Question of the Day: Deciding which alt to play

(Short holiday post to keep things ticking over.)

Stargrace wrote over the weekend about her alts in EQ2, and she notes that she spends quite a lot of time deciding “what to do and who to do it on.”

And I thought this was a good question for anyone else who runs active multiple alts in a game. When you log into a game, how do YOU decide which alt to play and what to do? Do you have a regular daily/ weekly schedule for each alt? Start with your main and then switch to alts if you run out of things to do? Does it depend on your mood?

Or are you more of a completist who has to run dailies on every one of your available alts for you to feel satisfied?

On globalisation, consumerism, and F2P

(Even for me, that’s one heck of a subject line.)

What if developments in MMOs over the past few years really do model the real life experience in some ways? After all, virtual worlds are modelled on the real one … sort of.  Have gamers in virtual worlds been through their own virtual industrial revolution, and are heading on the road to  wherever it is that we are now in the real world?


Globalisation in MMOs, and specifically in WoW, happened when cross server transfers were enabled. Suddenly the population of a single server had much less of an impact on the progression of that server. Or to put this another way, there was a time when progression guilds took quite a strong interest in less progressed raiding guilds on their server and how they were doing. This might have been with a view to poaching players, but it was also because they knew that the server rose and fell together. There was an element of trying to foster the server community because progression guilds knew that earning a bit of goodwill with newer players now might result in better applications a few months down the line.

By the same token, if a raid guild on a server was well liked, non-raiders on the same server might share some pride in their achievements. I remember congratulating people I barely knew when their raid got C’thun down for the first time.

Servers now have become less relevant to a lot of players. Progression minded guilds and players think little of transferring servers or factions, advertise across servers and don’t feel the same sense of connection. Compare this with the way global industries set up call centres wherever the costs are cheapest and don’t feel such a strong connection to any local national interest.

You’ll still see some guilds, mostly more social ones, recruiting and training newer players off their own bat. If anyone remembers the post I wrote a few months back about running a TotC-25 to bring some less experienced raiders along, you might also be interested to know that some of them got the raiding bug and are keen to raid with our main crew in Cataclysm. Which is great because we’ll need the people.

Consumerism and F2P

Consumerism is a style of society in which people are defined less by their job and more by their purchasing power, and what they choose to buy. People are less interested in saving money (except if it means better consumption in future) or being thrifty with time or money, and more in having the newest latest most exciting items and experiences. We do see this as a trend in MMOs at the moment.

Players are less inclined to put all their focus into one alt on one game. Less inclined to define themselves as their main character or guild. Less inclined to pigeonhole themselves. Less inclined to put up with a long grind to get a minor benefit for one alt when they could get a new shiny more easily on another, possibly in a different game. And less inclined to value the achievements of people who do focus so much on one character – after all, look at how many options they have to give up to do that.

F2P games are bang in line with this type of play. A F2P game needs people to be constantly spending, so they need to offer a constant stream of new shiny items, which won’t last very long. This is the key — consumers like shopping. They like to have new and cool items to choose from. They bore quickly. They want to be seduced into making frequent purchases, not one-time permanent buys which would mean an item that never will be replaced. Consumables (by definition) are ideal candidates. If a player runs multiple alts then a F2P game can also try to lure them into buying shiny items for each alt separately. An item shop should frequently offer new things, time limited offers, anything to lure consumers through the virtual doors.

WoW in this context is actually pretty conservative with the cash shop options. They’re still good value compared to other games IF you have a lot of alts – the sparkle pony for example requires you to pay once and then all your alts can have one. Compare that with EQ2 which asks you to spend the same amount for every alt who wants the cool mount.

So it’s not necessarily about showing off to other players and keeping up with the Jones’, but might be just about being able to do a lot of shopping and choosing stuff you like for your own characters. Obviously the more money you pay, the more choices you have. Consuming is also a more solitary lifestyle. It’s all about your individual choices which you make privately with your own personal money, and less about having to fit in with the rest of the workforce. Again, this fits with the more solo friendly gameplay which MMOs are introducing.

The new breed of player may not be so interested in the endgame. Most of the F2P players won’t get that far – even if they stay interested in the game they’ll be cautious of committing too much time and money into it because that would restrict future options. This does not bode well for raiding as a playing style, at least not in its current form.

But can consumerism in games really support the sorts of communities that lead to long term growth? It’s a solo focussed mindset. And one effect of excessive consumption is that people can get jaded. The sparkle pony is new and exciting now, but how will it compare with future mounts, for example? Will there be a constant stream of people who will buy? In the real world there are also all sorts of issues to do with greater inequalities in society – in order for this to also be the case in MMOs, the cash shop would have to take on far more importance compared to in-game items.

Losing Gear Progression in WoW

Players  expect that content will get harder over time in an expansion.  Our characters do braver and more heroic things (modelled by content getting more challenging) and pick up better loot. Raid instances get harder. Rewards get better. And you may need the loot from older raids to tackle the newer ones.

The Coliseum may be a momentary blip in that progression. It is easier than Ulduar but gives better rewards. Perhaps this is a special case, just to make sure that everyone is geared up for Icecrown and the apogee of the Wrath storylines. A special catch-up instance to make sure no one falls behind.

But right now, we effectively have no gear progression. There is no special reason to go to Ulduar, which is the most recent raid instance prior to the Coliseum. There’s no benefit to going there either, you’d be better served for rewards in the newer easier instance. It’s a cool instance, and I sympathise a lot with Copra, who laments that he can’t find groups there. But I understand why people are reluctant to go. And the crazy thing is: If they’d upgraded the Ulduar badges to be badges of triumph when the Coliseum came out, I think it would have been fine. Coliseum would still have been more rewarding but Ulduar would have at least dropped current tier badges.

My Naxx geared alt hopped into a Coliseum raid and came out with upgrades and the all-important achievement that is my passport into PUGs (unless I lie which is what I normally do). If she hadn’t been to Naxxramas, I could have geared her up in crafted pieces, heroic badge loot,  and drops from the Coliseum 5 man instance. In the next patch, when heroics shift to giving out Triumph badges, everyone will eventually get full sets of Tier 9 gear by running heroics.

It doesn’t bother me that my alt (and other people’s alts, or non-raiders who want to get into the game) can raid alongside everyone else. But it bothers me that my alt is almost as well geared as my main, and that all the extra work I did on Spinks now seems to mean nothing. I don’t say it’s logical.

Surely the whole point of persistent games was that we could keep working on our characters to progress them over time? What does it really mean if all that time spent means nothing any more. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think that finding out is going to affect whether I want to raid in Cataclysm or not. Or even how much I want to play WoW at all after finishing Icecrown. Because if there’s no real point putting extra time and work into a character, if there’s no payoff … then perhaps it would be better to focus less on one character in one game.

What I am seeing is simply the way that the genre is evolving now. The movement in many of the big MMOs is very much towards minimising the effect of previous grinds or raids because those things make the game more inaccessible to newbies. It isn’t just WoW.

What we lose when we lose progression

Despite the fact that progression makes games more inaccessible, it encourages drama, it can frustrate people, and all the other inevitable reasons that it will die, it has served a very very important purpose in achievement driven MMOs.

Gear progression meant that different players were motivated to tackle different content. There was a constant stream of raid guilds focussed on different levels of PvE. It would have been much more likely that Copra could have found his Ulduar raid.

If everyone and everything is focussed only on the newest and most recent raid, then the game narrows down. There is no longer the broad base of accessible content for players. Sure, they can all be in the same instance, but it’s the only instance they can possibly tackle due to lack of social support for the raids needed for the rest.

If we want broad-based MMOs with a wide variety of possible things to do, then maybe losing the gear progression isn’t such a great step. It is certainly one way to funnel everyone into raiding together. But players will get bored more quickly and if there isn’t any different content for them to work on when they aren’t raiding, they’ll wonder where the actual game went.

I think that Blizzard have proved that their vision for the raid game does work. More people are raiding now in WoW than ever before. But they have also proved that raiding alone isn’t enough if they break the gear progression. One little raid instance can’t keep the entire player population happy until the next one.

As for progression itself, I wonder if ultimately the only progression that will count is social progress. Are you in a good guild? Do you have friends in the game? Those are things that genuinely take time and effort to build up, and unlike a raid instance, those things will not be reset in the next patch or the next expansion.