Once upon a time it was standard procedure for a MMORPG developer to make it tough to level.
The games not only didn’t give players much experience for a kill, or for completing a quest, they put obstacles in the form of tough death penalties in the gamers way as well. Everquest, the original, deducted experience upon death that could even drop a players level if he died enough times. EQ also had huge wait times for mana and health regeneration which added to the time it took to level. Asheron’s Call added a penalty called Vitae that weaked a player and had to be worked off before tackling the tough mobs again.
These penalties meant that it took a lot of time to reach the level cap in those games. I’m not sure how long it took from go to whoa in EQ, but it took over two years for the first player to reach the level cap in Asheron’s Call. And that was when the cap was 80, it’s now something like 270.
Contrast that to todays games.
Today, on the STO forums I read that there are some players in Star Trek Online who have already reached the level cap of that game. That’s getting to the cap in about a week of play.
The question I have to ask… is that too fast?
Some folks will answer in the affirmative, and will claim the best way to enjoy a new game (especially one without much end game content) is to take it slowly. And, there is a lot to be said for that viewpoint. I tend to be one of those kind of players. I can level quickly if I want to, but I tend to take my time and look around or do silly and pointless things like swim around the continents in WoW looking for ways to get into high level areas from the back. (Unfortunately, there are none I’ve ever been able to find!)
But that viewpoint isn’t the only valid viewpoint.
The thing is that there will always be players who really enjoy quickly racing to the top. The person who does this might have a competitive nature, or simply just be in a hurry. It doesn’t matter what a developer does, or how much lower level content is in the game, there is a percentage of players (possibly significant) who will not stop to smell the flowers, and will just race through.
And if a player enjoys playing the game that way, there’s nothing wrong with that. To say otherwise is the same as having hardcore players complain about casual players, or adventurers complain about crafters. One persons grind is anothers fun.
So. Is it time for MMORPG developers to make levelling hard once again?
Perhaps a better way to phrase that question is should MMORPGs be implemented in ways that it takes months to reach the cap, not days?
I’m not suggesting that we go back to the bad old days of huge level killing death penalties, or hours of play sessions spent sitting around medding or waiting for boats, it’s a good thing those ideas have fallen by the wayside. What I am suggesting is that developers find a way to slow the levelling process while still allowing players to be active in the game.
Currently though the only real way to do this is by grinding, either kills or quests, and that’s not all that acceptable these days either.
Or maybe, the solution is to look somewhere other than the classic class/level system for player progression. Eve Online relies on a real time based approach. So long as a player keeps skills in training, it doesn’t matter how much time they actually spend in the game, and it will always take years to reach the skill cap. A player is then encouraged to enjoy the game rather than racing through.
Something that I’d like to see is to give a game more horizontal progression. EQ2 has tradeskilling, player housing, and collections to keep players busy. It’s entirely valid to spend entire sessions combing low level areas for harvests or shinies needed to complete collections. Expanding on this could be as simple as providing new systems. Allowing players to have more say in the game’s economy, or perhaps introducing a system for player and guild politics (ATITD with it’s voting systems, and Eve with its alliances) would give players more options, and would have the added benefit of more interaction and player dependency.
In any case, I believe that MMORPGs are going entirely in the wrong direction when it comes to the speed of levelling by making the level cap achievable in the first few days of play. By doing so they’re just ensuring that subscriptions are cancelled when the player runs out of things to do. If a player exhausts the content in the free month, is there any reason to subscribe?