by Garrett Fuller

Where is it written in MMOG canon that you must start out slow? Who
came up with the idea of a “level one” and why is
it so easy? How many of you blaze through the first few levels of the
game to get to the stronger content? For that matter how many of you
blaze through leveling in general just to get to the end game?

I know that once again I’ve started with a lot of questions,
but when looking at MMOG design why are the early levels so simple?
People who are new to the game may need to get past the learning curve,
but now players are more experienced, better prepared, and used to
seeing particular interfaces (hot keys, skill sets, etc.).

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style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan will
feature an hour-long single player experience.

As I write this editorial, I think back to my early levels in style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft.
The quest series from level one to level five was a simple learning
curve that taught you the overall set up of the game. However, these
simple quests were not dynamic by any means. They were slow and easy. I
guess this method is put into game design to help a player through the
early stages, but there was nothing exciting about running around in a
barren wasteland killing boars.

In MMOGs, standard design dictates that we build up our characters with
easy tasks and eventually go out on longer more detailed quests. We
eventually group up and go for bosses and raids plus join the PvP
marathon. My question for this week’s Cutting Edge is simple;
why not surprise players in the early levels with something dynamic?
Whether it is an in depth story line or an exciting early fight
sequence, developers should make the player active right away instead
of following the standard game curve.

Lord of the Rings Online
did a great job at this with their opening quests. Right at the
beginning we saw the story unfold before our eyes. We are meeting major
characters and going on quests for them. The story sequence in LOTRO
allows you to see events unfold. You may not be fighting a Black Rider,
but the first time I played through the beginning I was trying to
develop a strategy in my head to defeat him, yet I knew he was MUCH to
strong for me. Luckily the story kicked in, and the elves chased him
away. My point is that it was exciting. The story grabbed you and threw
you into the world. That is a great opening.

Please do not get the wrong idea; I am not saying that characters
should start out with epic items and in-depth quests from day one.
However, game designers must begin to realize that players are getting
more sophisticated. They want more challenges. As your player base
becomes more knowledgeable you must meet their challenge or else they
will just get bored. While I do believe that every player expects a
small learning curve and must get used to their character’s
abilities, there still is an area in the beginning that could be used
for excitement in the game.

Age of Conan has taken these early levels and gone a bit further by
giving the player an entire solo adventure for the first hour of
gameplay. This could work very well for the game. It gives the player a
chance to take part in a story line and gives them time to get invested
in their character. Plus being that it is early and solo they can gear
the content however they like. So it can be very active and dynamic
without the interruption of other players. It really could work well
for players to get involved this early in the game world and as part of
the story.

Overall I think early levels are an area where games can improve for
players. In a few years you are going to have almost every kid in North
America playing games. They will get bored if the games are not
challenging. So we need to look at how we can challenge players right
from the beginning and bring them into the story line before they start
the grind process of MMOGs. If anything giving them something exciting
at the start of the game will make them stick to their character and
develop an eagerness to succeed in the game later on. Until that time
comes, I guess we’ll just have to settle with killing boars.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016