The Alleged Purity of Leveling

More carping about levels and the problems they bring.

Only, this time I think there is some question as to whether or not there is really a problem.  At least in my mind there is a question.

The problem, as laid out, is people leveling up the “wrong” way, be it favoring a specific form of game play or using an exploit in the game or finding special gear.  Sometimes called “twinking,” it makes some people very, very angry.

In this case, as mentioned over at Massively OP, Blizzard has decided to close a loophole in XP gain that allows player to turn off their XP to boost other players with whom they are grouped.  Brought up by Blizzard back in December, a change for this is now in the WoW 8.2 PTR, found by Warcraft Secrets, whose image I am going to use.

Loophole closed, go level up the right way!

Given that we now know that the WoW 8.2 pact drops this coming Tuesday we will probably see an upswing in this behavior over the weekend.  Blizzard Watch even put it on their list of things to get done before the patch drops.

Twinking is as old as online games.  Handing alts gear they couldn’t possibly obtain on their own in order to speed up the leveling process was well established when I stared playing TorilMUD (or Sojourn MUD as it was named at the time) back in 1993.

It carried on in EverQuest, where I can recall low level paladins wandering around with Ghoulbanes to smite undead to hasten their way forward, among other twinks.  It was also popular to get a friendly high level druid or cleric to buff your alt so they could run around and solo mobs that would otherwise be well beyond your capability.

This behavior has always made some people angry, with “fairness” being the general argument.  It isn’t fair that somebody has an advantage in leveling up faster than you.  I remember somebody being angry at me because I leveled up a warrior in TorilMUD from creation to level 40 in just over 8 hours of play time due to twinking him with gear I had collected over time.  They complained about it on the forums.

Over time some things were put in place to stop this sort of thing.  Gear got level requirements and was made bind on equip most places so you couldn’t dump things on your alt for power leveling.

Some games went a little too crazy.  EverQuest II at launch wouldn’t even let you buff people outside of your party and had strict rules about level differentials in a group lest you be trying to help somebody along.  I remember those calculations keeping people out of groups, especially at lower levels where the ratios made the level gaps allowed much smaller.

I have always assumed that this was very much a response to the free and easy twinking available in EverQuest, about which people would howl in the forums.

But should the developers be listening to this sort of thing?  People complain about literally everything in the forums.  Start a thread about people undercutting your sell price on the market and just watch how many people join in on complaining.

Does having some sort of advantage in leveling up hurt anybody else?  Is twinking a problem that needs to be solved?  Should developers be preventing players from leveling up the wrong way?

I am generally of the opinion that the answer to all of that is “no.”

In a game like World of Warcraft where, in the current expansion, the mobs scale with you all the way to level 120, so that one might question why there are levels at all, and where you have things like heirloom gear, it seems debatable that Blizzard should be worried about people leveling up faster than them.  And all the more so when they’re going on about a level squish, though that is another tale altogether.

Sure, there are situations where this might be bad.

I would probably agree that any path that took players out of the visible world is probably bad.  At least if you have something like a world in your game.  In EverQuest II they felt they had to remove exp from the player made dungeons feature largely because the most popular such dungeons were exp generating machines of no obvious merit otherwise.

And any time PvP is involved letting people boost up quickly, or lock levels and build a super-optimum gear set for battlegrounds, is going to end badly.

And, then there was the tale of Warhammer Online, where one theory of the failure of the game lays the blame on battlegrounds, which were the optimum method to level up.  Why would you spend time doing open world PvP content… which was what the game was supposed to be about, and was honestly a lot more fun when it happened… when instanced battleground were ready for you right now?

But that wasn’t really twinking so much as incentivizing the wrong path forward.  But PvP depends on the other side showing up when you’re ready to play, which is the main downfall of open world PvP in every game that hosts it.  Battlegrounds, with their jump in, fight, be done mechanics are not so hampered by that, so they will tend to draw people away from the open world in any case, and when they are replacing the PvP that is supposed to be the core of your game, you have at a minimum incentivized them badly.

However, short some specific situations where the path being used to level up is taking people out of the game, I am not sure that twinking is something to get all that worked up about.  I thought we’re long past the age of draconian responses to people not playing the game correctly.  But that Blizzard has now decreed that if you group with somebody who has XP turned off your own XP gain will now be “vastly reduced,” I guess I am wrong.

8 thoughts on “The Alleged Purity of Leveling

  1. Kaylriene

    A lot of interesting things to chew on here – the history of twinking is something I never really considered.

    On the WoW front, I feel like Blizzard has this weird complex about people playing the game in “intended” ways and frames it as an argument about fairness. I’ve leveled 9 120’s in Battle for Azeroth, one with heirlooms , the others without. I do it to keep current with content and to keep my streak of every class at cap by the end of the expansion, but the process isn’t really much fun past the first couple of times – it’s the same quests, same content, and usually involves watching YouTube while passively pressing buttons and following Azeroth Auto Pilot addon prompts on how to maximize XP gain.

    The island twink “exploit” is fun, it focuses on gameplay and doing crazy things that are fully within bounds of the systems provided. I don’t doubt that many people might be semi-AFK while the twink goes to work, but I feel like you could solve that with a contribution bonus or requirement rather than simply nerfing XP gain into the ground. Make the non-twinks play to gain the levels, at least – then you can solve for the problem.

    The impression I have though is that this largely comes down to Blizzard not liking this method of leveling. If they felt it was an exploit, they’d be issuing bans – same as they did for multi-stacking the experience buff potions from 8.1. If they felt the mechanics that allowed it were not working correctly, they’d fix those. Instead, they went for the lowest effort option possible – don’t do this one specific thing and this one thing only. I could agree with them if it was letting people passively sit and be leveled to 120, but if that was the case, I think they’d have a stronger response and a stronger case. Here, I don’t think they really have a case or a leg to stand on – they simply don’t intend the game to be played that way, and so this was the fix.

    I’m not really interested in leveling that way anyways, so it doesn’t affect me. But it does sound like fun – you get together with friends and take turns helping each other out through hours of gameplay. Seems like the kind of thing an MMO should want to have in place to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. bhagpuss

    I’m going to be doing a post on this, maybe tomorrow. It seems to be a hot topic right now. I do think it’s interesting that these issues of “fairness” are still cropping up twenty years on, despite all the changes to systems designed to give everyone access to everything.

    When I read about the Blizzard response to this specific WoW “problem” I rolled my eyes. On the face of it, it sounds exactly as Katlriene describes, “the kind of thing an MMO should want to have in place”. It’s co-operative play that encorages postive socialization. I could see them cracking down on people paying for power-leveling but I guess that would cost money in CS time and this is the cheap solution.

    As for the PvP, as I plan on elaborating later, a big problem with Warhammer’s Battlegrounds was that they were so flippin’ good. Best instanced PvP I’ve ever played.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Marathal – I thought about emphasizing that as well, that buying your way in is okay, except that the “problem” Blizz is addressing involves going from 110 to 120, which you cannot buy your way into. But in the last big patch I think they introduced heirloom gear upgrades that went up to 120, so they’re still happy enough to give you a quicker way to 120, if only on specific paths.

    @Bhagpuss – Look forward to you carrying on with this topic.

    On WAR battlegrounds though, you’re going to have to convince me on that one. That was more than ten years ago for me and, while I don’t recall anything specifically bad about them, they had all of the usual pitfalls of such things. You fight over the same map for the same objectives over and over again, so the how to win becomes a semi-solved problem that depends on you getting matched up with the right collection of classes and knowledge to execute. During most BGs I know within the first two minutes if we’re going to win or lose. That adds up to tedium for me, though I will admit that on rare occasions a really intense and enjoyable battle will spring up.

    And, of course, I compare those BGs to the one open world keep siege we had in WAR back in the day. That was much more chaotic and intense than any of the BG battles I ever saw back then.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dorath

    I recall the WAR battlegrounds being fun but they weren’t memorable. The memorable PvP was in the open world but those experiences were few and far between.


  5. Telwyn

    I suppose we’ll never know the full story behind this move, it seems like a lot of company effort over something that shouldn’t be that much of a concern. The ten levels go by quickly enough (usually you hit 120 before completing all three faction-specific leveling zones), so why make a fuss about it. I think this expansion hurt alt-friendliness compared to Legion because of the contrasting lack of class-specific content.

    That doesn’t mean I have no reason to level my alts to 120 – I do a lot of dungeon grouping with guildmates and having a mix of dps, healer and tank alts makes for easier group building (at varies levels of gearing). I’m not keen on this kind of twinking, I’ve experienced dungeon runs in EQ2 where you follow the down-synced character that can one-shot everything. It’s far from my idea of fun. But I do find Blizzard’s long-standing obsession with *how* we play their game to be constricting and rather objectionable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kiantremayne

    Back in the olden times when I played DAoC, there was a lot of hostility to people being power-levelled on the basis that the levelling process was supposed to be an apprenticeship. You learned your class, and the game, and how to work with other classes through experience as you worked your way up. You could get to level 50 a lot faster if you sat grouped with a mana enchanter, a healer and five other little leeches but the view was you’d be a liability when you got there, like some clueless 16 year old who’d been tossed the keys to daddy’s Porsche.

    The flaw in that view though is that the pacing is all wrong – the levelling takes a hell of a lot longer than the amount of learning to be done on the way. If levelling is just training for the ‘real game’ at max level, it needs to be sped up so you can’t fault folks for doing so as long as they are actually prepared when they get there.

    And on the gripping hand – the lower level content is part of the game, and playing the game, ALL of the game, should be fun, or else why are we playing it instead of watching Netflix? If people are desperate to speed past some of the content then there’s a problem (which could be with the game, or with the players).

    All of this applies more to new players than to veterans levelling alts. The veteran doesn’t need so much training (he needs to learn his new class, but not the rest of the game) and may well have seen the content already, so there’s a strong argument for giving him a fast lane to the level cap – something that WoW does with heirlooms, for example.


  7. anypo8

    Perhaps my first large-scale multi-user game experience was visiting JediMUD back in the day. Within ten minutes of getting on the server, I was immediately twinked *a lot* by a couple of very-high-level friendly players. They offered to show me around: I didn’t know it would turn into picking up something like 20 levels (IIRC: it’s been 30 years or so).

    It was fantastic. I felt super-welcomed and engaged wholeheartedly, playing until JediMUD died (I was there that day, but that’s another story).

    This kind of twinking is prosocial behavior. What’s not to like, unless you’re some kind of antisocial crank? Put me in the hard plus camp.


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