Alt-friendly MMOs and longer-term engagement

In a recent post UltrViolet talks about taking a break from FFXIV, one reason for this being the game’s relative alt-unfriendliness:

Normally, in games I really like (such as FFXIV), when I reach the end of a character’s journey, I turn to an alt and level a new character. But I don’t think that Final Fantasy XIV is very alt-friendly. Having all jobs available to every character means you never need to make an alt character to experience different types of gameplay.

For me the point that I sympathise with greatly is that my likelihood to stay playing a game longer-term, or to come back regularly, is influenced strongly by whether it’s fun to play alts or not. Fun is of course a very subjective term here, but a game that makes playing alts repetitive (by having a lack of content) is not going to keep me engaged as long. I imagine if I asked any random set of MMORPG players what encourages or discourages them to play alts in a game the answers would all be radically different.

Plenty of quests

Questing is my preferred leveling mechanism in any MMORPG, other stuff that I do (public events, gathering/crafting, dungeons etc) is great for variety but I want to have plenty of good content available to take my character through a journey. A wealth of optional side-quests also means I can mix-and-match content somewhat for different characters.

Elder Scrolls Online presents a great volume of quests, I rarely finish all of them in a given zone, plus there are optional quest chains available from the various guilds. So a given character can pick and chose which guilds to join, can focus on the main story quests or feast on side quests to level as well.

ESO’s segmented quest structure – including guild and main quest sections

This isn’t to say that I’m necessarily comparing MMOs strictly on the total number of quests; that comparison isn’t honestly that useful as quests vary greatly in length and complexity within a game and between games. Many of the quests in ESO are multi-step affairs that lead you around the landscape somewhat, Secret World’s missions are ever more involved and lengthy. The key point here is that, from an alt-play perspective, I prefer the variety that some MMOs present through having plenty of optional content alongside any main story or leveling path. Secret World’s content is very strong, but there’s not that much of it relatively speaking and it’s so memorable that I’m not enjoying the second play-through as much.

Secret World’s content is often multi-step and more involved

Varied play-throughs

Any options to make that journey somewhat unique are great – racial or factional starting zones help here. SWTOR scores double plus on this for the available at-launch content because there were faction stories for each planet and the class missions as well. Although later content removed the class story layer, and eventually even the faction split, it still represents a huge amount of alt-play potential if you’ve not experienced it all.

The KOTFE/KOTET story arcs didn’t encourage me to play alts

I created a load of alts in World of Warcraft when I got started in the genre because there were so many starter areas (each a pair of zones), those led into multiple leveling paths that a player could choose between by travelling between the major cities.  Repetition only really became a problem for me with the launch of The Burning Crusade where all those different zones and leveling options collapsed down to one zone for all characters of both factions (Hellfire Peninsula).

Everquest 2 has a lot of untapped replayability for me as I’ve not leveled any characters through the 50-90 range content (thanks to insta-dings) and have only played three of the starter zones thus far. I have a character parked in Qeynos waiting to actually play through Antonica for the first time, in seven years of casual play I’ve never actually done that zone!

Eyeing up the dangers outside Qeynos city

Do you play alts in MMORPGs? What do you consider to be factors that increase or decrease the likelihood that you would play multiple characters?

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5 Responses to Alt-friendly MMOs and longer-term engagement

  1. Sylow says:

    Hmm. I also would have listed ESO as very Alt-friendly, but for completely different reasons:

    – A lot of things are account unlocks. E.g. if you learn a motif on one your crafting character, every other character can also use that motif at the outfitting station.
    – Houses, the housing storage chests, the bank and last not least the crafting bag are account based, so all characters can add and withdraw there.
    – Most Items are account bound and not character bound, There are a few exceptions, mostly items you get from leveling your character, but they are few and far in between.

    I mean, there’s sometimes gear from very specific content, e.g. monster sets from veteran dungeons. If just one of your characters, no matter which one, is able to do the content to get that equipment, you can also equip any other of your characters with it, even if they might be set up for some completely different activity.

    And last not least, champion levels are account wide. Every character levels individually to level 50, any XP gained after that increases the champion level of your account. And each champion level earned on your account gives each of your character one champion point to spend.

    I consider that the most Alt-friendly part. No matter which character you play, the XP gained will benefit all your characters. 🙂

    • Telwyn says:

      Thanks for the different perspective, I didn’t know about the account unlock for motifs. In order to also include the comparison with other games I focused on PVE questing for the post but there’s certainly more aspects as you say.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I should have commented on UltrViolet’s post really so i’m gald you brought it up. There were several reasons I stopped playing FFXIV after the free month and the extreme alt-unfriendliness of the game was in the top three. It’s all very well to say that it makes no difference because you can level all the jobs anyway but I found the combination of really strong, interesting racial choices with a progression system that made it masochistic ever to play more than one of them perverse in the extreme.

    It’s a real shame that MMOs no longer emphasize strong differences between player races and that having multiple starting areas and leveling paths isn’t seen as a big selling point any more. I’m certain it’s entirely due to cost-cutting. If you look at an MMO like EQ2 (where you have barely begun to scratch the surface of the vast diversity of leveling content as far as I can gather), there is enough to keep one person busy for years, let alone months, with barely a repeat. That’s my idea of a good game! I’m not sure we’ll be seeing too many more like that.

    • Telwyn says:

      Indeed, I actually randomly played some of Kelethin on a Warlock I insta-dinged to 90 years ago (and haven’t played since) by chrono-mentoring him back down. I just fancied exploring a starter area that I haven’t played much. Although I posted about WoW, Vanguard always impressed me greatly by the diversity of its races and starter areas.

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