Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Alt-based Design and Battle for Azeroth

Shintar has a post reminiscing about SWTOR's Golden Launch Days. In it, she cites the premise of eight different class stories being a attractive factor:
The promise of being able to level at least eight different alts, have it be a totally different experience, and then receive continued updates for all of those unique class stories sounded absolutely amazing. That those plans ultimately weren't sustainable is another matter, but the amount of content to play through at launch was huge. And yet the game ended up with loads of players who just speed-levelled one class to cap and then complained that there weren't enough raids. I don't even know. Though speaking as someone who did raid once I hit the level cap, the first few months were good times for me too. While there was only one operation at launch, Bioware had added three more by the end of the year. It was a golden age of constant content additions.
To me, the SWTOR's experience leads me to believe that alt-based design--design which expects players to play multiple characters--is a losing strategy. I've mentioned this before in the context of SWTOR:
It really looks like alt-based design is not a good strategy. The Old Republic greatly rewards playing alts, with eight different (excellent, in my opinion) class storylines and the entire Legacy system. And yet, judging by the timeline, I would wager that the largest group of people who quit only had one max level character, and the second largest only had two. 
To me, this strongly looks like encouraging alts is a losing strategy. The better strategy for MMO design might be to assume that most people play a single character all of the time. I mean, don't go out of your way to stop people from playing alts, but just design the game assuming that everyone focuses on one character.
With that in mind, let's look at Battle for Azeroth. BfA is an example of alt-based design, with a lot of changes aimed at encouraging people to play alts. The biggest example, of course, is the separate Horde and Alliance stories, with a full three zones for each side.

But there are more examples. For example, there is no Paragon reputation, which would keep people doing World Quests on their mains. There are no Legendaries, which again encouraged play on mains in order to increase the chances of getting one. Allied Races are a big thing, and are implicitly alt-centric. Professions are much simplified, and it's a lot easier to have a stable of alts with fully-maxed professions compared with Legion.

Now personally, I don't mind a lot of these changes. I quite liked seeing both the Horde story and the Alliance story. But I do notice that I am playing my Paladin, less and less. I pretty much raid with her now. And I am less enthused when on an alt.

I think a lot of problems with BfA can be traced back to the decision encouraging alts instead of expecting people to focus on a single main character. BfA has a ton of content. But maybe it would have been better with six common zones that all characters level through.

The pro-alt crowd is very vocal, and constantly complaining about thing like reputation, and locked content, and difficulty of gearing up. But catering to them seems to make the game less satisfying for the majority of the population.


  1. I think this is confusing the pros and cons of alts vs. the fact that people feel the need to play alts due to lack of meaningful content on their main. Only takes a bit of tweaking to your arguments above and it's pretty clear BfA has a lack of meaningful content as compared to Legion. I specifically play a monk instead of rogue to avoid alts, as it has multi role specs.

    And that's not even covering the horrible hand dealt to shaman, or priests, or even just ferals.

    I loved alts in swtor. My issue was the repetitiveness of all the non-class grind, and little to do at max level. No idea how that measures to others experience.

    You have experience in ff14. That alt system works wonderfully. Its has unique story content per class. It's not rocket science, but the game clearly has to have the right design intentions.

  2. I don't think alt-friendliness is a good way to approach analyzing BfA design. I think the continent/zone split was more about separating the Alliance and Horde than encouraging alts. In the end, it's left less content for alts, since we only have three zones per faction for leveling. Even if I wanted to go over to the opposite continent and grind mobs for experience (and a chance at a low-drop-rate mount, for example), almost everything over there is max level, regardless of player level. In many ways, alts seems to be an afterthought in BfA.

    Legion had a lot more content that required alts to enjoy--primarily a story line for each class. Also, professions in Legion required you to level an alt in order to level the profession since most of the recipes were locked behind level-gated quests.

    Anecdotally, many people in my guild have basically stopped logging in at all, aside from raids. This seems to have happened a lot faster than in Legion. Nobody even seems to be leveling alts, for the most part.

    BfA is the most conservative expansion, in terms of new features/systems, and I think that is probably a better way to frame its problems.

  3. I agree that SWTOR showed that trying to cater too much to people who love to play alts doesn't seem to pay off, but I'm not sure I see the connection to BFA. Most of the negative responses I've seen to the expansion go along the lines of: "There's lots to do, I just don't enjoy any of it."

  4. You can collect Azerite Power for your main in World quests. That was the main reason to do WQs in Legion too.

    What changed for you?

  5. I think FFXIV's allowing you to level all classes on the same character is a great feature, and one which I wish WoW would steal. Too bad it will never happen.

    As far as BfA being "alt-based", I have to disagree. A large part of character power is locked behind the AP grind, which is very difficult to do on multiple characters simultaneously.

  6. I'm also a little confused. I've always been an alt person, but I've hardly ever argued or even wanted it to be mandatory. I just didn't like the idea of having to grind up faction rep multiple times - I think it was just TOO taxing to have alts. Let's say there are several axes of "catching up" - first, reaching max level, then gearing, then reputations. Sure, some are intermixed - but if leveling and gearing are per char, I'm absolutely for shared rep. That's a hill I'm willing to die on. I don't want anything handed to me that takes anything away from the only-one-main players - but I also don't want to be punished for enjoying a little bit of everything. Some people excel at one role - I've always been more of generalist. With a Rogue main that a bit crap, so I had to take alts to be a tank and a healer - something that e.g. Druids had baked in from the start.