First alt is for fun, second alt is serious business

Do you remember the first character you played in your first ever MMO?

You probably didn’t bother to go look up optimal builds on bulletin boards, you didn’t care or even understand what the endgame was and you certainly had no plans for what you’d want to do with your character later on. Maybe you picked your character because you liked the look, or it fitted some favourite genre concept, maybe it was based on an old pen and paper character, or a favourite character from a book, film, or comic.

In any case, you logged in and the whole experience was a voyage of discovery. You were learning how to play, exploring the game world, figuring out how to interact with other players and NPCs, and probably making lots of mistakes and doing lots of things that you’d later judge to be embarrassingly bad. But it was fun. It must have been fun because you stuck it out long enough to either learn better or to start another alt. On the next alt, you used all the things  you had learned about the game from your first character. You were able to save time, make sure to pick up important quests and items, and probably had a much smoother ride through the game.

And it’s funny that in some games, you can go back and ‘correct’ any mistakes more easily than others. In a level based game, you can go back and repeat old levels if you want to make sure to pick up all the loot, grab all the achievements, or finish up anything you forgot last time. Although modern MMOs make it easy to change many things about your character if you later decide that you chose badly, the experience of nonoptimal levelling will stay with you. It won’t affect your character later in the game; you can replace gear, repeat any rep grinds that you missed, and so on. But you will know that you could ‘do it better’ if you ever wanted to start again.

That lends a lot of replayability to a game. It’s the notion that if you start again, your experience will be sufficiently different to be interesting (or at least, more interesting than mooching round the endgame and doing daily quests ad infinitum). It might be different because you pick a different class, level in different zones, pick different difficulties, or because the game has some randomness built into the levelling game.

I was thinking about this with Dragon Age. I finally gave in to my story fixation and set the difficulty to Easy permanently for my first play through, and I love the extra flexibility that this gives my game. I can pick companions because I like them and not just because they have classes or abilities that I need to beat the difficulty. I don’t have to stress over character builds or loot, I’ll just make do with whatever I get that looks interesting. And I can still get through the game, experience the story, and learn enough about the mechanics that I can play through again on a different character with a harder mode later.

Or in other words, I gave myself permission to just have fun and it let me focus on the parts of the game which I most enjoy. Next time, I’ll already know the basic storylines so I’ll be able to focus on other sides to the gameplay. I enjoy the combat, I just don’t want to spend too muc time on it right now.

But you can never have that initial experience of just having fun in the game again. Next time through, you cannot help being more knowledgeable. Lines of dialogue that made you laugh out loud in surprise the first time through will only raise a smile. The badass boss that beat you three times before you changed your strategy and smacked it down? You’ll get it first time of course, because you figured out that strategy yourself.

The relaxing thing with a single player game is that you can take your time. But in MMOs, we often rush through the fun parts as fast as possible. It makes me wonder whether all MMOs should make you play through solo first for awhile, to give you space to learn and explore, and only then let you loose on other players after everyone else has had their fun.

 

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14 thoughts on “First alt is for fun, second alt is serious business

  1. Amendment:

    1st character is deleted.

    2nd character-until-game-is-out-of-primary-classes is srs biznezz.

    nth characters-that-are-variant-builds r experimental bizznezz!

    *mad nuggets giggle and run squealing off into the distance, dropping bits of batter*

  2. The innocence of the first character gets lost. But sometimes the first character does not always feel right and gets deleted.

    Sometimes I have to play for a long time to realize that I actually prefer another style.

    Examples.

    Ultima Online: Swordsman->Fencer->Bard, new female char, a Tamer, became my main in the end.
    WoW: Human Male Paladin upon release -> Human Female Warlock in TBC, became the new main
    Guild Wars: Male Warrior/Monk (the stereotypical “Wammo” idiot ^^) -> Female Necromancer
    LOTRO: Male Human Champion -> ? (I do not see myself becoming a female leven Loremaster or Runekeeper for now…^^)

    Seems I am turning female after a while. Someone call Siegmund Freud please.

    Alts can often become crafting alts or do special duties for your main char. My Ultima Online char Tankred could craft everything my main(s) needed.

    • Yar arr!

      First WoW char: Mage. Hated her. Levelled her to 70 only just as TBC was ending and I had nothing better to do lol.

      Second WoW char: (became main) Holy presit!

      Nth WoW char: (hey I really like this, this is my new main now woot!) Tree druid in TBC.

      Right Longasc is Right. >.> Also, admit it Longasc, you’re only turning female cause the female toons are so much better.

      First char in GW is still my main though. (Yay for their respec system. =) ) Monkie!

      (Necro is catching up on popularity with me though.)

      • My warrior was my first alt in WoW but I was very very useless. I levelled her to 60, got bored, and quit.

        I came back a few months later to play alliance with my sister and played a priest instead. I ended up raiding on it and that was my main through vanilla. Then we had massive guild drama at the start of TBC and I quit again.

        Some months later one of my friends who still played horde reminded me that I had this level 60 warrior sitting around and I was persuaded to come back and pick her up again (I remember her gear and talents were really bad when I first logged back in, even for vanilla). So it was almost like starting again but not quite. I’m glad I did though, warriors are great fun.

  3. For me it’s very different. I’ll usually make multiple alts as part of exploring a new game.

    In WoW I hit the 50 alt limit after about a year then for three years had to delete an alt to make one.

    In DDO I’ve filled all my 28 alt slots in the first 6 weeks and have deleted several to make space for new ones.

    It’s kind of an explorer thing. How’s tanking in this game? Ah, I see. OK, let’s try healing. Gosh that was brutal. Let’s see if the ranged class can perma-kite…

    And so on.

  4. My alts taught me how to make macros.

    My first character is gone, not by my choice. But he was the one who specced first into the shorter cast time on healing wave because .2 off a 2 second cast seemed pretty useful. I never respecced and instead went deep elemental. It was nice except that I was afraid to cast because it would burn through so much mana, so I’d melee a lot. I didn’t really understand stats back then, so I probably wasn’t using smart gear, let alone anything of high quality. I still remember fighting some skeletons in WPL and thinking “why am I a caster if I’m afraid to cast?” After that I learned to beat things to death properly.

  5. I guess I’m an oddball then. My first toon in WoW is now 2-1/2 years old and is still my main. I had made a second Paladin to ‘do things right’ — I got him up to 40 before losing interest, and he’s the one that’s gone now. I had made another alt back when my main got stuck in a mid-levels ‘dead zone’ (pre 2.3 when those still existed), and HE’S gone, too.

    I did find that the one alt I’ve gotten to 80 I rushed through much more than my main, even though I have no real end-game designs with this toon, and even though I mostly enjoy leveling. I guess I’ve gotten a ‘raiding mentality’ now that says ‘Level and gear it and be ready to go!’ It certainly wasn’t my intention!

  6. I can remember when I first started WoW I rolled a dwarf pally and got to a point where I was getting stomped by mobs in Dun Morogh around level 7 or 8 and didn’t know what to do. I had one RL friend who played the game, so he came out to help me and laid waste to all the mobs I was having trouble with. I recall at the time marveling at how powerful his toon was, but now I have to laugh about it. You see, this might slayer of noob zone mobs was a level 25 mage! He also gave me some silk bags and 5g before going back about his business. I thought I was set for sure then.

    Fast forward 4.5 years later and that friend stopped playing at level 50 never to return, while I slowly got my pally up to the mid 50′s before re-rolling horde when I found out some coworkers played. I raided as a hunter in classic, a shadow priest in TBC, and now as a druid tank in WotLK. As someone who had multiple toons near the level cap at 60, and ended up with 4 70′s during TBC I can say my druid has ruined that. He’s my only 80, and only one of my 3 other 70′s has gone anywhere, making it all the way to 72.

    Probably the biggest drawback to this is not having all (or most) of my professions covered, otherwise I’m fine just doing everything on one toon. I still intend to have multiple 80′s before Cataclysm hits, but thus far I’ve been perfectly content with just one.

  7. I know I tried and was not happy with the Paladin, but of course that was Vanilla WoW 1.08 or something like that. The Hunter was the class that clicked for me but even then I was still a Nub (aren’t all Hunters? I’m joking! I’m joking! I’m a Hunter myself! Geez!), never trained my Pet, forgot I had Talents…got to 50 and killed my way through the Furbolg tunnel between Felwood and Winterspring numerous times. What? When you pointed to them your Cursor changed to the Sword icon. That meant attack them, right? Yeah. Grinding my Furbolg Rep back to Unfriendly took a loooong time.

    I did a lot of things wrong with my Hunter that my other Alts learned from, but he remained my Main and was still my first to ding 70 (out of some misguided sense of duty towards some bytes of data & a handful of pixels). He was also the last character I logged onto when I quit, so I could feed and hug Rex, my pet Tiger, once last time.

    Data & pixels, that’s all they are. So why do some of us get so attached to them?

  8. I think the bigger issue with replayability is that you don’t often know what other experiences are out there. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad. For example, I recently was fooling around on Horde and tried leveling a Paladin and a Shaman. The Paladin was OK but I loved the Shaman. After a Druid, Shaman is where it’s at for me. I really loved the Totem quests they were awesome stories.

    The problem is that I had no idea they were out there before I stumbled upon them. A lot of replayability is theory that never happens because people just don’t know how good it can be.

    • Yes, there’s a built in penalty in MMOs for replayability, because if you want to try a new class you have to pretty much abandon your old character and all the time you put into it.

      Plus you may not find out what a character is like in endgame just from levelling it so there’s always the possibility that you could sink a lot of time into an alt and still find out you didn’t really like it at the end (or it gets horribly nerfed, or something like that).

      I think newer games are trying to move away from that, but the cost is that people just don’t identify as much with their characters or classes.

      There’s just this huge inbuilt conflict in the game. You want people to feel strongly about their classes, but it’s silly to have such a huge penalty for replaying.

      • And this penalty gets worse in the F2P model. Because you’re buying items for specific characters, vs having a sub/paid for the box, and all characters have access to items.

        One of the things that makes me know that I won’t stay on poking at Jade Dynasty once I’ve played to the end of their wonderful storyline (if I can), is the cost attached to being someone with chronic altitis.

        USD20.00 for a flying mount, as a one off purchase and my tip of the nugget hat to PWE as ‘you’ve made a game pretty enough and fun enough in its way, to shell out a bit of cash for?’ Definitely.

        USD20.00 for a flying mount for 10 chars or more? Uhm. Not my thing.

  9. Interesting post, and I find that I’m playing DA a bit opposite than you. I am playing the first time through on Normal mode, which is fairly challenging enough, and some boss battles are just HARD.

    Then, I plan on moving down to Easy level when I replay with alts, because then I’ll be focusing on doing other character “personalities”, how other classes and story arcs play out, instead of the challenge of beating things in combat.

    I feel after having beat certain combat situations and bosses on Normal, I dont really have the urge to try and beat it again because I’ve already figured the strategy out, and for me, thats the fun part.

    This way, I can enjoy the story differences and focus on my decisons that way.

    But, then again, my wife is playing like you are too :)

    As for MMOs, I generally have a good idea for a character in my head, but the first character is always a possible toss-out. I tend to play lots of alt to whatever the equivalent is to, say, lvl 8-10 before settling on something for longer term.

    It helps that I usually play with my wife, and we are always trying out different duo combinations.

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