Friday, January 6, 2012

20 Is The New 30

I remember listening to a podcast (I think it was Shut Up, We're Talking) and listening to a discussion about how MMOs seemed to bog down in design when a player reached level 30 or so.  The idea was that game designers were focused on making the beginning of the game so good that it hooks players and end game content to retain players that an area in the middle levels dropped off in quality and felt like it was put in just as a bridge to the good stuff.  Looking back, going through Stranglethorn Vale in Vanilla World of Warcraft felt very much like that.  In EverQuest 2 I lost the desire to play my paladin when I hit level 31 in Zek but I managed to power through the pain with my ranger.  Level 30 was not a good time.

This past year I've noticed that I am hitting that meh feeling in games around level 20 instead of level 30.  Is that because I moved to the sandbox called Eve Online and have less tolerance?  Given that PvE in Eve is pretty much of a grind I don't think so.  I think the reason is that game developers have decided they only need to spend the first 20 levels hooking a player and have to devote more resources to producing end game content (i.e. raids) before launch.  Without that end game content, the players who race through the game start complaining that they have nothing to do and then a negative word-of-mouth campaign begins.

I think the trend began with Age Of Conan and its infamous Tortage experience where the game changed completely at level 20 and leaving Tortage Island.  I can't tell for sure because I played the other major MMO to come out at that time, Warhammer Online, and never made it past level 13.

For me, the two major MMO titles published in 2011 were RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I enjoyed RIFT up until about level 18 but the game just became a log for me around level 21 and so I left the game.  Currently I'm playing SWTOR and I've hit a wall at level 23.  Do I really want to go on?

The wall I've hit is partially my fault, I think.  Having played Eve Online for 2 1/2 years I'm used to a universe I can just wander around in at will.  The only limits are the skills I've learned and the amount of isk I've earned.  SWTOR is a very theme park game and not following the way the developers wants you to play can lead to difficulties.  Take for example space combat.  My character is a smuggler.  Why in the world would I put my ship at risk in combat, especially for a corrupt Republic?  And believe me, the Republic is corrupt.  The same goes for ground combat.  I am only in it for the money and I have a stealth belt.  Why do I want to leave a huge body count behind me when I don't have to.  And to tell the truth, I haven't seen very many groups looking for healers.  On the last two planets I've been on, the count in local chat hasn't excceded 60 and been more around 40 when I've been playing.  Let's just say that I barely was level 23 when I arrived on Tatooine and the mobs in the quests I'm fighting are level 25.  I might have to do something I've never done before.  Grind mobs.  Ugh!

I'm going to fight through the pain to get my legacy by finishing the class story on Alderaan.  I'm just hoping that the experience gets better and that 30 is the new 40.

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