Offline Character Progression

I haven’t blabbedblogged about anything on this blog for quite some time now. I have, amongst other things, been pre-occupied with working on the Rise of the Godslayer-expansion for Age of Conan, the release-date for which has finally been made public :)

What brings me out of hybernation, though, is the Offline Character Progression-system introduced in Age of Conan with patch 1.07.2 earlier this week. It has spurred some debate in the MMORPG blogging community (communities? do they all belong to one communtiy, or are there several ones?) about whether this is really a good thing or not, with concerns that this is just the first step towards a bleak future for MMORPGs where players play by not playing at all.

Basically the system works like this: Every four days that pass, another “free level” gets added to a pool from which you can hand them out to any of your characters as long as said characters are above level 30 and under level 80 (the level cap).

Offline Character Progression in AoC
Offline Character Progression in AoC

Opinions are like asses – they… look… like horses?

The bloggers seem divided in their opinions. Syp of Bio Break thinks this kind of system rewards lazy players and encourages players to not actually play the game. Tobold agrees, and compares it with Eve Online’s offline skill training. He concludes that AoC’s system encourages logging off and not playing for several days if one for instance encounters difficult/annoying gameplay at specific levels, so you can gain offline levels to skip said encounters/annoying gameplay. (Is that not better than players quitting a game completely after encountering frustrating parts they can’t get past?) He also seems concerned that this is the future of MMORPGs, and that it will lead to games selling levels directly.

Pid of The Meat Shield and Scott over at Pumping Irony, however, seem to have a more realistic view on the impact this system will have; “alting” (or leveling additional secondary characters if you prefer) becomes less of a hassle for veterans who’ve already played through the content several times, it’s potentially easier to keep up with ones friends (depending on how they spend their offline levels, of course), and you’re not stuck without progress if real life takes up too much time.

Then there’s Sven at Reverse Ding, who takes a slightly more sarcastic approach than the rest of us when discussing the matter, and musings by MMO Gamer Chick who doesn’t find the feature as terrible as it apparently sounded at first.

Comments on the above mentioned blogs go both ways – some seem to like it (for reasons mentioned above), some seem to have a strong dislike for it (for reasons mentioned above, and also, because this is Funcom we’re talking about *rolls eyes*), and some don’t seem to care either way.

Recruit-a-Friend is okay?

While I to some degree share Tobold’s concern for the future of MMORPGs (I’m not a huge fan of micro-transactions in MMORPGs at all), I don’t think that the Offline Character Progression-system in AoC is any worse than other systems that promote faster XP-gain or leveling. Take WoW’s “Recruit-A-Friend” feature, for instance.  By – duh – recruiting a friend to play the game, you get benefits like:

  • Significant experience gains when in same party
  • Triple experience gained for both players if within range when mobs die
  • Triple experience gained for “non-trivial” (not gray/5 levels below your level) quests
  • For every two levels any character on the new recruited account gains, a free level can be granted to one of the veteran player’s characters. Up to 30 of these free levels can be granted to any given character, whether all at the same time or one by one (though max 30 per character).

A similar system is present in EverQuest 2. You can recruit friends to try out the game, and grouping with them will earn you both triple the experience points while adventuring. You also have LotRO’s Destiny Point system, which you can spend on “rested bonus xp”, Eve Online’s offline skill-leveling system, or the Leveling Pacts in City of Heroes (which lets synched characters always have the same XP and level).

So – what is the issue?

So why are the offline levels you can gain in Age of Conan any different? Is it that you’re not forced to play to earn them that’s the issue? Or the fact that it’s given out to all players equally without them having to “work” for it? It’s okay to give out benefits like these if the companies behind the game use it as a incentive to get players to hook other players on the treadmill, but not okay if they use it as incentive for the players to keep on subscribing?

Personally I wouldn’t mind if AoCs current offline leveling system was slightly less generous, but I don’t see the problem with the system as a whole. Now, instead of players giving up in frustration and just quitting the game altogether if they encounter content they’re unable to complete, they can instead play a different character for a little while (or even take a break from the game for a few days); they’ll eventually gain another offline level which they can then spend on their original character to make the content they were struggling with easier.

Instead of having to repeat content you’ve already gone through 7 times already on your character number 8, you can assign a bunch of free levels to him and arrive faster at the parts you actually do want to play.

The system does not automagically lead to skipping of content either; an extra level does not invalidate content you struggled with a level ago, it just makes it easier and less frustrating to complete.

It’s optional!

And the bottom line is this: It’s an optional system.

I myself haven’t spent my own five free offline levels on my 70ish Barbarian, for instance, since I don’t actually want to skip any of the content. Maybe I’ll eventually boost my character by a level if I run into any roadblocks, or spend them on some lower-level character to get past content I’ve done 16 times already, but for now the offline levels lie unused on my account.

2 thoughts on “Offline Character Progression”

  1. That’s a pretty good overview of the situation, about the only thing that I see as important in terms of additions to a system like that is a hard cap on the number of stored levels.

    This is essentially what EVE does; while you can set a skill to train that could take months, you still do have to log in periodically to set the next set of skills to train. This is important, because without something to pull people back into the game, you lose some level of social cohesion. Even if it’s just once in a while, when they’re forced to log in, they’ll check up on guild mates and any community contacts that they’ve made.

    One other thing that may be of benefit is preventing this auto-leveling from allowing you to raise a character past the level of your highest level character. The reason for this is not because you want to prevent players from leveling without work, but because there are other tangential effects to being leveled past the range of content that you’ve completed. Given AoC’s reliance on gear, and the fact that quest rewards scale with level, it’s possible for a character to be unable to properly equip themselves for like level content, having leveled past everything they were geared for. Making sure they have another character capable of providing gold and other necessary items would help make sure this doesn’t become a problem. Alternately, adding some sort of equipment upgrade as part of the offline level system might work to solve this issue as well. Trade offs would need to be better examined.

  2. Good points, there.

    However, restricting the feature to characters below the level of your highest level character would make it a pretty useless feature for players who’ve only got the one – or even a few – characters in the mid-level range.

    I guess that could either be a good thing (they have to experience the content at least once before they can boost their way past it, and can’t just skip the entire leveling process which includes learning how to play, how features work, etc), or a bad thing (they won’t be able to use that extra level to gain an edge when facing seemingly insurmountable opposition at certain levels, with certain content) depending on your point of view.

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