Would You Buy Levels In A MMORPG?

With the release of Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited we’re now seeing more and more mainstream MMORPGs accept different types of payment solutions instead of the ol’ bog standard monthly subscription. Developers are now looking for ways to either supplement or completely finance their income by alternative means and we’ve seen quite a variety so far. Some games let you buy additional content, some fluff items and some let you pay for additional services like transfers and name changes. Still, something we haven’t seen yet though is the ability purchase character levels.

I don’t have a lot of free time these days. My work, family and friends keep me pretty busy and I find myself in a “money rich, time poor” situation (even though I’m really not rich at all but you get the idea). The time sink that MMOs often require has been something I’ve been battling against for the last couple of years now. In my younger days I would have had no problem dropping four or five hours a night into a game to grind some levels but now I’ve found that I don’t really have the spare time for that. With the recent desire to start some alts in World of Warcraft, I started to think wouldn’t it just be nice if I could plonk down some cash and buy a few levels so I could get straight into the good stuff?

I don’t think buying levels is that far away in terms of it becoming a reality. Blizzard have already introduced the ability to buy a name change, cosmetic change, faction change and soon a same-side race change. How long before a purchaseable class change service? And why not a level purchase service? Assuming that not everyone plays their alts straight through to level 80, it might actually be in their financial interest to allow people to pay $40 or so and start new characters at level 40.

Buying levels may also be better value for money for the player. If someone earned, say, $20 an hour at work then it’s actually better value for them to spend $40 and start an alt at level 40 or 50 than play the 40 hours or so it takes to get there.

It’s a controversal suggestion, no doubt. Maybe it would kill off low level gameplay, maybe it would cause a ton of high level noobs or maybe it would simply make gaming favor the wealthy more than the poor. But is it any less controversal than the ability to buy a faction change or even start a Deathknight at level 55?

So, tell me folks – would you buy levels in a MMORPG?

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56 Comments

  1. onematt says:

    Interesting idea to be sure…I think I probably would purchase levels in an MMO, but that would throw the entire game out of kilter. I think if a game wanted to have a server set up where you could pay for levels that kept normal progressive servers alone, that would satisfy both sides of the equation.

  2. Ethic says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the option to buy things. I value my time and if I can buy a short cut, assuming I wanted to, I would have no problems with it. With MMOs I would probably not buy levels, at least not the first time through. For alts, sure why not?

  3. Gremrod says:

    But no I do no think I would buy levels.

    I really think games need to move away from levels and focus more on in game skills. Remove the grind.But I guess this would work best for sub games.

    I tend to look for games that have cast of the whole level mechanic like EVE Online.

    I hope CCP does the same with DUST 514.

    • Tesh says:

      Yes, this. Games need to be fun at all points of the player “lifetime” in the game. Making players slog through a leveling grind if they only want the “endgame” is abusive design.

      Also, I find that I’m far more tolerant of “grind” when I’m not paying time *and* money for it. (I still detest the sub model.) I don’t mind paying time for good leveling content (as Psynister notes, leveling can be fun) since I’m enjoying actually *playing*. If leveling is a barrier to entry to “the real game” at the endgame, or a time sink that makes me extend my playtime artificially, I’d be very happy to skip it altogether… but I wouldn’t pay for it. I already bought the game, I want to play it.

      Guild Wars handles this very nicely. For one, the business model rocks. (It’s no coincidence that the leveling curve is short on time for the game either.) Second, you can jump in to the PvP arena with an instant level-capped character.

      Extending that to a WoW-like, you really should be able to jump straight into raiding with an instant level-capped character if you want to. (At no charge, by the way; you bought the dang game, after all, you should be able to *play* it.) If you want to do the leveling content, by all means, go ahead and do so. It’s all about *options*, and what someone else does with their time is no business or complaint of mine. (So long as they aren’t griefing me, anyway.)

      • Gordon says:

        Exactly, it’s all about the freedom to play the game the way you want. Leveing up your 5th alt is a grind to say the least and it’s exactly why people get power leveled, twink their characters with good gear and even buy fully level characters. There should be no need to play through the same content dozens of times just to get to the “real” game.

  4. Psynister says:

    Would I buy levels? Not a chance. Since leveling is the main reason I play this game I might be willing to burn you at the stake for suggesting such a thing though. ;) (just kidding….mostly)

    Would I mind if Blizzard made the option available regardless? Not at all. I don’t really care what Blizzard does as long as the game remains fun to play.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard made it possible for people to start out at levels higher than 1 at some point, maybe for a fee, or maybe just as part of an expansion or something.

    But if you take a look at all the Death Knights that have been running around you’ll find that the majority of them sucked. A lot of the ones you see today are actually good because they’ve stuck with the class long enough that they actually know how to play. The problem with starting out at that higher level though is that you don’t know how to play your class up to that point. You’ve had no need to learn and grow, to find out the best way to react to certain situations, and so on.

    Some of the people that rolled DKs when Wrath hit were good at playing the class almost from the very beginning, and people who are familiar with other classes could likewise start out at a higher level without much trouble, but those are the exceptions rather than the standard.

    I think the best way to implement it, if they did allow it, would be somewhat similar to how they did with the DK; if you have an existing character of level X, then you can do it, otherwise it just sucks to be you. Or maybe your highest level character is the highest you can buy levels for another character, who knows.

    There are several different ways it might possibly work out, and though I wouldn’t care much if Blizz did go that route I wouldn’t take advantage of it myself.

    • Tesh says:

      It took me less than five minutes to figure out how to play a DK, and I’ve never played more than the demo. (A friend let me play his DK.) The “learning curve” is vastly overrated and a stupid time sink. Some people just can’t play; they never will be able to. Some people can play well in very short order. There’s no good reason to keep the star pupils on the short bus, or to assume that someone who is incompetent just hasn’t played enough. (No DK Left Behind?)

      It’s one thing to enjoy leveling. (I do, far more than the “endgame”.) It’s another thing entirely to have to grind through levels when you’ve learned how to play. If I have to spend days or weeks using the same game verbs on the same game nouns that I learned in five minutes, I’m going to be ticked off. That’s a waste of my time.

    • Gordon says:

      LOL :) I admit I enjoy leveling too but I find that there’s only so many times I can play through the *same* quests before I get utterly bored of them. It’s one of the reasons I’m really excited about Cataclysm for instance.

      The DK thing is interesting though because allowing them to start at lvl 55 is Blizzard acknowledging that people don’t want to grind them from level 1.

  5. Carthalis says:

    I wouldn’t buy levels as such, I enjoy the exploring and questing too much and also during that time you learn about the class your playing, what works and what doesn’t etc.

    What I would like to see is places like SOE start selling their own gold. Surely that would cut out all the stuff with plat sellers? Even though SOE already does to a extent on two of its severs through LiveGamer for Everquest 2 where you can buy characters and money for rl cash. Sadly that service doesn’t seem to available yet on this side of the pond. Or I would be playing on those servers buying the cash. I quite like SOE’s marketplace that they’ve introduced first in Everquest 2 and then into FreeRealms and bought a couple of fluff items along the way. But I do think such companies should start selling their own gold. Clearly there is a demand for it, or people wouldn’t be going to the sites that are offering it.

    • Theresa says:

      agree 100% w/ you carthalis

    • Tesh says:

      Puzzle Pirates has a dual currency microtransaction business model, and it completely short circuits the gold seller system. They sell their own “doubloons” directly to players for cash, and players can trade doubloons for in-game gold (by selling them to other players). It’s a brilliant system for a brilliant game.

    • Gordon says:

      I think gold selling is a side effect of poor game design. People buy gold because they don’t want to grind through levels or content, they just want to be able to play and compete with their friends. If there was no need to buy gold, then the service wouldn’t exist.

  6. Sven says:

    I would, but wish they wouldn’t offer the service. 
    I think, in the end it wont be an option, youll have to buy the level boost in order to play.  
    The general consensus is that the fun of MMOs doesnt start until you’re at max level; if you offer this, a good amount if people will just opt to skip the “boring” intro levels. Which is going to cause a domino effect in the lower levels where people who wouldn’t normally pay to level up, find that there are continually fewer and fewer people to in the lower levels to group with. Forcing them to either grind through barren intro levels – solo most of the time – for hours or just breakdown and spend the extra $$$ to get where everyone else is playing.   

    • Tesh says:

      That such is the “general consensus” (which I’d disagree with, by the way) is a massive failure on the part of the designers. The game should be fun to play at all levels.

      If anything, the existing paradigm is more abusive than “buying levels”. Players have to spend time *and* money getting to the endgame. For many, the time is more expensive. If those players who want to jump in and play with friends at the level cap could just go do so from day one, even if there were a cash cost to do so, it would be much better for them since they could actually *play* the game instead of working and paying for a while before they could actually have fun.

      • Sven says:

        I totally agree that a game should be fun through all levels – I was just noting that most of the gamers I know/read comments from reject that. You get to max level or you haven’t really played the game. One of the reasons I play DDO is that I think they did a good job building a game that’s fun throughout the entire experience.

        I think what we’re all circling around is that there are some inherant problems with games that use a leveling system.

        • Tesh says:

          Agreed, that’s definitely a common vibe among commentators. I just don’t think that’s reflective of the majority of the *gamers*… but I may be wrong. ;)

          I do see a lot of problems with most leveling systems. I think that levels have their place, but far too many devs use them as gating mechanisms or artificial time sinks. It’s not so much the levels themselves that are the problem, it’s the way they are used. (Though I’m not opposed to a level-free system, certainly. I’ve brainstormed about them in the past.)

          • Gordon says:

            I agree. I like the idea of all stages of a game being fun and there not being a need to just grind through levels to get to a certain stage in order to be able to achieve certain things. Unfortunately though as long as monthly subscriptions are in place, it will be in the developers interest to create time sinks for players to keep them paying as long as possible.

  7. Andrew says:

    Hell. Yes.

    Let me clarify: I’d not buy levels on my first character because I think it’s important to learn the game and explore the world – but for alts, I’m all in for that!

    It comes down to the fact that I hate leveling alts. It’s dull, grindy, repetitive, and mindless. I don’t have the time to repeat the same crap.

    Of course, that said, I’d prefer a game with no levels at all – and more horizontal game play.

  8. Wolfshead says:

    Just purchase Wrath of the Lich King and you get 54 free levels for your new Death Knight character. So it’s already happening in the MMO business :)

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed. And now Blizzard have set a precedent with it, I can only imagine what will happen when we see more hero classes. Are there going to be handful of classes that are accessible to any race and can skip content but then a bunch that cannot?

  9. I’d do it in a heartbeat. I generally play an MMO through the first time to experience a game, but once I’ve done it, I get the feeling that I’m just retreading the game and have never really had a great time. If I were able to buy a character ~80% to the level cap or at level cap in an MMO where I already have an established main, I’d jump on the chance.

  10. Windsoar says:

    Being a big fan of alts, I definitely wouldn’t ever purchase this for myself. I like doing quests, and I get damn tired of dailies at 80 — why would I pay in order to quicken myself to the daily grind to pay for pots/flasks/food for dungeons.

    I’m also one of those odd people who doesn’t like getting “run through” lower level instances, so all I forsee is a desolate landscape for people like me.

    Am I against other people purchasing a fresh level 80 – nope, not a bit. I am concerned, however, how that ability would affect the overall feel of the game. Can you imagine a brand new player with a purchased L80 character trying to run a dungeon successfully? It would more than likely be painful for everyone involved. For an experienced player, changing characters is generally an easy transition, but for someone learning the game – gah!

    • Gordon says:

      I think any such mechanic would have to be limited to alts in order to ensure that people didn’t just bypass the initial levels all together.

      • Tesh says:

        Why would that be a problem, though? Those who just want to play the “endgame” are resentful that they have to grind through the initial levels, and those who like the leveling content are happy to tinker around with alts. Why not let people get to what they want to play, and stop forcing them to do stuff they *don’t* want to?

        • Gordon says:

          I just think it would create too much of a divide between players and potentially make a mockery of the entire leveling process. Why not just remove the lower levels completely then? I dunno, it’s a tough call really. I think MMORPGs have lost their way and now the journey is more often than not a grind to the end and not the experience itself.

  11. Ramon says:

    I would buy levels with a few restrictions: If one of the characters I have would be required to already be past the level I’m buying.

    But I like the other version better, the one that you can already buy. Experience speedup potions like Runes of Magic and Dungeons and Dragons Online have. Instead of just +50%, they could add a slightly more expensive +1000% or so. Means that you at least have to go through the motions.

  12. Anakh says:

    I don’t think I’d like to buy levels, but I can’t see why having companies sell you gold would be a problem – it would pull the teeth of the gold farmers and spammers, killing two birds with one stone. In terms of levels, companies have been trying to make the game easier on alts for quite a while. Dark Age of Camelot on certain servers let you create characters at higher levels to balance the factions. Everquest now has a server which lets you create characters at level 50. Everquest 2 has put in a system where all your characters get an experience bonus for each max-level character you have. WoW has the Death Knight with a lot of built-in levels. So the process is building, and I think you are right that it may some day become a reality.

  13. Horrible idea indeed.

    I am thinking about me as a lvl 80 noob templar trying to heal any instance with an advanced group who expect me to know what i am doing (well, even if I play all the way up to 80 I most times do not know what I am doing but heck thats an other issue). I already hear the moaning and shouting on vent/chat after the first mob which killed the entire grp: “Fk, an other lvl 80 sucker who bought lvls! Kick him – better no healer than that noob!”

    Imo ppl would get tired very soon of mmorpgs if one is almost forced to buy 80 toons (no low lvl groups and so on) because there isnt much thrill anymore in high lvls.
    I for exsample am always happy after I haved gained a lvl about the new spells/possibilities/items/power/…my toons has! Imagine those fun features to be left behind in buying lvls…I for sure would not play mmos anymore!

    • Tesh says:

      One thing to remember: People are *already* forced to buy level 80 characters. They just presently have to pay with money *and* time. If they are only interested in the endgame, that’s double dipping, as far as I’m concerned, and poor form on the part of the devs, making those players grind through the ranks.

      To be sure, there may be some players who can’t actually play the game. That’s true presently, though. They either learn to play or go on screwing up. That’s just people, not a function of time and game levels.

      • Gordon says:

        Very interesting point! If a player is only interested in being, say, level 80 and raiding then they have to invest a heck of a lot of time doing something they don’t want to do.

        And I also agree that some people just plain suck no matter what :) Plus you really don’t need 40 hours+ training to become decent anyway.

  14. Guybrush the Mighty says:

    Buying levels surely is cheating, isnt it? Just like buying your way to the front of hospital queues or paying your way out of court in real life.

    If you could simpy buy your way to lvl 80 (its bad enough to buy gold to get epic gear at lvl 10) what would then happen to ‘ordinary’ folk with no fortune to spend? Would we see a class system in WoW, where being low level said something about your financial status in real life? Isn’t part of the fun that we’re all equal in WoW and its what you do in the game that affects your status, not how much money you have?

    Another thing is the experience gained from lvling 4 alts to 80 – its boring as hell, I’m sure, but once you get there you will be a source of knowledge to newer players. That warrants respect, in a MMORPG kinda way – the kind that money can’t, and shouldn’t, buy.

    Fair enough I can see the benefits of being able to start alts at higher lvls, like the Death Knight – maybe this should be an option for all players, once you reach 80. Or maybe you can start one alt at lvl 40 per lvl 80 character you have? In any case it should be a free-of-charge part of the gaming engine, not an added-value option for rich, spoilt brats (no offence gordon :P ).

    Over and out

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think it’s any more a form of cheating than twinking out your alt with uber ‘gold’ items so they get an exp bonus and level faster or getting your mates to boost you through low level dungeons. People are obviously trying to combat the grind so let’s give them what they want! :)

  15. Longasc says:

    I think the game should offer people to start out with a high level char with generic equipment once they reached a certain level with another char.
    Like Windsoar I hate getting “run” through lowbie instances, it devalues the experience for me.

    People already pay for levelling services. For some, only the endgame counts. But there are also players who like levelling their char. I personally need to “raise” my chars by myself. This is why I somehow never liked the Death Knight, it starts out at 55 and has no history, no past, I have no connection to this guy.

    I would have preferred the hardcore way: Play a char to level 55, then sacrifice the char and fall prey to the Scourge and become a Death Knight. Of course this would be annoying if people just want to play a DK, so this did not happen. And really, despite all my love for raising my chars, I cannot be arsed to repeatedly playing the same content over and over, even if the starter zones are different. This is just annoying.

    They should rather replace this constant vertical progression model, just like Andrew already pointed out. Then people would not be on a road that always grows longer to catch up with max level people, even if they make levelling faster and faster. The whole system has to change.

    TL;DR: A player should be able to create alts of high or max level once his main/first char already got there. Free of charge. The idea to make players pay for more and more things and call them “services” scares me quite a bit.

  16. By itself, I hate the idea of buying levels. What’s to stop someone from buying their way up the first time they play? I see an army of newbies asking basic questions in chat 40, 50 levels in. Besides, I don’t exactly see the logic behind buying your way past content you’ve just paid for.

    On the other hand, if something like this were introduced and had pre-requisites, like having to hit max level with another character first, I wouldn’t see a problem with it. Like Ethic said, he’d probably do it with an alt and I think that’s fine.

  17. Ferrel says:

    I don’t think we’ll see level purchasing any time soon. It seems counter productive to the who system. Retention and conversion is important in MMOs so if you had any kind of subscription you’d be weakening your money generating mechanism. If you’re not working on a subscription model it is highly possible.

    I would never buy all my levels but if I fell behind my set group a little due to a busy week I could see purchasing a level or two to keep up.

  18. Twan says:

    Gold and vanity items yes, lvls no.

  19. Jason says:

    I’m either playing your game because I enjoy it, all of it; or I’m not playing your game. I’ll buy new areas, I’ll buy more game… but I would never buy what amounts to “the ability to skip content”. If your content is boring and I’m tempted to pay to skip it, I’ll just stop playing your game.

    • Tesh says:

      Ah, but what if you only want to play the endgame? That’s the key problem, and ultimately, either needs to be solved by making the game fun everywhere, or letting players skip ahead to the endgame. (Though I’d offer it as a free option, not as a paid service.)

    • Gordon says:

      Tesh is right. By having gated content, not everyone can get to play the game that they want to play. If someone wants to raid, they have to go through dozens of hours of grind first. Kinda odd no?

      • Tesh says:

        Running a tangent, if you were to “gate” content by real cash, like the Guild Wars system of “expansions”, it might go a long way to letting players play what they want. In a level band WoW terms, perhaps one player just buys the Westfall package and gets an instant level 18 or so, and then can play through to level 30. Another might buy the next band up, starting instantly with a level 30 and going through to 45.

        Of course, that would mean that the 30-45 player who didn’t purchase the 18-30 content wouldn’t be able to go to those areas. That has all sorts of curious consequences, like a fractured world (bad) and potentially less frequent ganking (good).

        Or, in SWTOR terms, a player buys the “Dark Side” package and gets the Hutt, Mandalorian and Sith planets, but can’t visit Coruscant or Corellia. Again, players get the *content* they want without paying for the stuff they don’t, either in time or in money.

        It’s no surprise that GW itself, organized in geographical chunks, has a narrow level band so that those who have all the expansions can wind up playing in any of them without really screwing anything up significantly. It’s a nice system, since players can play the *content* they want to without having to grind through the stuff they don’t. If a GW player only wanted Nightfall, they just buy that box and venture forth. If they had to purchase Prophecies and Factions *and* play through them first, that would be a rough equivalent to how WoW works (you need vanilla and TBC to play Wrath, for example… how different would things be if you could buy Wrath alone and start immediately in Northrend?), and may well have meant less sales for Nightfall. Also, this allows for package deals where buying content in bulk is an option. Sort of like buying sub packages or lifetime subs; buying in bulk is a shot in the arm of the devs and a good deal for the player.

        I know, I know, MMO design heresy, but frankly, it’s about time.

        • Tesh says:

          Oh, and if a 30-45 player bought both and took their insta-30 to the lower band, that might be a Bad Thing. One more reason why a narrow overall power band and segmentation based on *location* and *content* (gasp, player preference!) is better than segmentation based on age and level.

        • Gordon says:

          I guess my worries with segementing content is that it just becomes too complicated to maintain. I think it could very frustrating to be wandering around the game world and then suddenly hit an area that you can’t entered because you haven’t paid for it… so you have to log off and pull out your credit card.

          • Tesh says:

            Again, look at Guild Wars. You segment it logically, not a “cross the bridge toll”, more of an “across the sea” segmentation. The GW expansions cover different geographical areas that can’t be walked to from each other. It’s a natural divide, enhanced by the different storylines in each.

            Yes, just plopping a divide between Darkshore and Ashenvale would be silly, but lopping the Eastern Kingdoms and Western Kingdoms into separate “content packs” would make a lot more sense.

          • Tesh says:

            Or divide it up in other ways; again in WoW terms, sell a Horde package and an Alliance package. (SWTOR, Light Box and Dark Box) Or perhaps a Shaman kit, where you buy a Shaman, and can make it any race.

            That makes less sense in WoW where each class goes through the same content, but in SWTOR, where each class will have its own storyline, and thus unique content, it makes more sense.

            You’re right, it can’t be done willy nilly, but it *can* be done intelligently and work, if devs want it to.

  20. ZaiNu says:

    Ive been tempted many times to buy my way to end game or to buy enhanced items. Fortunately ive had friends who did do that and gave me hammie downs, so my urge has been temporarily subdued. But honestly, in my right mind, i wouldnt buy lvls, waste of money cuz that just brings me closer to the end which brings me closer to getting bored of the game and brings me even closer to doing alt f4.

    in the end, i’d only buy my lvls if the game has something that can keep me entertained for a long time or if the game is really just that good. Sure i could make some poor kid in china very happy but then again im not that nice with my money. (the statement was in no way meant to be offensive). Plus i dont wanna run around as a lvl XXX (watever the max lvl is in said game) asking how do i use my epik knife.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t see anything wrong with shortcutting to the end levels if you’ve already played through the game but just want another alt for raiding or something. As it stands, you have to grind up to get to where you want to be and that can suck if you don’t have a lot of time.

  21. Dblade says:

    I wouldn’t buy levels.

    The point of leveling is that the journey should be fun. If the journey isn’t, and the game starts at cap, you might as well get rid of levels entirely, and just make the game about raid instances.

    Either that, or people may want to start making MMOs designed to only be played in small chunks over time. Sort of like animal crossing was-you turn it on, spend maybe 30 minutes to an hour, and then turn it off.

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