Friday, July 26, 2013

I Just Want to Play With My Friends! (On WoW Leveling)

I want to tell you two stories about people who decide to try WoW.

Story #1
Alex has decided to try out this popular game called World of Warcraft.  He installs it, boots the game up, and starts exploring.  He has little idea of what he's doing but hey, there's a big world out there to discover.  He doesn't realize that doing grey quests is bad experience but he doesn't care either - he's having fun seeing all this new stuff.  He then discovers this dungeon finder thing and sees this group stuff with awesome loot - that's BLUE.  Whoa.  Then he goes back to being 35 and questing in Duskwood (yes, I have seen that exact thing happen).  Eventually he starts to pick up things though he's still generally pretty clueless.

Despite the fact that he's learning, leveling is slow in general and it takes him something like 300+ hours to hit maximum level.  Assuming he plays, say, 10ish hours a week, that means it takes him seven and a half months to hit maximum level.

He's enjoyed this process - he's made steady progress toward this goal of maximum level and he's explored a bunch of the world while doing so.  He never particularly wanted to level faster since he had no particular reason to be maximum level.  He's about to discover raids and organized PvP but that was never even on his radar before.  He's generally happy.

Story #2
Bob has a friend (call him Chris) who plays this popular game called World of Warcraft.  Chris eagerly describes working as part of a big team to defeat huge dragons and giants and such or maybe tells him about pitched battlefields between two warring factions.  Bob decides this sounds cool and wants to play the game with Chris so he picks up WoW.  However, he now realizes there's a bit of a problem - Chris is maximum level while Bob is level 1 and can't do anything with Chris.

Bob asks Chris if he wants to make a new character to level with Bob.  Both of them only have 10ish hours per week to play, however, and Alex has scheduled raids along with weekly chores to deal with.  Thus, Chris can only play a few hours per week at most with Bob - meaning that Bob will quickly outlevel him and the whole idea of playing together at the same level will be moot.  Alternatively, Bob can simply only play a 2-3 hours per week with Chris and not even play WoW with his remaining spare time - which also means it'll take Bob even LONGER to level and do all the cool stuff with Chris at maximum level.

I think everyone will agree that Bob feeling like he can only play WoW whenever Chris is NOT busy with raids/chores/whatever is a bad idea.  And arguing that Bob should make multiple characters to avoid this issue seems a bit silly - but if anyone seriously thinks that is a good idea I can go into more depth on why it is not.

So let's assume Bob simply levels as fast as he can without Chris so he can join Chris at maximum level as soon as possible.  Bob has Chris helping him with game information so he manages to level twice as fast as Alex.  At 10ish hours a week, this means Bob will hit maximum level in 15 weeks (150 hours needed due to him being faster) - which is still nearly four months.

That's Messed Up
Let's look at that last sentence more closely.  Chris convinces Bob to try this new game and when Bob asks Chris when he can do the raids and battlegrounds and such with Chris, he gets told that it will take nearly four months.  Four months of playing one character to even get to maximum level (I'm not even including gearing up at max level and learning how to really play the game - let's assume those magically happen instantly).  Four months before he can play with his friend.

That's not a very friend friendly game.  You can jump right into a strategy game like Starcraft II or Warcraft III - your friend will be terrible but you can still play.  You can hop into a game like Halo or Call of Duty - ditto.  Or something like DotA or League of Legends - your friend may have less heroes available or may be missing some small bonuses, but they can still play with you.

But not in WoW.  In WoW, by default, it will take a person playing 10ish hours a week about four months to even be able to play with a friend who lured them into the game.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
We can see here that we have two very different kinds of new players (probably more, but these two at a minimum).  One is here to explore this new world and is fine with slow leveling - he's just seeing what's out there and has no idea what he's "missing" at maximum level.  He's in no rush to level and is content subscribing while playing the game.

But the second wants to play with his friends who are all max level.  He might enjoy leveling a character and exploring the world and such at one point, but right now he simply wants to be able to do the stuff his friends tell him about.  And his friends probably don't want to have to make a new character every time they convince a new friend to try WoW.  So this new guy wants to get to maximum level as soon as possible.

When I hear people complain about how leveling is too fast in Wow, this is what I think about.  The fact that an incredibly long leveling game works well for some players but is horrible for people trying to get friends into the game.  That's why I think Blizzard is trying to err on the side of leveling being too fast - by introducing Recruit-A-Friend and now the 100% experience bonus.

And even Recruit-A-Friend has issues because, again, the two friends have to play together.  And if player A is busy raiding and doing weekly LFR/Charm/Valor chores, he might not have the time to play with player B very much (if they were both maximum level they could do it together).  Being told "you have to spend a week or two building your character before you can play with your friend" sounds a lot better than "you have to spend four months building your character before you can play with your friend."

So Where Next?
This does seem to lead to an interesting conclusion - perhaps it's better to really minimize the idea of leveling - if we think most new players want to play with friends instead of just picking up the game on their own (which seems to be more and more likely these days).  Instead of it taking up to 4+ hours a level, make it take like a maximum of 60 minutes a level and much faster initially.  Make lots of questing out in the world something to do at maximum level (and give charms/valor like dailies) rather than something everyone has to do to level.  While leveling, give players a taste of what is going on in a zone and make leveling a whirlwind tour of the zones - then a player can go back at maximum level to explore the zone and find its lore.

This obviously raises a number of issues, however.  Rewards being one of the main ones - traditionally quests have generally given worse rewards than initial (heroic) dungeons.  Blizzard has noted time and time again how players will use the most efficient way to get their loot.  So if quests still reward 437 greens, you'd expect players to generally not do them at maximum level because they're getting 463 blues from dungeons.  But perhaps they could give 10 valor and 3 charms each or something.

Imagine an MoP where each level only took 30-60 minutes with the main plot of each zone set up and then once you hit 90 you could do all of the quests in the various zones to see the plot.  There's your stuff to do out in the world at maximum level.

Right now it feels like WoW is trying to act like SC2/LoL/etc at maximum level but is also trying to act like a traditional RPG storyline with a massive leveling grind.  A playthrough of a game like Mass Effect (2/3) probably takes 30-60 hours maximum - and that's considered a full game.  WoW leveling takes far longer than that and you have to finish it to do the "main" content of the game.  Maybe it's time to vastly de-emphasize the idea of leveling and make questing in the world something you do at maximum level.

I'm sort of rambling now, just trying to sort though this idea and playing out the various scenarios - it would be a large change but it makes me wonder.  Instead of the question being "Is leveling too fast?" perhaps we should be asking "Is leveling too slow?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Enough With the WoW P2W* Hysteria!

*P(ay) 2 W(in), generally meaning you have to buy things within the game for real money or be at a massive disadvantage.

You've probably heard that Blizzard is planning on adding an in-game shop for real money.  Let's go ahead and assume it'll also be introduced in the US and EU just for the sake of argument.  You may have also noticed some people pretty much being hysterical about it, calling WoW a sell-out, saying it might make them quit, etc.  Based on what we know, they're being absolutely ridiculous (unless I've missed additional announcements) -  allow me to explain why.

First of all, I believe there have only been two confirmed items on the real money shop.

1. 100% experience bonus
2. Lesser Charms of Good Fortune

Now, it seems likely that the various mounts and pets will be included but we simply don't know yet - and I doubt anyone will complain about being able to directly buy those in-game.

So let's look at those two things throwing players into fits.

100% Experience Bonus
People complain about how fast they level already (simply doing quests in a zone and a dungeon or two at the appropriate level will make you outlevel the zone in the 1-60 range).  Then they complain even more about how getting 50% or more bonus experience from heirlooms makes it even faster.  Then they complain about the Recruit-A-Friend program that gives a 200% bonus (I guess, it would logically follow, right?).

In other words, the "leveling game" is already compromised. Very few people experienced in WoW care about leveling (if anyone) - saying you have a level 90 evicts a "Well, duh?" response instead of "Whoa, you actually hit maximum level!"  You might find leveling interesting (I actually generally enjoy it on multiple characters) but you don't think it's some kind of achievement.

Furthermore, I'm surprised people have just now complained about being able to skip hours of leveling using real money.  After all, that feature has been in the game for quite some time.  I am speaking, of course, about server transfers.  Without server transfers, you'd have to level a new character from scratch on a server and regear them - which is a lot of time.  With server transfers, you can simply instantly transport your character and skip that whole deal - by spending real life money.  Anyone remember the days before server transfers?  I do.

So allowing people to save hundreds of hours releveling and regearing a character by spending money is fine but allowing them to double their leveling speed is not?

In short, if people want to spend real life money to speed up leveling - who cares?  They're still going through the motions, just at a faster pace.  I guess it'll help with the achievements for multiple max levels or the "Stay Classy" guild achievements - but again, who cares?  At this point, if you don't like leveling, it's nothing more than a time sink.

Unless you're arguing that a top raiding guild will get an alt to 90 a few days later than their competition because they didn't use the boost and thus they had less time to gear the alt and thus they killed the boss later and lost ranking, this will not affect anyone.  Leveling used to have a speed limit of 10 MPH.  Now it's 50 MPH.  Does letting people speed at 100 MPH really matter?

Final note: it might affect Realm First leveling achievements, but it might just be disabled for that (or at the start of an expansion, period).  Or for people who really care, they might have to shell out a few dollars to compete in that one time event per expansion.  Not exactly the end of the world.

Lesser Charms of Good Fortune
Here is something absolutely critical to keep in mind: Lesser Charms have a spending cap.  You cannot use more than 50 per week.  Period (unless it bugs out like it did a few weeks ago, but that's not the norm).  So even if you could afford to buy 50000 Lesser Charms per week, it wouldn't matter because you can only spend 50.  What does this mean in practice?

Speaking for myself, it takes me 30-60 minutes to get the 50 Charms per week.  Probably longer for people with worse gear, but ultimately we're talking about an hour or two of dailies per week, tops.  Apparently Pet Battles are also really good at generating Charms - a person in my guild has over 2000 Charms or something.  But they do him no good because he can't spend them - so it saves him an hour a week, tops, of doing dailies.

So if you buy Lesser Charms, you save one hour a week of dailies (ignoring the rep and valor for the moment). Content that is designed to be easy and repeated hundreds of times.  If someone said to you "Yeah, I spent $5 to skip an hour of dailies this week" do you really think "OMG SO UNFAIR THE WORLD IS ENDING?"  Many players (who are time-rich) may think he was silly/stupid/moronic but it doesn't impact them in any meaningful way.

In short: Lesser Charms available for real money?  Who cares?  Anyone who's ever thought "I'd pay money to skip these stupid dailies" is getting their wish.  And if you can't stomach the thought of paying to avoid an hour of grind - you're right where you are right now, doing your 25 dailies a week in an hourish.

Now I suppose it's possible Blizzard will announce they're going to sell heroic raid gear or elite conquest gear in the store, but until they do let's not panic, all right?  Someone being able to level twice as fast is not the end of the world - they already level insanely fast compared to the "old days."  No one cares about you having a level 90, it's expected.  Likewise, someone being able to skip an hour of dailies per week is not going to destroy WoW as we know it.  It's a minor convenience for people tired of dailies or for those who are short on time, either in general playtime or in a specific situation (ever been short on Charms and frantically trying to finish dailies before raid time?).

So again: who really cares?  You're not missing about on something you would otherwise have by not buying them - the game stays exactly the same for you as it is now.  And neither of those options has an impact on something competitive which means you can't gain an advantage by spending the money.

The sky is not falling.