Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Making Levelling Content Matter

Playing in the Rift beta brought up an old question in me. How do you get players to care about anything but levelling up before they get to the maximum level?  I even wrote a post about it back in 2009and I still like what I wrote there. Today I’ll take a different approach to the topic though.

The rift events in, well, Rift require you to do very well in them in order to urn emblems that can (in multiples) be turned in for item rewards. Different zones reward different emblems, so that winning rift events in higher level zones is more rewarding than in lower level ones. In order to complete a full set of rift gear from a zone while still being at a level where the gear can be useful you either have to be extraordinarily good at those events or grind a whole damn lot of them. Now why would players  put any effort into collecting that gear when they could instead level up a bit and become much more powerful that way.

The same holds true for dungeons and similar methods for players to acquire gear. Most World of Warcraft players already play only in very few dungeons on their way to the maximum level because those require time and coordination. Sure, I levelled from level 60 to level 70 and then later to level 80 pretty much exclusively in dungeons, but that was because it was a very effective way to level without having to care for the flood of players in the new regions. Also, I had a very fun group to grind those dungeons with. Most of the time though, doing a dungeon simply slows down your levelling process and forces you to play with complete strangers. Now imagine how much worse that would be if dungeons tried to offer the same kind of challenges at lower levels that raid dungeons offer at the maximum level. Nobody ever does non-maxlevel raid dungeons level-appropriately anymore; it’s simply not worth the hassle.

It#s a really odd feature of MMORPGs these days that the games seem to be split into two parts. At first you have to level your character to the maximum and then you get to participate in challenging content. Me, I don’t like the levelling much but I enjoy the endgame challenges, other players see things the other way around. It seems to me as if MMORPGs could be much better games if players actually got to play the whole game from the start instead of having to play one half first and then a completely different half afterwards. I have a few ideas how this could be solved, though they come with issues as well.

Reward challenging content appropriately

This approach tries to bribe players into doing content other than just solo levelling. The normal way to do this is by giving them better items than they could get playing solo, but that doesn’t really work as we see. Items in your traditional DIKU MMORPG get replaced quickly and don’t affect your character enough that they would be worth getting. If one wants to keep items as the main bribe, one would have to make them strong enough to actually warrant the lost time and extra effort of doing harder content. This, in turn, bears the risk of overly rewarding good players and making the game way too easy for them. The other obvious bribe would be experience – but making dungeons more rewarding than solo play might lead to situations in which players like me never leave the dungeons at all.

Make challenging content mandatory

You could also make people want to spend their time in dungeons / rift events / pvp battles by making it impractical not to do those. If you make normal mobs so strong that they are very hard to beat if you don’t have appropriate gear, people will have little choice but to do the more challenging content in order to be able to approach the next level of normal content. The extended approach would be to make only challenging content in the first place  – which would bring us back to the age of Everquest-style “must bring this many players to succeed at all”  levelling. (Note that “many players” does not necessarily mean “challenging”. WoW raids are challenging due to the limitation of players you can bring; if they were open-world, all challenge would be lost.)

Mandatory group content will make many players angry, and will lead to a loss of subscriptions if it is also difficult to succeed in. Those players who couldn’t complete Naxxramas 2.0 if their life depended on it will still want to get to the maximum level and will be angry if they can’t.

Provide ageless rewards

In my earlier post I touched upon this idea – provide rewards for taking part in challenging activities that don’t get diminished by the levelling process. Loot in most MMORPGs gets diminished by the fact that you can simply get better loot easier at higher levels. Most other rewards – like money for example – get diminished in value because they are simply so much easier to attain when you are of higher level. There are some possibilities to avoid this problem though. Something like a PvP rank, for example, might be equally hard to get at different levels. Or imagine a system in which you level skills by using them (yes, I know that comes with its own batch of problems.) Sure you could start levelling a skill that’s only viable in group play at maximum level, but it would be a lot more efficient if you already used it on the way there.

None of the ideas I can come up with are without flaws, but I can’t imagine that games can simply continue with all the throwaway content that they offer these days. And no, simply providing heroic versions of old dungeons is not the solution Blizzard, thank you very much.

  • I can’t remember where I saw the idea of short-term heirlooms, items which will level up with you for a few levels, so that they give a reward that isn’t quickly replaced, isn’t overpowered at the start, but that isn’t permanent either.