90% of /played in 10% of the content

Did you ever notice how you never have a lot of /played hours at a single level before you hit the current max level? Probably, but even if you didn’t, you certainly noticed how your current /played rises to ridiculous levels once you hit the maximum level. Which isn’t necessarily wrong. Everybody will hit the max level sooner or later and if you continue playing, you’ll spend a lot of time at that level.

But two things bug me about that in World of Warcraft. The first one is the leveling speed, which I already talked about in previous posts. Not only do you spend more time at max level than at any other leveling-level, you even spend a LOT more time at max level than during the whole leveling process combined. If you’ve played for a longer time you might have characters with /played hours going into the triple day digits. Now the game doesn’t allow that, but how much of your /played time would be left if you removed the time spent at Level 60,70,80,85 and 90? Unless we’re talking about a bank alt with dozens of days spent at level 2, it’s usually not a whole lot. Just leveling a character to max level takes about 5 days /played if you’re not too serious about it. But let’s say you do a lot of crafting, leveling professions and just chatting with the guild and double that number, bringing the total up to 10 days /played for a new character to hit the maximum level, which is actually a lot.

10 days of 100 days total is about 10%. Those 10 days won’t rise a whole lot. If you’re level 90 now, the next time you can add a couple of hours to that number is in 1 or 2 years when the next expansion hits and then you might bump your leveling time up by a few more days.

Leveling together...

One thing the high leveling speed does is reduce the chance you can level a character together with someone else, because unless both players don’t ever play on their own, chances are that one or two solo sessions will create a huge content gap and then it’s “See you at maxlevel!”.

But let’s get back to the main topic. You spend at least 90% of your time at the highest level and at most 10% actually leveling your character. As I said, there’s not really anything wrong with that, although I personally would prefer a much higher leveling percentage. But here’s the second thing that bugs me about this: Think for a moment what you actually DO while leveling and while playing at the level cap and where do you go?

The thing is, your activities while leveling are usually much more diverse. A new character travels through a lot of different zones, doing quests, gaining xp and collecting gear. If you’re a tank or healer you’ll also visit a dungeon every now and then, as queue times are low. Even as a DD you might want to hit a dungeon once in a while, because there’s some good loot you want. Whatever your role, you can enter dozens of different instances and travel through a similar number of zones while leveling. You’ll also improve your professions on the way (if you bother to do so, because it slows down the leveling process) and if you’re a crafter, you’ll get lots of new recipes on the way (which are pretty useless, but we’ll probably talk about that on another day).

And then it hits you…the final level up (for now). You might want to finish the last questing zone you’re in, but after that your playing schedule suddenly changes drastically. You don’t play less, no, but your activities suddenly get a lot less diverse. You don’t travel the world anymore. You might fly here or there for some daily quests, but it’s always the same spot in the same zone for each quest/faction. After a week, you’re probably sick of it. Even if you do all the daily quests for all the available factions you visit 6 zones at the most. And that’s the Mists of Pandaria routine, where Blizzard has put in a lot of effort to get players out into the world. Before that, it was even less.

Fly towards the light...

Dungeons? Sure you do dungeons, but you’ll do the same ones over and over and over…and over and over again. Even counting the Looking for Raid stuff your selection is pretty slim compared to the collective dungeon experience available during the whole leveling process. Now, people might argue “But Blizzard has put a lot of dungeons into the Lvl90 endgame, more than ever!”

That is correct, but also heavily misleading. You see, usually all (or at least most) dungeons available at the highest level (in a heroic version) were also available during leveling. Cataclysm launched with 9 dungeons, 7 of which were available while leveling in the new zones (2 were low level remakes). Once you hit max level in Cataclysm, you had heroic versions of the 7 leveling dungeons and the 2 remake dungeons available. Mists of Pandaria also launched with 9 dungeons. 3 of them are low level remakes and only four are actually available while leveling. It feels like you get a lot of “new” content at max level, but actually that’s just because they reduced the dungeons available while leveling. Once you don’t need any gear from the heroic dungeons anymore you’ll mostly stick to raids, further reducing the content variety.

And it usually gets worse the further an expansion progresses. In Cataclysm we got two new dungeons in one and three in another content patch. The latter also introduced the first LFR instance. Suddenly you weren’t even participating in the limited selection of 9 dungeons. Because the new content gave you MUCH better loot rewards, there was no reason to go into the older (and often harder) instances anymore. For the last 9 months of Cataclysm players pretty much just did three dungeons plus the “raid”, which got slightly boring, but was still better doing only the two Troll dungeons over and over before that.

I predict the same with Mists of Pandaria. Maybe they’ll be smarter about it, but I doubt it, unless they boost the loot in the old dungeons or force players to gear up through every tier, it’s not going to happen. But at least we’ve got pet battles now to pass the time while we’re waiting for our 1 hour LFR queue to pop up….oh joy. Soon we’ll need a third /played counter for time wasted with pet battles.


A winner is you!

The average player will hit the level cap a couple of weeks after the expansion launches. During those weeks they’ll experience a lot of different content and maybe even have fun, who knows. But after that there’s only repetition and lots of it. Addons usually last for 1-2 years and except for the occasional content patch, there’s nothing new to do. You’ll visit the same content over and over for months and that seems like a really terrible waste of time to me.

If you think about it, you actually see almost everything an expansion has to offer within the first month after its launch. Sure there’s content patches, but even when combined they don’t add nearly as much content as the expansion did at launch.

To see 99% of the content the game has to offer, just play for two months per expansion. One after the expansion gets released to see all the launch content, and one shortly before the next gets released to see all the patch content and you’re done.

But isn’t that a strange way to develop a game? Most of the effort goes into the leveling zones and launch instances, while content patches require much less time and money to develop. But still, players spend most of their time in the rather small content patches and endgame. That’s one reason why players were so upset with Cataclysm: Because Blizzard put so much effort into remaking the old world of Azeroth, where you maybe spend 24 hours while leveling a new character, while the endgame content with countless days of /played time spent, was somewhat lacking.

And I haven’t even been talking about the dead content that’s in the game…content nobody even bothers to do anymore because it’s utterly pointless. Maybe next week.

Wouldn’t you rather play a game, that is a little bit better at portioning out its content over the time spent playing? Imagine leveling took 5 times longer. Ignore for a second that we’d still be leveling faster than we would during classic WoW times. All of a sudden the launch content of an expansion would last much longer and you’d probably even spend a lot more attention to it, because to make it longer, Blizzard might even have to make it more difficult. Hm, now that I think about it, I doubt it’ll ever happen. But I’d like to see an expansion where I would still be leveling several months after it hit the shelves and not a couple of days.

Well, that about wraps it up for today. See you tomorrow!