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Community Blog Topic: Is Leveling Too Easy?

July 20, 2013
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Never failing to be (more than) fashionably late, here is my response to last week’s Community Blog Topic.  I resisted writing about it for a while, fearing that I would end up being entirely too ranty about the whole thing, and then just gave in to my ranty tendencies.

The notion that leveling has become too easy in a post-Cataclysm Azeroth is so completely presumptuous that it makes me want to go on a Deathwing-style rampage.  The vast majority of players who say that WoW questing has become “too easy” are people who have leveled one (or likely multiple) characters to max level; who are playing with one or several heirlooms; and who are extremely familiar with MMO gameplay and leveling, either exclusively through WoW or through a variety of games.

By and large, long-time players don’t want an extended leveling experience – they want it to be as abbreviated as possible.  While there are certainly some exceptions, most notably those players who invent new challenges like Ironman,  these are much less common than players who quickly push to max level.

WoW is much more focused on endgame content than arguably any other active MMO.  For quite some time now (probably since Burning Crusade), WoW has not been about the journey, but the destination.  Leveling is simply a means to an end, and while we can certainly hash it out over whether that’s helpful or harmful to the playerbase in general, we can’t deny that this is the current climate of the game.

As such, it’s silly to argue over whether leveling is “too easy” for experienced WoW players.  Simplicity doesn’t matter – speed does.  While the two may go hand-in-hand, it’s important to see how one is a by-product of the other.  Fast leveling means a full set of heirlooms, and heirlooms quickly trivialize the difficulty of any content.

If you want to look at leveling difficulty from the only perspective that could possibly matter, ask a player who has never played an MMO before whether they found WoW’s leveling too easy.  Here’s why:

Do you want to keep playing World of Warcraft?  Do you want it to be around for  a few more expansions, and several more years?  If you have any desire to continue playing WoW, then you should recognize that you have a personal investment in new players’ enjoyment of the game.

Many people have come and gone in the 5 years that I’ve been playing WoW, including people who I expected to continue subscribing until the servers went offline.  WoW’s membership has been on the decline since the end of Wrath, and while I don’t believe that’s a sign of the end times for the game, it does mean that we are constantly in need of new blood.

I think it’s a safe guess that the majority of people who self-identify as “gamers” have already tried WoW at this point in the MMO’s lifespan.  Blizzard knows this and has, to the chagrin of some seasoned players, tailored the leveling experience to be friendlier and more accessible to players of all skill levels and gaming experience … and that’s a really good thing.

While it may seem extremely self-satisfying to pat ourselves on the back and reminisce about the days when we had to walk 1o miles uphill in the Barrens to get from Darnassus to Stormwind, this selective nostalgia is often a way to define our experience as better or more important than the experiences of newer players.

What did we gain from having a leveling experience that was especially brutal, grindy, and punishing?  I’m sure there will be those reading this who would reply, “We learned how to play our class!” which simply doesn’t ring true to me.  Perhaps this was the case when we only had 60 levels of talents, passive abilities, and spells to sift through, but it’s difficult to see how it could ever be true with 90.

A level 20 warrior and a level 90 warrior don’t have very much in common.  With the Cataclysm revamp, Blizzard ensured that each class specialization gets some of its flavor early on, but a level 20 character still uses only a very limited number of abilities.  This is how leveling should be – complexity should build as we become accustomed to our surroundings and our character.  It would be entirely overwhelming, particularly for new MMO players, to have all those abilities available at the start.  So while it’s a noble goal to wish that leveling could teach us how to play our characters at max level, the reality is that there is a huge jump in the learning curve when we hit 90 – a jump we only “have” to make IF we are players who want to learn our class in that way.

A prevalent value judgment made by the majority of WoW and MMO players is that, unless you are willing/capable of fully understanding your character and class at max level, you are doing something wrong.  As a community, we largely fail to recognize that it entirely possible to have a blast playing WoW while not necessarily understanding everything you’re doing.

If you aren’t looking to get into hardcore progression raiding or top the PvP brackets, there is nothing inherently wrong with deciding not to min/max your character.  There is nothing wrong with the choice to play WoW casually, at one’s own pace and skill level.  Those who do choose to make their ways into the upper echelons of WoW’s raiding and PvP communities need not act as if that choice makes their experience more meaningful or more correct than the experiences of  those who don’t.  We are all having a great time playing a game that we love, and playing it in the way that best suits us.

Bottom line – questions like this worry me.  When we ask questions that come from the often myopic viewpoints of veteran players in spaces frequented by all types of WoW players, there is a big risk of alienating and demoralizing new players who read the title of this post and think, “Leveling is EASY?”  And, inevitably:  “If that was supposed to be easy, how will I ever be able to do anything at max level?  Why is it worth my time to continue?”

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2013 11:26 am

    Agreed: I reviewed my response to this and it’s all over the map. You totally nailed what I wish I had said; thank you.

    • July 22, 2013 3:16 pm

      I’m sure an extra 2 weeks of reading and hindsight helped me a little. :P

  2. July 21, 2013 3:54 pm

    I totally agree with you.

  3. July 21, 2013 6:34 pm

    Agreed. It’s funny how so many people will only look at their experiences and assume that because leveling is easy for *them* and that leveling in vanilla helped *them* become king of the paladins or whatever, then clearly that must be *everyones* experience! I leveled in vanilla and I was the Biggest. Noob. Ever. Only time and experience with max level stuff helped me really learn my class — and of course a whole bunch of mentoring from awesome people! People learn differently and at different paces. 90 is already a massive number, let’s not scare off newbies with 90 levels of PAIN!

    Great post :)

  4. AliPally permalink
    July 22, 2013 7:09 am

    Levelling is the hardest thing ever! That’s why I still have two alts stuck in the high 80s. Just can’t get to 90 on either of them. I would love a ‘start at max level’ option.

    Back in vanilla it took me 6 months to get to level 60. It was a long and fulfilling road, but hey I already did that, I don’t need to climb that mountain again and again with all my characters, I would rather just take the cable car from now on to enjoy the view from the top.

  5. July 22, 2013 12:03 pm

    Thank you for posting this, I hope it’s widely read.

  6. July 24, 2013 6:21 am

    I think this entirely depends on experience.

    As a relatively new player, I found the whole levelling experience an absolute nightmare. It is confusing, information-intensive and the majority of people you interact with can be really quite rude. In those first few weeks, I didn’t play without my husband close by or I would have thrown the computer on the floor from sheer frustration.

    However, now I know what I’m doing, it is much more enjoyable and I’m now starting to have the confidence to do quests I don’t know. I can imagine that after playing for 7 years, some people must find the whole experience extremely monotonous so I can appreciate why they might find it easy. I do feel that these people should remember new players and exactly how difficult levelling in the first year of play is!

  7. Roo the Hunter permalink
    August 14, 2013 4:01 pm

    if I am not to late to add my 1 cent (I would give 2 cents, but somehow I always get change back :( )….

    I would think that one would find the majority of players who say “it’s too freaking easy” are 1) male, 2) between the ages of 13 to 30, and 3) have a super inflated [sic] ego of self worth.

    I am older, still half a male, and I don’t find leveling as hard as vanilla, but it is still a chore, even with heirlooms. I still have 15 toons under 80.

    I can’t figure out why, if end content is what blizzard wants us to worry about (and really programs for (outside of Cata which I enjoyed110%)), then why not do leveling the way Guild Wars did it – either play from 1 to 20 or go directly to lvl 20, do not pass go or collect $200 and let people play their end content. Just let the rest of us enjoy the journey with the same ability to gather new gear along the way. Doesn’t have to be as uber as Raid gear, but just enough to make killing the higher elites a little easier.

    Enjoyed your post, hope more see it, especially Blizzard people.

    Thank you…

    -roo

  8. Mitch permalink
    October 2, 2013 2:30 pm

    What a great article to read: completely agree. And everyone’s comments are thoughtful and practical. I’ll be reading more of this blog. Thank you all.

    It would be interesting to hear an opposing view. I’ll give it a shot.

    Leveling can be completely too easy so that it is monotonous. While others who complain about it in a loud way are most likely being rude, they do have a point. Leveling is TOO EASY for them.

    We all agree that for experienced players leveling is too easy. Now, different people come to other different conclusions based that: some may think “noobs” have it too easy; others may think that experienced players should not be slowed down by leveling; and yet others may think that leveling is actually too hard, not too easy, for beginners but agree it’s too easy for elite players. Everyone is right because we agree that leveling is too easy. Whether that’s a good situation or not is, well, situational.

    Let me add my own personal opinion here. I hated leveling in the beginning; it’s awful. But now I actually enjoy leveling new characters and I’m in no rush AT ALL to get to max fast. I have two 90’s, a couple of 40’s, one 89 and 12. I enjoy twinking my lowbies and just experiencing other classes and races without worrying about being uber or feeling inadequate because I suck on a particular character. To me, it’s just a video game.

    But I have to agree that OMG many quests are just stupid and boring. Go kill 10 pigs and receive a piece-of-crap green. Really? I would really enjoy better low-level experiences than the neglected quest chains hanging around.

    Let’s talk about solutions and what else we agree on: we agree that Blizzard concentrates on end-game content. Oh, and what else do we agree on? — that WOW needs new subscribers. So how about Blizzard revamp the leveling experience rather than making their customers go through a monotonous experience made even more monotonous by making it so easy?

    How about some actual new, thoughtful content where lowbies can participate new content and stories so that their game experience is relevant, rather than having to grind through boring material to finally be relevant and play with their friends?

    One idea: add new quests that scale for all levels and are tied into all the new content? Image a new player getting to go to a raid? Now, talk about getting new subscribers to have FUN! Isn’t that the point of playing a video game?

    I’m thinking way outside the box here — new players in raids? lol — but hey, all I’m saying is we need more creativity in making new players experiences (and new characters for experienced players like us) more enjoyable and relevant.

    Imagine a new players experience, or just remember it, like me, who signed up AFTER CATA — so I am relatively new — I signed up for this game to find out after struggliing for months that I sucked and had to wait to play the “real game” later after I had completely leveled a character, earned enough gold to not be a joke and earned enough rep with all the factions, and learned all the fights and learned by character, then I could have fun. Give me a break.

    I can’t believe that Blizzard actually thinks this is the way to go, but apparently they do.

    So in our feedback about leveling being too easy, please don’t just make it easier. That’s boring.

  9. Gary permalink
    November 17, 2013 12:36 pm

    Well, for all those who can’t stand the idea of leveling -yet another- character to max level, with the release of Warlords of Draenor, you won’t have to; there’s gonna be insta-level to 90 for one precious toon so you can go ahead and skip all the content you want.

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