The power-levelling industry

 Posted by (Visited 20728 times)  Game talk
Feb 082007
 

Based on this CNet article on power-levelling services, I’d say there may be more full-time power-leveller employees in the world than there are MMO developer employees. Fascinating.

We also now know that the average market value of a WoW level is $8, and that an hour of WoW play is worth less than 75 cents. (note, levels for Burning Crusade are worth $24 right now, and an hour of play is worth only 62 cents).


What’s most fascinating is all the folks in the comment thread criticizing the time estimates and then providing reviews of the different services. “No, it only takes 30 hours!” (clearly someone with a nice guild). “Don’t use this service, they log in from IPs all over the world and Blizzard will catch you!” (what, can’t you use the defense that you’re a jetsetting businessman? Heh).

The reason the companies dislike it, of course, is because while some third-party is using your account they have your password, and they can do whatever, and if they got in trouble, you’d be calling the world operator — which means customer service headaches and increased costs for the operators.

But aside from that, really, what’s the big gripe? Power-levelling is functionally identical to sharing an account, which is something that players do rampantly and indiscriminately for all sorts of good reasons (ask me sometime about my reluctance to spend an extra $100 a year so that my kids can send me pinatas on XBox Live). This is something players want, but that we stop on the operator side solely because it’s a hassle. It makes it harder to identify who is actually at the wheel (not like we could tell anyway). Fundamentally, it just makes it harder to tell who to blame in the event of an issue.

The reason we react negatively to power-levelling is once again the hang-up over whether or not someone “earned” their “position.” And I am increasingly unsure that the very notions of “earning” “position” make a damn bit of sense in these games. It’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 — it’s like comparing the number of times you’ve been down the waterslide at the water park. Why do we give a damn? Only because the game’s feedback tells us that we should.

  102 Responses to “The power-levelling industry”

  1. Thanks, Scott Jennings. On Raph’s Website, Raph Koster posted a link to a CNet article and wrote a page of the thoughts it brought to his head. The reason we react negatively to power-levelling is once again the hang-up over whether or not someone “earned” their “position.” And I am increasingly unsure that the

  2. Raph recently posted his reaction to an article on power-leveling services. Koster writes: “It’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 — it’s like

  3. managed to attract a large number of people, surpassing the peak population of all previous games by at least four times! Yet, ever place where I can buy EQ2 platinum I can also buy WoW gold and/or get a character power-leveled. (Raph recently posted a blog entry about an article on power-levelers, with a breakdown of how much it costs to get powered a level in WoW.) Does WoW suck as well because people are buying gold and paying others to skip “the boring parts”? If so, I think we’re pretty fucking doomed when it comes to making a game that

  4. Just a few posts of interest around the blogroll that I thought I’d comment on briefly… Raph (re-)opened the gates of Hell with a post on power-leveling services yesterday, which ended up having a loose tie-in with the SOE whitepaper re: Station Exchange, via the RMT angle.  Most of the same old arguments, for and against the everpresent “achievement meme

  5. Recently Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) published a white paper on their Station Exchange service. As can be expected this kicked off a fresh round of debate over real money trading in MMOs and also an interesting discussion on Raph Koster’s blog on the related topic of powerlevelling companies. I inserted my tuppence there but it’s not my home so I didn’t want to climb on the table and declaim too much. Here though, the furniture is less safe.

  6. I don’t ‘give a damn’ whether people admire my hot leetness. I don’t care about ‘earning’ a position … I think power leveling is anethma to the idea of these games because they are GAMES. They are supposed to be about FUN. The idea of paying money to skip through the content of a title invalidates the work that the designers did making the game, and calls into question the ‘point’ of playing one of these titles at all.

    You don’t see anyone paying top dollar so they can get to the ‘real fun’ in Gears of War or Rainbow Six; if you want to get nitpicky there’s a cost to the multiplayer in an Xbox Live subscription, but for the most part once you’ve bought the game you’re done. You’re in and all the ‘fun’ to be had is open to you, you just have to go get it. You’d never pay someone to play Rainbox Six for you, as the act of play is the entire point for the product’s existence.

    I know you’re a big proponent of MMOGs as worlds, sir, but IMHO World of Warcraft is a *game*. There’s a community on top of the game, and communities within the game, and plenty of other non-game things you can do inside the game, but it’s primarily a game. If you’re not having fun, if you have to pay someone to play for you, my gut reaction is: get off the damn ride.

  7. The reason we react negatively to power-levelling is once again the hang-up over whether or not someone “earned” their “position.” And I am increasingly unsure that the very notions of “earning” “position” make a damn bit of sense in these games.

    It may not make sense, but it is a very real issue. Look at SWG, Pre-CU, CU and NGE, as an example. When SOE launched the Combate Upgrade, all those that had worked the hologrind to get jedi, immediately considered village grinders and a sub-level of jedi, and after the NGE was launched, and jedi became a starter profession, both hologrinders and village questers saw the new jedi class and sub-par.

    I can see this also becoming an increasing issue to those that buy their goods and equipment using RL money. Is it now a game of who has the more cash, or the more skill. I’ll be interested to see how these things play out.

  8. Hang on though — I agree that it minimizes the game. But you as a player shouldn’t give a damn about whether you’re invalidating the work of the designers.

    The real issue is that the game is precluding you from playing with friends, precluding you from getting on the ride you want to get on. Disneyland doesn’t tell you “Sorry, you can’t get on Space Mountain until you have ridden A Small World five times. Your friends have, so they can go on ahead. you have to sit and listen to inane music a while longer.” If I met that situation, damn right I’d pay someone else to listen to that annoying song endlessly.

    I don’t think power-levelling is solely about not having fun, in other words. It’s about the context in which you’re having the fun.

  9. The real issue is that the game is precluding you from playing with friends, precluding you from getting on the ride you want to get on.

    But, it doesn’t preclude you from playing with friends. I may be way off base here, but the reason your friends are ahead of you is because they put more time and effort into advancing. It’s not their fault, or the developing companies fault that you don’t have the time, skill or ambition to advance as fast as your friends.

    If I met that situation, damn right I’d pay someone else to listen to that annoying song endlessly.

    Ok, I can agree that it would be easier, and protect the sanity, but, in turn, doesn’t that cater to the “I want it now and with no effort” demographic that seems to be invading MMO’s right now?

    On a personal not, thanks for the debate…

  10. I was right in the middle of writing an article about this when I read your post. Hence the spittle. Gogo ranting powers! 🙂 Sorry.

    With the ‘precluding you from your friends’ statement – totally agreed, and that’s exactly what my article froths on. The segmentation of the player base is ‘solved’ by RMT and power-leveling, essentially. My disagreement with your dismissal of power-leveling as a problem is that it is ‘cheating’; not for the player, but for the developer. The player sees it as sidestepping ‘boredom’, but for the developer it’s all the same: the player is still paying the monthly.

    Even still – I think power-leveling is a symptom of a big problem with the way these games are made and the perceptions players have from inside them looking out. RMT isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re spending your money to sidestep ‘fun’, there’s something seriously wrong. Your downplaying of the ‘seriousness’ was what prompted me to comment.

    I totally agree, again, that I as a player shouldn’t give a damn about invalidating the work of the designers. I think most player don’t. I’m all cynical and jaded, though, and think about these things in my spare time from aloft my ivory tower built by lucrative Slashdot advertising kickbacks. 🙂

  11. I think there is probably also a tie-in to the seemingly everpresent concept of the “end game” implicit in the power-leveling phenomena.

    Some people want to play the “initial game”, others prefer the “end game”. Since, in most cases, these are 2 very different games, power-leveling through the unwanted gameplay (“grinding”/leveling) to get to the desired gameplay (raiding, PvP, whatever) can make a fair amount of sense from certain perspectives.

    Now, if you were allowed to simply pick which game you wanted to play, that might be a different story. But the typical situation is that you have to play game 1 to “earn” access to game 2.

    -=-

    A related thought:

    In some ways, the above is much the same idea as the “keeping up with my friends” conundrum. Both situations could be considered implicit rejections of at least some of the “rules” the developer has established regarding how people will be allowed to be play the game. Right, wrong? Perhaps the real question is, are these scenarios truly what the developer intended? (at a guess, not really)

  12. Is it now a game of who has the more cash, or the more skill. I’ll be interested to see how these things play out.

    Not to be argumentative, but I think a better way to put the question would be: Who has more cash and who has more time. Skill is a very slippery slope… in most cases, admittedly, time spent is a more effective predictor of relative skill than cash spent, but everything from innate talent to connection speed also weigh heavily in that equation.

  13. But, it doesn’t preclude you from playing with friends. I may be way off base here, but the reason your friends are ahead of you is because they put more time and effort into advancing. It’s not their fault, or the developing companies fault that you don’t have the time, skill or ambition to advance as fast as your friends.

    Why should it matter that my friends have been on the waterslide more times, or ridden Space Mountain more times? The game design absolutely DOES preclude me from playing with them. What if I want to play the raiding game, or the auction house game, why do I have to do the grind in order to be eligible?

  14. Why do we give a damn? Only because the game’s feedback tells us that we should.

    Exactly. That’s why I’m eagerly awaiting a well-done fantasy game that isn’t so level-centric as most of the MMOs seem to be these days.

    This issue basically goes hand in hand with the whole buying gold controversy. If the game tells you that your measure of status in-game is based on your level and/or bank account, and achieving that status involves a lot of tedium, then a certain percentage of the players will find ways, be it hacks, bugs or simply real-world purchase power to reach that measure of success in the most painless manner possible.

    It’s a pretty simply carrot-and-stick approach that works (hell, I’m still playing WoW), but hopefully, MMOs will mature in the near future to present measures of success that are not so tied into the time-sinks and level gaps that many developers seem so proud of creating.

  15. Why should it matter that my friends have been on the waterslide more times, or ridden Space Mountain more times? The game design absolutely DOES preclude me from playing with them. What if I want to play the raiding game, or the auction house game, why do I have to do the grind in order to be eligible?

    Ok, then we get into the discussion of grinding vs. content. I don’t believe that grinding is content, but I know others that do, and enjoy it.

    In response to your comment though, why shouldn’t you? What, as another player, makes you special enough to skip the parts in between? If the game is laid out in a way that you have to go through point A, to get to point B, then why do I have to go through it and you don’t? Suppose I don’t like the middle part either, but can’t afford to pay a company to go through it for me? Do I quit, even though I know what I want, and it’s on the other side of the middle part, or do I play the grind until I get where I want? It reminds me of the old saying “Nothing worth having ever comes easy”.

    Is it because of this:

    Some people want to play the “initial game”, others prefer the “end game”. Since, in most cases, these are 2 very different games, power-leveling through the unwanted gameplay (”grinding”/leveling) to get to the desired gameplay (raiding, PvP, whatever) can make a fair amount of sense from certain perspectives.

    If it’s due to there being a perception of fun in a “initial game” and a “end game”, and what I desire, then I need to work for what I want. I guess another option would be to shop ebay for a leveled toon to take over.

    Again, thank you guys for the debate…After this week, I need a good healthy argument…LOL

  16. Not to be argumentative, but I think a better way to put the question would be: Who has more cash and who has more time. Skill is a very slippery slope… in most cases, admittedly, time spent is a more effective predictor of relative skill than cash spent, but everything from innate talent to connection speed also weigh heavily in that equation.

    Well, I agree to a point. Most games, be it single player, multiplayer or MMO has a “ramp up” section of the game. It’s usually a boring, kill this, now kill this time where you gain XP. It allows a person to become accustomed to the way things act, react and controls..so maybe not skill at the start, but skills when they’ve gone through it…

    A person who buys a game, and has it leveled for them will not be as comfortable or confident in their abilities as someone who played the game “start to finish”.

  17. Personally I have no problem with folks getting a character powerleveled. It should really be up to them how they play (or don’t play) the game, and in Blizzard’s case I think their disdain for powerlvling services stems more from their MMO Messiah complex than any concern for customer service phone call traffic.

    In most cases players who have a character powerleveled are at a disadvantage compared to those who have played the character from start to finish. Grinding from start to finish was really training for how to play your character when you were finished and reached the “end game.”

    I know in SWG you could watch a player for five to ten minutes and tell they were an eBay jedi, because they didn’t have the same kind of feel for the characters abilities and how to play it as those who grinded in the traditional fashion.

    The same goes for WoW. Anybody I know who has had a character powerlvled felt overwhelmed when they took the reigns finally – too many specials and not enough understanding of what to use in what situations.

    I would love to see what percentage of gamers using powerlvling services are doing so after already obtaining a finished character in the traditional sense.

    I’m willing to bet most have already finished a character on their own and looking for another for a variety of reasons (to play with friends on another server, don’t like their class, etc.)

    This really blows the “they haven’t earned it” argument out of the water IMO. If you have the funds why shouldn’t you be able to skip content and work you’ve already experienced?

  18. I think there are three fundamental issues pointed out by the powerleveling business:

    1. Time invested = advancement. Until games start moderating this concept with others, we’ll continue to have problems.

    Example: Bob and Joe both play our game. They’re both married, but Joe has two kids while Bob doesn’t. Bob has more time on weekends to play because of this, and so Joe falls behind Bob despite their best efforts.

    What’s needed: A better way for Joe to “keep up” with Bob through alternative means – paying NPC trainers, buying skill books on the in-game market, something. It will never be perfect but the gap can be closed considerably in most traditional games. Ironically, this is more of a problem in recent games that offer “rapid” advancement than it was in older games where advancement was slow. Maybe because of the law of averages?

    2. This is boring or takes too long, so I’ll spend money to get around it. Same thing that drives most RMT.

    Example: I need dragon orbs for the holy sword quest. But the dragon that drops the orbs spawns every 6 hours and is nearly permacamped. It would take me forever to get one. Hey, maybe I can pay this service to do the camp for me (or just buy shekels from the service and then use the shekels to buy the dragon orb).

    What’s needed: If players feel that a portion of your game is repetitive and unfun, and thus feel the need to bypass it for whatever reason (time limitation, laziness, desire to get to the end, whatever) – then that’s probably pointing out a place where your design could have been a little better. We need to eliminate the “grind” (and no, I’m not talking about the act of killing something to get experience) and allow players to focus on the fun aspects of the game and still advance or achieve their goals by doing so.

    3. Shared accounts

    Example: Tom buys a new game and starts playing it. His wife thinks it’s neat and so makes a character on his account. Later he buys an account for her so they can play at the same time (he probably also buys/upgrades a computer for her to do this too). Now the kids see mom and dad playing and want to play too. Tom looks at his credit card bill and realizes that at this rate, he’ll be spending more on this MMO per month than he does on his cable and phone service.

    What’s needed: Provisions for shared accounts supported by the publisher. “Family” packages that can be accessed by multiple usernames and offer additional character slots, or something similar. Give customer service a way to track who the person was using the account at the time, but allow people for whom this would legitimately be a value-add the option to do that. So maybe Tom spends $24.95 a month (instead of $14.95) to get an account that can have up to four usernames and up to 12 characters. He saves money, his family gets to play, and CSRs still have the ability to take action if one of the kids does something to get his username banned. To sweeten the deal, the account could include parental controls, so that Tom could prevent the kids from staying up until 2 am on weeknights raiding, or limit them to 4-hour play sessions.

  19. What, as another player, makes you special enough to skip the parts in between? If the game is laid out in a way that you have to go through point A, to get to point B, then why do I have to go through it and you don’t?

    you’d have a point in a “ranked” scenario.

    however, there’s a distinct difference between competiton and fun. while they’re not mutually exclusive, they certainly aren’t mutually INCLUSIVE.

    what other entertainment medium MAKES you grind? you can skip tracks on a cd you don’t want to hear. you can skip chapters in a book. fast forward to watch the “break morpheus out” scene in the matrix over and over and over… (shhh… don’t tell anyone about that one tho.) you can hit the old masters hall in the louvre but skip that boring jewelery section.

    really, what you’re saying is paramount to even tho you’ve tivo’d 24, you absolutely HAVE to watch the commercials because the creators say so and because the rest of the world had to watch them when it was broadcast live.

    um. no — not if i don’t want to.

    games are entertainment. consumers play how they want and when they want. devs that fight that have crap for subscription rates.

    m3mnoch.

  20. paramount? er…. tantamount.

    m3mnoch.

  21. M3mnoch, maybe the reason you can skip all that stuff is because there is no competition involved. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if athletes could just skip the competition part and pay the judges for their medals? Wouldn’t be very entertaining… there wouldn’t be a point to it at all.

    Call me crazy, but I like the competitive parts of mmo’s. I like the fact that you can gain recognition for things you accomplish and acquire. I know the name of the person who hit 70 first on my Wow server. I know the name’s of some High Warlords, I know who is considered great at pvp, I know which guilds are the farthest in pve. I know who the best crafters were in SWG 😮

    You don’t think seeing who can go down the water slide the most is very important. Some people go down the water slide just to see who can do it the fastest. Let’s not forget about them, it’s not just the companies who lose out here.

  22. Ok, you make a fair argument, and you’re right, other entertainment media does allow you to get to the “good parts”, but lets look at it a little closer…

    what other entertainment medium MAKES you grind?

    Try to fast forward to the good parts you saw on TV when you go to the theater.

    you can skip tracks on a cd you don’t want to hear.

    You’re right, I can skip tracks I don’t like, but that is the way the CD and the player are designed to work. There is an internal system, created by the manufacturer, that is designed to work this way. This system is not built into a MMO…

    you can skip chapters in a book

    Yes you can, most definitely skip chapters in a book, but then the meaning of the story, or the plot line can be distorted or lost, like in a game. You can “get around” areas in game and get where you want to be quicker, but the loss doesn’t outweigh the gain…

    fast forward to watch the “break morpheus out” scene in the matrix over and over and over…

    What the hell!?! He was rescued!?! Nice, ruin it for me!!

    Anyway, the design of the DVD or Tape is such that it is meant to work in that way with their respective playback devices.

    you can hit the old masters hall in the louvre but skip that boring jewelery section

    You’ve obviously never gone to a place like that with my girlfriend…

    really, what you’re saying is paramount to even tho you’ve tivo’d 24, you absolutely HAVE to watch the commercials because the creators say so and because the rest of the world had to watch them when it was broadcast live.

    Actually, no, that’s not what I’m saying…What I’m saying is if you purchase something, then you are more or less agreeing to use it in the fashion it is intended. If you don’t have a TiVo, then yes, you have to watch the commecials, and it sucks to be you (on a side note, I couldn’t be without my DVR and keep my sanity). Games don’t come with a leveling service included in the box.

    So, can you side step the intended function of the game? Yes you can. should you side step the intended function of the game? In my opinion, no, you shouldn’t…

    Thanks for listening to me ramble…LOL

  23. What I’m saying is if you purchase something, then you are more or less agreeing to use it in the fashion it is intended.

    Urk. NO way. Name any other product in the universe that works that way. People use things for whatever they CAN.

  24. BBCG, not to pile on, but Tivo is not the way your TV was intended to be used at all. This is true of most technology, and many products.

    Back to the topic at hand – our caring about levels has nothing to do with whether “the game’s feedback tells us we should.” It has to do with all of the elements of an MMO that are NOT a game. Namely the social status component that happens whenever people get together.

    People care about levels because people care about status amongst their peers. It is a fundamental mechanic of human beings.

    If levels don’t matter to you, that only means you don’t see it as a status mechanic — but others still do. Just like for some social groups their knowledge of obscure “about-to-break” indy bands is a sign of status, and for others they could care less.

    Buying levels, if you care about that as a status metric for yourself, is similar to the disdain a social group would feel for a “wannabee” indy music fan who simply subscribed to CMJ and repeated all the bands he heard. Versus a “real fan” who actually cared about those bands and going to see them live.

  25. I’d say there may be more full-time power-leveller employees in the world than there are MMO developer employees.

    Well I sure as heck hope so! The bar is much lower to be a paid powerleveler than it is to be a game designer. At least for now. As for the reason people powerlevel the only reason I would pay to skip entertainment is to keep playing with my friends. The game is social, I don’t care if they are more uber, but I would like to be able to hang with them and not be a hindrance. This is why I am not playing WOW at the moment, I have been outleveled and just don’t have the time to catch up. I do like the way it is handled in City of Heroes, you can move up by side kicking or down by exemplering easily so you never have to be split up from the people you want to hang with.

  26. Urk. NO way. Name any other product in the universe that works that way. People use things for whatever they CAN.

    Every product in the universe is like that. When you purchase an item, you are in effect agreeing to use it in the manner it was intended…It’s because people use it for whatever they can that we have lawyers and warning labels…

    Hell, Bill Engvall made a standup living on this very subject…

  27. BBCG, not to pile on, but Tivo is not the way your TV was intended to be used at all. This is true of most technology, and many products.

    You are more than welcome to pile on, that’s what makes a great debate in my opinion…

    As for the quote, you’re right, DVR’s are not how TV was intended, but they operate in the way it was designed…A DVR is designed to buffer live programming and record when requested…That is the sense I was talking about…

    DVR’s are one of those things that have changed the industry…We are now seeing DVR’s built as a component in the TV…LG has a pretty cool model…

  28. bbcg:

    Every product in the universe is like that. When you purchase an item, you are in effect agreeing to use it in the manner it was intended…It’s because people use it for whatever they can that we have lawyers and warning labels…

    heh. all i have to say to that is “mac optical drive + paperclip” is absolutely not what the inventor of the paperclip had in mind.

    m3mnoch.

    p.s. damn. sorry for spoiling the movie for you!

  29. p.s. damn. sorry for spoiling the movie for you!

    LOL…It’s all good…

  30. […] Worth a read. The reason we react negatively to power-levelling is once again the hang-up over whether or not someone “earned” their “position.” And I am increasingly unsure that the very notions of “earning” “position” make a damn bit of sense in these games. […]

  31. In most cases players who have a character powerleveled are at a disadvantage compared to those who have played the character from start to finish. Grinding from start to finish was really training for how to play your character when you were finished and reached the “end game.”

    I almost wish that were true. In that world there would be lots of new shiny stuff along the way. What I see instead is that the level 50 taunt is a juiced up version of the level 15 taunt, the level 50 nuke is the level 15 nuke with more damage and different particle effects.

    You don’t think seeing who can go down the water slide the most is very important. Some people go down the water slide just to see who can do it the fastest. Let’s not forget about them, it’s not just the companies who lose out here.

    Your certainly right that different people have different preferences. I’m not sure why the preferences of the competitive water sliders should be met and not the preferences of those that just want to enjoy the ride and the splash at the end.

    If levels don’t matter to you, that only means you don’t see it as a status mechanic — but others still do.

    That’s great, more power to them. The problem comes when those that see levels as a status mechanic want to enforce their worldview on those that don’t. The REAL problem comes when its the game designers that want to enforce that worldview…Then its either some form of RMT or just dumping the game and moving on.

  32. DVR’s are one of those things that have changed the industry…We are now seeing DVR’s built as a component in the TV…LG has a pretty cool model…

    Greymarket RMT is hopefully changing the MMO industry. The SOE whitepaper on the Exchange is encouraging to me in that regard.

  33. BBCG wrote:

    Every product in the universe is like that. When you purchase an item, you are in effect agreeing to use it in the manner it was intended…It’s because people use it for whatever they can that we have lawyers and warning labels…

    I don’t know what universe you live in, but in my universe, I have used LPs as frisbees, used frisbees to dig holes in the sand, used t-shirts to tie up my girlfriend for a little B&D, used food as an object to fight with, etc etc.

    As Raph said, name any other product in the universe for which your claim is true. Further, I can tell you that as an MMO developer for the last 10 years, -I- don’t mind, and, in fact, encourage people to do things I didn’t intend. It’s called emergent gameplay.

    –matt

  34. heather:

    M3mnoch, maybe the reason you can skip all that stuff is because there is no competition involved. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if athletes could just skip the competition part and pay the judges for their medals? Wouldn’t be very entertaining… there wouldn’t be a point to it at all.

    yeah, well. i think the issue comes down to a similar case with instancing and its rise in popularity. basically all of the “competitive” parts of mmog’s are getting shed like so much snake-skin.

    mmog’s are mostly about persistent worlds where you can play with your friends to be part of a larger whole.

    in the past, i’ve compared the mmog to a big, ol’ country and western bar. something like billy bob’s in ft. worth.

    (stay with me here. i swear this will make sense…)

    taken as a whole, our big-ass bar is like an mmo. thousands of people all hanging out in the same overall context. while you’re all in there, tho, there’s lots of stuff to do — pool, darts, mechanical bulls, dancing, drinking your face off — lots of stuff.

    let’s just look at the folks playing pool.

    pretty much, you’ll have dozens of different people playing the same 8-ball game, but at separate tables with their friends instead of competing with each other. sorta like instancing, no? (we’ll assume there are enough tables for anyone who wants to play to play in our gigantic, imaginary kicker-ville.)

    what if they had to compete with the other tables? what if you couldn’t play with your friends because you weren’t as good at bank shots? what if you couldn’t play pool until you’ve played 10 games of electronic darts? (and, really, who the hell wants to play with plastic darts?)

    it’s just nice that some level 10 pool-schmoes can step up and play with their level 60 billiards-warrior buddy. maybe they play 2-on-1 or something. maybe they just knock balls around and drink beer.

    sure, some people want to run the table all night long. more power to them! the majority of people, tho, just wanna have fun with their friends — no matter their skill level or how often they get to go play pool.

    the games are really just there to give the folks something entertaining to do while they socialize.

    you don’t (never, ever, ever!) go to a kicker-ville by yourself. just like you don’t really play wow or eq by yourself. broken down to its basest level, it’s about hanging out with your friends while doing something at least marginally fun.

    and, if there’s a way for folk with different skills or differing amounts of leisure time to get together with their friends and enjoy new experiences at the same time? well. they’ll do it.

    ideally, we as game designers would make that easy for them and not push them to using leveling services or rmt solutions if they want to play with their friends.

    m3mnoch.

  35. Every product in the universe is like that. When you purchase an item, you are in effect agreeing to use it in the manner it was intended…It’s because people use it for whatever they can that we have lawyers and warning labels…

    We have the warning labels and lawyers so that if you use the product in a stupid way you can’t sue the people who made it. The tags on your mattress are illegal for the guy who is selling the mattress to you to remove. You can do whatever you damn well please with the mattress.

    To me there are two tragedies with the current world of RMT (including power levelling and gold/item farming):
    1) The developers aren’t getting a cut of it. A tremendous amount of money is going to people like IGE because they provide a service that people want. The people running the game pay part of the cost through their customer support but don’t see any of the benefit. We should all just sell whatever items somebody wants to them for reasonable prices and double our revenue. (Obviously we’ll have to cover our asses legally, but we already do that for the rest of the game, so that shouldn’t be a big deal.)
    2) The people farming are wasting massive amounts of actual human labor on nothing. A human being should have to sit in front of a computer for 12 hours a day performing repetative actions to achieve a goal that could have been accomplished by a little bit of code in a fraction of a second. The inefficiency here is mind-boggling. Can’t we, as a species, find something better for the gold farmers to do with their time that hitting a button about 10,000 times a day that just runs X = X + 1?

  36. I think the whole issue is a reaction to design flaws, like back trouble with badly designed chairs. Not the powerlevelling issue, the discussion around it. It seems that games somehow have a momentum of unlocking something (means, that certain things become only available when certain other prerequisites are met), this applies to all games I can think of right now (naive kids play excluded). Game design, that either removes unlocking (as almost in SWG v.1) or puts unlocking into areas of play, where it effectively makes it impossible to play with friends seems, is a vestige of ancient single player design and progress mechanics (like infinite single player games connected together, paralell to each other). The psychological aspect (OMG! Cheaterz!) seems to be a problem in typical mudflation games which starts the fire on top of this design (like envy, feel of unconscionability etc).

    As a personal note. I feel disconnected with the MMO world anyway as that I am totally anti achiever and don’t care at all wheter people have “earned” something in a game. To me, getting that über pants through a raid or through RMT does not make any difference. It does not make people cooler than they are. The only “currency” I accept is personal fame, you cannot buy or just level. And I might add, especially SWGs Jedi and everything they are about are one large sucessful scare campaign. I really have a hard time to accredit anything to those players. That goes with, that achievement in MMO games is so much vulnerable to exploit, unfair gameplay, shady tactics and generally unhonorable behavior.

  37. Matt Mihaly said:

    I don’t know what universe you live in, but in my universe, I have used LPs as frisbees, used frisbees to dig holes in the sand, used t-shirts to tie up my girlfriend for a little B&D, used food as an object to fight with, etc etc.

    Actually, you’ve just given examples of Raph’s point…People use things for whatever they CAN, but the simple fact of the matter is, if you buy a frisbee, and you break a finger while using it, you have no one to blame but yourself, and you have no legal basis because you injured yourself using the frisbee in a way that was NOT intended…That’s the universe I live in…

    As said here by Joe Ludwig:

    We have the warning labels and lawyers so that if you use the product in a stupid way you can’t sue the people who made it. The tags on your mattress are illegal for the guy who is selling the mattress to you to remove. You can do whatever you damn well please with the mattress.

    You absolutly have the right to do whatever you CAN with it, but the underlying assumption at purchase is that you will use it for what it is intended to be used for…

  38. I was wondering if a game ever put some kind of Frienship xp sharing feature in a game. Exemple: If my friend play more then me. He “grinds” for the 2 of us. Then once both are online they get double xp.

    I think it was what Wow tried to do.

  39. […] love to hear from folks what they think. Both on GSW and over in the comments on Raph’s site, I let my lid flip a little bit. I just … blarg. I love the business side of games as much as […]

  40. I’ve played World of Warcraft and City of Heroes and I really dislike how in WoW once one gets to be more than five levels away from friends one can’t really play with them, but in CoH (and now, Villains, I presume, but I haven’t played that) one can Sidekick or Exemplar to become equivalent to one’s friend and enjoy the content together.

    That’s how I get my enjoyment from games, by playing together with friends.

    I’m not alone in this, but I also know that there are people who play for completely other reasons.

    What makes me wonder, are there power-leveling services for City of Heroes/Villains? I haven’t heard of any. If so, it seems like a missing feature in World of Warcraft. But the way World of Warcraft is set up, I’m not sure how it would even work.

    I’m pretty sure that unless WoW changes, there will be a need for this kind of service. That’s just a guess. If there are power-leveling services for City of Heroes/Villains, then there’s a large enough group of people who just want to be the highest level in the game for whatever reason. That probably goes for every game then.

    It makes me very curious if this is a WoW-only feature or not.

    Take EvE Online as another example. Is there be a service that has thousands of characters skilling-up, ready to be sold on some website somewhere? I know they sell Isk for EvE. Selling characters that are pre-made to be able to fly the best (and most expensive) ships, use the finest equipment, etc. would lead to more Isk sales for very little work on the part of an EvE Online power-leveling service. (Because of the way EvE works, you can level your character without ever firing a shot, without ever leaving a space station, but you need to earn — or buy — Isk to purchase the skill books that let you learn the skills.)

    Also, in EvE one can fly their Destroyer or Cruiser into a deadspace complex with a group of friends in Battleships and whatever else. Different ships fulfill different roles and can be quite handy. A group of mixed ships is often better than a homogenous fleet of the biggest ships available. In a variety of situations.

    There is a very old game called ClanLord (DeltaTao Software) that originally came out for Macintosh around the time Ultima Online was the only other MMORPG. ClanLord never made it big, but it had an interesting way of “sharing” experience. One would literally share experience from killing monsters with others (up to five) and people could do likewise. This didn’t occur offline as Neutrinoide suggests, but only when everyone was online. Still, it was an interesting way of dealing with experience since some classes basically only gained experience through the shares of other characters.

    Thank you for the interesting discussion.

    Love,

    Hanna

  41. […] recently posted his reaction to an article on power-leveling services. Koster writes: “It’s a psychological thing, I […]

  42. Not yet Neutrinode.

    WoW tried to ease the time gap by implementing the rest system (and EQ2 did the same thing), but they were so liberal with the bonus that it ended up not really making much of a difference in the end. Basically, you got the bonus all the time unless you had been playing for 4+ hours. Since all but the most hardcore players are going to take a break somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-6 hours, it was unusual to meet someone who wasn’t getting the bonus even if they played all the time.

    EQ2 has mentoring, (and CoX has sidekicks which are similar), where the higher level player can choose to lower his level and fight alongside his lower-level friends, and the lower-level friend gets an xp bonus while this is going on. This works decently, but the issue with it is content. Often the lower-level players are doing content the higher-level people have already done, and so the higher-level folks would rather be doing something else.

    Vanguard is implementing fellowships, which allow a group of friends to pool experience. The people who play more often give a portion of their experience to the people who play less often, to help them keep pace. Not really sure how that’s going to play out yet (heck, not even sure if it’s activated in game yet).

    There might be other examples out there but those are the only bootstrap systems I know about right now.

  43. Can’t we, as a species, find something better for the gold farmers to do with their time that hitting a button about 10,000 times a day that just runs X = X + 1?

    Give XP for roleplay. Roleplay is (partially) defined by activities that make the game more fun for other players.

    Problem is, there are several devils in the details.

  44. […] Koster: Powerlevelling Is Good For You! Raph Koster: Powerlevelling Is Good For You!: “Worth a read. The reason we react negatively to power-levelling is once again the hang-up over whether or not […]

  45. I’m either failing to see it or no-one has mentioned Guild Wars yet. When you roll in a character in GW, you get an option to either start from scratch (level 1) or you can start at the top level (level 20 although haven’t played since expansions so this could be higher) with all abilities and a good set of gear. Not, however, as good as if you’d started at 1 and played the game.

    In this respect, the GW designers recognise that people want to jump in and start having “fun” at the top level right away and cater for it. Suddenly, the question of having “earned” your top level character is moot.

  46. Raph>Why do we give a damn? Only because the game’s feedback tells us that we should.

    The point is that nevertheless the game’s feedback DOES tell us that we should. If it didn’t tell us, where would the game be?

    If players demand levelling services, developers can give them it instantly. They can do it for free. Why pay $100 to someone to fill your friends list with the names of strangers when you can pay, say, a $25 “administration charge” to have your character go from level 1 to level X instantly? It’s within the power of the developer to do that, so why don’t they? You want a level 70 WoW shadow priest? Click the button and voila!

    If we did have this, then players would be able to skip straight to the endgame. Then, of course, there would be some that want to skip the endgame, too. They’d pay people to collect the entire tier 5 gear set for them.

    Again, though, this is something that the game developer can provide in an instant. You want tier 5 gear? Here, have some! Pay us $20 a piece. Or, hey, we’re nice guys, have it for free if you’re that keen. Just click the button and we’ll pull one out of thin air for you.

    Ultimately, developers can give players whatever they ask for in terms of characters and equipment. It would hardly be more than half a days’ work to change the character creation system so that it included a “starting level” box, and little more to add a “starting gold” box and a “select your gear” menu. If removing achievement really has no discernable effect on play, why wouldn’t a developer want to do this? Wouldn’t it be hugely popular? You can select the exact level of content you wish to experience.

    At some point, the people who play virtual worlds for fun actually have to have some fun. For many players, this fun lies in achievement. Take away the achievement, and they wonder why they’re playing.

    Richard

  47. Raph Koster wrote: Power-levelling is functionally identical to sharing an account …

    Power leveling is not functionally identical to sharing an account; it is sharing an account. This activity, although sometimes commercial, is not radically different than sharing a memory card with a friend to build a character in Diablo, or to complete a difficult puzzle in Lufia. The portability of access to subscription-based game worlds empowers this sort of emergent play—this sort of collaboration between players—to a degree left seemingly unharnessed.

    Richard Bartle wrote: At some point, the people who play virtual worlds for fun actually have to have some fun. For many players, this fun lies in achievement. Take away the achievement, and they wonder why they’re playing.

    Perhaps a significant number of people who engage a power-leveling service are people who have played through the game once or more? Perhaps they have simply become more concerned with aspects of the game that are unrelated to the natural progression scheme? Perhaps they are experimenting with different end-game character builds? Or perhaps their road to fun has shifted and the achievement game is something else to them?

    Progression is a game too. Once players have mastered the progression game, they move on. If the world does not provide another game, players either quit playing or create their own games, such as "win some number of matches against other players" or "personalize my character to look like a dark knight" or "help other players master the natural progression scheme". These user-created games are user-generated content. There are usually just no avenues for players to share this content with others, and so we resolve to labelling these activities "emergent" and sometimes "undesirable", as in the case of players who transform their characters into serial killers or hired guns.

  48. Matt Mihaly said on February 8th, 2007 at 4:02 pm:

    …used t-shirts to tie up my girlfriend for a little B&D…

    Pictures, Matt?

  49. @Richard:

    So, they want something like this game? 🙂

    http://www.progressquest.com/

  50. Morgan Ramsay wrote:

    Progression is a game too. Once players have mastered the progression game, they move on. If the world does not provide another game, players either quit playing or create their own games, such as “win some number of matches against other players” or “personalize my character to look like a dark knight” or “help other players master the natural progression scheme”. These user-created games are user-generated content. There are usually just no avenues for players to share this content with others, and so we resolve to labelling these activities “emergent” and sometimes “undesirable”, as in the case of players who transform their characters into serial killers or hired guns.

    Too true, and too cool, as well. I disagree that there isn’t a way to share it between players, though; they just do it and other people join in.

    This kind of gameplay has been going on as long as there have been MMOs – the home-grown ‘full-contact’ jeep races and flying under the bridge upside contests in Air Warrior in 1989, for example, or the even earlier Goat Cup PvP competitions in British Legends. The point is that every player gets bored. Or as Raph puts it, every player optimizes his game play; when he’s finished doing so, if you don’t have something more for him to optimize, he starts getting bored. And as we all know, idle hands are Raph’s playthings. Or something. 😀

    At the end of the day, most players just want a level playing field, I think. Most don’t care if someone else uses RMT to skip some game play, as long as they, personally, are not required to do the same thing; they prefer to spend time rather than extra money. I know entire guilds that won’t touch RMT and entire guilds that use it every day; YMMV.

    The main issue for developers today is learning to embrace the Business Model Formally Known as The Dark Side(tm) without breaking the game design. Not in the way some games have, in which you practically have to spend an extra fifty cents just to get your avatar to walk, but as true added value. There are several Chinese and Korean MMO and casual games/spaces that do this well (Kart Rider, for one); we just have to catch up with it.

    I do agree that trying to shoe-horn this into an existing game is risky and liable to break more things than it might fix. Better to design a game from the ground up with RMT in mind. SOE has hinted more than once that this is exactly what they are doing now.

  51. I disagree that there isn’t a way to share it between players, though; they just do it and other people join in.

    Well, I was thinking more of a way to share the actual rules as content. Players can always use communication to coordinate activities. I’m sure there are guilds that operate their own in-game contests. And there is instant messaging and bulletin boards. There’s usually just no in-game way to share that content. Look at sports games. You can select and customize plays for your teams. In the Rainbow Six games, you can create tactical plans for your squad. Why can’t you create games… in games?

  52. Had to respond to this:
    Powerlevelling is not the same as account sharing. If two friends are sharing an account and playing the character between them then, while they are almost certainly outside the developer’s ToS, they are at least playing the damn game. Powerlevelling is not playing the game in any meaningful way, grinding != content. If a lot of people are paying to avoid your content then that probably says a lot about the design decisions you took to create that content.

    In my experience the hang-ups are not about people ‘earning their stripes’ but about trivialising the whole point of the game. Your Disneyland metaphor is flawed as Magic Mountain and A Small World are offered as separate products, there’s no progression or link between them, it makes as much sense as saying you can’t play SW:G until you’ve reached level 70 in EQ2. To ride on Magic Mountain you have to sit in the car and put on your seatbelt. If you don’t like the sitting in the car bit you can’t experience the ride.

    It’s also not a entirely personal choice. Everyone who decides to bypass content makes it more difficult for others to choose not to. In an MMO, the normal dynamic is that co-operative play provides the most efficient rewards and in some cases is essential to overcome some content. If enough people are bypassing content then it is harder for others who choose not to pay to get ahead to play the game normally. At a certain critical level the choice not to pay stops being a viable option.

  53. It is odd to see it claimed that using communication to coordinate activities can’t create a game. Every game *other* than video games works this way.

    One neat feature of Ultima Online was the chess boards. Particularly clever was that the chess boards were merely the 8×8 square with the appropriate pieces. There were no in-game rules limitting how you moved the pieces. Making an illegal move didn’t trigger an alarm. You could even arrange the pieces into a smiley face if you wished. Yet, despite the lack of any hard rules, one could still play games of chess with people!

    So you can create games within a game.

  54. Presently my problem in WoW is that I have to maintain multiple characters in order to *hold myself back*. I have 2 friends which are slow grinders due to real life concerns so I have a main character (that I play when I want) and a character for each friend that keeps up with them but never get too far ahead. I do this in order for my friends to enjoy the game and to play with them without forcing them to power level. It would get hectic if I tried to keep up with others though. The diversity of environments, quests, storylines and the classes themselves help me forget that it’s a grind but it does not change the fact that it is.

    The more that I read topics over on this site concerning power leveling, outside trade services or grind related topics, the more I’m starting to believe that the whole notions of individual *grinding* and *leveling* should be phased out of MMOs. After al if the gap gets too large then you can’t compete or play with your friends (either notion is a major bummer).

  55. Powerleveling is not the problem, bad design is the problem… powerleveling is the solution to a game that not interesting in large patches to a substantial portion of the audience.

    Period.

    The whole “level” concept is a direct carry over from a small-multi-player environment – D&D. Yes, it is a way to measure achievement, but it is certainly not the only one. It is not even clear that levels work well in D&D. Most people want to do big dramatic things… which you can’t do as a low-level charcter… so, sensible GMs “fix” that (and many other) problems so that their players can have fun.

    Leveling probably works better in single-player games where you need an incentive to pull players forward, keep their interest with scores and new features that are unlocked, etc….. but at the end of the day, in a multi-player game it doesn’t work well. Players with more time or who joined early have a substantial advantage (unlike any other game). Again, for old paper&pencil roleplayers, it is virtually impossible to move characters between different GMs and campaigns (with certain exceptions, like Hero Game’s excellent Champions – which essentially eliminated experience and levels as a major factor in the game).

    (Raph, has your trademark on “Fun” come through yet?)

    Virtual worlds are not competitions. People who focus on “leveling” are imposing their view on others.

    What we don’t seem to talk about as designers is the economic inefficiency of gating content by level. Basically, content in a virtual world that is only accessible to a portion of the audience has its costs spread, at best, over the eligible audience when they are eligible for the content.

    I think I’d rather see a person get totally wiped out (or defeat) a monster that they thought was cool to fight rather than a nanny at the amusement park saying “Sorry, you are too short to take this ride”. (Disney would prefer everyone be able to take all of its rides, if it was safe).

    Frodo did not have sufficient experience to play “Lord of the Rings” – that he didn’t, and succeeded in spite of that fact, is what makes it a great story. Bilbo would not have been allowed anywhere near “The Hobbit”.

    “Sorry, you do not have sufficient level to play the Smaug Quest”.

    Maybe we should gate content the other way – you can only play certain quests if your level is UNDER a given level?

  56. richard said:

    If players demand levelling services, developers can give them it instantly. They can do it for free. Why pay $100 to someone to fill your friends list with the names of strangers when you can pay, say, a $25 “administration charge” to have your character go from level 1 to level X instantly? It’s within the power of the developer to do that, so why don’t they? You want a level 70 WoW shadow priest? Click the button and voila!

    If we did have this, then players would be able to skip straight to the endgame. Then, of course, there would be some that want to skip the endgame, too. They’d pay people to collect the entire tier 5 gear set for them.

    am i the only one who thinks this is awesome? talk about monetizing bandwidth!

    pretty much, yeah. that’d be rad. the player can say (or rather probably wouldn’t admit it to anyone) that they have a tier 5 set and a few legendary items, pay for them and not ever use any server time! and, don’t forget, there’s that subscription fee too!

    woot! money for nothing and the chicks for free!

    that’s not going to happen, tho. who would pay to NOT play a game when they can just, you know, not play for free?

    no. that’s not what it’s about.

    it’s about qualifying for some specific 5-man raid with your friends. it’s about not being the boat anchor. it’s about EVERYONE in the group seeing new content, not just you.

    requiel said:

    It’s also not a entirely personal choice. Everyone who decides to bypass content makes it more difficult for others to choose not to. In an MMO, the normal dynamic is that co-operative play provides the most efficient rewards and in some cases is essential to overcome some content.

    um. that’s the problem we’re trying to solve.

    to allow people to more easily cooperate. rather than sit there on the doorstep of great content while you wait for your buddy who has a huge project at work or your other friend who is (of course) going for his doctorate or your other friend who has just discovered the joys of the fairer sex.

    all we’re really trying to do is decouple “fun” from “time required.”

    m3mnoch.

  57. I think that if the reason people are powerleveling is to play with their friends then, as several people have mentioned, CoH has a great answer to this. You can sidekick a friend up to your level and play together. If on the other hand it’s about having all your bells and whistles without having to do anything for them, then I think there’s a problem. These services offer all the bells and whistles for money. As a few people have already mentioned there are people out there who prefer to earn their own bells and whistles. They are meaningless without having had to work for them.

    The problem is that in a game that doesn’t allow for sidekicking if a lot of people opt to pay for their bells and whistles, then the people who want to play the game as the designers envisioned it have many fewer people to play with. It can make lower level content areas ghosttowns. I remember when DAoC implemented /30 the game began to die almost immediately. People new to the game could NOT find a group. As a result very few of them stayed around long enough to solo to 30 where they could get groups with people who had used /30 on all their new characters( you could make any new character at lvl 30 if you had a character that had reached 50 already ). I honestly don’t think a lot of people would pay for a game where there was no one to play with out of the box, and they had to pay to be PLed to 50 before they could find people to play with. Basicly all the effort that the Devs put into making the game, into making cool and exciting places to see and things to do on your journey through the game is wasted. DAoC again helped to kill their game even further by implementing task dungeons where the exp was many times faster than you could find in the original game content. It didn’t matter that these dungeons were storyless, lifeless, homogenous bore/grind machines, people wanted to hear their pavlovian ding. After they were implemented, even if you could find someone your level to play with, you couldn’t drag them out of the crack den that was a task dungeon to explore the original world. DAoC made these choices because they recognised that after killing off any new people starting the game, their existing player base was only really interested in doing RvR, and task dungeons got people there very quickly ( powerleveling if you will ). But in making that choice they robbed any new players of the opportunity to play the game as we played it when it was new. Where you could find a group whatever level you were and go out and find something new to explore. This is where game designers have their backs up against the wall with powerleveling services, or instant jump to the end buttons. They made and envisioned a game where people actually could explore the content, and feel like they were progressing while exploring. If new players can’t get a group to do this because of the insta jump to uberness, then a lot of them will choose not to play. Older players wanting to try a new toon, and see lower level content from a different point of view but can’t find people to play with will drift away to a game where they can. I think by making powerleveling services available by the game company itself, or by making instant I’m uber choices available ( for money or not ) that developers would be cutting their own throats. They would be ruining the game for anyone new who was looking to the game for what it was originally made for and can no longer provide. Any game like this would face a serious possibility of stagnation and slow death.

    That some of you as players don’t care what the vision of the developers was is shortsighted. Your careless attitude could actully lead to the breaking of the things you love about the games you play if you actually got what you think you wanted.

  58. One thing that is rarely mentioned in the back-and-forthing is the issue of the powerlevelee’s competence at playing said powerlevelled character, or rather, the lack thereof.
    Many MMOs get progressively more complex as you level, and the gameplay at level 20 is very different than that which exists at level 50 or beyond.
    People playing powerlevelled characters bypassed important ‘competence-building’ content, and as such make them a liability (to a raid as a whole, not just to 1 other player) in higher level or endgame content.
    It is for this reason, and frankly none other, that my guild does not recruit powerlevelled characters. I’ll add: even if they play another character class expertly. There is just no substitute for having ‘been there’.

    😀

  59. Dav, I quite agree. But anecdotally we hear that the majority of character purchases are done for second chars, not first one. I’d love to see hard stats on this though.

  60. The argument that “I power-level so I can keep up with my friends.” only stands up so far. In games like City of Heroes, there are mechanics to ‘side-kick’ a lower level player up in level temporarily, as well as ‘exemplar’ higher level players down in level temporarily to match their friends. “Keeping up” in that environment isn’t really relavent.

    Level based gameplay creates aberrant player behaviors such as power leveling or “twinking.” This, in turn, results in mechanics such as “Bind on Equip”, “Bind on Pickup” and “Side Kicking.” Systems without levels (see “Ultima Online”) avoid these problems, but suffer from a host of other issues, the largest of which is, I believe, the lack of an easy player to player comparative.

  61. um. that’s the problem we’re trying to solve.

    to allow people to more easily cooperate. rather than sit there on the doorstep of great content while you wait for your buddy who has a huge project at work or your other friend who is (of course) going for his doctorate or your other friend who has just discovered the joys of the fairer sex.

    all we’re really trying to do is decouple “fun” from “time required.”

    But all you’re doing is moving the problem around. If people are paying to bypass low and mid level content so they can get their hands on the high level stuff then you haven’t solved anything for the people trying to get through the mid level content. I agree that fun shouldn’t be dependant on time already invested but y’know, this is a game, playing is supposed to be its own reward. We play because it’s fun, not because having a level 70 gets you chicks. At least we should.

  62. raph said:

    Dav, I quite agree. But anecdotally we hear that the majority of character purchases are done for second chars, not first one. I’d love to see hard stats on this though.

    there absolutely is that.

    tho, it plays to the differences we need to associate with “player” vs. “avatar.” if the player has seen that content before and they’re just rolling through with an alt, do they really need to grind it again? shouldn’t they get to choose whether or not they want to play through specific content at that point? they’ve already seen the game how the developer has “intended.”

    there’s the “playing a different class takes different skills that they won’t learn by skipping content” thing. but, usually, isn’t that why you have alts? to check out the different abilities of the different classes?

    or maybe so you have low enough level characters to play with your friends?

    duh, duh, duh, duhmmmmm…

    ya see that? i looped back around there!

    m3mnoch.

  63. Mike Rozak writes:

    Give XP for roleplay. Roleplay is (partially) defined by activities that make the game more fun for other players.

    Problem is, there are several devils in the details.

    I wasn’t necessarily thinking that the “something” needed to be in a game. I was actually thinking more along the lines of building roads and schools. 🙂

  64. floyd said:

    Level based gameplay creates aberrant player behaviors such as power leveling or “twinking.” This, in turn, results in mechanics such as “Bind on Equip”, “Bind on Pickup” and “Side Kicking.” Systems without levels (see “Ultima Online”) avoid these problems, but suffer from a host of other issues, the largest of which is, I believe, the lack of an easy player to player comparative.

    yes. but, why is a player vs. player comparative important in a pve situation? pvp, yes, because that’s competition. that is important to be fair.

    raid content, tho, shows that you don’t need a player comparative to play multiplayer. and, you obviously don’t need player to player comparative with solo content.

    and, before you ask, no, not player to mob compares either. that can scale dynamically, on the fly in an instanced encounter. that could even be something simple like “it lasts for 8 seconds and then goes down.” the more mobs of that specific kind you fight, the shorter their duration.

    what do we really need to compare? wouldn’t it be easier to create high-drama and clutch-victory (you know, fun!) when we as developers have super-granular control over the situation? instead of relying on assumed wealth accumulation or level gating?

    m3mnoch.

  65. Morgan Said:

    “I’m sure there are guilds that operate their own in-game contests. And there is instant messaging and bulletin boards. There’s usually just no in-game way to share that content.”

    Interestingly enough the guild I belong to had a contest for a BC collectors edition, the entry fee was 25gp. So this was in fact, a guild in a game, raising money, to finance guild activities, by selling new content 🙂

    IMO it comes down to design, if the system facilitates a demand for PL, the secondary issue becomes playstyle. Where there is no incentive for PL there is no demand and this negates a certain type of playstyle.

    I would think facilitating rapid advancement negates ones work elsewhere, leading to vast swaths of empty zones. So why even design those zones in the first place if your going to negate them?

    People should be able to group together despite “level” and in this levels do really suck, COH solves this well, POtBS anticipates this, and EvE’s mechanics encompass this tenant:
    That many weak players acting in conjunction, can defeat a stonger opponent…aka facilitating zerging, or at least have a truckload of fun being together.

    What are the best battles that take place in MMO’s? What are the funniest Machanima videos?

    Its not 10 players raiding a dungeon every week, using a memorized methodology to defeat the same boss. Its 10’s and 100’s of players coming together, to battle, RP, hang out or accomplish some goal.

    Bottlenecked content leads to power leveling. OTOH I have this strange misguided notion that a game like WURM but on a larger level and encompassing “Guns, Germs and Steel” would make for some addicting game play.

    @Raph

    “But anecdotally we hear that the majority of character purchases are done for second chars, not first one. I’d love to see hard stats on this though.”

    Interesting data point for inclusion, not one I anticipated, but what would this go to? I what mean would the stat prove in terms of: ??

  66. I just never have gotten the point in having someone else play your game for you? How can the possibly be enjoyable… people are so strange. I bet it is mostly almost entirely 100% men who do this! It is that testosterone kicking in and the surge of competition. Women, we don’t care how many times we go down the waterslide, just as long as it was enjoyable!

  67. I actually do not mind leveling a character to max level in a game. I get a kick out of that if there are storylines to follow, and it does not feel like my progress is too slow (CoX mastered this in the early levels, and then it goes to hell post-level-20). WoW does a decent job of making leveling immersive. Not perfect, but decent.

    However, once I hit 60 (or now, 70) with a character, it is boring as hell to go back and do all (or most) of the same quests again with another character. Content that was unique now becomes repetitive. After a few levels of that with an alt, I am ready to throw in the towel. If there was an insta-leveling service for my alt characters at that point, I would embrace it.

    I think that puts me sort of in the middle of the continuum between the hardcore do-the-time-to-get-the-shiny crowd and the I-want-everything-now crowd. For me, there is a definable point at which an RMT or power-leveling option begins to look attractive, and it correlates directly to where I find myself on that continuum. I expect most of the debate we see from the players’ perspective (e.g., about what is “deserved” or “earned”) boils down to their own place on that imaginary line.

    What is a tough design call, tougher for existing games whose gameplay is established, is how to make everyone on that continuum happy. RMT that gets you most of the way to uber but still leaves room for the achievers/grinders to differentiate themselves (a la Guild Wars) seems to be one reasonable way to go. Compromise solutions like that seem to be the best option, given that you cannot expect to make both of the extreme end-points happy.

  68. Actually, the stats in the SOE whitepaper showed that women did it just as much as men did.

    The point being that you didn’t want the waterslide, you wanted just to splash in the pool, but you were made to do the waterslide to get to the pool. So you pay 50 cents to skip the slide and just jump i nthe pool instead.

  69. However, once I hit 60 (or now, 70) with a character, it is boring as hell to go back and do all (or most) of the same quests again with another character. Content that was unique now becomes repetitive. After a few levels of that with an alt, I am ready to throw in the towel. If there was an insta-leveling service for my alt characters at that point, I would embrace it.

    Is it? Even if you’re in a friendly group with chatty people, there’s no way to make repeating content fun? I very much doubt that. Originally MMOs were about social interactions, there was on the whole less content in them than in single player games as the gaps would be filled with social interactions and other metagame activities. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost this expectation of entertaining social aspects in favour of instant gratification. Is this change in expectations something we should pander to?

    Instant levelling would be good for individual players but (IMNVHO) terrible for the community. Does anyone here remember DAoC and the /level system? For those who don’t it was a mechanism whereby once you had a level 50 character, any further characters you created could start at level 20 instead of level 1. What this achieved however is to make the game very difficult to players at lower levels and brand new players because the breadth of characters to group with wasn’t there. My experience is that if there are two ways of achieving something in a game, one way emphasising fun and the second way emphasising reward then players will invariably choose the second path. I don’t believe that developers should encourage that or give additional rewards to those who eschew fun and approach playing a game like they’d approach doing their job.

  70. so, i’m just not sure i buy into this notion that if everyone could instantly be 60 (er… 70), they would. and, then, there’d be no content for the mid-range folks. that it would be a barren wasteland of lonely npcs with exclamation points over their heads.

    nah. i don’t think it’d work like that.

    take, for example, traditional pen and paper rpg games. more low to mid-range content than you can shake a stick at. tons of it! and talk about a game where you can power level at the blink of an eye. all it takes is that little pink nub of an eraser and a hastily scrawled “+5.”

    i mean, in one game i ran (shh…), i actually got in trouble for leveling the guys too fast because they didn’t get to use some of their new abilities while they were all shiny and new.

    i really think it’d be fine because 1) you’re not going to pay for something you don’t play. and 2) there’re always requests for more solo content. and 3) not everyone wants to raid or pvp.

    achievement and playing with friends aren’t really at odds with each other. it’s not really an binary situation. it’s more like a trumping, cascading priority list:

    i want fresh content to play with my friends.
    or
    i want fresh solo content.
    or
    i want to check out other character types.
    or
    i want to pvp some warrior’s ass.

    and, for the freaks:
    i just want to be a part of 40-man raids 7 nights a week so i don’t have to go outside!

    m3mnoch.

  71. Requiel wrote: Powerlevelling is not playing the game in any meaningful way, grinding != content.

    Think about the claim you just made for a moment. You are determining, from an invisible authority vantage point, that grinding is not meaningful. There are plenty of players who enjoy "the grind", including myself. I’ve been playing role-playing games all my life, almost exclusively with the exception of a few first-person shooters.

    The earliest grinding activities I fondly remember was trampling around a graphically empty continent encountering enemies who I can destroy to earn experience points. Both Lufia and Final Fantasy III provided exciting "grind" content.

    Lufia, for example, featured a hundred-floor dungeon which you could progress downward, fighting your way to collect treasure and gain notoriety within the game. There were a lot of monsters, many the same type, and there wasn’t much skill involved. The dungeon prohibited the use of magic though, so if you ran empty on health potions, you were practically screwed. If you died in the dungeon, you were magically transported to the entrance, regardless of which floor you achieved.

    Final Fantasy III featured a character named Gau who could transform into monsters and use their special abilities. To increase the number of monsters into which he could transform, you had to endlessly traverse the world fighting enemies. Different types of enemies would appear in different parts of the world, some hard to reach and some eventually unreachable. Gau would leave your party while he learns the ways of the wild. You had to either wait for the next day or camp out. Then you had to fight a number of battles before Gau would appear in an encounter and join your party again.

    Grinding does not have to be meaningless. Grinding is not inherently meaningless. There’s purpose to grinding, regardless of whether you appreciate the activity. Perhaps some players grind to boast about how many monsters of some type they destroyed? Perhaps some players grind to achieve a high level? Who are you to say that their particular achievement game is meaningless? If their style of play satisfies them, if their style of play is cause for happiness, without prohibiting other players from their entertainment, who are you to say that they cannot realize the value of their subscription fee in their own way?

    Requiel wrote: If a lot of people are paying to avoid your content then that probably says a lot about the design decisions you took to create that content.

    Now we arrive at the crux of your argument: money. When players share accounts (or memory cards) to "bypass" content through collaboration, this account sharing is acceptable. But when money is exchanged, when monetary value is added to the favors players provide each other, that’s when account sharing is unacceptable? Whoever said that collaboration should be free? Gene Roddenberry, of course, but Star Trek is fiction. In the real world, people expect to realize the value of their contributions.

    I distinctly remember in my past offering friends money to get me through difficult sections of games that seemed impossible. Sometimes they declined because the money wasn’t worth the effort. Other times they accepted. Even now, if I couldn’t simply download a save file, I would probably consider paying someone to help me beyond the initial flight training game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. That bit is extremely difficult, and because that bit is required to progress in the game, I resorted to uninstalling instead. The aid provided by other players is sometimes worth the cost of their efforts. If they want real money, rather than the loot dropped by the boss monster, so be it. If they’re fair, I’ll be fair.

    Brask Mumei wrote: It is odd to see it claimed that using communication to coordinate activities can’t create a game.

    Players can always use communication to coordinate activities, such as via telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, and bulletin boards. Sure, we can adapt Raph’s argument about “single-player games are an aberration” and say that these methods of communication become “part of the game” when used to communicate about the game. We can also say that communication can create a game too. There’s no doubt about that. What I wrote was that most, if not all, games do not provide an internal mechanism for facilitating this communication, or providing additional avenues, for the purpose of sharing rules as content.

    Adele wrote: Women, we don’t care how many times we go down the waterslide, just as long as it was enjoyable!

    Back in the heyday of Final Fantasy VII, I printed one of the heftiest walkthroughs I could find on GameFAQs. A then-close, female friend of mine who was in love with the game requested to the borrow the tome. I don’t think gender generalizations are useful in this discussion, Adele. Women are at least as competitive as men, and probably even moreso. I’m fairly certain I’ve read that in a psychology text somewhere…

  72. It seems to me that the real problem is that there is only one achievement scale and only one mode of play (killing things). As a result, you can’t separate the two, and it causes many of the problems discussed here. What if, things were different and…

    * You could achieve in multiple dimensions — combat, crafting, content creation, helping others, politics, etc. There should be numerous publicly visible signs of this achievement, and no excuse for short-cuts (RMT or power-leveling). Working in groups should reinforce this advancement where possible, but not be essential.

    * You could socialize in a variety of dimensions as well — hanging out at the pub, playing games, solving group puzzles, entertaining others, earning “prestige” for your guild, etc. These activities should not be dependent on achievement skills in my opinion.

    Some players might choose to focus entirely on a single area, but most would probably alternate between a variety of activities. “I think I’ll work on my crafting skills tonight.”, or “I’ll just hang out at the pub until dinner time.”

    I believe that the single focus design causes another problem that has been mentioned here as well. That’s the variable advancement rates between people with different real life constraints. You can’t limit the player’s daily advancement significantly when there’s only one mode of play. If they reach the limit, you’ve basically told them that they’re done for the day, so they stop playing and that’s not good. But if there were many different things to do, I think players would be more receptive to hearing “You’re maxed out on advancement for this skill for today — Go do something else.” As a result you could be competitive in combat (or blacksmithing, or whatever) by playing only an hour or so per day.

    I suspect that such a design might even encourage other “good stuff”, like increasing the value of socialization. For example, I’ve seen way too many games where shopping for good equipment just wasn’t worth the time because you could “achieve” more by being out hacking heads off instead. But if you’re “done for today” anyway, why not spend an hour chatting it up with the local armor smith to figure out what’s right for you.

    Finally, there’s still plenty of outlet for the “power gamer”. They’re not content to be good at a few things, they want to be good at everything, and of course, that takes hours and hours per day.

    If you’ve got criticisms of this view point, I’d love to hear them…

  73. Well generally I am speaking on the competitiveness being of different types. I am not saying women are not competitive because they are, very much so, just in a different way.

    At least in my gaming experience the women aren’t always comparing their armor and levels. Just seem to be happy that they are playing, socializing, and having a good time, and in general when the topic is brought up about paying an outside source to level your character men have seemed more willing to do it, at least in conversation, than women.

    Although I am sure that my few conversations on the subject of paying someone to powerlevel you isn’t as expansive as the research that we are speaking of now. But in those white pages was that just for the station exchange or did it include the percentages of people paying an outside source to lvl them? Which is what I am talking about when I say that I think men would be more willing to do that than women. The station exchange is something totally different and I can see men and women both equally being on there.

    As far as the waterslide if I pay my 50 cents I want to go down the damn slide:P I just don’t have to do it again and again and better than the last person… I can hang in the pool and be content with the fact that I was very good sliding down.

  74. Think about the claim you just made for a moment. You are determining, from an invisible authority vantage point, that grinding is not meaningful. There are plenty of players who enjoy “the grind”, including myself. I’ve been playing role-playing games all my life, almost exclusively with the exception of a few first-person shooters….[snip]…Grinding does not have to be meaningless. Grinding is not inherently meaningless. There’s purpose to grinding, regardless of whether you appreciate the activity.

    I think you’ve grasped the wrong end of my argument here but that’s my bad not yours. Let me clarify. Grinding as a gameplay choice is not any more or less valid than – say sitting in a tavern and roleplaying or questing or whatever. The main point is that while you are grinding you are playing the game. Your character being powerlevelled is not playing the game in any meaningful way. How you play the game is your choice, the point is that you you should be actually playing the game. If that’s not the case then we as providers should have no problem with autoXP bots and other 3rd party ways to bypass content or automate repetitive tasks.

  75. Adele wrote:

    At least in my gaming experience the women aren’t always comparing their armor and levels. Just seem to be happy that they are playing, socializing, and having a good time, and in general when the topic is brought up about paying an outside source to level your character men have seemed more willing to do it, at least in conversation, than women.

    You’ve obviously never played with my wife, who is always sure to tell me the stats on her latest accomplishment (armor level in WoW, how much damage she did with a crit in CoV, the DPS on a weapon she crafted in SWG, etc.) It doesn’t seem to matter what the stat is as long as it’s high. 🙂

    She also thinks buying stuff (or levels) with real money is cheating. Hmm. Wonder if there’s a connection.

  76. The real issue is that the game is precluding you from playing with friends, precluding you from getting on the ride you want to get on. Disneyland doesn’t tell you “Sorry, you can’t get on Space Mountain until you have ridden A Small World five times. Your friends have, so they can go on ahead. you have to sit and listen to inane music a while longer.” If I met that situation, damn right I’d pay someone else to listen to that annoying song endlessly.

    Power-leveling *is* the game, too. Isn’t it an emergent game play issue like they talk about on Terra Nova?

    I see my kids and their friends doing the service of power-levelling for friends all the time, sometimes on a first character to bring an existing RL friend into the game’s guild so that he can catch up, but usually on the second or third or ninth character so as to avoid numbing boredom. If Blizzard introduced a button to pay the game company the money to instantly arrive at a game level, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun as leveling someone up in a sense of illicit solidarity against the Man (the devs). People like to feel they’ve outsmarted a game, and I imagine the best game designers play into that and actively create opportunities for people to have the illusion of having outsmarted devs.

  77. Requiel wrote: Your character being powerlevelled is not playing the game in any meaningful way. How you play the game is your choice, the point is that you you should be actually playing the game.

    Seems to me that you’re only looking at one aspect of powerleveling. Yes, there are people who create and/or use third-party software to automate the leveling of their characters; however, powerleveling is traditionally an approach to playing a game to increase the character level, attributes, and skill points in the shortest length of time possible. Someone is usually sharing the account with the express purpose of building a character. There is a good description of powerleveling here.

    In Diablo II, Battle.net featured a character ladder that spawned numerous teams (or guilds) of players. These teams would compete for the top positions on the ladder. Players on these teams would often share accounts to powerlevel their characters. Their game was ladder competition, and so account sharing and powerleveling was simply part of their achievement game.

  78. She also thinks buying stuff (or levels) with real money is cheating. Hmm. Wonder if there’s a connection.

    I have to agree with her on that point. I consider it cheating as well. No one wants to play with cheaters:( And can a game really be fun if you are cheating? I guess it must be for some people since this is such a huge market now.

  79. Seems to me that you’re only looking at one aspect of powerleveling. Yes, there are people who create and/or use third-party software to automate the leveling of their characters; however, powerleveling is traditionally an approach to playing a game to increase the character level, attributes, and skill points in the shortest length of time possible. Someone is usually sharing the account with the express purpose of building a character. There is a good description of powerleveling here.

    But that’s the aspect we’re discussing here. Professional powerlevelling, not a bunch of guys giving their buddy a hand up but organised companies that take over your character and run it in their powerlevel squads. I know why people powerlevel and I’m not blind to the fact that in many cases it’s a valid gameplay choice. If we say it’s ok to use 3rd party means to boost your character though why stop there? Why not allow hunting bots or macro exploits? What’s the difference in real terms? You go to work and either your character is levelled in your absence by a bunch of Koreans or it’s levelled by a few lines of code.

  80. Why not allow hunting bots or macro exploits? What’s the difference in real terms?

    It’s the butt-in-seat factor. If you see a level 70 Human Whatever, you know someone sat in front of a computer somewhere and leveled 70 times. That someone may or may not have been the owner of the character, and they may or may not have played the game in a way “meaningful” to you, but they did play the game. If you allow bots/macros/etc. you eliminate the need for a human to do anything, which is an important limitation on advancement. Powerleveling minimizes that, but it doesn’t eliminate it.

  81. Requiel wrote: But that’s the aspect we’re discussing here. Professional powerlevelling, not a bunch of guys giving their buddy a hand up but organised companies that take over your character and run it in their powerlevel squads.

    Those “bunch of guys giving their buddy a hand up” are an organization of people. What happens when the ‘buddy’ pays for the services rendered by the ‘bunch of guys’? Suddenly, this powerleveling activity—that you describe as a valid gameplay choice—becomes commercial. This now-commercial activity is differs little from another organization of people offering their powerleveling services to larger markets than their buddies. The only difference is scale.

    Requiel wrote: If we say it’s ok to use 3rd party means to boost your character though why stop there?

    A third party is someone other than the principals involved in a transaction. In a subscription-driven game world, you and the publisher are the principals. Other players are third parties to your transaction. If we say that the use of third parties to develop your character is unacceptable, then the social aspect of the game world should be eliminated. Interacting with other players should be a punishable offense. Apparently, the attitude that the use of third parties is unacceptable leads to, or is a product of, the "aberration of single-player gaming".

    You may argue that other players are not the third parties to which you referred. You may argue that businesses that engage in transactions with players outside the game world to provide in-game services are the third parties to which you were referring. Unfortunately, this argument does not hold up. If a business is a group of people organized for commercial purposes, then the people involved in that business are also players in the game world.

    Is teaming with other players to acquire PvP points acceptable? Is grouping with other players to gather resources, find treasure, and gain experience acceptable? Do guilds also facilitate the development of your character? According to the Terra Nova article Prokofy Neva linked, yes. Now, is contracting the services of other players (third parties) to facilitate the development of your character acceptable? Is paying other players to adventure with you not acceptable? If so, then I was right when I said the crux of your argument is money, and then we simply revert to the real-money trading controversy.

  82. Morgan, It’s not about money, it’s about what I said earlier it’s about playing the game or not playing the game. If your buddies are powerlevelling you then normally you are ingame with them being powerlevelled and experiencing the game. Turning your account over to a powerlevel company so you can come back to it at max level is not playing the game.
    Turning your account over to your buddies for them to log in on your behalf and play for you is equally wrong but realistically there’s little we can do about that as providers as it’s generally on a very small scale and it takes a lot of work to prove for very little gain (from a CS pov). We just have to make sure that players understand that if their account is caught doing something wrong, we don’t care who’s at the wheel, it’ll get slapped regardless.
    I’ve investigated RMT/Powerlevelling companies on my servers and these are worth our while in tracking down. There very much is an expectation from my players that we will maintain a level playing field and I don’t intend to disappoint them any time soon.

  83. Okay, Requiel, I understand your perspective now, but I don’t agree.

    Turning your account over to a powerlevel company so you can come back to it at max level is not playing the game.

    A powerleveling business consists of anywhere from one to many players who provide their service at a fee. While the player who shares accounts with this company is not actively playing the game for the duration the service is in effect, someone is always playing the game, assuming that third-party software is not used as part of the service.

    When the powerleveling activity is completed, the owner of the account retains control, and returns to play the game. The account owner becomes the active player again and simply plays the game at a higher level. I cannot view this activity as "wrong" because this is emergent gameplay as the player learned a different game within the game world. In addition, there does not seem to be an objective business reason, other than the terms of service, why powerleveling is unwanted.

    The player who uses a powerleveling service is actually spending more money than other players to play the game. They are effectively investing more of their time, valued in monetary terms. These players are probably more obligated to retain their subscriptions and thus contribute to the provider’s revenue. Since powerleveling services are typically expensive — a quick Google search revealed that powerleveling Blood Elves or Dranei in World of Warcraft from 1 to 70 would cost US$896 — players who engage a powerleveling service are likely to only do so once. Instead of punishing these customers, who are heavily invested in their subscription, perhaps the provider would be better served by opening a dialogue with, and listening to, these customers. After all, these customers are willing to spend six years worth of a single player’s subscription for their own entertainment in the game world.

  84. A thought came to me when I read this:

    Many MMOs get progressively more complex as you level, and the gameplay at level 20 is very different than that which exists at level 50 or beyond.
    People playing powerlevelled characters bypassed important ‘competence-building’ content, and as such make them a liability (to a raid as a whole, not just to 1 other player) in higher level or endgame content.

    I agree entirely with both parts of this statement, and I’ll adress them both.

    First, the ‘gameplay at level 20 is different than 50’ statement. A few posts down from this, mention is made of ‘twinking’. For a moment, I’ll ask that you take aside the concerns of disparate levels of power available to those with ‘finished’ alts (max level enchants available to level 19 characters in WoW that make them hit like a 40-something, etc). The fact is that many people enjoy rolling up an alt in the lower brackets, some guilds are built entirely around a bracket, or having an alt in EVERY bracket. Many people enjoy the alternative gameplay at the lower level. Is it because it’s ‘simpler’ and feels more refreshing? Lets take the levels away, now. I’ve seen it asked, if Level 20 is game A and level 50 is game B, why do I have to play game A to play game B?

    this is where I throw you)…What if I have no interest in playing game B?

    this is where I could go on a rant, but I’d love to hear the opinions of those, say, in a career field that question would impact. To put my view simply, I think there are a lot of players I have met that are happier in their lower levels, playing the simple game. I look back usually after playing a game a while, missing the times that I’d ‘experienced’ the game, rather than simply played it. Usually the strongest memories are tied to events with other players (the unique pinnacle points of my gaming life have been those ‘community level’ type experiences, like being a mayor in SWG).

    Now, as for the rest of the statement I would agree that MMOs (any game, really) is going to have a learning curve. Why is the learning curve tied to an advancement metric? Why can’t it be presented locationally (walk to the door using your arrow keys, open the door by right clicking on it, walk into the hallway, look around, click on the NPC, etc)? Once I got to about level 20, I had a grasp of the game. Leveling restrictions did nothing for my learning curve but slow it down. I do not need to spend 3 hours at level 32 (and three more at 33) to learn more accurately when to use healing wave 3….healing wave 2 was practice enough, ok? Give me the abilities, let me get comfortable with the mechanics, and I’ll tell you when I’m ready to move on. In a tutorial, clicking the ‘next step’ button, in a game by going on to use whatever mechanic as part of my normal gameplay….which through feedback presents me with a new puzzle where this mechanic plays a part and a new reward mechanic is gained! Interactive response rather than static metrics (xp).

    My point being, after level 20 my learning curve now outpaced the leveling curve. My learning curve was affected more by fellow players in the game (hey, save your mana for a cast interupt when the boss goes to heal, it’ll make this go faster), advice on forums….the community.

    This is disconnected ramblings I cut from one of the above two points after realizing I’d wandered but didn’t feel like wasting:

    The problem I see is not just linear gameplay (I finshed Bloodmyst Isle and have been proclaimed saviour of the Dranei people and here’s all the major NPCs from 20 levels of questing cheering and dancing…now move along, we’ve gotta cheer and dance for the next guy who’s about to turn the quest in), dreams of impacting the game world meaningfully seem unobtainable. I can almost make out a self-reinforcing cycle here: The mechanics say that level and gear are the goal, therfore we the players are conditioned to see value in level and gear. Since you are aware other players are inclined likewise and we know the cliche ‘its what you think others think about you’, you look at your gear or level and are pressured to advance.

    What we have is a series of vertical games being played in proximity (sometimes too close, sometimes too far) with others, rather than a game that focuses on the horizontal, social, interactive, dynamic, and communities. The focus is on the vertical, and while occasionally some players will find they are in close proximity (we have the same quest, lets group up and share kills), they are cut off from a far greater segment of the population…and further, in connetion to my question above, recognize that (the industry in general) they are cut off from those too far in any direction, not just up. Humans have enough means of establishing sub-cultures and interaction, why create new artificial divisions? Put a bit darker way, Humans have enough ways of asserting themselves as superior (or inferior) to one another through any variety of justifiable or imaginary metrics….

    …should games, because I thought we were supposed to be having fun (I’ll stop there before I rant on about the undercurrent of consumerism and social ranking in level/gear centric games).

  85. […] Raph’s Website, Raph Koster posted a link to a CNet article and wrote a page of the thoughts it brought to his head. The reason we react […]

  86. Level based gameplay creates aberrant player behaviors such as power leveling or “twinking.” This, in turn, results in mechanics such as “Bind on Equip”, “Bind on Pickup” and “Side Kicking.” Systems without levels (see “Ultima Online”) avoid these problems, but suffer from a host of other issues, the largest of which is, I believe, the lack of an easy player to player comparative.

    What about switching from a “levelling” status mechanism to a “collect all the Foobs” status mechanism? Allow players to slowly get stronger as they progress, but don’t have levels as such. Instead, measure “progress” by the number of unique achievements the player has completed. Each quest could be a separate achievement. For repeatable content, you could reward them multiple times but on a non-linear scale (e.g. reward them for completing the kill-giant-Troll-boss dungeon 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, 5 times, 10 times, 25 times, and 100 times, and then never reward them for it again).

    Now divide achievements up into a couple of different thematically-meaningful categories (i.e. different dimensions they can advance their character in), and give titles (ala profession titles in SWG?) to players who have achieved a certain number of “points” in specific categories. They can then use their accumulated points and the resulting titles as the status mechanism for bragging to their friends, etc.

    Plus every year or two, the developer can create an entirely new category as part of an expansion pack, and watch as all the old players frantically try to progress through the new content and accumulate the new kind of “points”. You could even use accumulated points to unlock new abilities (I’m thinking of those PvP achievement points that DAoC added sometime, Realm Points or whatever they were called).

    The key thing in all of this, is that you don’t need Levels as a significant measure of status. People can play with their friends effectively even if their status is very different.

  87. […] from Raph Koster’s blog, a look at the power-leveling industry. As Raph points out, the average market value of a WoW level is $8, and an hour of WoW play is […]

  88. As Richard Bartle brought up, I’ve always wondered why online interactive service providers don’t enter the 3rd party service market. I can think of a few reasons and I’m not sure which way the decision tips.

    Participation in the market as evidence that internal goods have value outside the game.
    Regardless of participation, the mere existence of the market might be evidence enough. However, service providers might not transact in the market for concerns over legal consequences.
    Suspension of disbelief for participants
    Sanctioned RMT might have negative implications for paying customers. Loss of this market base and decreased customer retention would likely occur when achievement as a goal is invalidated. Conflating epeen with bank account might not be a good business move.

    The only thing that I know for sure, is that given the amounts of money involded, the game companies involved have evaluated the options and decided that open entry is not obviously in their best interest (Blizzard removed around 3.5 million US in gold from World of Warcraft in November).

    Furthermore, the providers often actively work to remove and hinder third party services. Such policing is sometimes cause for a press release. Whatever the reasons, they appear to want people to know about how they are working to keep the playing field level inside the game.

  89. … decreased customer retention would likely occur when achievement as a goal is invalidated.

    Nonsense, at least when there is emergent gameplay — when players are creating their own achievement games. The claim that real-money trading invalidates achievement games is patently false. Real-money trading eliminates the materialistic "keeping up with the Joneses" game though. For players, at the core of the issue is philosophy. Should players judge their achievements based on the achievements of others? Or should players judge their achievements based on their own interests and experiences?

    Suspension of disbelief for participants …

    Disbelief is a fantasy in most online games. The moment another babbles in leet speak, spews n-words in a chat room, somehow illustrates genitalia, or repeatedly jumps up and down come rain or shine, is the moment when disbelief is suspended. Since players engage in game-reminding activities for the entirety of their game experience, from selecting icons from a complex arrangement of menus to rapidly pressing hotkeys on the keyboard, there is effectively no disbelief.

    For a player to experience disbelief, the player has to achieve a state of disbelief. There are ways to do this, but most players probably skip the effort to achieve disbelief and instead launch themselves toward a material reward.

    Blizzard removed around 3.5 million US in gold from World of Warcraft in November.

    Chump change compared to the 15 trillion gold pieces removed from Ultima Online in July 2006. And probably chump changed compared to the zillions of units of in-game money sold, and being sold, for real money across the gamespace.

    Whatever the reasons, they appear to want people to know about how they are working to keep the playing field level inside the game.

    Reason: To provide cover for their supporting of real-money trading initiatives and services… Duh! 😉

  90. […] away, so might as well regulate it better. (but DONT get the government involved, god help us all) Raph’s Website The power-levelling industry I did not see this posted anyplace here, if its a duplicate then delete the thread. […]

  91. […] be interesting to see how well this flies with the Western audience. My recent suggestion that I am increasingly unsure that the very notions of “earning” “position” make a damn bit […]

  92. In order to allow players with differing amounts of free time to play together, without a fellowship or mentoring system, you would have to make the game skill based instead of time/level based. Essentially an RPG that played like an FPS.

    On a side note, I was going to respond to comment # 37, since I agree completely with what the writer said, then I noticed who wrote it and I was like, DUH, of course HE knows what he’s talking about.

  93. Some people are arguing that people have the right to pay for levels/items in order to have a level playing field. That is blatantly false. How is it a level playing field when even a hardcore powergamer can’t play 24/7 like a leveling service can? What if a person’s sense of achievement in an mmo is gained by “getting there first”? Also, take a look at games that have extremely rare items, such as the world drop epics in WoW. How fair is it that after all my saving and scrimping to get an item on the AH, some other guy buy 1k gold from a website and snatches it away?

    Morgan said:

    “Chump change compared to the 15 trillion gold pieces removed from Ultima Online in July 2006. And probably chump changed compared to the zillions of units of in-game money sold, and being sold, for real money across the gamespace”

    If you read it again, he’s referring to the real world value of the gold removed, not the number of gold pieces.

  94. Some people are arguing that people have the right to pay for levels/items in order to have a level playing field. That is blatantly false. How is it a level playing field when even a hardcore powergamer can’t play 24/7 like a leveling service can?

    Exactly. Point being, the level playing field was an illusion in the first place. It’s not level by nature — it’s about time, not skill. As Jonathan Baron said, these games reward devotion.

    Which is a large part of why I am saying we can find plenty of other badges, and that it’s sort of silly to argue over who is more devoted.

  95. If you read it again, he’s referring to the real world value of the gold removed, not the number of gold pieces.

    Still, 15 trillion gold in Ultima Online is worth approximately US$450 million.

  96. “Still, 15 trillion gold in Ultima Online is worth approximately US$450 million.”

    Where are you getting these numbers? 15 trillion gold in UO is only worth 27 million US. http://www.power-gamers.net/uo.html

    Also, I would argue that it’s “actual” worth is much much less. Or rather, was. How much of a market do you think there is for UO gold?

    WoW gold’s “actual” worth is much higher by comparison.

  97. I disagree. It has little to do with “devotion.” Time and devotion are two different things. These games reward time invested, just like pretty much every other activity on the planet. That’s just the way the world works. The problem is the people who have less time to invest per day/week feel the need to whine about it.

    People are fond of using anologies, here’s one for em.

    Your best friend is a professional football player. You want to play football with him on sunday, but he has an NFL game with his team that day. You can’t play with him. He put in the time and effort to become a pro player. You didn’t.

  98. I think by “time invested” we mean devotion. And vice versa. Why devote so much time, if not?

    The analogy you cite is interesting because most people don’t have the natural ability to become a pro football player, either. It’s a natural divide as well as a time investment one.

    I think saying “tough shit” to the people who want to see their friend more often is a bit disingenuous, though. It’s all a bit more complicated than that.

  99. […] EQ2 platinum I can also buy WoW gold and/or get a character power-leveled. (Raph recently posted a blog entry about an article on power-levelers, with a breakdown of how much it costs to get powered a level in WoW.) Does WoW suck as well […]

  100. […] Raph Koster, a quien muchos denominan el padre de los MMO tal como hoy los conocemos, escribió su respuesta al reciente artículo de la CNET acerca de la industria de Power Levelling (que podéis encontrar […]

  101. […] Helen in my NET12 class)Outsourcing your ‘Warcraft’ skills, Feb 2007 article on CNetBlog entry on The power-levelling industry by game design Raph KosterWikipedia entry on experience points and power levellingGamer Revolution […]

  102. […] entry on The power-levelling industry by game design Raph […]

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