The recruit-a-friend (RAF) system was put into the game initially to help draw friends of existing players into World of Warcraft. It is supposed to allow them to get to more advanced content quickly so they are not alone in starting zones. Since its inception it has served its design purpose well, however it has also had other effects on the game. The effects range from an almost over simplification of the game to a sort of paid speed leveling. Before we get into the effects it has had on the game let's review what exactly the RAF does.
In a very simplified version, RAF supplies 3x the normal experience to two characters that are linked for 90 days when you get a friend to join on a new account. The new character you create to go through the game with and use to teach your friend, and his or her initial character both get this extra experience until they reach level 60. In addition you both get some cool added features such as a teleport to each other on a one hour cool down, extra levels that you can gift other characters of yours, a mount and more.
What these bonuses amount to is an insanely fast leveling experience until you get to level 60. Leveling is so quick that players have accomplished the grind to 60 in a weekend of playing without to much difficulty. For complete details on exactly what the RAF is check out our guide here: Refer-a-friend guide.
Positives of the RAF
The RAF is supposed to allow new players to get into the end game content with their friends much quicker that any other way. This is so that new players do not have to grind through early content all by themselves while they listen to their friends talk about all the great end game content. By linking the new player to an existing player and forcing them to go back to help it ensures that they get some assistance from their friend and that they get taught the ropes, at least at a basic level. The characters need to level together to get the bonuses, which means the experienced player is always nearby. Since they are close they should be passing on knowledge as they go.
Another positive effect is that it allows players to move through the old zones at a much better pace. The zones were not laid out as efficiently as the newer ones in BC or WotLK are and without the experience that can be potential dead zones while leveling that slow you down. When leveling with RAF the issue is not finding enough quests to do, it is constantly having to drop ones that you have leveled past before getting a chance to finish them. This of course should not be an issue once Cataclysm is released since all the zones will be getting restructured for better flow.
A third positive effect from the RAF is simply that we get more players willing to join up and play WoW knowing that they are not going to be left all alone at the beginning of the game. I know many players that got friends to join and created alts that have now become mains. Some initially did it just to get friends to so they could get the mount. In the long term it doesnt matter why people join, simply that they do. This helpless everyone, as the more players that are involved in the game, the more revenue is generated and the more content that can be created with it, in theory anyway!
Negatives of the RAF
One of the worst side effects of RAF is a direct result of one of its benefits, fast leveling. The issue is that new players fly through content so quickly and with so little difficulty that when they do get to the end game, many have not even learned the basics of their class. You get rogues at 80 doing less than 1000 DPS, or priests healing in shadow spec, or any number of other oddities. There are also many more players that do not even learn how to gear, gem, enchant, or glyph. This adds up to almost 1/2 of their ability as a character.
If all the players that were helping the new players level explained everything to them this may not be an issue. However, most existing players take so much of the game for granted without even thinking about what is going on that they forget to pass on details about whats happening. Those that do take the time to pass on the knowledge dont always stress how important it all is, and just brief players about it instead.
The issue regarding players not knowing how to play is not just an RAF issue. There needs to be some way to ensure that players are taught the basics of the game while they level, and there isn't. Adding in the speed of RAF simply exacerbates the situation.
The second negative with the RAF currently is that it stops at level 60. BC is essentially ancient content now, and while it is faster than vanilla content, it really should be sped through by new players. The RAF really needs to apply to almost level 70 now, if not level 70, then at least 68. Once Cataclysm is released this should be increased to at least level 75.
Another negative with the RAF is also related to the speed, but also the economy on servers. With the speed leveling that RAF allows most players never get a chance to collect any amount of gold. Servers have matured a lot and low level items cost a significant amount on the auction house. The two of these things combined makes being able to buy anything on the auction house as you level, or even once you get into the Outlands at 60 where much better gear becomes available its difficult to get anything unless the inviting players passes on a lot of gold.
In fact sometimes you actually level so quickly that you do not even collect enough to pay for your new skills every two levels. This leads me to believe that Blizzard should award extra gold while you level as well, just so that you are viable on your own, without depending on handouts from your friend while leveling.
The Issues with RAF as the Messiah sees them
While the RAF works very well for its stated objective it also works a little too well for its own good. As discussed above, new players get through the content too quickly and they dont really learn to handle the real game. That is really only a small issue compared to the second one that I see.
Far more importantly the RAF is viewed by many as the only way to level alts now. I know of many players that create a new account to use as RAF every time they want an alt or two. In fact some trade back and forth with friends and guild mates when two players want new alts and take turns paying for the RAF accounts initial fees and monthly fees, they then transfer the character to their own account later and close the RAF account.
This essentially works out to the same thing as if Blizzard charged a micro-transaction fee for 3x experience on a players original account, it leads to players paying for faster leveling.
This is pervasive in the game, and many players will now only level with RAF. There should be something done with this so that RAF does not work on accounts at the same address or some other way to filter it. I realize that you should be able to use RAF with your kids or wife to help them, but should you really be allowed to use it for your own character?
I am sure that Blizzard did not intend for this to occur in the game, but am not sure how they could go about stopping its abuse without accidentally crippling the RAF's main purpose. I guess in the end, leveling is so fast and simple now that even complaining about it speeding up more doesnt mean a whole bunch. That doesn't stop it from feeling wrong to use it that way though. Worse yet, if it can be used that way, why not just charge a micro transaction fee for an extra experience buff that lasts to a certain level or a certain amount of time?
I guess that while I like the idea of RAF, I don't like some of the bad side effects that it causes or allows. How to allow all the positive to take place while limiting the negative? That's a great question, and probably not one that there is a simple answer to. In the end the benefits that RAF provides to the game and attracting new players to it probably outweighs all the negatives around it.
Best of all in addition to getting an alt to 60 quickly by getting a new player to join, you can now also get a rocket mount, which is very cool. So, get out there recruit someone, and collect your own mount!
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