Go straight to max level, do not pass GO

Abuzz in the MMO blogs this week is an idea that was thrown out by devs in the EQ2 forum, which is to allow returning players to create a max level character. Note: They aren’t actually doing this (yet), just discussing the idea.

Syp wonders if this proposal was a wise thing to throw out to the player base as an idea (and a commenter reads it as a sign of desperation). Keen wonders how it would diminish the rest of the gameworld, particularly the level 1-89 parts. I figure it’s certainly easier than revamping the entire lower level game, WoW-style, to make it quicker for a new player to work through the game.

In many ways it’s surprising that so few games have experimented with selling max level characters. There’s no doubt that some players would be interested, why else would there be such a flourishing trade in MMO accounts? Disallowing players from skipping the levelling game completely has typically been one of the MMO sacred cows, because the levelling side of the game is considered to be a key part of the experience. Not only that, but being able to level subsequent alts more quickly via twinking/heirlooms/ etc is what passes for New Game+ in MMOs.

Offering a max level character to returning players doesn’t force them to forgo the levelling game. It’s still there if they want it on alts (or on the high level character). Offering a max level character to returning players also doesn’t give them a free pass to endgame, it likely still needs the equivalent of EQ2 gear and rep.

But it does make me think hard about  the split between the CRPG solo-friendly levelling game and the raid/PvP/group needed endgame in current MMOs. And even if there was no levelling game, nor any levels, a new player coming in when a game is 4 years old is still going to have a lot of catching up to do one way or another. And MMO class design tends to include complexity just for the sake of making the levelling path more interesting (ie. by being able to gain new powers on a regular basis). I know my LOTRO characters have a lot of rarely used abilities, for example. Being thrown into the middle of that by being handed a max level character is just an invitation for people to go look up the usual rotations online.

I also wonder how many other learning grinds could potentially be skipped. Would the games be less fun if you could pay to assign a maxed out crafting skill to your character?

Traditionally the progression path has been one of the more fun things about MMOs. But increasingly, experienced players  are looking to speed things up. In WoW if you have the gold (and a well stocked auction house), you could level a crafting skill in a few hours. Not much slow, careful exciting progression there.

I want to argue against offering max level characters to returning players, but increasingly I can’t find much of a justification. If it’s that or being left to languish for a month in the levelling wilderness, it seems like a logical option — even though it will effectively make the majority of the gameworld completely optional.

But one thing is clear, this generation of MMOs is uncovering weaknesses in the old MUD progression, class, and crafting models. Let’s hope devs on new games can learn something interesting from this.