Well, seems a developer has suggested players being allowed to buy max level characters as a means to skip to the “endgame” content for Everquest 2: Destiny of Velious. Proceeded by lots of angry players who don’t like the idea of players being able to buy their way to the top instantly.

Below are my thoughts regarding this…as usual, its wordy.

To be fair I can see the thinking, EQ2 has been out a while now and there are a lot of zones and levels to play through which may not have many players within that level range to group or interact with so its a lonely experience. I left EQ2 with a level 54ish Wizard shortly after the first Expansion Desert of Flames came out. I bought it but quickly realised they reimagined my class into something I hadn’t been playing  since launch and added to the fact the game had shifted from a group orientated game to a solo one with group dungeons left me unhappy with the experience so I quit.

Now I have thought about going back once or twice, much like I thought about going back to EvE Online after being out of the game for several years (I played at launch for 6 months) However the major issue is ‘catch up’ When you have been away from an mmo for such a long period of time trying to get back into it is a big hurdle…for a start I left both games pretty close to the top of the food chain at the times I quit but after so many years frozen in time going back now would put me only marginally ahead of new starter characters with all of my old friends long gone or so beyond my level that I would be left soloing for months.

That is a good reason not to bother, apart from being forced to solo which I truly despise when subscribing to a massive multiplayer game, there is also the constant far away carrot and the way the game is reduced down to trying to ‘catch up’ to where the fun is…more specificly, where the majority of the players are by virtue of grinding levels for no other purpose than because they are preventing me from playing with others.

So there is a strong argument for why something so sacrilegious as paying to skip content has merit. However it also compounds the problem without fixing the underlying issue. If you have the option to pay to skip levels and someone else doesn’t that other person misses out on the opportunity to find a common player to play with. You are essentially making the lonely lower levels…lonelier. Which of course can make the experience of players that either cannot afford to…or don’t want to buy their way to the top worse.

Some would argue that’s their problem, your account, your character, your experience. However in a world where you exist among other players you are a part of the world they experience and thus you are their content as much as they are yours. When you go to a city to check the auction house, see a bunch of players at the bank, run past a beggar at the flight master, pass a couple of players emote dancing or see chat bubbles from a heated conversation in local you are witnessing the passive content of what makes a massive multiplayer game tick…other people.

You simply can’t get that experience from single player games, sure it can be simulated but once you’ve experience it once it’s always going to be the same. Players make unique content, AI does not because it is always limited to the options given to it by the programmer, it can’t invent new experiences on its own…not yet at least.

So the real issue is that games that add expansions, new levels, new zones, new minimum requirements etc dilute their player base and drive away returning customers. That there seems to be a major flaw in the design of traditional mmos, few games offer lateral advancement and few games are brave enough to rely on players making alternate characters to replay the base game rather than raise the level cap for existing capped out characters.

If you want to encourage new or returning players, you need to be thinking about them from day one. It’s simply too late 5+ years on to be offering to allow those potential customers to simply buy their way to the hard-earned rewards of your existing, paying customers because that just insults their time and loyalty to your game.

I would suggest, new player servers, locked content servers similar to how Everquest does it. basically you take the original game minus all the new expansion content and you create a new server for it. Nobody can transfer existing characters to it they have to make new characters and that gives new or returning players a starting point where everyone begins at, there is no catch up, everyone begins equal again.

Of course that requires a minimum amount of interest to make it work, you still need players to reroll on the new servers, to want to play your starting game again while at the same time recruiting new players to come and join in. No easy feat for an older mmo but, if your content is fun it should be a plausible way of offering new players somewhere to play that doesn’t immediately put a shadow of content high above their heads they need to grind to.

This still is a contentious issue though, due to the fact you are making new expansions for existing players and then trying to market content far out of reach to new players. As I said earlier you need to stop doing it that way by not making new content reliant on progression past existing content. I would like to see more games offering alternative ways to play the original game with new classes, factions, species and rule sets rather than raising the level cap and finding ways to separate new players from experienced ones….there is enough of that in current mmos without offering more, at some point you have to be brave enough to stop offering divisible content and start offering content that brings new and old players together again.

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