Disposable Characters and Alting

I have never really been the person for alting in any game I play, for some reason it just doesn’t sit well within me. Having multiple characters makes me feel like I’m too unfocused as I really like to give my all into learning about one class, one character and going from there. I really hate that feeling of not knowing what the he’ll I’m doing or that I might be under performing so I stick with a main primarily and work from there.

Mostly in mmo’s you are kind of rewarded for playing a single character as end game often requires a certain amount of investment in terms of gearing up through dungeons, learning class mechanics, and executing this all to overcome certain obstacles. In PvP it is often advised to play a minimal number of classes because there is no way your going to get top tier gear when spreading your time to thin (in those with the grind), we are fickle creatures who need powah. Playing at your best and keeping practiced takes an investment too and when your in between that hardcore and casual approach to game time you need priorities.

Focusing on one character was the predominate practice for some time, leveling was time consuming, gearing even more so, and gaining wealth meant focusing on more profitable upper tier areas. With enough time this is overcome but this type of design was about making people more connected to the world and their character. It was a way of guaranteeing retention in a way as there seemed like more content with what was there being prolonged, overall it helped a sense of familiarity and attachment which is hard to dismiss.

However the design approach seems to be changing further and further towards alting behavior playing a bigger part in the guiding philosophy of play and how companies go about with keeping retention. The ease of leveling in current mmo’s has changed dramatically to where it is almost inconsequential, the journey no longer matters as much and it is the appealing to novelty which has taken over. New classes new skills, new areas, new faction have all taken over priority content rather then end game goals. Sure we are still getting the usual gear grind mechanics but considering the leveling requirements these days there isn’t as much investment in them, it’s easy to have 2,3, or more characters.

The big mmo’s released in the market lately have championed this approach. Star Wars: The Old Republic had an approach on the 4th pillar, story telling in order provide a returning sense of novelty to players as there were different main story lines for the different classes, there was also there extensive legacy system of giving extra bonuses and experience to different characters. Guild Wars set about breaking numerous barriers and I new style of gameplay revolving around horizontal progression, there was the downleveling mechanic, remarkable ease of leveling, alternative game types to level in, and a pvp system that didn’t even need any investment to start playing. All a collection of mechanics meant to have people forgetting their mains and rolling up alternative characters in order to experience the most content which unfortunately ends up in a lot of people, myself included feeling little investment towards the games as a whole.

I just don’t think this approach for mmo’s anymore, it was an experiment of design that got out of hand in many ways. The casual ease of leveling was a nice idea but it is now becoming a dependance on the alting to satisfy the content/novelty urge.

I think developers have been rather misguided in their dismissal of old school game mechanics without actually thinking about why they were there in the first place and how an mmo benefits from having them. Extended leveling was a time of getting acquainted with the world, harder monsters and harsh death a better reason to group and build communities. Once people build strong social ties in game it is a hook that’s hard to break free from ie WoW.

Games like eve have a huge amount of investment invlolved in character building, the time it takes to skill up scales dramnaticsly, yet it is quite successful compared to many others. Although would it be the long running mmo with considerable player retention if it was easier to level and have multiple charcters, with higher skill gain.. I tend to think not.

Even in games with very little popultion such as CoH community ties can be really strong. The many stories surrounding its closure shows people felt very connected with their characters and hot involved with amazing efforts in order to save it. We should be promoting that feeling in Al our mmo’s, it shouldn’t just be something only the die hard are a part of.

Even if they still wanted to remove the practice in place of something more modern and casual friendly, it would have been good to explore these mechanics in order to develop a better system. There are things games like eve, eq, and maybe even lotro are doing very right that have kept people playing and returning for years (the TKG fall back mmo is LotRO) , the appeal of these games is quiet strong.

There is a reason there somewhere why these old mmo’s are still around and yet many new mmo’s are closing or cutting back to skeleton crews. I know most people kick and scream now days when something takes too long (case and point Storm Legion) but was it a good thing giving in and having the disposable. The characters and worlds we have now feel entirely disposable and the constant change of characters isn’t conducive to sticking around. If the design approach is around novelty then that is always going to be filled better by the plethora of new releases.

But what do I know really as I am a child of the casual mmo and haven’t been a part of those earlier more “hardcore” mmo’s. I would probably kick and scream about hard leveling too but I would probably enjoy it more at the end.

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