First, lets talk about actual leveling time. Since 250 hours is the average time to 80, your mileage may vary. The news blurb mentioned that leveling would take 2-3 hours per level until level 60, at which point it takes longer. If you want to do the math on that, take 2.5 x 60 and you get 150, leaving about 100 hours for the last 20 levels -- that's roughly 5 hours per level (or 4-6 if you want to stick with the same ballpark estimates as used for the first 60 levels). Now we know exactly how much time we'll be spending in Hyboria from level to level. You can expect those number to decline as familiarity with the game increases, too.
I've really never understood the point of making leveling time jump in length at a certain point. Since levels are a way to reward you for time invested, why would you string out the carrots other than to artificially increase the length of the game? If you're going to do that, why not just do it at all levels and standardize the curve? Having the last 20 levels take twice as long as the first 60 seems like it was done more because "that's how MMOGs do things" than for any specific reason. They even mentioned it was due to player feedback. Really, Dungeons and Dragons probably pioneered that idea with their exponential leveling curve, but almost every game with levels does it today, and it doesn't make a lot of sense.
I suppose what it really comes down to is what you'd rather spend your time doing. The 250 hours it's going to take you to max out your character is fine, but what do you do when you get there? I hate maxing out my characters in MMOGs. As soon as I stop being able to advance my character, my interest in a game takes a nose dive. The only reason I bother with the level 70 endless gear quest of raiding in WoW is because I have fun hanging out with the people. Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot of point to continue playing.
If you're really into raiding it's a different story, but I think the numbers of truly hardcore raiders who enjoy the challenge of raiding (and have the time to engage in it) is small enough to be statistically insignificant. If you're into PvP, that's something else you can do at max level -- but if it comes down to a grind fest where the guy with the most time invested wins the day (as most MMOGs tend to be), that's not that exciting in the long run. I've always thought that MMOs were more interesting because of your character's personal advancement and story -- if you're really serious about going the PvP or E-sport route, you'd probably want your game to be built around those ideas and look something like this.
It seems like a lot of players tend to agree with me -- as much fun as a little PvP on the side or a little raiding can be, the game is really about you and your character: getting stronger, gaining new skills, finding new equipment, seeing new things. So, if the real game is the game where you're able to advance your character by yourself (or in small groups), is 250 hours enough? Is it even close? Wouldn't it be better to push that average time up to 5 hours per level for all the levels and give players more area to explore, more items to collect, and more things to do?
While "race to max level" seems to be the theme of the MMOG today, my best MMO memories have come from the times when I wasn't yet capped out; when I had something to work towards and look forward to. Are we cheapening our own experience by looking for games that allow us to race to the top in a relatively short period of time, and then turning to alts to relive the magic of the first time? Why not make leveling take four times as long, and keep the game interesting all the way through? Why does the game have to "start at max level," as many players like to say?
Sometime in the last few years, MMOGs stopped being about the experience of playing and started being about finishing a climb to the top. The best evidence I can offer you for this is that the Age of Conan has handed us a handy 250-hour promise that that's all the time we'll need to spend leveling in Hyboria. But you know what? I don't care how many hours it's going to take me to max out in Hyboria. Why? Because I'm not excited about the fact that I can rush to the top and kill raid bosses with my friends -- I'm excited to see Robert E. Howard's vivid world painted in a fully realized virtual setting on my computer screen, and relive the adventures I so enjoyed reading about in his books.
I play for fun! Not for achievement. If all you care about is capping, I think you're missing the real point of these games. The day I hit the point where my character stops growing is the day my interest starts to flag and I start looking for other games to play. I think it would do us all a lot of good to stop focusing on the goal of leveling, and start enjoying what we're doing -- taking a long time to level, from level 1 to level 80, is not necessarily a bad thing if you're having fun along the way. I'd rather spend months getting to 80 (and having a good time) than spend months sitting at 80 being bored.
Of course, we still come back to the early point I made: If there's not content to support those 80 levels, they're not going to be very interesting (players will complain about the dreaded grind). However, I'm not a huge fan of our totally quest-driven leveling and gameplay. Quests are nice, but they're more of an amusement park experience than a virtual world experience. Instead of carving out your own adventure, you're told exactly where to go and what to do, and it's mapped out in such a way that you can plan exactly what the fastest route to the top is. How boring!
I think that it's important to remind ourselves occasionally that in MMOGs, as in life, that it's not the destination that's important -- it's the journey.
||Cameron Sorden is an avid gamer, blogger, and writer who has been playing a wide variety of online games since the late '90s. Several times per week in Player vs. Everything, he tackles all things MMO-related. If you'd like to reach Cameron with comments or questions, you can e-mail him at cameron.sorden AT weblogsinc.com