Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I hate alts in mmorpgs

I hate alts. I hadn't realised this until I read a suggestion from Tobold about MMORPGS offering a "fast level" mode for players who have got a main character to a high level but for some reason need to level a second character (an alt). For example they might want to try out a new race or their guild might have a shortage of a particular class but don't want to endure hours of tedium grinding the low levels again with the new character. The suggestion is a good one but it doesn't fill me with joy because I really hate the whole idea of alts.

For me an mmorpg is about playing a role in a fantasy world. Immersion is hugely important and becoming attached to a character is hugely important to me. Nothing and I mean nothing shatters this fourth wall like Throgmage the sorceror announcing in chat - "Oh I see we are short of healers for this raid. Hang on a minute and I'll switch to Throgmonk". For all I love Guildwars it is probably the worst game in the world for this because of the relative ease of getting an alt to the level cap. All long time players have a stable of alts and when embarking on a co-operative mission you will often be asked questions like: "Will I bring my necro or my ranger?" How can you become attached to characters that have become so interchangeable?

So I would like to get rid of all alts permanently. I guess before I make this decree law it makes sense to look at why people use alts and see if we can meet the genuine needs of players in other ways.

One of the reasons people use alts is as a method of overcoming inconveniences in the design of the game. For example many games do not give players adequate storage space for items so players create a string of alts called mules purely to store stuff relying on the ingame postal system to shuttle stuff back and forth. Like-wise a player may leave an alt parked at an auction house to eliminate the hassle of having to travel back and forth. Wouldn't it be much better to simply fix the design of the game. With a bit of thought this could even be done without breaking immersion. Giving players access to large storage is a no-brainer but how about introducing an "auction catalog" that players could access from any postbox allowing them to mail in bids and goods for sale. Effectively every postbox in the game becomes an auction house.

Another reason why players use alts is that players sometimes find themselves in situations where they really need access to skills or abilities that their current class and/or craft profession does not have. Perhaps a player with tailoring skill really wants to use a device only an engineer can use or perhaps the player's guild needs more healers and wants the player to level up a priest. I think these difficulties can be again put down to bad game design. If a tailor needs an engineering gadget let them buy the gadget off an engineer and use it. Do not include items that are locked to certain professions. A bit more creativity might be required to solve the lack of healers but I think it is still doable in a non immersion breaking way. Despite its immersion breaking failings Guild Wars does have a number of good ideas that would help here. First off there is the possibility of allowing henchmen. Probably woudn't work for a main tank but with apologies to any devoted healers out there I have to admit that computer controlled henchmen can play whack a mole very well. An other approach from Guild wars is to allow characters to learn skills from another class. Obviously this needs some thought about mechanics. For example a warrior may learn monk skills but this isn't much use if they don't have the mana to use them and cannot equip healing gear. I could certainly incoporate multi-classing into my game reality without breaking immersion "Throg was a skilled hunter but on reaching his 50th birthday he felt a desire to look behind the surafce of things and explore the spiritual side of existnce. He spent 6 months in a temple learning the monk arts." A benefit of this to game developers is that it could be used to extend content - players who reach the end level in one class may be tempted to go back and learn the skills from other classes.

Of course some people create alts just to have fun experiencing content as a different type of character. In truth I don't object to this so maybe I'll pull back on my call for an outright ban but allowing people to create an alt character on the same server as their main encourages practises such as mentioned above to arise. In addition to spoiling game immersion such player invented work arounds allow game developers to put off fixing major flaws in game design. One draconian solution would be to deny players the right to have more than one character on any given server. This has the disadvantage that you won't be able to use you alt characters when playing with your friends.

Many of the abuses of the alt system (and I haven't even mentioned twinking) rely on the in game postal system to transfer items and cash between characters. Perhaps controls could be implemented here. How about a straightforward ban on transferring stuff between characters on the same account. I know this could be got around by using a third party as a go-between but it might be just enough hassle to put most people off.

In the design of LOTRO Turbine seem to share some of my feelings about the use of alts. There is a hefty 20% charge levied on items sent through the post system which penalises anyone using an alt for storage or crafting and may even dissuade people from twinking (but I don't think there is a levy on cash). The role play elements of familial relationship (allowing characters to be sons and daughters of other characters) could also be used to explain alts within the context of the game.

5 comments:

Jessica said...

Lol. This has to be the first blog I've ever seen on mmorpgs. But it works. My friends get sick of me talking about them, so perhaps I should just blog it too. Although I have to say, guilds wars... not the best choice of mmorpg :( WoW on the other hand has a very nice selection of RP (I'm guessing you'd choose?) that are very into the whole immersion thing. Always trying to convert the non-wowers though, my apoligies.

mbp said...

Hello Jessica, you would be surprised how many mmorpgers keep blogs. I played GW for about 6 months after quittign WOW. It is not a fully fledged mmorpg but it does an awful lot of things right and I have a lot of respect for the game. Although I am a big fan of immersion I haven't had the nerve to join a real role play server yet. I am worried I wouldn't be able to keep up with people who insist on speaking Tolienesque elvish.

Jessica said...

I'm not so sure... I've read a few of the RP forums as I'm a bit of a forum troll and I don't think I've ever yet read anything on alts ruining immersion. Surely not that many RPers take it so far to speak tolienesque elvish?

If you'd like a blog banner for your blog btw, I'd be happy to do it for free if you provide some screenshots of your character. I'm mostly working on ones for people with photos at the moment but it would be nice to have something a bit different to display.

mbp said...

Thats a very kind offer Jessica. I know my blog really does need some graphics. Poor Throg is wearing a patchwork quilt of stuff at the moment but if I can put together some half decent screenshot I might just take you up on that.

Jessica said...

Sure. Drop me a line if you take some at jessie137@gmail.com or leave me a note at http://digitalartandblogheaders.blogspot.com