Endgame Extravaganza
Oct 20, 2005 13:36:00

During the last few days, there have been a few comments about leveling pertaining to its ease in some MMORPgs, particularly World of Warcraft. Anyone playing MMORPGs over the past 5 years can surely spot the change that has occured. Remember how hard it used to be to level? Go way way back to the text MUD days. Yikes. One death could set you back several days or even weeks of play. The "elders' of each game system were revered for their accomplishments. Go back a couple years and you'll find that sense of grandeur slightly diminished, but it still existed. This is not nostalgia speaking. This is about game play. Consider these numbers (credit to WarCraftRealms.com)

Recent World of Warcraft census numbers shows 2,793,480 total characters between level 15 and 60. I chose to cut the data off at level 15 to avoid skewing numbers with level 1 mules and extremely casual alts that surely litter everyone's accounts. (There are 16 million characters total.) These numbers include both US and European servers, both Horde and Alliance. (On a side note, 61% of those characters are Alliance players, fallout from an array of cool but largely unattractive Horde character models, but that's a topic for another article.)

Of that 2.7 million, 739,671 are level 60 characters (the max WoW level at this time.) 26% of the characters were maxed on level. This might not seem like an inappropriate number, but as player who joined WoW 6 months after its release, I was blown away when I fist arrived in Ironforge. Click on every player you see and I am guessing you're going to see alot more than 26% of the character being level 60. These numbers would be more telling if one could discern how many of the accounts have at least level 60 character on the roster.

In WoW, life truly does begin at 60. Levels 1 - 59, though very enjoyable to play (especially if you don't mind playing alone most of the time), largely represent a hurdle that one must overcome in order to be invited into any consistent group play scenarios. The only concieveable exception to this is if a group of friends (probably real life or previously acquainted gamers) start together and play together exclusively. WoW's considerable success in the market (which is well deserved) is a solid indicator that upcoming game releases will lean toward systems that promote getting everyone to the top level quickly and painlessly.

And so, the pay off to this rambling? More than anything it is an appeal to game designers to keep this in mind during development. Maintain a progression rate and path that allows players to experience all play styles at all levels of play. The system should ensure that the middle game prepares players for what will be experienced later in the game, rather than presenting a impediment to the full experience. Play that is too easy creates an endgame thick with inexperienced and untalented players, and that is a quality that will frustrate the less-skilled players (who find themselves overwhelmed) and the skilled players (who are surrounded by players who are not sufficiently skilled to execute at a high level of play.)

Some of the new releases (which will be reviewed in future posts) are straying away from raid formats and back play (where high level characters take on low level bosses). This is somewhat encouraging to those not fixated on zerg battles, but distressing to those who live for the Massive in MMORPG.

Related Reading:
Top-heavy WoW, from Tobold's MMORPG Blog
Designing a MMORPG for the Casual Gamer
Mobhunter: Progression in Everquest, by Loral
Quitting MMORPG, from the Misadventures of Sloth

Submitted by Brent on Oct 20, 2005 13:36:00 CST (comments: 0)


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