The 6 Wheeled Car

There is a six wheeled car – it is a sedan, four door. What if I told you it gets better gas mileage, is much safer to drive,  hell, it’s even cheaper than a boring old regular 4 wheeled car. Would you buy it? Probably not. Nobody wants to be the first, and 4 wheels have done just fine for the past 100 years. We are comfortable with our 4 wheels, it is socially acceptable to drive a ‘regular’ car, and everybody else makes their cars that way. Okay, you got me, there isn’t really a 6 wheel mass produced car on the market but I used the example to illustrate part of what sucks with MMO’s. MMO’s design what is comfortable – what we are used to – when a few simple changes could improve the whole process. The $14.99 subscription fee? It has nothing to do with recovering expenses, it is just what people are used to paying, so that is what they charge. The leveling curve standard – lots of little levels fast, some mid levels medium-slow, end levels stupidly slow – there is not really a good reason for it except that is what players are accustomed to.

I touched upon my dream leveling curve here and wanted to expand how using a flat hours per level system could innovate a part of the market. I use the term ‘innovate’ loosely – perhaps a better word is make your entire MMO world useful. Let me explain. Again, I will use WAR as my backdrop because it has the potential to take advantage of this type of system pretty much as is.

The power of a character is indicative of levels. For illustration purposes we are going to assume that ‘x’ level is representative of the power level of a character to one another – being a level 40 is 40x more powerful than a level 1 character. (In reality it is probably more, but let’s assume that 40 level 1’s could kill 1 level 40, 2 level 20’s can kill one level 40, etc. Again, that is a bit skewed towards the lower levels but that is the power curve I am looking for. Players want to level to become more powerful, it is the proverbial cheese to our little rat race, and that aspect is important to keep pure in any MMO. Although I complained about how the leveling curve escalates to rediculous levels in WAR I don’t care so much about the total time – just the time it takes between levels. If you want me to play 8 days to get to max level, fine, just give me the content and regular pieces of cheese along the way to keep me trucking.

As a PVP game that encourages varying levels to compete/participate with one another the ‘power’ of levels is a big difference maker. It is somewhat balanced with the bolster mechanic but this still doesn’t solve another beef of mine with MMO’s – wasted content. I have been working on my dwarf alt a lot lately and by god, the RVR lakes area in T1 of DvG are absolutely beautiful. Incredible design and I can imagine the fun and engaging battles that could happen on the mountainsides with great cover and backdrop for the perfect bloody battle – problem is, no one does it. Throughout beta, and now leveling a third character through, no one open RVR’s in this pairing. No clue why. Such a waste of a beautiful arena for gaming, and no doubt a lot of time and development costs as well. All MMO’s do this to some degree – they make their own content a big waste of time and money – something that is exasberated even more when expansions come out. The by-product of this is that they actually shorten the life of their games by extending the top power levels as it creates an extra layer of inaccessibility for the new player. Yes, it does make the long term player stick around a bit longer, but the new player finds himself either alone, or hopelessly outpowered, and in the end there is a low retention rate for new subs once a game has expanded it’s power content. (Go join EQ now, and see how much fun you have!)

I know I am dancing around a slew of different angles right now, but it all leads me to the same conclusion: The relative power curve between players needs to change. Make that adjustment, along with a flat leveling system, and all of a sudden the entire game world is a playground for EVERY player. Instead of having a level 40 40x more powerful than a level 1 character, change it to the power of 10 – meaning a level 40 character is only 4x more powerful than a level 1. If my level 40 Ironbreaker decides to go back into the T1 lakes, a good group of 4-5 destruction players can take you down. Want to try old quests you never got to finish? Sure, it is worth 1/4 of the XP, but there is still value. When the MMO decides to up the max level, the disparity is minor at best and new players coming into the game can still enjoy every aspect of it from day one, instead of day 124. Please note I am not saying take away the 40 levels – still have them, and the ability/gear curve to go along with it. Each player will still get their 40 ‘dings’.

Now we have adjusted to a flat leveling system, and a player-relative power curve, a few minor adjustments and the entire game world is now the playground for every player. No longer are you limited to a certain section for a limited amount of time. Scenarios – Open up all to everyone, but instead of player bodies as the per side cap, use levels. For example, have 280 levels per side. Your side might only have 10 players against 20 enemies – but the relative power is equal meaning it can still be a good fight. World objectives – Have them all, starting from T1, have more meaning. The bigger rewards and xp/renown gains are still in the upper tiers (relative to player level) but put an absolute importance on those T1 objectives – so lower level players are really contributing to the effort. One side may send a higher level strike team down to make sure they are captured, but a lower level rally can still, with numbers and skill, have a chance (instead of getting one shotted).

While this may seem like a major change I think it would be well accepted by the majority of the playerbase. There is nothing wrong with maximizing the enjoyment of a game from the outset of the game instead of worrying about how much time you need to spend to be “effective” in that game. This solves the outdated content issue all MMO’s face, maximizes development dollars, and if you do an expansion in lower level tiers everyone can enjoy it, regardless of what level you are. Of course, WAR will never go this way and I only used it as my backdrop (because of how it is designed) to illustrate how a flat leveling curve, and relative power adjustment, could make that next 6 wheeled car the thing of the future.

I was going to rehash these comments on Syncaine’s blog here, and Melf’s blog here, and Openedge’s blog here - the portion about relative power curves but keeping lots of levels - but instead took the lazy (er) route of just adding  pingback (s).

6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I don’t care about how weird or ugly a car looks, so long as it’s cheap, reliable and easy to maintain.

    I don’t care how pretty a game is if the play is mindless, expensive, and overly grindy.

    Puzzle Pirates doesn’t have time-investment levels, it has skill “levels” based entirely on player skill. I find it to be a much more satisfying metric of competence. The core level/loot mentality just isn’t all that fun these days.

  2. @Tesh: Think I’ll go try Puzzle Pirates. Amazed I haven’t yet, although it is very often referenced. I am definitely leaning your way – I enjoy WAR a lot for the first two Tiers until the leveling stops from fun and manageable – short spurts between levels, the dangling carrot always close enough – to too long, lack of content, and grindy. That was kind of the thought process behind this article was I would rather have manageable time between levels instead of an increasing time – where the rewards are a lot more work for a lot less.

    As for a skill based MMO instead of levels, I am in the same sphere as you in this post, as I would like to see content never truely left behind, instead, a lower disparity between power levels would make skill as important across the entire gameworld – instead of being pigeon-holed into “level appropriate content”. Now, a FULLY skill based MMO without levels would be quite the interesting endeavour – many would just argue to go play any online FPS (where only skill matters) however, I do think with a proper thought-process model it could be applied to MMO land too.

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