Free Max-Level Characters! Get ’em While They Last!

The buzz in the Hate-O-Sphere is currently all about a post made by EverQuest II senior developer Dave (“Smokejumper”) Georgeson over on the EQ2 forums. Go there and read the whole post, because there’s more there than I’m going to quote. Then come back here, and then and only then, if you dare, wade into the morass of bile that is the EQ2 forum. The gist of the post, pitched as “just an idea,” is:

What would you think about a winback campaign that lets people return to the game, and if they purchase DoV while playing during that winback period, they also get a level 90 character of their choice? (Assume mastercraft-level kit, modest AA amounts, and a modest coin amount.)

The reaction is… well, it’s predictable. I’m not slow to accuse the EQ2 forum community (the community in-game strikes a somewhat different tone) of excessive whining, and there’s a lot of it happening here. In this case, however, I agree that this is a monumentally stupid idea.

On the one hand, the issue that such a measure is meant to address is a real one, endemic to all MMOs that combine fundamentally unlimited play, ladder-style progression that only arrives in discrete bundles, and finite content that gets released in slower bundles. Nobody in charge of such a game has dealt with it in a really satisfactory way – Blizzard, for example, keeps making WoW’s leveling faster, to the extent of doing a complete overhaul that replaced old content with much slicker and more efficient level-dispensers. The least you can say about Georgeson’s idea is that it’s not the same thing WoW did. That’s worth something.

On the other hand, an MMO, and indeed an RPG in general, is to a large extent about the progression. The focus on endgame stuff is just a diversion from that, made a necessity by developers’ reliance on scripted content that players churn through faster than it can be released. This whole “the real game begins at the level cap” stuff is all a bunch of bullshit meant to plaster a hole in the game design. It’s the Holy Trinity all over again – a bug, not a feature, which has been embraced at the cost of trying something new.

So no, I don’t think you should just hand out max-level characters. Progression should be slower than it is, if anything, but more importantly its rate should be stable. While World of Warcraft may have sped up its leveling by a lot, at least it’s still there. This would… well, I don’t want to trot out the old canard about undercutting people’s “sense of accomplishment,” because that makes it sound like they’re taking this too seriously. But it will, I think, reinforce the opposite – that the progression is pointless, since some people can just get handed a level 90 anyway. It would, I think, forever cripple EQ2’s ability to get legitimately new players, because it’s a more blatant band-aid than just ramping up leveling speed. I have to think that the bright, creative bunch at SOE can come up with something better than this.

And on the gripping hand, Georgeson also says, in the original post:

It’s definitely going to make a few of you think about wearing a troll costume, but if so, please keep in mind that this is just an idea. It’s a discussion. That’s all. I am serious that I’m asking for feedback.

Now, see… that has to come off as a little bit disingenuous at best, because somebody far less smart than Dave Georgeson could have foreseen exactly what the reaction was going to be – spastic, seething rage from a bunch who is all “sky is falling” in the best of times. So then why bother? Is it an earnest solicitation of fan reactions when you already knew what the answer would be? Or is it an attempt to divert the rage from an actual, planned change that will seem more palatable in comparison?

7 responses to “Free Max-Level Characters! Get ’em While They Last!

  1. The problem with progression is not so much the rate, but the fact that there is still no good solution to allow players who are at different points in the curve to play together. The player who doesn’t want to grind out solo quests for several months to be allowed into group content has a valid point, but that progression might as well not exist if you’re just going to let that player mentor up to the level of their group-mates.

    And yes, I also wonder what their PR strategy is. Perhaps they still think there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

  2. “It’s the Holy Trinity all over again – a bug, not a feature, which has been embraced at the cost of trying something new.”

    QFT.

    They’re trying to solve the wrong problem. Of all the games to float the idea, I’m a bit surprised that EQ2 even sent up the trial balloon. I’ve been spending my time in old school EQ on Fippy Darkpaw and more recently with EQ2X specifically for the character development. EQ2 even more so because the friends I play with have wildly different play budgets. Development (horizontal or whatever you want to call it) can continue independently yet still permit all of us to experience and explore “at-level” content. At best, that’s still only a partial solution.

    I’d be more amenable to rewarding the highest earned level concept. If you’ve earned a L50, 60, etc. the hard way, then its probably OK to permit rolling a new character at any level up to that level. This would help with group balance AND permit more experienced players to join their newly joined friends without mentoring (which is still a bit imperfect).

    Getting to 90 as class X and then finding that your friends/guild could really use Class Y is a drag (and yet another design problem) but at least that would reinforce rather than destroy the group dynamic. We’ve seen what acccelerated leveling and solo-fication do to a game…

    Someday some game company will come up with a development/progression paradigm that permits “infinite” progression while still permitting players to play together. But until that day, I’m not sure handing out level capped characters is it.

  3. This is the bit of Smokejumper’s modest proposal that’s not getting the attention it should be:

    “We like Velious a lot and plan to release content for it for a long time. That’s level 90 content and there’s lots of it coming”.

    That’s the real nub of the problem. He’s saying that for the foreseeable future EQ2 is pretty much going to be about Velious, and of course Velious is 100% max level content. Not only that, but because of structural changes to core gameplay that came along with DoV, most previous max level content has been invalidated.

    I think the dev team may feel that Destiny of Velious is sufficiently advanced when compared with the rest of EQ2 that it deserves to be treated as a game in it’s own right. Hence the suggestion that returning players begin again at the new beginning, in Velious at level 90. Unfortunately, they didn’t release it as a standalone game. They tacked it on to EQ2. Where it doesn’t fit.

    MMOs in general need to come up with a better strategy for this kind of thing. Expansion bloat and top-heaviness might have been excusable in older games, when the companies producing them probably never expected they’d have to support them for more than three or four years, but now that it’s apparent that any quarter-successful MMO could be around for a decade or more there really needs to be better forward planning.

  4. Years ago — even perhaps one or two years ago — I probably would have agreed with the majority of complainers. Now? Bring it on — I wish more or all MMOs that use vertical progression of the sort we’re most accustomed to would have a way to offer max-level character AND offer blocks of levels like WAR does.

    I don’t mind the leveling up, the questing, the story or stories ON MY MAIN. But I’m way past the point of rolling alts just to roll an alt and do it again. If I roll an alt now I only roll it for a specific reason, which is usually whatever the current end-game is. Making me level again is impeding me from what I want to do with that character. If I have to pay a few dollars for a microtransaction, fine by me. It’s still on me to further progress that character and learn how to use it to its full potential (ie. I don’t expect *poof* here’s my level-capped character to also come with all the best gear, etc.) but at end-game I’m no longer strictly playing just for progression for the sake of progression (ie. gear to see my numbers go up a little) but because in our current model of MMOs that’s where the multi-player actually comes into focus. I just want to group up and do the dungeons, the raids, whatever, with other people instead of umpteen bazillion levels of Fedex and Kill Ten Rats questing. I have a main character to do that with and to satisfy my inner explorer and inner roleplayer. I don’t use alts for those reasons, however. They are strictly to fill a role in group content if my main is either not required or I’m not in the mood to play my main.

    If MMOs truly are a “service” then they should have whatever services let players play the way they want to at all times, not just some of the time.

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  6. While the details are open to debate (get a character level 90, get one at level 86 [the lowest level at which Velious quests are available], get a character at the highest level you’re ever levelled one up to, and so on), the crux of the matter seems sound to me. The developers want customers to experience the content they’re currently creating for the game, and that content is going to be level 90.

    Having picked up and put down EQ2 several times over the years, I can speak with some authority that the grind, while not horrific, isn’t exactly lightning fast. Again, if the developer’s focus is on level 90, customers (whether returning or new) won’t get to experience it for a very long time unless they have a character at that level.

    I’ll say that if a high-level (80+) character is provided to returning subscribers with the purchase of Destiny of Velious, I’ll resubscribe. Yep, it’ll take time for me to relearn a class, but I’d have to do that with my lowbie characters too, and this’d allow me to go where the playerbase actually is, and maybe even group up for a change.

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