What’s so great about alts? It’s nice to have something to tinker with and to learn a bit about how other classes see the game, but when and why did we get the idea that we must have max-level, max-profession, max-gear alts? That’s not an alt, that’s a second main! Is one main not good enough? Maybe we need more fun and more to do on our mains, rather than spamming alts and then getting sick of repeating quests.
This is particularly interesting: for one thing, it did remind me of a similar comment I had left on BBB where I stated that the gravitation towards alt-play in WoW was a bad sign for the game, not a good one. I’m no fan of alts for many reasons. But this recent comment brought another interesting notion to the table, one quite contrary to the popular belief that playing alts prolongs the fun of playing the same game for long. You hear it often in that context: playing alts makes people tire less fast of WoW because it provides them with the chance to review content from a different angle. Or maybe not.
Why alts are no friends of mine /open parentheses
I’ve never been into the alt business for several reasons. Firstly, I am a rather strict “alter ego” player that plays MMOs for virtues such as story, world, simulation, community and immersion. It always felt like diving headlong into a book or strange universe to me, one that I travel and explore as myself – my adventures, my continuous story. And for that simple reason, my toons would resemble my true self and there was only ever the one me. That’s a matter of preference and perspective – I don’t expect others to join me on this. Let’s just say that playing multiple characters in an MMORPG feels like I am sat in front of the start screen of some classic console game where I’m supposed to pick a random character to go with.
My second reason is that I cannot play a “second or third rate character”. Unless you have an endless supply of time and a more casual guild, alts inevitably end up being your inferior toons. A little less shiny than your main, a little less experienced, a little less travelworn, a little less access to things. A little less of everything. I hate that; I hate sub-par, I don’t do sub-par versions of myself. If I was to heal some random 5man on an alt, I would constantly end up comparing it to healing the run on my priest – it would seem absolutely pointless to me or even a little selfish (“sorry group, had my priest been here we’d be so much faster”). To make matters worse, I’d have to repeat a ton of content, let alone stupid daily and rep grinds that my perfectionism would force me to go through. Myeah, I think not.
Last but not least, one big reason is playtime. I already dedicated a lot of time to WoW as it was – raiding, guild leading, forum and webpage work, PVPing, collecting silly baubles and exploring the world, you name it. There were dailies and token runs and whatnot, I could barely keep up doing those regularly. So, if I ever truly felt I was “finished” with Syl for the day, I really did not want to relog and start over on some alt. I’d rather dedicate time to my other hobbies. The balance hasn’t always been there between WoW and other things I enjoy, but I used to draw the line at playing on weekends or playing alts.
To honour truth here: I levelled a shaman once into the early 70ies and played her on a few 5man and 10man runs. My total playtime at the end of WotLK was 12 days or something and it felt pretty much pointless, besides showing me that elemental is OP levelling up and that I pity the melee for constantly running after tank aggro. I think I did it mostly to have the chance to join guild alt-runs (:peer pressure:), but I never got there. Every time I logged to the shaman, I felt like forcing myself: this wasn’t an alt of Syl, this was a nuisance, a disturbing sidekick. And yes, I had a lot less gold than most of my alt playing mates, but here’s the thing: I like asking other people to help me craft something.
Besides this experience I never had any alt worth mentioning. Oh, I created toons aplenty and transferred them to Elwynn Forest where they became happy mules ever after. I can escort you from northern Kalimdor to Stormwind on foot with my eyes closed.. However, most available time must be dedicated to “maximize” my main. And if not, I log off (or alternatively, idle and chitchat while running through Dalaran in circles which is jolly good fun). I also believe that you are never “done” on your main, anyway. If I really had “excess time” besides my main focuses, PvP was always the next stop. Here I felt I was doing something meaningful towards my experience as a player and healer.
Personal parentheses closed.
The common alt misconception
Preferences aside, the longer I played and met various “altoholics”, the more I detected issues. Not with everyone mind, but quite a few people. The most prominent notion around is that alts make you a better player. Just like that. I remember a particularly mind-numbing conversation with a former maintank of our guild who wasn’t only one of our most fickle and unstable members, but such a screwup in various situations that we used him as melee whenever possible to “minimize the damage” (sorry DPS, it’s true) to the raid. So there I was, finding myself playing arena matches with the guy, probably by the machinations of some sadistic deity or something. We were short on a member and one of my team mates just grabbed the next best replacement before even asking me.
Wonderful. I spent the next 60 minutes listening to his blabber during queues, about how playing his priest and warlock had given him profound insights towards our raids and how he was definitely the best of our MTs in both PvP and PvE for this reason. He was also rather adamant about being able to give raiding priests and warlocks tips now because he had teh multiple perspective. He also finally understood all the “spell abbreviations they like to use”, like PoH and GS….Things between us went downhill from there.
The guy was just a hilarious example of the underlying issue. He was a shitty player with no degree of self-awareness and understanding of his own class – and therefore he stayed a shitty player despite his alts. Quantity is not were the insights lie. And WoW is not rocket science, no matter what some guys on Elitist Jerks would have us believe. Good players are good players, no matter what toon they play and vice versa. In fact, some of the best players I ever met were passionate about their main and the other half was excellent no matter what class they played. Because they set their mind to it, because they had a quick grasp or just a lot of ambition. They approached their alts in the same way they approached their main. The sucky players sucked no matter what character they played, some shades of difference granted.
So, to sum it up for kicks: You don’t go and play your priest and hunter because they will help you suck less on your warrior. It doesn’t quite work that way. First and foremost, you play alts because you have time to play alts. You play alts because you enjoy playing alts. And that’s all there is to it. If you truly want to improve on your main, play your main. In any possible situation: practise on your main. First stop to improve your flexibility: PVP. If you’re set on improving, surely you’re willing to go through the drudgery?
Playing alts can give you insights into other classes. It does not make you a better player. There is no direct causality between these two things.
Now, I can see why somebody who generally likes to “know everything” (aka walking encyclopaedia) or someone who loves to re-visit content would enjoy alts, or why a raidleader would consider it beneficial. It is. A change of focus is always beneficial if you actually know what you’re looking for. I’d never claim that playing alts has no positive potential, but it’s the player that makes it work or not. And it is not necessary in order to be a great player. There is also such a thing as “knowing too much” or thinking you know something when you do not quite yet. From years of personal experience and teaming up with great leaders, I have found this to be true: you don’t have to know everything about other classes in order to lead a charge well. That’s just airy nonsense some leaders like to intimidate you with or to boost their own ego. There is something called “functional knowledge” and that’s what I used when coordinating raid healing. I knew the things I needed to know about the other classes. I knew what was in any way relevant to our role, job and position in raids, about co-healers’ classes, about the tanks, about the DPS. And I knew these things from actually talking to those who had raided on their mains for years, from observation, from learning from them and working together. Plus being an attentive and active person on forum discussions and on healer specific sites.
So, this is my recommendation for all ye coordinators: do not be tempted to know everything about others to the point where you start doing all the thinking for them. They can be expected to know the things that concern playing their class properly. You should not have to know all the ins and outs for others or you will start babysitting every last thing much sooner than you know. Especially if you are a bit of a perfectionist or control freak, which is almost a given in leadership, save yourself by some intended ignorance.
Bottom line: do it all if you enjoy it, knock yourself out – but don’t think you “have to”.
Further issues with playing alts
Manalicious recently posted an article on how playing alts affected her raiding in negative ways. As mentioned before, I have very little personal experience with situations like these, but I can still relate. The few times I ran 5mans on the shaman, I was overly aware of the healer in my back, more than your average DPS would be. As a consequence, I was helping out with healing when I felt the healer struggling, too often than I probably should have. If you’re switching class frequently, it can be demanding to ask your mindset and routines to fully switch over every time. Maybe it is even impossible to perform on the same level as somebody who plays the same class for longer periods of time and has therefore a lot more “automatisms” in place.
But to get back to the beginning of this article: one big issue with playing alts is player burnout. I’m not at all convinced that alts really achieve long-term, what their short-term effect is being sold for – keeping people entertained longer and giving them more things to do. It seems to me that especially long-term, alts have the potential to lessen your enjoyment in the game and not just that, they have the potential to affect the entire world, the social mechanics on servers and their internal progress, negatively. This is the essence of the initial quote I posted and something I want to look into in a follow-up article tomorrow:
More alts, more player burnout? – Let’s find out.