Been catching up on bloggage this weekend and a couple of interesting posts (as well as our recent WoW group adventures) got me thinking a bit. The posts were Keen and Graev’s Instant Leveling: Instant way to ruin the fun? and Tobold’s Read any good books lately? While playing?
Both hit on something that’s been much on my mind of late: How much time should I invest to have fun in an MMO? As Wilhelm has been chronicling, our little WoW group, now reconstituted, is continuing its Tour d’Azeroth as we’ve all just crossed level 50. Things are starting to get fun again as we’re working through Maraudon and looking forward to enjoying the old end-game content at the top of the old world.
Our collective answer seems to be about 4 hours per week (or about the time it takes to watch two movies).
They’re are a few remarkable aspects to this endeavor: 5 people spread out over three states (now only two) and with a 3 hour time zone difference and about a 4 hour or less weekly play budget have managed to stay “together” at or about the same level and have continued to make progress and have fun. WoW’s design has both allowed us and forced us to do this.
Typically, we get all or most of our group together on a weeknight for farming or miscellaneous activities (less imperative now that we have mounts and there are no immediate big ticket items on the horizon) and we reserve Saturday night for group instance runs. Probably 90% of our experience and blue gear has come solely from these efforts. Little or no grind for gear or cash, and with the advent of porting at meeting stones, travel time is usually minimal since only two members are required to summon a group member. This is good.
With our restricted play budget, excessive travel time would be an absolute killer. With only the mythical two-hour block of time to play together, spending 12.5% (or more when you count human factors) of our play time to travel would be a non-starter. This is something that WoW has done well. As one of the comments to Tobold’s post mentioned, I agree that groups don’t need forced downtime for socialization. Just because we have a tight timeframe doesn’t mean its a death march. Believe me, we spend plenty of time in social mode. That’s a big reason why we play.
Of course, we’ve pretty much locked ourselves into “staying with the group” because WoW doesn’t have a mechanism which will allow players to either shut off experience or mentor down to a lower player’s level, etc. For the record, while I like the idea of mentoring, its really only a trivial fix. It appeals to the altruistic aspect of friends helping lower level friends, but other than helping a lowbie experience Deadmines “at-level”, what other reward would a Level 70 player get from mentoring down to L20 and running the dungeon? A good stack of linen?
For those of us with a bit more time, we really can’t play our mains excessively without incurring level creep. Of course, there are lots of things those of us with alt-itis and craft-itis that we would do, but in order to support a main, you really have to have an alt that is at or above level. Case in point, my main is an alchemist, but one of my alts who, at lower levels, was supplying him with herbs for potions for the group long ago got left behind level wise and as a result, can’t really supply anything worthwhile for the main.
Instant leveling or the ability to roll an alt at say 40 or 50 or 60 would be awfully convenient and create more grouping alternatives. If I’ve played through that content before (and boy, have I) the leapfrog would be very useful. The approach of course should be like that taken in other games– you can’t insta-level until you’ve crossed some initial acheivement threshold. As the experience required to level increases exponentially, the prospect of leveling an alt to close even a gap of 5 levels or so is simply so daunting as to be unworkable.
To top it off, I ran into an old friend that was thinking about re-upping his long lost WoW account. It would be fun to roll an alt up to his level to reconnect with him. And, don’t get me started on how games make it harder to group, his old character is on a different server…
WoW’s idea that its reducing the experience by 15-20% required to level to 60, really only addresses the “how do we sell wrath of the lich king to folks who might be sub 60?”. If Blizz wanted to reel in all those departed folks, free server transfers and insta-leveling would be great tools to foster more group play and recapture some lost subscriptions.
Insta-leveling would be one of those tools that creates more opportunties for the community than it reduces IMHO. Likewise, paying the travel tax once is enough. Creating opportunities to experience shared content is the real socializing factor, not reading War and Peace or regrouting the bathroom tile while your on the bird…