The Tattered Notebook: Free level 90? Heck yeah!

I'm a bit late to the party, but I want to throw my two coppers into the discussion on the level 90 winback suggestion that Senior Producer Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson made recently. In a recent forum thread, he tossed out the idea of EverQuest II's offering level-capped characters to new players who purchased Destiny of Velious. After a fairly robust discussion, he pulled it off the table, but I actually think it should still be an option.

Before you make fists of fury at the screen, hear me out! In this week's Tattered Notebook, I'm going to look at why this promotion is needed and suggest a way that it actually could work for everyone's benefit.

Rules are rules

I completely understand the hesitation from players to have a promotion like this. EverQuest II is a long-standing game that was built on the notion that you have to earn your keep in the world. While I personally don't mind things like the Marketplace, I know that it doesn't mesh well with the structure of the game. I don't blame players who quit MMOs that go from subscription to free-to-play, because a change like that is a fundamental change to the basic rules of the game, and that's not really fair. It's no different from someone playing Monopoly when suddenly the opponent declares that all pastel-colored properties are free. I don't know about you, but that's something I'd want to know before I started pushing my little top hat around the board.

If a rule falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it....

While I sympathize with those who are against the level 90 promotion, I do think it's worth trying. I like EverQuest II, and I wish more people would play it. From my little guild leader watchtower, I've noticed two things over the past couple of years. First, of the new players whom we've invited to the guild, few lasted through the level crawl to catch up to where we were. They enjoyed the chat, but that was basically all we could offer them. Apart from a few large bags and some hand-me-downs, they were largely on their own to do the time and level up. I know the reaction from some is "Good, they need to earn their levels; it's not good to have noobs running around as level 90s," but many of these players were longtime MMO vets coming from other games. They know how to play, and I'd argue that some would probably be better players a week into their EQII life than many longtime level-capped vets. In the end, these good-quality players didn't end up sticking with EQII simply because they weren't having fun being forced to play alone in order to play with friends.

Second, and this is just from my experience, the free-to-play server has hurt live servers. As a guild leader, I understand attrition, and I know that our raid force from a year ago looks a lot different than it does six months or a year later. Guilds need new blood in order to survive, whether it's from other guilds or new players. I don't believe in cannibalizing other guilds, but we didn't need to -- we had a steady stream of new players and untagged veteran players who wanted to be a part of the guild. However, in the eight months since the Extended server was launched, our guild has invited only one new player, and that person lasted exactly one day before going MIA. We've also invited a couple of veteran players who were real-life friends with one of our members. Overall, the river of recruits is drying up, and while I'm only able to rely on personal experience, I think the Extended server is a big part of why we're not seeing as many new players coming to join up.

Not a lot of low-level content to attract new players

EverQuest II suffers from a conundrum right now. It could use a hook to attract new players, but one of the biggest ones, new low-level content, is really not a viable option anymore. SmokeJumper has said several times that Velious content is meant to be high-level, so the expansion and future updates aren't going to target new players. But frankly, the game has a ton of low-level content already, and you could argue that it almost has too much. It's very easy to outlevel areas without having completed all the overland zones and instances of that tier. The Freeport and Qeynos revamps are supposed to offer some content for lower levels, but the big picture is that the bulk of new content going forward is aimed at the veteran, level-capped population.

EQII has something others don't

In the past, other games have conducted winback programs that have offered high-level characters, and others have hosted promotions that vastly sped up the time required to catch up in levels, so there is a precedent. But EQII has something that most other MMOs don't -- mentoring. What that means is that EQII can conceivably be a game with no levels at all. Right now, if you mentor, your level is reduced, but your abilities are generally stronger than if you were legitimately of that level. However, if the system is tweaked a bit so that a mentored player is exactly the same strength as a player of that level, you could give high-level rewards for mentoring and doing low-level content. You'd face the same challenge from mentoring down and doing a great instance like Deathfist Citadel or Nizara as you would from doing a Velious zone like Umbral Halls, and you could add one common currency for all.

Imagine being able to go back to a favorite instance like Nek Castle and be able to have a meaningful experience there with appropriate rewards for your level. With a system like that, giving a new player a level 90 character isn't really dumbing down the game or giving that person the farm. He'd still have to earn his tokens like everyone else. The only thing you're giving him is the ability to A) access content that normally is blocked off by the level system and B) play with friends and longtime EQII vets, who can provide lots of on-the-job help and be the glue that keeps new players coming back. That's something that few other AAA MMOs do, and EQII already has the structure in place to make it happen.

In short, I'd love to see the level 90 promotion put back on the table, but with a few tweaks. If it's done in conjunction with some changes to the mentoring and currency systems, it could not only breathe new life into the game but actually change the way we play the game -- in a good way! But please, if you do give out level-capped toons, make sure to toss in a few AAs. Making a level 90 player start from scratch would be too cruel to put into words.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.