To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.

Age of Conan has a bonus levelling system where you earn levels while your account has an active subscription. This pool of levels can then be spent on any character over level thirty to increase their overall level. You accrue levels at a rate which is comparative to the amount of time you would have otherwise had to spend actually levelling the character, and, as mentioned, it can also only be applied to a character that has already reached level thirty, something which doesn’t take a huge amount of time but is a suitable barrier to people rolling up a level one character and then boosting it up to the end game without any experience of the class whatsoever.

I was indifferent to this scheme, where some bloggers and forumites had railed against it I couldn’t see the problem; other players using it wouldn’t affect my game in any way – by the time it was released there were already enough level-capped characters to mean that the PvP game would be unaffected – and if I chose to skip content and get to the end game it was exactly that: my choice.

Now I’m actually starting to see that it could be quite a good thing in a mature game where players have already reached the level cap, perhaps multiple times. I’m currently in the middle of an alt dilemma in LotRO, having three characters that I really want to play but finding myself having a hard time playing any one of them, knowing that if I play one of them then that is time that I’m not playing the other two. Playing alt roulette and investing small amounts of time in each character is not an option either as I will be constantly repeating the same content (since they’re all close in level) and thus the sense of character progress – one of the primary factors for playing MMOs in the first place – will be greatly diminished, to the point where it’s very easy to burn out.

I’m also seeing quite a few posts amongst World of Warcraft blogs concerning people taking the time to level alts in the pre-Cataclysm lull, but with their hearts not really being in it and a vast majority of them discussing whether the levelling game in WoW is really relevant any more, and even worse, pondering whether they want to bother with the levelling game in Cataclysm, something that I would imagine Blizzard is banking on players wanting to do in order to keep subscription numbers ticking over while they get on with implementing the level eighty five end-game properly (you’re not expecting a comprehensive end-game on release, are you? Really?).

Would a levelling pool such as the one Age of Conan has implemented benefit World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online veterans? If you could spend the first thirty levels getting the hang of the basics of a class, making sure it suits you, and then spend levels to skip to the end game, would you? For me, I like the journey as much as the end game, if not more, but sometimes I just want to skip to the end. If I had a limited pool of levels to use then the choice would need to be made with some consideration and not just on a wanton whim; tie those levels in to an active subscription as Age of Conan does and you have a rudimentary system of offline levelling akin (on a basic level) to EVE’s skill system which rewards veterans who have kept their subscription active. Would that be a bad thing? The system is much more finite than EVE’s incredibly expansive skill system, and so the idea of simply “playing offline” to level shouldn’t be a problem, after all, once you’ve hit the level cap you’ve not a lot of options other than to start playing or quit. It shouldn’t affect skill too much either: as many WoW raiders bemoan, most players reach the end game at the moment without having much group experience at all, and the end game in many of the current crop of MMOs seems to be where people start to actually learn their class with respect to team play. If nothing else it can be used as a method to smooth over the levelling run where it becomes too steep, allowing you to nudge your character through the pain barrier and give yourself a second wind before the lactic acid of the grind causes your MMO muscles to burn out; rather than driving players away, it could help keep players in the game where they otherwise might have burnt out and left. Certainly there will be that group of players who blow their entire pool of levels on boosting arbitrary abandoned alts to the level cap, still finding themselves bored and quitting, but I put it to you that these people would have quit anyway and would not represent the norm or majority.

The levelling game of mature MMOs is often seen as nothing more than a one or two month subscription extension before the real game starts for its loyal player base, many of whom already have characters at the level cap. Perhaps it’s worth rewarding those players by giving them a little freedom and choice in which characters they play and how.

Freedom and choice in an MMO? I must be new around here.

10 thoughts on “To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.

  1. Caspian

    Re: ‘Skip To The End’…

    As a public service, I do need to point out that as well as being used in the rather wonderful ‘Spaced’ (the most sublime scene of which was Tim burning all of his Star Wars stuff after the travesty of Ep 1) ‘Skip to the end’ was also used to very good effect by Prince Humperdink in the equally marvellous and quote laden Princess Bride, to no less a luminary than Peter Cook himself…

    I know, I know, inconceivable…

  2. Melmoth Post author

    You keep using that word…

    Tim burning all his Star Wars merchandise was indeed most excellent, but I have trouble raising it above the slow motion gun fight between Tim, Mike and Brian as my all time favourite.

    And anyway, Princess Bride was rubbish!

    Or was that Hawk the Slayer?

  3. Caspian

    I see your Hawk The Slayer (my name… is Crow…) and I raise you (pauses for effect)Krull… (and don’t think I haven’t got Beastmaster as a trump card in my hand…)

    You realise we’re showing our age now, you’ll never appeal to that hipster audience… (I probably haven’t helped by referring to people younger tham myself as ‘Hipster’)

  4. darkeye

    I’ve come to the conclusion that having alts is a curse, so I’ve made an unbreakable resolution to never make any in all future MMOs I play. Games like GW2 (or The Secret World) where the classes are quite versatile and builds can be switched around, so it should be a case of picking based on class aesthetics, who am I kidding it’ll be almost impossible to just choose one.

    In Lotro I’ve narrowed it down to two, which is quite good for me, but still have plenty of alts, even made a few on Laurelin the other week just in case, not intending to play them but having them there so I don’t have to pay to remove caps later on if I ever decide to play them seriously. The thing about Lotro that got me making loads of alts was crafting, but have giving up on having everything covered. That’s where the resolution started, but in WoW before I left I’d 5 high level characters and just the thought about gearing them all up and learn to play them properly sent me running. I think I could manage to delete some and avoid the trap of thinking I’d enjoy levelling up another character through the ‘new’ content.

    I do like the idea of an account-wide currency, that all your characters can add to and use to buy gear. Or once you achieve rep on one character it counts for all of them, like in Lotro I’ve one character in Moria working on the capstone legendaries, why do I’ve to repeat that on any other character I’ve to get through there.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    @darkeye: I think there’s definitely something in having an account-wide system of achievement, so that when starting a new character you don’t have to begin everything anew – again it comes back to giving a little reward/recognition to players who have played for a long time and achieved lots in the game already.

    @Brian: Levels are such a double-edged sword: they are one of the primary incentives for people to play, but at the same time they act as a barrier to play, in that they often prevent players from teaming up, as well as restricting the choice of players as to where they’d like to adventure. I have a very brief outline for a level-less Explorer MMO myself, and I think it is possible to do it. As to whether enough other players would find it compelling, however…

  6. Caspian

    @Melmoth: There’s clearly a market out there for an explorer / sandboxy type of MMO as Minecraft’s phenomenal success (220,000 paid copies of an alpha in the last year) shows… I guess it comes down to capturing a different ‘quality’ and knowing your audience.

    The success of other niche games like Dwarf Fortress shows that there *are* gamers out there who are prepared to heavily invest time (if not money) as long as the rewards are meaningful / challenging. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if ‘Old School’ as applied to MMO’s doesn’t necessarily mean more ‘difficult’ (a la EQ) but in fact means more exploration / freedom?

    Of course, the famous example of an MMO without levels is Eve, and even though it works to an extent, a new player will still find it difficult to catch up and contribute in a meaningful way, plus the horrific learning curve…

    (Credit to XKCD, but couldn’t find the original link…)

  7. Melmoth Post author

    It’s an interesting thing, I was thinking along similar lines this morning when I was reminded by m’colleague about A Tale in the Desert, which would seem to point to the fact that although there is a market for such a game it’s not necessarily huge. There does seem to be some sort of ‘magic’ element which draws a phenomenal number of people to games like Minecraft, where a game like ATitD maintains more of a niche community.

    Dare we say that Minecraft is the WoW of sandbox games?

    Maybe we do, but we’re likely to get a kicking for it.

  8. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Melmoth wrote:
    Levels are such a double-edged sword….

    Yeah, but I dissect levels pretty heavily in that series of posts. I offer a partial solution in the third post, but I have a few more thoughts than what I posted.

    I have a very brief outline for a level-less Explorer MMO myself, and I think it is possible to do it.

    If only you had some sort of forum where you could post the idea for discussion. Some sort of personal log discussing games on a website, say. ;)

  9. Melmoth Post author

    Post MMO design ideas on the Internet? Are you mad? There are people out there who make a habit out of picking holes in MMO designs!

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