Are MMOs getting easier or players getting lazier?

via Bio Break, I was reading a column in GameSpy about the lack of challenge in WoW. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve seen most of the raid content for myself, I can understand where that’s coming from (and it’s a subject for another day!)

But. It isn’t the raid content that he’s talking about. It isn’t endgame at all, in fact. He’s talking about the levelling curve and how Blizzard have mostly trivialised it. And if you want to go even faster, you can grab bind on account items that adjust themselves to match the level of your alts. And because they are BoA, once you have finished you can send them on to another alt. Although by definition, heirloom items are only available to players with max level characters, to help speed up the levelling of their alts.

Not only that but people also have easy access to websites like wowhead and addons like questhelper which neatly remove any residual quest related frustrations anyone may have had with not finding things or puzzle solving.

All of these things conspire to make questing and levelling a trivial (but still time consuming) part of the game. Aside from the fact that no one forces you to go look things up every single time you get stumped for more than half a millisecond, what we are seeing is a fundamentally different way in how players respond to in game quests.

They are no longer viewed as fun puzzles. Instead, they’ve become sleepers (or even speedbumps) on the railway of levelling, and the objective of most passengers is to get past them as quickly as possible on their way to their final destination. Levelling quest rewards are largely ignorable. Even if they are useful upgrades, you’ll grow out of them soon enough. Some questlines will have particularly engaging storylines or fun tweaks. Those are the equivalent of the Settle-Carlisle scenic route*. Pretty, a fun day out, and good for photo/screenshot opportunities. But you’d skip them if you were in a hurry.

This is not a WoW-specific paradigm shift.

Looking at newer games, they’ve all been tweaking to make the questing process more streamlined and single player friendly. WAR has its red blobs (which actually fulfil much the same function as questhelper, but more nicely implemented and integrated) which I think have been roundly welcomed. Anyone want to complain that levelling in WAR is too easy? They’ve eased their levelling curve too. You don’t even have to worry about accidentally pulling groups because most mobs can be solo pulled.

I don’t think people complain, because they’re not unhappy with it. And WAR in particular does offer other ways to level, the solo questing isn’t supposed to be challenging so much as to just give you something to do inbetween scenarios.

Why does the levelling curve need to ease off?

This one is obvious. In any level based game with multiple expansions, if you want to make your game appealing to new players, they need to be able to catch up to the pack. Is there any way to do this other than to speed up the low level game?

  • Spread out the pack, either by being very very alt friendly or by spreading the appealing content through all levels and letting players stop at a place they like.
  • Let new players start at higher levels. Still would need some kind of tutorial.
  • mentoring schemes (sidekicking, or letting you help a friend to level faster)
  • Nuke the old content at the start of every expansion. Let everyone start from level 1 again together.
  • Nuke the whole server regularly.
  • DITCH LEVELS! (wait, am I shouting? :) )

I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift on quests and level based games. WoW is, for logical reasons, trivialising its levelling game. This will be less fun for people who enjoyed the challenge (I’d direct them to LOTRO where the quests are much more old-school style), but it’s a strange reason for not trying WoW because the high level quests in TBC and Wrath are brilliant.

The level-by-quest design served MMOs, and WoW in particular well but we’re seeing how it fails in a mature game now. Once you have seen the stories once, you don’t need to see them again. New players need to be able to catch up.

We need a new scheme for levelling. WAR with its multiple options, multiple zones, and public quests is surely on to something. So why is the prospect of levelling an alt in WAR so unappealing?

* You have to love that the Settle-Carlisle railway doesn’t have any pictures of scenery on the front page, although the scenery is the main reason that it’s famous. There is a picture of a station cat on the station page though.