To pick up where I left the trail in my last post: Alts are pure evil.
No really, playing alts is a fascinating subject. Not just on a personal level, but in the greater scheme of things and how they affect MMOs. While I was rather outright about all the issues I perceive with alt-play yesterday, and the general misconception that playing alts is performance therapy, I do understand why people love to play different classes just like I agree it can be beneficial. I can see why trying out a new class is fun and makes for a more informed decision for a main. I do this myself when I start a game. However, personally I’d prefer the approach Final Fantasy XI had there: one character can learn and “equip” any given combination of classes available. That way your main character stays, but learns new things if you so choose.
I understand too, why players enjoy to re-visit content. I think it’s rather problematic if designers promote the feature in absence of actual, new content, but if you’re generally somebody who loves questing, exploring and traveling, leveling up a new class gives you a reason to do so and discover new things on the way. A new class and potentially new race is a new perspective. Shintar is one blogger who frequently let’s us in on her experiences while re-visiting lower content and zones in WoW. They’re fun reads that I enjoy and appreciate from that particular perspective.
Yet, I still wonder: do alts really prolong long-term player enjoyment or do they not rather make for a worse burnout?
Burnout, boredom or nothing to do?
“….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.”
So, when did we get this idea? I’m not sure I ever played a game where alternative characters mattered more than in World of Warcraft. Some MMOs actually require you to buy a new account, others will restrict the level of benefit and interaction possible between your characters. They don’t want a single player to have that amount of self-sufficiency; to unhinge the intended speed of play or undermine social mechanisms and interaction in favor of more freedom, flexibility and soloability.
I’ve known a few extreme examples of players that considered leveling and gearing up a character the main purpose in WoW. They did so at ridiculous speed until they had all 10 classes (I got it right this time Shintar!) fully equipped at 85. After which there was “nothing more to do” so they quit the game. Or a guildmate who was so eager for the new expansion that he did not only raid Ulduar on his main 3 times a week, but on alts during offnights too. Something we’ve always watched with concern in our raid guild because we anticipated (and experienced) just how fast such players burn and bore out on content that you intend to raid for at least the next 6 months. We did even intentionally cut back on alt-runs at expansion starts for this precise reason.
I don’t believe boredom springs from the same things for everybody. Some players would undoubtedly quit sooner if there were no alts. Others spoil what’s actually there for themselves by altoholism and short-term thinking. I don’t blame anyone for either decision, but I think in terms of content development, it’s poor design that needs people to play multiple chars all over in order to keep things interesting. The crux is probably the entire idea behind expansions and how content is usually delivered in peaks, rather than a more natural flow. I am still waiting for an MMO where the developers approach this issue better.
Another problem with the availability of alts is that they’re too convenient a solution – in a way they prevent players from looking for further content and entertainment after they feel “finished” on their main. How does this notion even go together with a character that’s supposed to be your alter ego in an ongoing story and simulate world? It doesn’t; unless you think of the classic game avatar. So, let’s assume for a moment that there were no alts available in WoW: what would you do with your “excess time'”? Would you rather –
a) Turn off the game and do something else?
b) Look for other ways to play your main?
Would people maybe contribute more to the world and community by sticking to their main because they are forced to? Would it not drive them to become more innovative and creative about what to do next? Would they really just run out of things to do?
Ideally, in a more open-world MMO than WoW, I’d like to see no alts. I would rather see people invest time in interacting more and creating things in the game. Yeah, HA-HA, I know that’s not the way things are currently going in the world of MMOs, but it’s what I’d like anyway. In WoW’s case options are limited but let’s still have a look at potential side-effects. Without alts people would probably –
- re-visit older zones and content on their mains more often
- team up more with random strangers because they want/need that class*
- help out lowbies more
- invest more time in inter-guild relations
- rely on each other more for crafting and trade
- play more PVP, arrange more outdoor conflict
- have less money and therefore do a lot more of XYZ
That’s just from the top of my head. You can think of more things to do without alts at your disposal. Depending on your perspective as a player and customer, all of the things listed can be either positive or negative. Maybe you don’t want to cooperate or rely on others more, maybe you enjoy having an alt for every trade, maybe you are after making money. I’m not – to me most of that list is positive, whatever actually makes people play together, communicate, cooperate, create. The more interaction you have, the more stories you will tell at the end of the day.
*The one big downside I see is group setup / guild related: in a game ruled by the holy trinity, alts give guilds flexibility to go ahead with a run despite the lack of tanking, healing or dpsing mains. Canceled raids are a sad affair. People can respec or if need be, relog. Without this option, guilds would probably just end up inviting more people as backup players for their roster and that doesn’t really work out so great during times when raiding is most popular. This is strictly from a WoW-centric view though, amending one bad with another. In a way specs and alts are Blizzard’s own saboteurs to the trinity, even if “bring the player not the class” is still a dream. A different MMO without the whole class/role hysteria would be fine without alts: you wouldn’t need them for group balance.
The road less traveled by
I will blow into last week’s horn a little and ask just how many opportunities and stories we’re missing out on because an MMO offers the easy alt road. How different could social dynamics and life on servers be if everyone only ever had one main? What would people come up with instead?
Just like short-cuts turn into delays, too much convenience can turn into boredom. I’m sure developers welcome players that spend big amounts of time on alts, but I’m not sure if it really works out long-term? If it makes for a massive and more terminal boreout later, convincing you to keep paying that subscription will become increasingly difficult. Not just that, but the pressure to deliver expansions fast and keeping things fresh and interesting gets worse and worse on the developer’s side.
Nobody likes the samey grind forever. Candy is yum, but eating too much of the same candy is boring and gives you stomach ache. Already my granny knew that.