Raph recently posted his reaction to an article on power-leveling services. Koster writes: “Itâ€™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 â€” itâ€™s like comparing the number of times youâ€™ve been down the waterslide at the water park. Why do we give a damn? Only because the gameâ€™s feedback tells us that we should.”
Which I’d agree with ifÂ I wasÂ 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.