Making MMO’s For the Long-Haul

Age of Conan was released about three weeks ago, and there are already people at max level…. Seriously? This just seems insane to me. This means that the somewhat-more-than-casual player will likely reach the level cap by the middle of July at the latest. I am completely baffled by this. I understand that players will eat through any content they are given, but an MMO should not have players reaching the level cap several weeks after it’s release.

Asheron’s Call took the first player over two years to reach the level cap, and a lot of that was done through serious grinding. Many of the players at that time (that were not in guilds built to gain xp and level faster) were around 80-90 if not lower with several more months before they were able to make it there. When AC was first released, there was no intention from the developers for players to reach the level cap righ away, which I think is evident by the arbitrary level cap of 126. I think they had it right for the most part, though. They started with a very large world with two big continents with probably 40 levels of content at release and through monthly content updates, they slowly filled in the landmasses with dungeons, landmarks, quests, leveling areas, and all sorts of new things to do. To me this makes much more sense than making content for 50 levels and jam-packing everything you need into 8-10 zones and then having to create new landmasses whenever you need to add content. Not only did this make players feel like their $10 a month was worth it due to the content updates, but it also allowed the developers to stay slightly ahead of the leveling curve so no one was left with nothing to do.

One thing that I would not really stand for which was considered the norm in AC was grinding. This was basically the only way to level, and while it was fun due to interaction with other players (8-man groups were the best way to maximize xp) it’s not something that I would want to do anymore. There were lots and lots of things to keep players busy outside of leveling, but there’s no doubt that leveling is where the progression happened. I don’t mind a good grinding session from time to time, but there is no way that I will play an MMO where this is the only means of progressing. The only way I would consider grinding through levels is with other players (grouping actually meant more xp than solo, go figure) who were literally pushing forward into a zone with some goal once we reached the end which would reward us with something other than just xp.

AC had something really good going here. The idea that it took two years for the first player to reach the level cap is brilliant. This means that you can’t even have an end-game really, at least not for many months in which you can prepare for it, or keep raising the level cap, so it’s barely reachable. I’m not saying that progression in these games should be agonizingly slow, but the rate of progression in AoC is pretty silly to me. If you put the max level pretty far out of reach, I think it will force players to take their time and really enjoy what they are doing. Obviously, this can go both ways and players can question why they are even playing if they can’t make it to the end, but as long as they are satisfied with content, I don’t think that will really matter.

~Kanthalos

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5 comments so far

  1. Thallian on

    I think I agree.. cautiously. Sometimes its very nice to just jump to the “end game” where everyone is even as in Guild Wars or Monster play for Lotro. However if you ARE going to have levels and progressive content, then yes I think you don’t want people to consume it on their lusts so fast that they can’t relish it at all. You miss a lot of America by flying over it as opposed to driving and you miss a lot by driving as opposed to walking (not saying I want to walk but the pioneers did) Anyways thats my scoop on that.

  2. kanthalos on

    Well, one nice thing about AC was that a level 80 character and a level 110 character could really play together, the 110 was just going to dodge more/take less damage/hit more/hit harder/crit more since he didn’t have any skills or abilities that the level 80 didn’t also have. Also, I believe (though I’m not certain) that monsters gave the same amount of experience no matter what level you were, so while you were getting less xp from a percentage standpoint, you weren’t getting nothing like most MMO’s work now. This made helping lower level characters a little less frustrating and worthless from your standpoint.

  3. Thallian on

    thats pretty cool. City of Heroes had that system ages ago and it was good, though it didn’t work exactly the same way, and it allowed power leveling which is a sticky issue.

  4. Swift Voyager on

    Eve does a great job at this by introducing mini-caps. While it remains impossible for any character to completely max out on EVERY skill, it is possible for someone as young as just a few months to max out in a given area. That makes it possible for a 6 month character to be equal to a 5 year character in a given profession or skill set, while allowing the 5 year character to persue a whole range of professions.

    The system of diminishing returns they built into the leveling system works nicely also. The max level of any skill is 5, with each level taking twice as long as the previous level. That makes it possible to reach 80% of the skill cap in 51% of the time it takes to reach the cap, so a new player can get very close to catching up with a veteran in a very reasonable amount of time.

    I also think the system of real-world training time is friendly to all types of players. Both the hardcore and the casual player will have equal progression towards level caps. The casual player won’t have as much money to spend, but he very likely won’t need as much money anyway, since less active players will lose ships less often.

  5. Aaron on

    The MMO culture was probably different then. The people who rushed through AC might not have been as fanatical as the people who rush through MMOs today.

    As I said on my blog today, grinding is the result of focusing on goals to neglect of the journey. Most MMOs to date have encouraged grinding through mediocre combat and Pavlovian manipulation of players.

    When we eventually see MMOs in which players are encouraged to focus on the moment, rather than the end, there will still be players who rush to the end. But those players will be more exceptional in their playstyle than they are now. For now, most MMO players grind often or always.


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