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?"


  1. I saw a concept recently which talked about the next expansion not having a level increase at all. The idea was to introduce the "gains" which we used to get by leveling by unlocking story in the new areas. Want a particular boost for your character? Then unlock the zone by completing the quests. If you are happy to skip the boost effect then you can skip the zone.

    Or even leave that boost till later if some of the boosts relate to roles such as Tank, Heal, Dps.

    The character level is basically a chosen number added to your character, and gated through experience. We gain experience by performing quests. Then just ping me a boost every 20-30 quests until I've done 200 of them, and then I've seen all the story and played enough time to be at "maximum" again.

    We end up with a game that still has a climb to level 90, but then on it is all about the boosts. In a new game where this was the main progression from day one it could be wonderful, as the barrier to entry for a new player is not as skewed as the 1-90 crawl.

  2. Well, there are two main benefits of the level increase.

    1, give some sort of easily judged non-gear based character growth. The idea of that "Well, at level 90 you weren't strong enough to take on Azshara, but at level 95 you can!"

    2, it gives a good medium in which to weaken combat ratings. It's a natural way to help make it so our crit/mastery/haste go back down (otherwise we eventually hit 100% crit).

    The idea of the boosts is interesting, though - what if we still have five quick levels but then the end of each zone gives a 3% damage/healing bonus or something? So a fresh 90 is missing a 18% damage bonus but he can start doing quests to go get those bonuses.

    Raiders will obviously go do all the quests as soon as possible, but they're already doing stuff like that the first week. And it would give a non-gear incentive to other players to do the quests - but if you hadn't done the quests, you could still participate in dungeons and scenarios and such at a minimum.

  3. EQ2 is about to address this issue by simply allowing people to start characters at Level 85 (in a game with a level cap of 95). Keeping the leveling content (even slowing it down) for the "Alex" players (of whom I would guess there are still very many indeed) while allowing the "Chris" players to skip it completely would seem to me to be the best solution.

  4. It still has problems.

    For example, generally speaking leveling has been a way to introduce new abilities without overloading players. So if you start at level 85, do we assume you go 85 levels with barely any abilities or are you given nearly all of your abilities instantly? I suppose you could try doing something like you earn abilities by questing, meaning a person starting at level 1 has every ability by 85 but people starting at 85 have basically nothing and earn them at an accelerated pace over the next 10 levels. Would still seem odd to have two level 85s with vastly different power levels due to abilities.

    It also means the level 85 and under quests are effectively made irrelevant for the Bobs - unless you run out of stuff to do, there's no reason to go back and do the quests. That's a huge amount of world made for people who have no real reason to see it.

    I also expect even people who would prefer to be Alexes will be pressured into starting at level 85.

    It's a tricky problem. I doubt there's any perfect solution.

  5. Speaking as one of the "Alexes" who enjoyed leveling up, questing, following story lines, etc. I can only say that I would not enjoy the game if they made leveling any faster than it already is. If they were doing that, they may as well just cut it all out and start you off with a max level toon in raid ready gear. But then it wouldn't be WoW. It would be one of the other games you mentioned.

  6. If the power gains were less tied to levels and more tied to actually doing the questlines, that would bother you? I mean, as is, you still spend 110+ hours getting to 90 (probably more) without heirlooms even if you know what you're doing.

    Here's perhaps a more important question: do you care about end-game at all or would you prefer leveling to be such that basically no one is max level and the whole game is about leveling and doing dungeons?

    It just seems a very drastic shift at the moment to me.

  7. I'm thinking the whole concept of leveling is fairly broken, but MMOs are stuck with it, and have to invent kludges to try to get it to work reasonably.

    Ideally your level would mean something about your ability as a player. If it took you four months to actually be competent enough to play with your friend then so be it. We don't expect otherwise in say soccer or chess.

    But level doesn't mean anything at all about your competence, just how much time you've spent grinding through stuff. So if you're experienced and skilled but roll a new alt, you have to go through the rigmarole all over again as if you were clueless. Or, with things like free level-cap chars, you could get someone who has no idea what to do but they will be treated by the game as highly skilled and allowed to go on raids, where at best they won't be much help, and at worse make mistakes and cause a wipe.

    1. Indeed. One solution may be to create a "fast track" leveling experience with difficult content that gives far more experience. Even something like a solo scenario like Proving Grounds might be interesting with gear unlocked from vendors and experienced granted based on the waves you complete. Something that allows you to use greater skill to bypass the time sink.

      That said, technically speaking, an experienced player rolling an alt is going to level much faster even without factoring in heirlooms...but I certainly get your general point.

      "Or, with things like free level-cap chars, you could get someone who has no idea what to do but they will be treated by the game as highly skilled and allowed to go on raids, where at best they won't be much help, and at worse make mistakes and cause a wipe."

      Doesn't that happen already? We call it LFR!

    2. I really like the idea of fast track content that is a real challenge and gives a lot of XP. That would be fun to do and make alts a lot more enjoyable.

      Agree that you can level much faster if you're experienced and have all the stuff that goes with that. But still not nearly fast enough for me, I find it too mind numbing to easily tolerate.

    3. "I really like the idea of fast track content that is a real challenge and gives a lot of XP. That would be fun to do and make alts a lot more enjoyable."

      Yeah. The catch is making sure the less skilled or new players don't try to do it 10 levels later or something and be powerful enough to get the boost -- would have to scale to current level.

      "But still not nearly fast enough for me, I find it too mind numbing to easily tolerate."

      Out of curiosity, which game? From the sounds of it you mainly play LotRO? Kind of wonder how that differs from WoW.

  8. I mainly play LOTRO yes.

    I don't play WoW,so I can't compare exactly, but I suspect I'd feel much the same about leveling alts in any MMO. There is some degree of fun in leveling alts sure. Figuring out how to play different classes is interesting, there is some content that you haven't done before, and there is some content it's nice to do over again. All that is good, but to get to cap there's still a heck of a lot more you have to do on top of those aspects that I do find enjoyable.

    I do have plenty of alts scattered at all different levels, and I would definitely enjoy being able to play them in challenging group content.

    It'll be interesting to see what happens with the "Big Battles" system that is coming with the next expansion. There will be upscaling that adjusts characters to level 95 and let's them group together. If it works well and the content is good, that could potentially be fantastic.

    1. How long does it take in total hours (with the equivalent of heirlooms or whatever) to go from level one to max level in LotRO? Kind of curious -- obviously complaining about how boring leveling is means a lot less if it takes two hours to level and a lot more if it takes 200 hours to level!

  9. I never did it in one more-or-less continuous period, cos that would be too boring!

    My finger in the air calc made it something like 250 hours though.

    In two hours you wouldn't have made it out of The Shire. :)

    (Not that all races start in the Shire, and you can actually go to the other races starting areas if you want.)

    1. Ah. Yeah, with heirlooms and knowing what you're doing I suspect you could hit 90 in 100-125 hours in WoW at the moment. Still an extremely long time, though, to play with others.

      I'm building a PW in NWN that will have shorter levels and more focus on exploring stuff for small bonuses at the current maximum level. Curious to see how it's received.