I spent a bit of time playing two alts in WoW this weekend.
- One of them is my druid, she’s recently hit level 80 and is on the same server as my main. She’s also a character I used to play a lot during the last expansion.
- The other is a death knight on another server where I have no other characters.
The experiences are very very different.
My druid has gold, friends, crafting contacts. If I had wanted, I could have sent her some heirloom items (these are bind on account items that you can send to your alts to help them level faster). And because I played her a lot at level 70, it’s been very easy to adapt to playing the character at level 80. It didn’t change that much. Naturally I make sure she’s all gemmed and enchanted, and I have friends who can help with that.
I bought a few epics from the auction house to help get her sorted, and was able to heal a Naxx-10 run in a PUG this weekend – I had previously run 1 (one) heroic. (note: if you look at the armoury and wonder why we didn’t complete the instance, it’s because everyone bizarrely decided to go just as we got to the last boss. Don’t ask me man, it had been a really smooth run.)
The death knight is much closer in feel to what a new player would find. I need to make my own gold for a start. I need to learn who the crafters are on the server, I also need to learn to play the character. And as for gems and enchants … it’ll be cheap gems for now. And how unreasonable it seems that people demand fully enchanted characters for instances, don’t they realise how expensive that is for a new character when it isn’t really necessary? And how awkward when the faction is small and the auction house often doesn’t have many materials on it?
The haves and the have-nots
I’m seeing MMOs as class-based societies now. The raiders aren’t necessarily the sole upper class (despite what many of them think) – but that class includes anyone who knows the game well and has plenty of resource on tap; gold, time, knowledge, alts with craft skills, friends, raid group, arena team, etc. And the lower classes include anyone who has less of a support network. They have to struggle much more for their game.
My druid, born with a silver spoon in her gob, gets everything handed to her on a silver plate. It’s not that there was no work involved, just I did the work on other characters. If I know the instances inside out, it’s because I ran them a lot on my main. If I know how to play a resto druid, it’s because I did a lot of raid healing in TBC. In any case, she’s not a typical new level 80, she’s a raider alt which is a very different thing. I also have easy access with her to a lot of PvE content in the game – I suspect I could BS my way into an Ulduar raid that needed a healer by just showing that I know the encounters.
My death knight on the other hand, is more of a poor kid made good. Again, not a typical character because the player knows the game so well, but I have to work a lot harder to get her going.
The thing with class is that it can depend so much on your parents. And a privileged main will create privileged alts. People do like to spoil their alts by loading them up with pretty trinkets, purple epic toys and other goodies. The art of twinking has become a really strong form of emergent gameplay. I think I have in the past heard people refer to their alts as their kids but my memory is fortunately blanking the details because that’s a bit sad.
In any case, those alts really aren’t on the same playing field as new 80s. No matter how much Blizzard (or any developer) eases the levelling curve, hands out badges, or tries to make things easier for new players, the rich will just get richer. If we wanted alts to start on a similar level to each other, then we’d have to cripple the equivalent of the inheritance tax. If you couldn’t send gold and stuff to your alts, then they all would have to start from scratch – it probably would be good for the economy also.
Of course people would complain. I don’t even know if it’s a good idea myself. But I do know that I feel a sense of anti-climax that my druid had so little of a learning and gear curve at 80, it’s as if an important part of the alt experience just isn’t there. It’s been maybe a week and I haven’t put much effort in but she’s already ‘done’. I could run Naxx-25 with her now without even needing to bullshit my way in.
Being part of the privileged classes means that there’s less challenge in the game – anything that requires resource gathering, they can do very easily. And there’s the rub. Because it is usually members of this class who complain the most about the lack of challenge.
I’m not sure if we want more egalitarian virtual societies. Part of the appeal of character progression is that you can compare yourself with less progressed people. If you are one of the haves you get to lord it over the have-nots, you may even rant in the Azerothian equivalent of the Daily Mail that they’re a bunch of useless layabouts and immigrants from other games who are living on welfare.
But I do know that breaking the inheritance tax would increase the amount of challenge from alting. Sometimes we take so much advantage of all the ways the game provides to make things easier that we are our own worst enemies.