Monday, March 26, 2012

The theory of perfect speed of advancement

As predicted last week, the backlash is starting about ArenaNet selling time-saving convenience items in their item shop. Basically the criticism is based on the following theory:
There is something like a perfect speed of advancement in a MMORPG. A perfect speed with which to gain levels, or gear once the levels run out. The developers are fully knowledgeable about this perfect speed of advancement. And to get maximum money out of the players, they deliberately make the "free" advancement speed much slower than the known perfect speed, forcing the players to pay money for time-saving convenience items that will speed them up to just the perfect speed of advancement.
I believe this widely cited theory to be bullshit. There is no such thing as a perfect speed of advancement. A perfect speed of advancement is technically impossible in a MMORPG because you advance as a function of the number of hours you play, and there are enormous differences between hours played of different people. Furthermore of the various motivations to play MMORPGs, only some are affected by speed of advancement: Achievers mostly, killers only if the PvP is badly balanced and allows people who have progresses faster to gank those who progressed slower, explorers and socializers barely at all.

As there is no perfect speed of advancement, developers can't deliberately deviate from the perfect speed to make item shops more profitable. For example for me personally (and some other casual players I know) the leveling speed in World of Warcraft at the moment is too fast. Thus I would never buy a "double xp scroll" in WoW, even if it was on offer. But for other players advancement can never be fast enough, and they would be very much in the market for either double xp scrolls or pay-for-premade level-capped characters in WoW if they existed.

In fact Everquest, which is shrouded in the mist of nostalgia for many people, was a game of extremely slow advancement. 2000 hours to level cap, or two years for the average player playing 20 hours per week. And this slow leveling speed had some advantages: Leveling was a meaningful activity. Guilds formed to help each other to level, and guild activities were not just limited to the endgame at the level cap. That increased social cohesion. And a game with levels in which leveling up is actually a major event makes inherently more sense than a game with levels in which leveling is considered to be a waste of time.

Thus if slow leveling isn't necessarily bad, it is stupid to think that there is a deliberate strategy of making games bad by making them slow, only to then sell you the means to speed them up. Instead the items to speed the games up are NOT designed for the people who already play the game for an average or high number of hours per week. They are designed for the time-constrained who only get a few hours of play in every week, but still want to keep up with the Joneses, or their friends. If you use them to break all sorts of server-first records with the help of you fat wallet, you're cruising well past any notion of perfect speed of advancement.

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