Dungeons and Dragons Online is an old game. I'm not saying that in a negative context -- if a game has been around for a long time, that means it's had time to work through the bumps in the road that come with launch and the first six months or so, as well as to build a strong community of players. DDO recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, so it's one of those MMOs that's had time to settle, grow, and become established as a reliable game.

This is a great thing with one downside: A long-running game has a tendency to run short on content for new players, both in and out of game. This isn't due to any deliberate oversight or desire to exclude on behalf of the development team or the community; it's just that over time, the majority of the community naturally shifts to high-level and endgame content. It makes sense to focus largely on content and news directed at the largest part of the community in order to keep them interested -- and spending.

However, that new community still exists. Due in large part to the organic nature of MMOs, the new community continues to exist even as new players advance, learn, and become veteran players. New players (hopefully) are constantly arriving, and game mechanics and content are constantly shifting and updating. Ideally, there is always a part of the paying customer base that is new and confused. Follow along after the jump to see why this is on my mind this week and what Turbine is doing about it.

"Even more free, even more accessible."

Fernando Paiz said this last year, and the concept behind it excited me. DDO is relatively complicated as MMOs go with regard to gear and combat. Accessibility is important if Turbine wants to continue gaining and keeping a diverse customer base -- specifically people who may be MMO fans but not Dungeons and Dragons fans.

To its credit, Turbine does a pretty good job with this. Almost too good. A chief complaint in the past has been that the company does not provide enough content for endgame players, instead focusing too heavily on the "CR-10-and-under" crowd. While I can understand this complaint, I've always felt a little sorry for Turbine because of the situation the developers were in. The switch to free-to-play was good for the company and the game, but it created a larger divide in the playerbase than many games have. This created a more difficult balancing act of trying to please wildly different groups of players.

Turbine had to create plenty of lower-level content to keep its new players interested, and while it's now returning the focus to higher levels, I'm gratified to see that the first group hasn't been entirely abandoned. The availability of scaling in the recent Crystal Cove event and the assertion that the upcoming crafting system will be available even to new players are tangible evidence that there will continue to be something for everyone.

The most recent item -- and the one that really made me happy -- is the Character Stats 101 article from Kyle "FordyTwo" Horner. I love this piece, and not just because I'm biased in favor of its author. This is public recognition that the newest of new players still exist, the ones standing on Korthos Island saying, "AC? Feats? Enhancements? What are you people talking about?"

Turbine might have a tougher balancing act that many games, but the developers are handling it very well, all things considered. This boost for the brand-new players is still a valuable and needed asset, and I really hope to see more along the same lines. (I like it enough that you might just see something like it in future editions of this column!)

Community

It's funny that this has been on my mind anyway, because Wednesday night, OnedAwesome found itself in a situation that perfectly illustrates this very thing. We had a Sorrowdusk Isle run planned, but we were a bit delayed in starting because several of us were gathered in the Hammer and Chain staring openmouthed at my Rogue as she tried on various cosmetic armor upgrades.

If I can stray off-topic here for just a moment: I think it's a good thing that Turbine offers the opportunity to sample these cosmetic pieces for one Turbine Point each, because I would have been pretty unhappy if I had shelled out Turbine Points for the real thing sight unseen. The various members of OnedAwesome -- including yours truly -- were unanimous in their reaction: "Why is she so naked?" I have no particular beef with those who like the cute skimpy armor sets. To each his own, but it's annoying to have no choice at all in the matter. I tried six sets, one after the other, and each one consisted of a few strips of cloth to represent a shirt, with the pants with the waistband literally cut down to crotch level in the front.

Back on topic: While we were laughing at this "armor," I received a tell from a player wishing to join the guild. I brought him in and a brief chat revealed that he was level 2, was still on Korthos Island, and hadn't played for a very long time after creating this character. In the space of about 10 minutes, the Sorrowdusk Isle run was abandoned and four of us had switched to low-level alts, headed to Korthos to help our new friend along.

Perhaps this is a chance to shamelessly brag on the core group of Massively's DDO guild, but more than anything, it's an illustration of what a good community can do for any player regardless of level or experience. Sure, it's great to debate the intricacies of raid strategy and minute differences in DPS -- I love that there is such a strong veteran DDO community -- but there are players every day who log in not knowing much beyond "I kill the things highlighted in red." Helping those people along and making sure they feel welcome enough to stick around is the key to continued success in this game that so many of us love, and I'm happy to see that both Turbine and the DDO community remember this on a regular basis.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to reschedule this Sorrowdusk run -- I need the House D favor! See you next week!

Exploring Eberron is a novice's guide to the world of Dungeons and Dragons Online, found here on Massively every Friday. It's also a series of short summaries of lower-level DDO content, cleverly disguised as a diary of the adventures of OnedAwesome, Massively's DDO guild.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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