveling from MMO’s is short-sighted. Here’s my take on this:

The Equality Argument: Everyone Must Follow the Rules

In MMO’s everyone starts out equal at level one — regardless of skill level or previous experience. That is one of the most basic fundamental tenets of virtual worlds that use a leveling mechanic for character progression. To allow players to bypass leveling content is a violation of this concept. Besides, veteran players already have an overwhelming advantage over newbie players — they already know how to play MMO’s and understand concepts like threat, damage per second and mitigation. Vets also know the ropes about the inner workings of basic MMO mechanics like leveling and strategies like min/maxing.

This is something that should need to be repeated but nobody in an MMO should be exempt from the rules. Different rules for different players would be a disaster. Yet we see that with WoW’s hero classes, that concept is regrettably starting to disintegrate. Blizzard is the darling of the MMO industry and they can get away with it. At least for now…

Leaving Newbies In the Dust

Allowing one group of players to bypass 20 levels has the potential to create animosity between newbies and veterans. Given the chance, newbies would probably elect to skip the levels as well which would ill serve them as they would not learn how to play their class and not figure out how MMO’s work.

Another consideration is that without veterans in low level areas, who will newbies group with? Who will newbies talk to? Who will teach them the finer points about MMO’s? Nobody, that’s who.

Is Leveling Such a Hardship?

Today in WoW leveling has never been easier. The experience needed to level has been reduced by Blizzard in a previous patch. Given all of the tricks and money for twinking that experienced players have at their disposal is leveling really such a hardship?

One of the players who recently posted a comment on my blog thinks so:

Now if you really want to gain that honor and pride of wasting your time by leveling and leveling and leveling and leveling new characters, by all means try a more hardcore MMO, meanwhile I’ll stick to my easy-mode MMO that is actually fun.

This is the new breed of MMO player that Blizzard “WoW MMO Boot Camp” has produced. Apparently leveling is viewed as drudgery that has no value or place in an MMO.  Is it just me or are players today just plain lazy?

Addressing the Real Problem

It seems to me that the real problem that is causing the clamor for the removal of leveling is the fact that content in MMO’s is not dynamic. The content just never seem to change in MMO’s. In WoW, we have the same scenarios, conflicts, quests and NPC’s that we did almost 4 years ago when the game shipped. People are bored out of their minds because Blizzard has failed to create a MMO that is a living breathing world. Things never seem to change in an MMO like WoW. Their cleverly crafted quests and stories were wonderful the first few times around; now they are old news and reminders of the shortcomings of a stale and predictable MMO.

My Prediction is Coming True

A few months ago I warned the MMO community that Blizzard’s decision to start their new hero class at level 55 could have dire implications for the one of the most basic mechanics of MMORPG’s: leveling. I stated that the introduction of the Deathknight hero class and Blizzard’s foray into e-sports would have the effect of cheapening the notion of leveling among other things. I also discussed at length how this action would ultimately create a culture of entitlement in the playerbase. To quote myself:

we may be seeing the end of leveling as a MMO mechanic…

When you cheapen the notion of leveling by allowing a player to skip 55 levels of content in your MMO, you create a slippery slope of expectations among the playerbase, bloggers and even game designers. Once players get a taste of a character that doesn’t have to level like other classes, they will be hungry for more — you can bet your life on it. Reducing leveling requirements is becoming a serious marketing tool for WoW as Blizzard has just instituted Recruit a Friend program that rewards players with special leveling speed bonus. Folks, the horse is already out of the barn.

More Predictions

I will make some more predictions: by the release of the next expansion after Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard will allow players who have enough high level characters on their accounts to create new characters that start at level 55 — that may happen even sooner. Also, Blizzard will probably have their 2nd hero class start at level 65. Other MMO companies will most certainly follow Blizzard’s lead by coming up with schemes to reduce leveling requirements

We seem to be headed toward a future of convenience based games that are intent on slowly but surely disabling cardinal MMO features. Shameless video game companies who want only to increase their bottom line will gladly capitulate to the angry mob in the street who’s shouting for more bread. Let them eat cake I say.

I truly sympathize with Cameron and others who are tired of the repetitive nature of MMO’s today. I too share that frustration but I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Removing leveling is not the answer. Making content at all levels fresh, fun, dynamic and exciting is the answer*. This is precisely what I have been fighting for on this blog for many years. Maybe when enough people are totally fed up things will change.

-Wolfshead

*Psst! Blizzard, maybe you could use a tiny fraction of that $520 million in profits you made in 2007 from WoW to update your 4 year old content?

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