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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dizzying Heights: Why Do MMO’s Need Such A High Level Cap?

I’ve been a big fan and avid player of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars series for a fair number of years now. The lack of a subscription fee coupled with its emphasis on cooperative team-based play felt right at home for me as did its low level cap of 20 for player characters. This level cap was low enough to not feel too grindy but also high enough that it still felt like a worthwhile effort to reach it. 

So when I heard that the game’s sequel Guild Wars 2 would have a level cap of 80, on par with most other current-gen MMO’s, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. As much as I may advocate the philosophy of the journey being more important than the destination, it is still discouraging to know that my lack of free time is all that’s preventing me from participating in a given title’s endgame.

As exciting as it always is to see a triple-A MMO getting a new expansion or update, there is always that lingering disappointment in the back of my mind because I know that new expansions almost always mean higher level caps. While there’s nothing wrong with giving established players new content to sink their teeth into, new challenges to overcome, and new plateaus of power to reach, it can however be discouraging to the not-so-powerful amongst them or even to players who might otherwise be interested in trying the game for the first time.

Some MMO developers have tried to combat this discouragement by offering other in-game activities that players of any level can participate in. While such efforts are admirable, no amount of extra activities will ever change the fact that one of the chief goals of any MMO is to reach the game’s level cap. But when that level cap climbs up to lofty numbers such as 75, 80, 90, even 100 or higher, that can turn many casual-friendly gamers (myself included) away rather quickly.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to question the lengthy time commitments that come with playing most current MMO’s. After all, considering all of the effort and time that goes into making these sprawling MMO worlds, it would only be fair that developers would want players to take their time exploring them. But is gating content based on a character’s level really the best solution?

Going back to the original Guild Wars, players still had a massive, if slightly fragmented, world to explore despite the low level cap. A character’s progression was measured more by their equipment, their skill loadouts, and the makeup of their party rather than their level. While Guild Wars’ progression setup was certainly unorthodox, it still worked rather well. Could a similar system that eschewed grinding out a large number of levels in favor of other forms of progression not work in other MMO’s?

Would you be more willing to try out a new MMO, or perhaps even come back to one you tried before, if it used a progression format similar to that of Guild Wars? Or do you like the grind and feel that the separation between casual and committed should be kept as it is?

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com and rantgaming.com

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