Is Experience Backwards?

How many times have you seen or heard of someone “out-leveling the content?” It’s probably safe to say it’s happened to everyone who’s played an MMO. You create a new character, grab all the quests you can, and start completing them, quickly leveling your character as you go. It usually doesn’t take too long for your character to level up to the point where some of the initial quests you got no longer offer experience rewards or items that are still useful. I was thinking about this the other day and I started wondering if the whole experience and leveling up system is backwards. What if it took longer to level up at the beginning of your characters life, and got quicker as you leveled?

If there’s just one thing you can count on with an MMO, it’s that a large number of players, if not the majority, will do whatever they can to get to the max level as quickly as possible. I saw it most recently with EverQuest II’s Rise of Kunark release, where players stocked up on experience-boosting potions and blasted through the content as quickly as possible to get to level 80. The general consensus appears to be that “all the good stuff” is at the end game, so that’s where players want to be. It was for that reason that World of Warcraft recently boosted the amount of experience gained between levels 20 and 60. It’s also what got me thinking of this topic. After being max level for so long in EverQuest II, I just didn’t have it in me to go through what I considered a grind to get to the new max level after RoK; I just wanted to be level 80 already so I could get back to raiding.

Why not put the “grindy” stuff at the beginning of the game, while you’re learning how to play your character? Pretend for a moment you’re a newly created Warrior, level 1. You’ve held a sword before, but never really used one in combat. It would probably take a fair bit of practice before you gained some measure of confidence with it and could then consider yourself a level 2 sword swinger. Yet, in any MMO I’ve played recently, getting to level two is usually a matter of killing a small number of mobs taking about five minutes, if that. Fast forward your imaginary Warrior a few years. He’s slain countless beasts and holds a mastery over his sword, swinging it with ease. How much more about fighting is there for him to learn after he’s been doing it over 60 levels? I would argue that there would be less experience to gain at the higher levels than what was gained previously.

In fewer words, I’m wondering if a system where going from level 1 to 2 took longer than going from 69 to 70 would work, and would it be more fun for the players? Among the benefits to this system, would be a greater chance for players to see all of the beginning content; it would be harder to “out-level” quests and zones. It would allow more time for players to learn their characters, which could only be a good thing, right? It could also help crafters sell their lower level wares; typically people don’t buy armour or spells in EQII until after level 20 or so as it is now. Finally, I think it could give a player a greater sense of progress, knowing that as they level, the process will go quicker, getting them to the end-game “fun stuff” quicker.

There’s probably many reasons why the system wouldn’t work. Just off the top of my head I think it could scare some players off if they didn’t get a quick sense of progress right from the start. If a player spends too much time at level one they may get frustrated. It could also potentially prevent players from creating alt-characters.

I think it could work, assuming the game had interesting starter zones to keep the players playing, along with a logical set of progression quests. It would be a great opportunity to outline some of the games lore at the start, and explain to the player what the world is all about. What do you think?

2 Replies to “Is Experience Backwards?”

  1. I think that Guild Wars hit it right on the nose when they created a PVE world and PVP world.

    They give you the option of creating a MAX level charachter that will only be able to PVP.

    If they (the company) gave you the option to do something like that for PVE, i think it would grab alot of attention.

    Have an unlock system, or a learning curve as you mentioned in the post above..

    Thoughts?

  2. Guild Wars has a nice way of making the game more skill choice based over stat based, so the levels didn’t make a huge difference.

    This idea of backwards XP sounds really interesting and has potential. The main problem I can see with it is for new players getting bored with the grind at early levels. What would happen with end-game content and mid-level content? From the sounds of it, a big part of the economy of such a game would be focused on early levels. Now I’m babbling.

    All in all, the idea is neat, but it would take a lot of tweaking to make it work well in a game.

    When you decide to make your own MMO, let me know if you need a code monkey.

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