Plz Powerlevel My Blog

Raph recently posted his reaction to an article on power-leveling services. Koster writes: “It’s a psychological thing, I recognize, and thus unlikely to change, but the constant measuring of oneself against the other people participating seems increasingly foolish — it’s like comparing the number of times you’ve been down the waterslide at the water park. Why do we give a damn? Only because the game’s feedback tells us that we should.”

Which I’d agree with if I was playing a game that was designed to work like a water park. WoW, EQ, and most other commercial MMOs successful in North America aren’t, though. I think to really give a fair look at this issue you need to be clear on what kind of game you’re talking about.

Pong is an example of a game in which you wouldn’t benefit from having someone power-level you. Aside from the potential to win or lose, gameplay at the endgame is essentially no different from what it is at the beginning of the game. Most real-world sports work this way, too.

Missile Command is a type of game where you could sort of power-level someone to a deeper point, but the only real difference is the pace of the gameplay. I guess there could in theory be some sort of advantage for paying someone to play through the grunt work of the first few levels, but the gameplay itself is the same so there’s no tangible benefit to doing so.

WoW is a game in which power-leveling is attractive because the gameplay changes deeper into the game. Opponents and environments are more impressive, loot is more valuable, and the game shifts from a solo/group focus to raiding. If you are only interested in raiding, paying someone to get you through the parts of the game you don’t enjoy is appealing to some players.

Does that mean Blizzard’s devs create boring content or that they get off on forcing you to play the game their way? On the contrary, I think enough players have enjoyed WoW that it can be safely said that Blizzard did a fine job on their content. And while one might not like the fact that in order to raid Naxx you must first play through the lower-level content, that’s simply the model that this type of game follows. And it’s not a style limited to MMOs; lots of other games work the same way. If you want to fight the final boss in God of War, you have to play your way through the early parts of the game… or get someone to do it for you.

Is this the only way MMOs can be done? Absolutely not. In fact, you could design an adventure MMO that worked exactly like the water park Raph describes, allowing players to choose which facet of the game they want to enjoy at any time and without any prior investment. Of course, every aspect of the game would need to be built with this play model in mind, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do it.

None of that is proof, though, that WoW’s type of gameplay is flawed, even if it does lead to unsavory things like power-leveling services and RMT. You can argue that it sucks that a rook can’t move diagonally, but that’s just part of chess. Rather than citing this as a flaw, why not make another style of game that lets your rook move however you want it to?

By the same token, chess has proven popular for a reason, and nobody should feel ashamed for liking it just the way it is.

Published by

Moorgard

Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

15 thoughts on “Plz Powerlevel My Blog”

  1. WoW and EQ most definitely ARE waterslides. In the core mechanic, you do the exact same thing for dozens of levels. The ride gets a bit more complex as you move from a straight slide to one with loop de loops, but it’s the same challenge.

    Until you get to raiding. Then you are suddenly moving from waterslide riding to complicated team watersports. It’s a different game.

    Arguably, WoW has three or four games in it. Raiding, levelling, PvP, and auction house. Why force someone to play a game they don’t like in order to get to one they do?

  2. Whoops, hit submit too early somehow.

    You said:

    “while one might not like the fact that in order to raid Naxx you must first play through the lower-level content, that’s simply the model that this type of game follows. And it’s not a style limited to MMOs; lots of other games work the same way. If you want to fight the final boss in God of War, you have to play your way through the early parts of the game… or get someone to do it for you.”

    The boss in God of War IS the same game as the rest of the game. Identical mechanics. So it’s not comparable to raiding versus grinding.

    And bluntly, “that’s simply the model this type of game uses” is a cop-out… you know better than that! :) Nobody is saying that the content that Blizzard made for grinding is bad — it’s just *irrelevant* to the people who want to auction, PvP, or raid. It’s content for a different game.

  3. Why does this have to be an either/or scenario? I think to outright say that people don’t use leveling services because of “status” is as silly as saying it’s the ONLY reason.

    I agree though that none of this “proves” the gameplay is flawed.

  4. I had some really good discussions over the past weekend with some SWG players who were comparing the various differences in SWG gameplay before the first combat revamp, and then after the NGE.

    I’m not against the idea of a system where you can be whatever you want on a given day. Planetside does a good job of this really. The problem is that the game itself becomes more “twitch based” in the process, which alienates players who feel that MMO’s should be about playing and not about levelling – but who don’t want to admit that “skill” is in many ways “twitch” based.

    Is there a way to design a non-twitch game where “skill” matters? I’m sure there is, but how?

  5. Great post.

    I feel like too many MMOs are simply following suit and not trying to think up new an innovative ways to solve the “problems” they have whereas obviously players are – i.e. buying plat and power-leveling to bypass tedious content.

    I understand the need for curved progression but I dislike the idea of having to simply forsake time in place of skill. If I want a good item, I should be able to achieve it by playing well… not by simply performing the same boring task over and over gain.

  6. Is loot later in the game (pick an MMO here) actually more valuable? Or is it just always a step up from what you had before? I’d argue in my experience, it’s the latter, not the former. Sure, it’s cooler, has better stats, but it really is just another step up the rung, not a quantum leap in “betterness”. It helps you get the next set of mobs killed more safely, but so does the “tattered tunic” you get at level 1…

    Bruce

  7. I have to agree with Bruce. The uber fabled robe you got at level 10 or 20 even was as uber to you then as the fabled robe you are wearing at level 70. You couldn’t wait to get it, it was a goal, and how proud you were when it was yours!

    Guild Wars did something about choosing a style of play at creation by allowing you to start at lvl 20 or lvl 1. I don’t remember if you had to play on different servers or not, but perhaps this is an idea for those who just want the end content. Let them chose to start at the high level and just raid even if it has to be on a different server.

  8. I have a few friends in WoW who have used power levelling services, but they use them for alts they need levelled up quickly to fill gaps in raids. All of them have played through the lower level content multiple times, and are now solidly into the raid game, and at that point, the focus is on making sure you have the right balance of classes.

    Really, the power levelling argument brings up other issues of how gameplay tends to change once you’ve finished levelling and move into the end-game raid content. Simply, the demands of raiding are very different from the demands of grouping and levelling. Thus, things like power levelling are seen as a necessary way of maintaining a viable raid force to play the game.

    I also think that while developers might look at their games as a single entity, players see many different games existing in parallel – the raid game, the solo game, the crafting game and so on. Players focus on one or two of these sub-games and take what steps they need to be able to play them effectively. Developers need to realize that not all content appeals to all people, and putting unappealing content in the way of the appealing content is going to invite players to find ways to bypass that unappealing content.

  9. “WoW and EQ most definitely ARE waterslides. In the core mechanic, you do the exact same thing for dozens of levels.”

    Perhaps we’re arguing semantics. I was looking at “water park” meaning that you can go anywhere and do anything the minute you walk in the door. With WoW and EQ, you have a very limited set of rides you can go on right away, with other (yes, similar) rides that unlock over time.

    In a true water park MMO, you could go into any dungeon right away because you didn’t have to worry about accumulating high levels, uber gear, or the other trappings of typical success. Achievement games like EQ and WoW are at odds with the water park model; even if most of the rides are a lot alike, you simply can’t ride them until you earn your tickets.

    “And bluntly, “that’s simply the model this type of game uses” is a cop-out… you know better than that!”

    I understand your point, but come on… it’s a style of game design that has been embraced by millions of people to huge financial success. It’s a style choice many MMO makers find safe to make. That doesn’t make it right, but by the same token it doesn’t make it wrong. It’s only irrelevant to the player who decides it is, not to the game maker.

  10. “I have a few friends in WoW who have used power levelling services, but they use them for alts they need levelled up quickly to fill gaps in raids. All of them have played through the lower level content multiple times, and are now solidly into the raid game, and at that point, the focus is on making sure you have the right balance of classes.” – Dasein

    I feel that’s a problem with current raid design, that “gaps” do exist within the raid systems of many MMO’s. It’s why we’re currently neck deep in the free form discussion over on Nerfbat’s forums about raid systems.

    That said, we’re back to the idea that raiding needs to be an end game effort. In traditional MMO’s, this is the current way of things. In games such as Planetside (a more twitch based mechanic), you get involved with “raids” (base captures) the moment you enter the game if you want: Battle Rank 1 reporting for duty, Commander!

    But again, those are very militaristic games based around relatively twitch based PVP gameplay. How can you apply the same general concepts to a non-twitch PVE gameplay? How can that “level 1″ be useful to a “level 50″ right out of the gate?

    City of Heroes tries to get around this with the idea of “sidekicks”, but that works because there’s no real gear to worry about upgrading. Besides, though slick, it feels cheesy to players like me – a way to get around the system (just like a powerlevelling service). Would that sort of mechanic work in an achievement/gear based game, or would it be likewise seen as a workaround?

  11. One model not touched upon here is how this transitions from game to game. I’ll be honest, i’ve always been one of those “progression” types of people who believes that i have to play a game from 1 to 70 to earn my right to continue further. To date, i’ve done this in eq1, eq2, swg, coh, 20 different neverwinter nights modules, and WoW. So Vanguard came out, and guess what – i’m burned out on it. I don’t feel like logging in and having to “prove myself” in another world again.

    Back in the day, i started gaming on my Commodore 64 and played the Bard’s Tale series of games. One thing you could do in BT2 and BT3 was import your characters from the previous game. And of course, if you didn’t import them, there was a “starter” dungeon that would ramp your character up to speed fairly quickly.

    I remember when eq2 came out a lot of people asked “can we import our eq1 characters?” and the design decision (for many complicated reasons i’m sure) was that it would not be this way. Although, that’s the first MMO game that i know of where the question was at least asked and debated. It might be interesting to consider a model where the games under an “umbrella” company have ways of importing characters between the other games the company owns. Thus, establishing your skill in one game would semi-translate to establishment of character in another game. Implementation details would vary greatly of course. But interestingly enough i think eq2 would have made a good testing ground for this – as level 20 was originally the “starting level” of your secondary class, one example of implementation would be that your eq1 character of level 50+ would translate to a level 20 character of same name, and general class in eq2. In essence, SWG did this when it implemented its 2 combat revamps. each time there was a revamp, your skills from the previous design translated and carried weight into the new design so no one ever really started from scratch again every time they changed it.

    Incidentally it’s also a way for a company to reward the purchasing of another game “Hey, since you bought our other game, you can get a minor headstart in this one since you know our systems already…”

    This is “just another model” in a sea of thousands. As MMO’s continue to evolve, we’ll see more implementations that try and cater to the various playstyles so each company can draw more subscriptions.

  12. “I understand your point, but come on… it’s a style of game design that has been embraced by millions of people to huge financial success.”

    It’s also a style that has been rejected in part by many people to moderate financial success for places like IGE. There’s writing on the wall, I wish it would be read and acted upon more quickly.

  13. I honestly believe the “next big thing” is going to be the game willing to try a different model. I’d liken the current model to stacking blocks, you have to earn each block before you can build the next one.

    What I believe will be more successful is a game that allows alternate activities to accumulate the core blocks within a game. (eg. A tradeskilling blacksmith may become fairly decent at swordplay just by testing his own creations, players earning solid levelling xp/gear while pvp’ing, etc), the goal being that people still have to put in their time, but with the opportunity to spend their time in ways that are enjoyable to them.

    The issues discussed above don’t seem nearly as big a deal in the first year of a game’s life, but if designers follow a restrictive/exclusive model with excessive keying and gear requirements, PL’ing becomes a much bigger issue as a game stays on the market for a longer period of time.

    That’s not to say there shouldn’t be exclusivity in some areas of a game, there should just be more paths to quickly get players to the point where they can work on eligibility.

    Take a traditional MMO, but work in “big mini-games” like Siege Combat, multi-Squad PvP, Ship to Ship Combat, RTS “combat management games” etc, then allow all of those facets to work together to allow the player to participate in the “core” game. This eliminates having to spend a lot of time levelling up in a manner that doesn’t suit a player’s preferences, and avoids the appearance of developer favoritism towards certain types of activities.

    Not only does this concept help better address the needs of your largest segment of customers, it also provides the opportunity to make that segment much larger than it ever has been.

  14. “Back in the day, i started gaming on my Commodore 64 and played the Bard’s Tale series of games. One thing you could do in BT2 and BT3 was import your characters from the previous game. And of course, if you didn’t import them, there was a “starter” dungeon that would ramp your character up to speed fairly quickly. ”

    Not only that, back in those days, the gaming publishers also allowed players to import characters from other company’s games. Wizardry, Ultima and BT were the three that I remember, but there may have been some others in the mix as well.

    I know developers spend an awful lot of time creating a postive low level experience (quite evolved from the original days of UO and EQ1), however, if you’ve spent a lot of time in MMO’s, replaying through low level content still isn’t “fun” for hardened veterans. It nice to see the improvements being made, but still tedious for those who have been there, done that, regardless of how special and unique designers might feel their “brand new” Diku really is.

    SOE is probably best positioned right now to create a cross-game character offering, but as other developers grow into additional titles, hopefully this is a concept that will be embraced.

  15. Y’know, this is something I’ve thought about a lot playing these games. There are lots of ways you can create a game that eschews traditional levelling mechanics.

    Here’s just one immediate sort of idea lifted from the Battlefield series on solving the level 1-level 50 gap mentioned earlier. New BF games have permanent unlocks that you earn through the points you score in the game – a levelling system of sorts. The first important fact is that although unlocks certainly give you versatility and make you better, they do not confer ridiculous advantages. They give you new toys to play with in different situations. A guy with four unlocks and a guy with sixteen unlocks are on pretty even footing when they meet on the field, it’s just that the guy with four unlocks can’t reconfigure their gear to the situation when they respawn. In the context of a PvE MMO this means that you’d work to unlock different skills and modifiers — single-target fire, AE ice, modifying properties like DoT versus DD, etc. However the guy just walking in that has one DD ice spell will not be doing completely gimp damage compared to the guy who has 50 different kinds of spells in his arsenal. The reward is flexibility instead of raw power.

    Secondly, there’s something called Field Unlocks. If you join a squad and fight together, once you get a certain number of squad points for working as a team you get one free extra temporary unlock on top of what you already have. In the context of a PvE MMO, I would implement this like something of a very light sidekick system. If you join a group, for instance, every certain amount of kills/exp/whatever you will get the option to gain a skill any of the party members have as a temporary benefit. So if we put two mages in a party, one of whom has awesome depth in fire and one in ice but little depth, they can each dip into the other a bit over the course of the evening to broaden their damage a bit. A defensively-focused fighter might take an offensive weaponry skill. A completely new fighter can join up with his experienced friends and get a couple decent attacks over the course of an evening.

    The benefits are immediately obvious. Imagine, for instance, an EQ2 where the deepest, darkest dungeons of the world aren’t absolutely trivialized ten levels later… or ever, even. Where “old school” dungeons and raids aren’t just speed bumps on the road to 70 and you can play with your new friends immediately. I mean, it’s sort of ridiculous, right? How long does it take people to ding to the cap after it’s raised? How much of a benefit do you get from raising it besides the purely psychological and how much content do you lose?

    The problem is that you can’t make this sort of game without committing to that mechanic. It’s a risk, and we know that the traditional level-based MMO will make money. SWG was a step in the right direction from the perspective of combat mechanics and levelling in my opinion, but look how it got worked over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>