Category Archives: MMO Design

The Return of the Stripper

Video safe for work, it is just music.

That is the song that came to mind when I saw the CCP Dev Blog go up about a return to the skill stripping plan, though Smed over using the word “hardcore” and “extremely deep” yesterday might have influenced that line of thought.  Anyway, the whole thing is a bit lurid, something of a tease, and not making everybody in the community happy.

Officially CCP is calling this Skill Trading.  This is the ability to strip skill points from a character in 500,000 SP chunks and sell them on the open market.

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit...

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit…

There seems to be a couple of reasons behind this move.

The first was articulated by CCP Quant at EVE Vegas, where he said the desire going forward was to have players able to create as many of the items in the New Eden economy as possible, including skills… and, apparently, skill points.  This seems to fit withing that over-arching goal.

The second is the classic new player complaint about their inability to “catch up” to older players.  I’ve seen that come up any number of times, the feeling that skill points are the levels of EVE Online and that people who show up late are being unfairly penalized by a system where time alone is the only way to grind up the skill point scale.

And, true enough, no day one newbie is going to be flying a titan or a faction battleship or even a strategic cruiser most likely.  Then again, no day one newbie is going to have the ISK to buy a titan or a faction battleship or a strategic cruiser… or a 500K SP bundle, which is bound to be a bit pricey… not unless they also buy some PLEX to boost up their bank balance.

And therein lies the rub, as the whole discussion gets into the “Pay to Win” arena.  There was enough push back on this idea when CCP broached it initially a couple months back that I thought they might shelve it, but now it is slated for the February 9th release.

The argument against does seem pretty clear.  You can take real world money and, through some process, turn that into skill point advancement for your character.  You are, essentially, buying levels and, while CCP isn’t selling them directly to you, they make money along the way and thus leveraging new players for fun and profit.  I’m sure the #ResistCapitalism team would have some choice words about that situation.

On the flip side CCP makes it quite clear that they are not creating skill points out of thin air.  A quote from the Dev Blog:

It’s very important to note here that this means all the skillpoints available to buy on the market in EVE will have originated on other characters where they were trained at the normal rate. Player driven economies are key to EVE design and we want you to decide the value of traded skillpoints while we make sure there is one single mechanism that brings new skillpoints in to the system – training.

The sum total of skill points in New Eden won’t change inflate because of this, players will simply be trading skill points amongst themselves. [And, as noted in the comments, the total number of SP in game may actually go down a bit.]

Also, for those dying to spend money to advance their skill point total, there is already the character bazaar where you can buy and sell characters for ISK, something that has been around for years without much in the way of objections.

The skill point injectors also will favor new players, so this won’t be just a way for those “rich” in skill point to get richer.  The injectors have diminishing returns based on how many skill points you already have:

  • < 5 million total skill points = 500,000 skill points per injector
  • 5 million – 50 million total skill points = 400,000 skill points per injector
  • 50 million – 80 million total skill points = 300,000 skill points per injector
  • > 80 million skill points = 150k skill points per injector

Then there is the fact that you do not actually have to spend any real world money at all on injectors and the like.  They will all be for sale, from other players, on the market for ISK.  See Jita for the best pricing.

And, finally, there is the fact that advancement does not equal winning in EVE Online, unless your goal… your personal win condition… is to merely skill up your character.  As somebody whose main character recently passed the 150 million skill point mark (while my main alt is past 110 million), I can tell you that having skill points does not mean winning any more than having ISK means winning.  In my case, it generally just gives me a wider range of ships in which to be blown up.

Still, even with those offsets, the whole plan makes me somewhat uncomfortable for a couple of reasons.  One is that even a whiff of “Pay to Win” will give those who already hate the game for whatever reason to throw stones about how CCP is exploiting new players, cash grabs, the evil of money grubbing developers, and so on.  Once you go into an area with a dubious reputation, like multi-level marketing schemes or free to play MMORPGs, you inherit some of the reputation that such has already attained.  You may seem to be selling power with the best of intentions, but it has been done so blatantly wrong before in other games that it is tough ignore.

Then, of course, I am waiting for the tale of how Goons will be the main beneficiaries out of the feature.  If your Goon conspiracy theory cannot include that, you’re doing it wrong!

But mostly I am wondering where the hole, the exploit, the unintentional outcome will show up, because if there is one thing that the last dozen years of the game has shown us is that the wisdom of crowds is a thing and that there is no way a few hundred people in Reykjavík can foresee what a couple hundred thousand people will come up with.

If they mess up with a new ship or a module or game mechanic, they can fix that in the next patch without much bother.  We’ve seen that over and over.  But when you start mucking with one of the core aspects of in-game character development, that might be a place where I fear to tread. We’ll just have to wait see how it plays out.  At least we don’t have skill point losses due to forgetting the update your clone any more, though there is still the strategic cruiser thing.

And in the long run, I suspect that the likely users of this feature will be old hands looking to quickly boost an alt, corps and alliances looking to help promising new players along, people looking for a bit of ISK out of skills they trained and never used, and maybe, just maybe, a few hard cores who want to be able to retrain lost strategic cruiser skills more quickly.

Will I use this feature?  After all, having gone beyond the 150 million skill point mark there must be some skills in there that I ended up never needing.

The thing is, this is EVE Online.  There are so many paths to follow that I can’t really predict what I might need tomorrow given how many careers I’ve had in the past.  Hell, if it wasn’t for Reavers I might run off and join Signal Cartel and be a space hippie for a year, and who knows what skills I might need for that.  So I doubt I will be stripping any skill points out of my skull any time soon.

Others on the topic currently:

Some post from when this first came up:

 

Torn on MMORPGs

That headline doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Back at the start of November I got an unsolicited email asking me for something.  Not an uncommon occurrence.  I get a surprising amount of offers on the blog email address, most of which I delete out of hand.  This one, however, appeared to be from an actual person.  I was still skeptical.  If you send me a note asking for something on that account, expect that.  But wanted to know what he was really up to.

Kevin, Head of Digital at Chedburn Networks Ltd, the makers of the text MMO Torn (from which I draw the title of this post, so there is that question answered) wanted to know if I would provide feedback on something akin to an MMORPG white paper project they were working on and, also, would I like my blog to be listed on the finished product.

After a bit of back and forth and cynicism on my part, set off by trigger words like “brand exposure,” I said I would look take a look.  After seeing an early draft, I said I would be okay with being listed as an example of an MMORPG blogger along with Syp, Murph, Jewel, Chris from Game by Night (where is your handle, man?), and some John Doe guy that used to write about MMOs, then stopped, but who can’t stop reminding people that he could have been a contender or something.

(I also appear to be the only one of the six that can follow instructions, judging from the final product, where I am the only one with an “established” date.)

That was in late November, after which the whole thing dwindled into silence… until this week, when I got an email with a link to the finished product.  You can go see it here.

There is actually quite a bit of information packed into that.  There is a nice little history of online games with a timeline that starts with Ultima Online and carries through to today, picking out some events that have happened along the way.  It is interesting, in its way, to see what got included.  I’m not sure that the EVE Online T20 scandal ranks up there with the advent of Leeroy Jenkins.  And did nothing happen in 2009 besides the launch of Aion?  It is also hard for me to see these two next to each other like they were totally unconnected events.  And no mention of Warhammer Online, which killed the genre.

SWG was closed because of SWTOR

SWG was closed because of SWTOR

There is also a chart listing out the top MMOs out right now that contains some hard numbers that I am sure people will want to see.  You can, I suppose, extrapolate total player bases by multiplying players per world by the number of worlds they list out.  Of course EVE Online is the top MMO when you sort that way, though the total players is a bit gloomy, while the WoW numbers seem to add up to a total not seen since 2010.

That is a lot of daily players...

That is a lot of daily players…

I asked about the source for some of those numbers, as some of them seem quite questionable, like the ones listed for EverQuest Next.

Daybreak dreaming here?

Daybreak dreaming here? These can’t be Landmark numbers…

But there it is, a pile of data ready to be argued over.  I can foresee some doom and gloom coming from a few entries on the list or what it means to be in the top five, depending on how you sort things.

Anyway, if you are a general MMORPG nerd there is probably something in the report that will interest you.  If nothing else, there ought to be something to spark a blog post.  I will likely write something further once I have had time to sit down and digest what is there.  And it is nice to be told how popular I am again.  It says so right there in that last section.  All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my authoritative close-up.

A Bit of Ancient History that Still Sticks With Me…

There has been this problem in MMORPGs of having to have sufficient content… in the form of whatever bad guys or monsters… or mobs if you want to go Diku MUD old school in your terminology… available for players while not looking like you are packing them in like a vending machine.

This was not really a problem back in the days of MUDs simply because the populations were tiny.  A MUD that kept 100+ player population online around the clock was a booming success in 1995.  But when it came to Ultima Online or EverQuest there was a mass of players eager to play and advance, and advancement comes through the slaying of foes.  At least in old Norrath that ended up meaning a pile of mobs outside of home towns to start with, most non-aggro, and then a sort of series of concentric circles of higher level, more difficult mobs in bands as you moved further from the starting zone.

Yeah, this looks familiar

Out in front of Qeynos during the low level bubble

It wasn’t quite so cut and dried in the early days.  EverQuest was pretty well known for mixing high and low level mobs together in a zone.  West Karana was mostly a low level hunting ground, but had that cyclops and a werewolf and a few other surprises lurking about.

Froon!

Froon in West Karana

But by 2004 and the introduction of EverQuest II and World of Warcraft the idea of how mobs had to be stratified seemed to be pretty settled.  Outside every town or quest hub would be several layers of mobs of increasing levels of difficulty.  My mind immediately goes to the vast array of gnoll camps in the low hills of Antonica, outside of Qeynos, back in EQII.

When it comes to WoW, Westfall springs to mind with its rings of Defias around the main alliance outpost.

In both cases, there were lots of mobs present, spread out to accommodate parallel sets of adventurers, and just sitting there, milling about, waiting for somebody to show up.  You could avoid them… in both zones the general logic was that such groups would be clear of the roads… but they certainly looked like they had the place surrounded, if in a somewhat desultory way.  They were off far enough to not aggro anybody accidentally, spread out, oblivious to their fellows being slain while clearing in line of sight (but outside of their aggro radius), and looking pretty static.

And they remained there long after you were done with them, but still had to be avoided unless you just wanted to kill a few extra gnolls or Defias.

Blizzard set out to solve this and, with Wrath of the Lich King introduced two things.

The first was phasing, where the environment changes after you complete a specific quest or task.  While problematic, it did allow the game to remove mobs that no longer made sense in the context of the story.

Then there was a slightly more subtle bit of work that took all those mobs idling around the quest hub and gave them something to do.  They were put onto the field with a like number of your allies and set in a pitched battle, NPC on NPC, so everybody looked busy.  That also kept the field from being a nightmare to pass through, as the hostiles otherwise engaged would not aggro on you unless you attacked them.  But the NPCs were otherwise barely chipping away at each other, so you could step in and attack a hostile and end up battling them directly, as aggro was easily pulled from the NPC it was fighting.

And, as it happened, that worked out and has become a staple of Azeroth ever since, an easy way… well, I don’t know if it is easy, so maybe just a reliable way… to put that first belt of mobs out there that you need to kill without having them look idle or bored and without them becoming an annoying wall of conflict when you need to move through them to the next location.

Old news.  That was back in 2008, which is further from today than from the launch of the game.  But I was reminded of how that played out when I ran across an old screen shot from EverQuest II, a screen shot that raises my hackles to this day.

spriteandrunesmith.png

I needed that runesmith!

SOE was on to a similar idea to what Blizzard eventually adopted, that mobs ought not to be static but should interact with their environment and trade blows with their natural enemies should they run across them.  And they put a bit of that in from the start of the game.

So we have the Deathfist runesmith in the screen shot battling with the local faeries.  They are natural enemies and they should not get along.  Dynamic environment!

The problem here was implementation.  Unlike the Blizzard solution, SOE left the locked encounter code in place, so when the the runesmith began fighing with the faeries, you could no longer attack him and get credit for killing him.  And you needed to kill him, as you were likely there in the Valley of Sacrifice to slay him and seven more like him.  Only he was something of a rare spawn.  And when he did spawn, he spawned near the faeries, who would immediately engage him.

So you had to clear all the faeries, clear all the place holders, and keep clearing them across a stretch of land, because if you missed a faerie your runesmith might spawn and get tagged before you got to him.

And that all assumed you were the only one out there looking to get him.  Solo, and in optimum conditions, I have spent well over an hour trying to get those eight kills.  If somebody else was there hunting Deathfist runesmiths as well, then the competition became fierce because… if I recall right… back in the day you didn’t just have to kill them, but you also needed a drop, a drop that wasn’t 100%.

And you couldn’t just dump the quest, as it was step 8 in a 23 quest long chain that ran all over the isle of Zek and which would eventually send you off to Feerrott.

SOE had the right idea.  The implementation was just such that it seemed to maximize frustration.  If it had been some common mob, it would have been interesting.

Then again, they did create a situation that I still think of years after I last ran through the Valley of Sacrifice on the isle of Zek.  And I bet it hasn’t changed after all these years.

Capability versus Opportunity

Last week I wrote a battle report of sorts… I think of it more as just what I saw on any given outing, but I guess that is sort of the same thing… about a fleet op where I was out there in the tackling role, something I had never actually done before despite having played EVE Online for more than seven years at this point.

Guns blazing

I did have the ship ready though

(That Rifter was the same one I loaned Potshot back in September.)

The post included a bit about a player on a one day old account, Jelly Knight.  I could have chosen pilot Robert Crend, another one day old account that was out there tackling with us as well, but Jelly Knight was speaking on coms a lot more and so was part of the atmosphere of the fleet.  I always try to include bits of atmosphere in my posts about fleet ops, as they can be very much a part of the flavor of such ops and anybody who was along on coms will probably say, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” upon reading the post later.

I also included him both to juxtapose a new player with only a few skill points and an veteran player with more than 120 million skill points being in the same role in a fleet and to point out the oft stated claim that a new pilot can be useful in fleets on their first day.  Day one players have that CAPABILITY.

SynCaine, Zubon, and then Rohan took up that point, the idea of new players being able to participate in what might be termed “end game” activities… or at least to get into the game and be effective beside their more experienced peers, something that EVE Online has going for it.

Mabrick, on the other hand, seemed to take offense at the idea and accused SynCaine and I of arguing an anecdotal fallacy.  Technically, my post wasn’t arguing anything, it was an observation on a fleet action, but SynCaine was using my post as an example of how new players can get deep into the game quickly, so somebody was building up an argument about CAPABILITY.

Mabrick though appeared to be upset because not every new player in EVE Online has the OPPORTUNITY to go out on a fleet op, sit on a titan, and tackle some hostiles on their first day.  Plus there is a good dose of “Grr Goons,” because they require an initiation fee which no new player could ever afford to join their alliance. (They do not actually require such.  In fact, their recruiting page says if you paid such a fee, you got scammed.  They only take members of the Something Awful community.  But that makes them elitists, and we return safely to “Grr Goons” again.)  So SynCaine and I were effectively painted as spreading lies.

I find that response hilariously poorly aimed.

What Mabrick should be mad about is that there are so few opportunities for new players to get so involved in the game.  Rather than the knee-jerk “Grr Goons” reaction, which is essentially getting mad at one of the few groups in the game that actually provides OPPORTUNITY for new players to use their CAPABILITY, he ought to be asking why there are not more groups out there helping new players… the life blood of any MMO… get invested in the game.  Why aren’t there more organizations like Brave Newbies or EVE University or even Red versus Blue?

Because EVE Online has a problem in that regard.  Jester has a post up about the New Player Experience panel from EVE Fanfest this year, and it does not paint a happy picture when it comes to the aforementioned new player life’s blood.  Look at this chart, which Jester took from the presentation and which I, in turn, stole from him.

New Player Trajectory

New Player Trajectory

That chart shows where players who get past the free trial and actually subscribe for at least a month end up.  Leaving aside the “I wonder how many people start with the trial and don’t even get that far?” question, half the players that opt-in for the game drop out during their first subscription cycle.  40% of those go off to solo/mission oriented, which is what the tutorial has always taught you to do.  There is a reason I have high standings with Caldari and Amarr.  When I wandered into the game, I just kept doing what the game told me to do.  And while that is a perfectly legitimate course to take, I ended up getting tired of it.  There are only so many missions, and a lot of them add up to “don’t die while you shoot the thing.”

Now, I ended up dragging friends into the game.  I ran missions with them.  I started mining and manufacturing and playing with the market.  Then one of the friends I got into the game ended up in a null sec corp and pulled me out there with him and I started doing that.  I wasn’t unhappy doing the other things in EVE. It had its moments certainly.

Double Boom!

Double Boom… in my upgraded Raven!

And it was fortunate that as I tired of them I had an opportunity to do something else.  Success story.  But if I had only stuck with “leveling up my Raven” as CCP Rise put it, I probably would have wandered off and never returned.  And EVE Online, in its usual way, made it difficult to go beyond that.  You have to go out of game to figure out how to do a lot of things in EVE as it guards its secrets well.  Solo EVE can be a difficult vocation, but satisfying for some who pursue it.

The question is, of course, what should CCP do?  There are lots of potential knee-jerk reactions.  The chart certainly suggests that, if CCP wants to drive subscriptions, then it should make a deeper and more interesting… and implicitly safer, for whichever parameters of that you prefer… solo experience in the game.  CCP, ever focused on EVE being a dangerous place where PvP is always a risk, wants to create a new player experience that brings people into a group oriented PvP.  That is what they view as the heart and soul of the game.

I am just not sure CCP can “fix” the problem on that chart AND drive people to PvP.  Yes, they give players that capability, even with their day one characters.  But how to give them the opportunity… and, more importantly, to get them to take advantage of it… to use that capability is another story indeed.  I am not sure how much more ubiquitous Jelly Knight’s experience would be even if there were ample opportunity to sit on a titan and tackle for a fleet on a players first day.  As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but PvP isn’t watering hole that many MMO players are willing to drink from.

Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs?

One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.

PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all.  The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on.  The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard.  For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.

And you should not get me wrong on this.  I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP.  I play EVE Online, right?  But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?

Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one.  But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all.  In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD.  But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.

This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone.  It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.)  And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.

Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix.  So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games.  Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.

Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one.  Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them.  And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful.  It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.

2 minutes 11 seconds into Wintergrasp

I played a lot of Wintergrasp when it was popular

Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two.  It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground.  And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.

So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server.  The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix.  It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.

And after WoW, things just got went down hill.  The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers.  EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this.  So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart.  They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds.  And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance.  The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.

Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it.  And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played.  I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it?  Could the time spent on that have been better invested?

Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem.  Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.

And so it goes.  Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month.  This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs?  Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?

Are Level Cap Increases an Aberration?

One of the things I like about doing the predictions post every year is that I try to come up with some random items or take some minor event and run it to its extreme conclusion.  Then I start to think about if what I came up with was even possible.

Such was the case with companies selling jumps up to the current content.  That was a thing in 2013, with SOE offering to sell people a level 85 character in EverQuest II, Turbine experimenting with selling boosts to level 50 in Lord of the Rings Online, and Blizzard offering a character boost to level 90 with the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In a very short span of time the idea of buying into a high level character went from a subject of theoretical debate to a reality, with three key companies appearing to opt in on the idea.

With those three offers out there, I figured I would declare 2014 to be the year of such offers, with the floodgates opening and MMOs everywhere racing to match these deals.  I even started to make a list of games that I expected to offer insta-levels for cash.

Which ended up being a pretty short list.

The thing is, in my world view, such insta-level offers make sense only in a specific set of circumstances.  You have to have an MMO that was popular/successful enough to have sold expansions that raised the level cap so that there is a large mid-level gulf in the player base between the old hands in the latest (and presumably best) content.  I would call this the classic EverQuest scenario of MMO success.

However, using that scenario as a measure of success doesn’t leave very many successful MMOs.  Listing them out from memory I got:

  • EverQuest – starts the trend
  • EverQuest II – assumed the pattern set by EQ
  • World of Warcraft – refines the EQ pattern, at least in timing
  • Lord of the Rings Online – sets out on the now established path
  • Rift – follows WoW in this as in so many things

These are the games that are, in my mind, the norm for MMORPGs.  (Who else has had expansions with level cap increases?  I am sure I have missed someone there.)

In reality though, that list is not at all the norm for MMOs.  Those five represent a very small fraction of the population of MMORPG titles and certainly are not the only successful titles in the history of the genre.  Leaving aside the Asian imports and browser games, the list of MMOs that were both successful… a disputed term, I know… and have had no level cap increase is substantial.  You can tick off Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Asheron’s Call, Star Wars: Galaxies, City of Heroes, Guild Wars (close enough to an MMO for this discussion) and EVE Online (or does EVE even fit in this picture?) pretty quickly before getting to titles like Vanguard, Age of Conan, or Star Wars: The Old Republic, that probably did not or will not get EverQuest-like expansions because they were not successful enough.

Which is what brought me around to the title of this post.  Are level cap increases… especially expansion related increases… an aberration that were just part of the genre in its infancy, but which is unlikely to carry on going forward?  Even EverQuest’s direct predecessor, TorilMUD, hasn’t had a level cap increase since launch.

And, as a follow on to that, in a market where the level cap at launch is likely to be the level cap for the lifetime of the game, does the insta-level option have a future?  Or do level cap increases enter into that equation when most of your population ends up crowded at the top of the ladder over time no matter what?  What is pay for a level boost needed?