Double Your Pleasure,
Double Your Fun?
Thoughts on dual-boxing.
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
When I introduce myself as an editor of a network dedicated to MMORPG gaming, the subject of World of Warcraft’s market dominance usually rears its ugly head. Which is fine; it’s a great game by anyone’s reckoning, and Blizzard did a lot of things right (not the least of which was to attract a critical mass to the point that everyone’s playing WoW because everyone’s playing WoW).
But World of Warcraft is an unabashedly casual game; not just by design, but by player attitude as well. If EverQuest was the three-piece suit of MMORPG gaming, World of Warcraft is the cutoff jean shorts you wear to paint in. If you used to log in to EverQuest for an all-nighter of hardcore raiding, you log into World of Warcraft to watch a movie, have a snack, talk on the phone, and maybe get a level or two as well. Or maybe you log in on a second account too and BYOG (bring your own group).
Talking to an attendee at E3 2006, the subject of what World of Warcraft is doing for and to MMO gaming arose. She (note the pronoun… minus 50 ego points) despaired of her boredom while dual-boxing a pair of characters into the late level 40s. Truth be told, I couldn’t at that point imagine the patience it takes to play two accounts at once. I say “patience” as opposed to coordination since I imagined that, between slash commands, macros, and gimmicky hardware like the Logitech G15 I recently picked up, playing two accounts is all about setup time. I now know it takes a fair amount of drive as well. But this conversation got me to thinking: maybe I was missing out by flying solo. If one account left me feeling unfulfilled ever since my WoW friends started playing musical servers, maybe two was the ticket.
Soap-boxing on dual-boxing
Dual boxing, the practice of playing two accounts on two computers at the same time, used to have some kind of stigma attached to it. It seemed an affront against the natural gaming order that one player should control two virtual bodies at once. On top of that, it had the tang of hubris; dual-boxers were thought to be min/max-ers by default – egocentric overachievers who sought to gain the advantage even at the expense of the unwritten social mores, all those dozens of little courtesies that make social gaming worthwhile. Perhaps more than anything, it was thought to be dishonest like playing as a gender other than your own was thought to be dishonest.
Though, while gender-bending was just a little strange and only conniving in an indirect and clever sort of way, dual-boxing effectively doubled your chances at loot rolls and was less concealable. If you saw two players joined at the hip more than once and they didn’t give off that unmistakable “we’re a couple” vibe, it seemed likely that you had a dual boxer on your hands. And a failure to make full-disclosure of this fact only deepened the distrust. So much so that the first three guilds I was in for any length of time had a strict policy barring dual boxers from participation.
But when a friend took a hiatus from WoW and offered to let me use his pre-paid account to try my hand at dual-boxing, I can’t say my conscience gave me fits. It's hard to take WoW that seriously, especially in the early going. I started a priest, thinking that there’s no better compliment to a young DPS type I’d just started on a new server than a healer. It turns out that in WoW, you gear your face meltin’ priest to do as much damage as possible for the first 59 or so levels… healing is only really important in end-game instances, who knew? That’s a topic for another editorial. But anyway, I played level catch up a bit, and soon there I was with my level 10 priest and rogue, standing at the Crossroads, ready for action.
But what to do? It turns out that there’s a fine line between what’s too easy and what’s too difficult for my dynamic duo. Granted, my characters’ abilities were far from fleshed out at level 10, but every time I thought I had a system for autofollowing / targeting / attacking in unison, Murphy would show up. The spell would get interrupted, in my haste I’d get the hotbar buttons fuddled, the priest would get attacked by a wandering mob, I’d heal when I should nuke, or simply fail to make good use of the rogue’s abilities. Lesson number one: a positional attacker like a rogue makes a poor dual-boxing archetype. Movement takes a fair amount of concentration alone, and while you might be able to get away with playing a rogue like an auto-attacking meatshield with a priest to back him up, where’s the fun in that? So I tried whaling away with the rogue and use the priest like a health battery, recharging the rogue’s hit points every so often, but again: this wasn’t fun. I found myself constantly frustrated that I couldn’t play either character like I wanted to.
Worse than that, I felt what little social scene World of Warcraft offers low teens players in the Barrens was passing me by. I hear you snickering, let me explain. One of my favorite things about WoW is what I call “off the cuff” grouping. There’s no social rituals you have to go through in order to group with someone, if they’re in the same area as you are and killing the same mobs, it’s fair to assume that they’re working on the same quest. Why not group up and get it done faster? It can only happen in a game that has achieved that magical critical mass. Here I was getting group invites from players that were working on the same quests I was, but I already had a group, tyvm! A very lonely, busy little group. Actually, not a fun group at all.
I was seriously questioning my motivations to dual-box by level 12. It wasn’t nearly as fast as I thought it’d be, for one thing. If you just sell your soul to the grind, I imagine it could be pretty fast. That is, if you can stay sane. I can’t play that way. I haven’t gotten bored with the lowbie quests yet. Many of those quests, designed with the solo player in mind, require quest loot that drops maybe 25-40% of the time. When you have two characters after the same semi-rare loot, it makes for slow progression.
Undivided, And It Feels So Good
By just level 14, I’d called it quits and had returned to merrily plugging away with one character at a time. I like to think there’s still some joy left in the journey, and while it would be efficient to level two characters up at the same time, what’s expedient and what’s enjoyable are two entirely different things.
With such a solo-friendly game, when groups are at your fingertips when you need them, I think you have to be extra-motivated to drag around a more-or-less experience draining deadweight companion with you. If you have the drive to dual-box, more power to you. I no longer have any qualms with the practice; I’m not sure it’s the healthiest way to play, and in the bifurcated rush to the top, I wonder how a dual-boxer could help but miss out on the more sociable aspects of the game.