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MMOGology: WoW on easy mode

Marc Nottke

My buddy Rob and I play World of Warcraft frequently, but between the two of us he's got the most /played time. He's got a few 70s on a PvP server and a few 70s on the PvE server where we're spending most of our time. He's also an alt-a-holic and has tons of mid-level characters. He's played every class in the game; most of them thoroughly. After spending so much time leveling so many characters he recently resolved not to level another character until the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

His resolution didn't last long. When Blizzard announced their Recruit-a-Friend program a tiny seed was planted in the back of his mind. A seed that slowly germinated, wrapping its diminutive roots around his cerebral cortex until every thought in his head screamed, "MUST HAVE TRIPLE XP." And so, after a very small amount of convincing, I joined him to level up yet another alt. Our new goal was to level a couple of spacegoat shammies.

After about 12 hours of /played time we were level 26. I know that's not a record by any means, but for us it felt pretty amazing. In fact, it almost felt like we were cheating. In a way it was like paying for a power leveling service where you do all the work. Sure the XP flew by, but Rob had paid for the game and the expansion all over again, as well as paying for a second account. Still, watching a level 14 paladin run by us and knowing we were out pacing him so drastically, it made me wonder if the Recruit-a-Friend program had somehow cheapened the accomplishment of hitting 60. Remember when hitting 60 felt like it meant something?

As Rob and I played we kept waiting for the inevitable XP slowdown. Normally in your twenties or thirties you really start to feel the grind; especially if you've played through the content before and now you're leveling up just to reach the end game. Perhaps not surprisingly, the dreaded slowdown we anticipated never materialized. While we did notice that individual kills weren't giving us the same chunk of XP as they did in earlier levels, the quests turn-ins still chalked up enormous XP gains. It's incredible to watch your XP jump up by a tenth of total required XP when you're in your thirties.

Of course, the accelerated rate of leveling comes with it's own unique set of challenges. At the beginning of the game we were leveling so fast that, at some point in the teens, we realized we were still using our level 1 maces. We realized this because it took forever to kill a mob. Leveling up so quickly means you aren't looting as many mobs. That means a much smaller chance to get a decent gear drop. Unless the quest you're completing happens to have decent class gear as a reward, you're going to be fighting with outclassed weapons and armor.

Another, related, problem is money. If you decide to participate in the Recruit-a-Friend program, be sure you have a high level alt with loads of cash, or a good friend who can supply you and your buddy with money. I feel bad for anyone attempting Recruit-a-Friend on a new server where you don't know anyone. If it wasn't for our high level alts, we wouldn't have been able to keep up with our spell purchases when we leveled up; not to mention extra cash for bags, mounts (at thirty), and occasional gear purchases from the Auction House. It's great to level fast, but if you don't have the money to afford the skills and gear necessary to complete quests, the leveling will slow down even with triple XP.

As we raced toward 60 I thought about how the achievements in MMOGs are unique among video games. When you get to the end of a linear, single player game like Gears of War, your accomplishment is fixed. No matter when you pick up and play the game again, the level of skill and effort to complete the game are the same. Nothing changes along the way that makes that accomplishment feel any less or more important with the possible exception of changing the difficulty level. The boss battles, the weapons, and everything else stays the same. In MMOGs the accomplishment bar is always moving because the game is constantly evolving. New bosses are added, new weapons and gear are added, new challenges are always another expansion pack away. What was once an impressive feat, is now old news and devalued. Accomplishments are relative to the time in which they occur.

This paradigm is often paralleled in real life; especially in sports. Think how graphite tennis rackets changed tennis and what players can do with them versus their old, wooden counterparts. Or how the new Speedo swimsuit worn by Michael Phelps during the Olympics helped shave a second or two off his time. The records previous competitors achieved were no less astounding in their time given the tools and training available to them. The world changes, and although accomplishments made during an earlier time may appear less amazing, they have to be judged in the context of their time.

Jumping over that level 60 bar for the first time in 2005 was jumping over a bar that was much higher than it is today. Although it was never hard, it was time consuming and perhaps as a result, it felt more meaningful. It makes sense that the level of accomplishment felt greater than it does today. One of the best parts about MMOGs is that they do evolve, and that evolution is necessary to keep people interested. To include new players in the newer content, you've got to whisk them through the older content at a faster pace. After all, everyone wants to be able to play with their friends. And although you might be able to down Onyxia today with a handful of level 70s, it doesn't mean that that doing it with 40 60s back in the day wasn't a major accomplishment.

MMOGology [mŏg-ol-uh-jee] – noun – The study of massively multiplayer online games via the slightly warped perspective of Marc Nottke.

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