LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme

As level focused MMORPGs age and expand and boost the level cap again and again, the gulf between the new player starting out and the old hands clustered at the level cap begins to seem like an insurmountable barrier.  The levels problem.  Many a new player has no doubt been lost, never to be seen again, in the attempt to cross the often lonely mid-game, which can be something like levels 20 through 80 and beyond these days, in order to reach an oasis of friends.

Various methods have been tried in order to… well, not to “fix” it, because that there is something wrong with most of the game when often some of the best bits are along the way to the level cap… but to alleviate the pain of somebody trying to catch up.

Companies have eased up on the experience slope so that you level up faster.  They have tinkered with various sorts of mentoring, which generally bestows some sort of experience boost on the lower level player.  Free to play games nearly always stock their cash shop with experience accelerators of various sorts in order to let those in search of higher levels move right along.  Refer-a-friend programs can include some sort of leveling boost.  EverQuest has featured that, as has World of Warcraft.  Blizzard even added in the ability for the higher level player to “gift” levels to the person they referred… with some limitations… as part of their referral program.

And, after years of tinkering around with all that and more, several companies have finally come around and decided just to sell you a high level character.

This is, of course, controversial, and the game companies know it.

First out of the gate in the games I watch was EverQuest II, with its offer to sell you a boost to level 85.  I thought that this was the most interesting case of moving to this sort of thing because you could argue that SOE has done as much as, if not more than, any other MMORPG in trying to bridge the gap between the pool of vets and new players.  That was not enough though, and now you can buy a token in the cash shop for approximately $35… the general rate is a penny per Station Cash point, but if you bought some during one of the now departed 3x sales, your real world expenditure will be less… that will put you within 10 levels of the level 95 cap, which is close enough to group with anybody above you in level and still gain experience.

This actually sort-of works out okay with EQII.  There is still the “too many damn skills” problem with going straight to 85, which isn’t handled very well in my opinion.  And anybody who joins up and jumps to level 85 will, again in my opinion, miss a lot of the best content (biased as I am towards some of the original locations) while being dumped into one of the most awful, boring looking adventure areas in the game.  Snow zones just don’t work for me in EQII.  But overall, with mentoring and the chrono-whatcha-call-it thing that lets you play older content at level, the vast sea of content is still yours to explore if you so desire.  In the end, it gives players an option and gives SOE something new to sell in the cash shop.

Then at BlizzCon Blizzard announced that, with the purchase of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, players would be given the option to boost one character up to level 90.  Oddly, most of the enthusiasm I have heard for this has been from people who already have multiple level 90 characters.  The idea of one more level 90 alt for somebody who has run the content multiple times seems to be a winner.  And while this got a frosty response from some, it does solve a problem for Blizzard.  We are now at a point where there are certainly far more former WoW players than there are current WoW player, probably several fold more.

Those former players represent a pretty big market opportunity.  But how do you get them to come back when your lure is shiny new content that might be many levels above them?  “Come back and play the stuff that made you quit, you’ll eventually get to some new stuff!” isn’t a very good approach.  So now anybody who purchases Warlords of Draenor can play that content right away.

The solution is, as I said, not without detractors, but you can at least see the logic and how it solves a problem for Blizzard.  I am not sure how they solve the “I don’t own Mists of Pandaria or some other expansion” issue.  I suspect everybody who buys Draenor will end up getting all of that.  But it puts a mass of potential players right on the starting line for next year’s expansion. (No sign of this being an item in the new cash shop yet, but you never know.)

Finally, this week, Turbine, after kicking the idea around for months, finally bit the bullet and announced their insta-level plan for Lord of the Rings Online.  It is a limited time offer at the moment as Turbine tests the waters on this.

The Valar aren't what they used to be...

The Valar aren’t what they used to be…

And time is not the only aspect of this that is limited.  For 4,995 Turbine Points… which could be anywhere from $38 to $70 depending on how you purchased your points… gives you the following:

  • Character boosted to level 50
  • A set of level 50 gear
  • 1 Gold piece
  • An LIXP rune, worth enough XP to bring one LI to level 10
  • 4 ranks of each virtue
  • The Riding skill
  • A Dusky Nimblefoot Goat
  • A 25-stack of food that scales with your level
  • A 25-stack of Morale and Power potions that scale with your level
  • 5 +100% XP Boosts
  • A single-use map to Rivendell
  • 25 Mithril Coins

That is not an insubstantial pile of stuff.  The issue for me, when I look at this, is I am not sure what problem it solves.  Leaving aside my bias about some of the 1 to 50 content… I could (and have) run the Lone Lands and Evendim over and over again and be a happy person… the level cap with the latest expansion, Helm’s Deep, is 95.  So, basically, this level boost puts you where?

Well, right into the first expansion, Mines of Moria, which you will note is NOT part of the insta-level package.  So, aside from the troubles of figuring out how to play a character that has been boosted deep into its skill arc… now with archaic skill trees (my opinion of them anyway) to figure out as well… you have to put down more money just to continue advancing your character towards the latest content, which is still 40 levels away.

So SOE put you within reach of the latest content, Blizzard will put you on the doorstep of the latest content, and Turbine is planning to leave you adrift in the mid-game in what seems like the combination of all the complaints about level based character progression.  Players will be too far in to learn their character class skill by skill yet still many levels (and several expansions to buy) away from any friends in the latest content.

What problem does this solve?  I won’t trivialize the 1-50 game, it will take some work to get through it, but the work doesn’t stop when you pass into Moria.  And who is the target audience for this boost?  People who hate the first 300 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring?

And I realize that Turbine’s business model, which includes selling content like Mines of Moria, stands in the way here.  I am just not sure that Moria is the optimal destination.  If you were going to drop a friend into the middle of the game, is that were you would put them?

Anyway, this looks to be a test run for Turbine, with the limited duration.  And I am sure they will sell a few to people who want an alt and who have, perhaps, seen too much of the Lone Lands… as if that were possible.  Pengail escort quest forever!

Pengail Attacks!

He just HATES goblins

There have been other reactions to this around the blogesphere, none of which have been particularly positive on the plan.  Further reading if you are interested:

What do you think about Turbine’s plan, or the idea of insta-levels in general?

13 thoughts on “LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme

  1. The Guilty Party

    Yeah … I dunno about this one. On one hand, I’ve always wanted to try a Burglar or Loremaster, and given the relatively slow lotro levelling speed, I never looked forward to getting them all the way up.

    But … the problems I have with lotro levelling strike around Moria. My interest always fades there. I love the early game, for the most part. Maybe if Moria is my early game, I’ll like it more, but … $50 (roughly) is a lot to spend to find out.

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  2. Pasduil

    Excellent post.

    To add to the bizarreness of this item, Turbine have introduced it at pretty much exactly the same time as they added an endgame where your level 10+ character is auto-scaled to 95 and can play the “Epic Battles” along with everyone else, albeit possibly less effectively than if they were a true 95.

    For added strangeness, you can play that endgame without necessarily using your normal class skills anyway, so it becomes pretty plausible that you could be playing endgame fairly well within an hour or two of creating a new character.

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  3. Pasduil

    “What problem does with solve?”

    Possibly it solves the problem of two people at Turbine violently disagreeing about whether to have a level-to-cap item or not, and resolving it by coming up with a pig’s ear of a compromise.

    That’s the most plausible thing I can think of.

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  4. bhagpuss

    I’d actually go along with SynCaine, who I don’t think is being entirely ironic when he suggests Turbine should just go full-on for Pay-to-Win. I don’t want to play through any more LotRO content but I’d be quite interested in a version that just let me travel, sightsee and watch my character auto-play through the set pieces.

    Green Armadillo also suggested recently that SW:TOR would work better as an interactive movie than a game and I’d actually be quite interested in MMOs moving in that direction in general. I suspect there might be a significantly larger audience for that kind of interactive fiction version when it’s based on a well-known IP than there is for game versions.

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  5. Pasduil

    Leaving out the emotive “Pay-to-Win” label, I agree that it would probably be a good thing if people were able to concentrate on doing the things they enjoy in games and skipping the parts they dislike.

    I like the stories in SWTOR, but the questing is a bit tedious for me. And even if I did like it more, I don’t have the time to pour into every MMO. So if I could enjoy SWTOR more as a piece of interactive fiction, I’d be tempted to do that.

    Another similar one is LOTR: War in the North. I’d be happy to skip most of the mundane hack-and-slash it has, and explore the story and the world.

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  6. NetherLands

    Pasduil’s theory looks about right, with the ‘Lifers-issue’ also adding to the rather steep price for a mid-level character I guess.

    In general, I am not against Levelling Services/XP Pots etc, as they solve the issue of ‘having’ to delute the levelling experience for all just to rush some more people or alts to the level cap for the so-called ‘real game’ (a.k.a. poor design, there is no real valid reason why levelling content couldn’t be challenging or balanced etc. ).

    I do however think that they should only provide ungeared etc. characters, as besides potentially preventing/hampering abuses (like the Rated BG abuses in WoW by Scrolled Russian accounts), it would make such services only really attractive for alts and/or newcomers with already a bunch of friends to gear etc. them – which prevents/reduces the ‘total noob with superpowers’ issue, also because by forcing people to grind out basic coin etc. they’ll learn to play their character a bit without interfering with other people’s play.

    As a side note, the issue wth free gear is also that it is hard to strike a balance. For example, the gear a Scrolled (Scroll of ressurection) character in WoW got in late Cata was just high enough to queue up for Cata Dungeons but too bad to be even close to what the people you encountered in LFD wore. Give too much – in case of the SoR, I’d say the freebie fast Flying – and people who acquired this stuff in-game will be miffed.

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  7. Helistar

    Well, apart from the fact that calling an auto-level service “Pay to Win” is pretty much idiotic, considering that leveling in this kind of games is trivial…..
    …..Turbine’s offer strikes me as extremely bad. It’s expensive and it puts people right at the position which is most hated by many players: Moria. As much as I love that zone, fact is that if your aim is leveling, that zone is a nightmare.

    For the rest I think you know my position: levels are a relic from the past, the sooner they are killed for good, the better. In a new game they may work to measure your advancement and give you a nice “ding” sensation, but in an established game they are just a barrier to play with your friends. I put them on top of my ‘to die’ list, together with the server concept.

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  8. Isey

    I made a post recently that I don’t understand the Turbine model for LOTRO on how they gate their content (and how I won’t really find out either because the one class I am interested in, the Warden, isn’t available unless you buy an expansion to a game you don’t have to buy.)

    So this makes perfect sense of them (to me.)

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  9. Pingback: Adventures in Missing the Point | Harbinger Zero

  10. greebler

    actually, it does look like a nice amount of stuff.

    Also, of all the games where I felt lonely mid-game… LOTO is not among them. Has one of the most chill player base that I remember.

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  11. Pingback: LoTRO – Gift of the Valar 1 | MMO Juggler

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