Why Not Have Leveling Up And Raiding As Two Separate Games?

Everuqest Raid

Raiding in Everquest involved waiting around for four hours then dying multiple times before being unable to retrieve your corpse

I think most people would agree that your typical themepark MMORPG is a real dichotomy of gaming. On hand, it presents a journey of progression through leveling, creating a character and then traversing a vast virtual world, accruing power and knowledge as you go, often either alone or in small groups. Then on the other hand, we have the end game experience, a sequence of complex and challenging raid encounters for large, well-prepared cohesive teams and multiple groups. The simple fact is though that these two forms of gameplay are completely different and utterly unlike each other, practically two separate games in their own right. So why not just admit this truth and keep them apart?

I’ve written before about how I wished sometimes that, much like a single player RPG, MMOs would end and give the player a sense of closure. I felt this way strongly after playing Cataclysm and getting fed up with the prospect of a never ending eternity trapped in WoW. All I wanted, after the hours and hours of play time I had invested in my character, was to have one final moment of amazement undertaking a grand quest or finishing a single group dungeon in order to complete everything and be done with it. Cue end cinematic, credits and my graceful departure from the game.

Of course not everyone feels that way and some of us love raiding and the challenges it brings. Although not my cup of tea, I can totally understand and appreciate this perspective. However, I have noticed that most of these types of players, unlike me, view leveling up as a boring necessity required in order to reach their final goal of raiding and I can’t help but think that that’s a little unfair for them. Why should they be required to invest the several dozens of hours it takes to get their character to the level cap just so they can raid? And why should they be required to repeat this process every time they want to try out a new class? Surely life would just be much easier if they could start raiding from day one.

It’s a really strange concept – almost completely unique to MMOs – that such two totally different, yet equally valid, styles of play exist in the same form of game. They are also heavily intertwined: you cannot raid if you don’t level up and you cannot get any sense of completing the game if you don’t raid. Seems like a real shame to me and I’ve often wondered if this all just exists because every other MMO does it rather than due to any genuine reason to enhance playability and pleasure. Surely a designer or developer must have sat down at some point and wondered why on Earth we have this strange mix?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to bite the bullet and separate these two forms of games? Why not produce MMOs have offer no such feature as raiding and actually allow us a means to finish and complete the game? And likewise why not create MMOs that have no concept of leveling but allow players to jump straight into raiding? Surely this would allow developers to focus on much challenging and interesting raid encounters and other forms of gameplay that truly reflect this style of gaming more?

I know it sounds strange to think about splitting these two separate aspects of MMOs but maybe that’s just because no one’s tried it before.

-Gordon

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Related Posts

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  2. Why Is Raiding The End Game Of MMORPGs?
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  4. I Hate The MMORPG End Game
  5. Hardcore Elitism

46 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    Compare PvE & PvP, Questing vs Raiding, Solo content vs Group content.

    Many people I know play (esp. WoW) for dungeons & raiding and LOATHE levelling up a new char immensely. I on the other hand like the levelling phase the most. Then there is PvP, a totally different game inside the PvE game. Usually it gets separated/instanced nowadays.

    I remember Dusty Monk pondered about having a “SOLO” kind of privateer-char with special tasks just for this kind of player and all that.

    It’s an idea that hopefully finds some fans among game developers. Because the current trend of trying to cater to everyone in one big MMO for kids, family, grandma, hardcore players and so on may ultimately leave everyone unsatisfied in the end.

  2. Xenovore says:

    Also, it’s “World” vs “Game”… Some players primarily want to explore a virtual world; the leveling aspect provides for that. Others just want to play the game — run the numbers, learn the mechanics, figure out tactics, etc; raiding provides for that.

    But yeah, it does make me wonder: Who decided that raiding was the de facto end-game for all MMOs? Who decided that you can only raid at max (or close to max) level? Why not provide for raiding at lower levels?

    Finally, what exactly is the point of raiding, when you’re at the cap with no further progression available? Feel good about beating the game mechanics? Feel like an expert at something? Play with your friends? But… you can that stuff without the level grind to get there first…

    • Gordon says:

      The raiding end game model is very curious when you think about it isn’t it because it has no natural link to the leveling phase of the game.

      • SmakenDahed says:

        In fact, it’d likely do better if separated from level dependence as the content wouldn’t suddenly be outdated by newer content.

        However, I think that’s a big part of the draw for raiders – doing new stuff, getting the rewards from each and any raid. A progression without levels, I guess. You’d be replacing one form of leveling with another form of status tier?

        The leveling without raiding already exists in most single player CRPGs, there just hasn’t been any exceptional multiplayer CRPGs. There have been some okay ones, but nothing exceptional.

        • Gordon says:

          “You’d be replacing one form of leveling with another form of status tier?”

          True but at least players would be able to start raiding as soon as they bought the game (in fact, they’d have to because there would be no other form of progression!) rather than spending several weeks leveling up doing an entirely different activity first.

    • Patti says:

      I really like that idea. Raids could be extremely fun at lower levels, and would add a different element to the leveling part of any MMO.

  3. Kierbuu says:

    Hmm, I’m remembering something, and maybe remembering it wrong, but didn’t “Dungeon Siege” have something like what is described above. I seem to recall that you could play to the end and get a nice ‘game completed’ type experience. Afterwords, you could take the characters you had leveled and equipped into online mini raid type dungeons or PvP style fights with other players.

  4. browolf says:

    wow-style raiding is just vertical progression with equipment instead of xp. In that way they’re both aspects of the same thing. vertical. I prefer games with a much broader spectrum on endgame.

    if you wanted a raiding game you could do away with xp altogether and base all vertical progression on equipment alone. The clever developer would have a broad range of different types of equipment that were aimed a different “builds” or playstyles. You could even create different builds through different equipment In a similar way to ffxi where hardcore players use different sets of equipment for different aspects of their class without alienating more casual players who might only have 1 general set.

  5. Bangkok Bill says:

    It seems to me that there is little incentive for MMO makers to do this. Since MMOs are inherently social games the number of people playing has a huge impact on the games fun factor. Add to this the fact that MMO companies make a large part of their revenue from either subscriptions and/or selling in game benefits/items and you see that there is huge pressure on MMO makers to get as many people playing their MMO for as long as possible. If an MMO company came out with an MMO that only focused on leveling or end game content then they would be limiting the number of people the game appealed to. I think from an MMO company’s point of view it is definitely better to please everyone some of the time than it is to please some people all of the time.

    • Gordon says:

      You’re, of course, absolutely right – it’s far more profitable for MMO companies to appeal to a large number of players and hook them all for months then just a small subset. However, the viability also depends on production costs etc. If a “split” MMO was easier, quicker and cheaper to make then maybe it wouldn’t need the same number of subscribers to return a profit.

  6. Azuriel says:

    Err… isn’t it obvious? The leveling + raiding aspects are combined because it would be impossible for them to create enough content fast enough without both. And if you are looking for a conclusive ending or closure… why are you even in the MMO genre? The entire business model is for recurring monthly subscriptions, or at least recurring payments for additional content even under F2P models. Why would you buy new mounts, armor dyes, etc etc, if you came to a satisfying conclusion?

    More importantly, why aren’t you simply playing a single-player RPG instead? Are you not asking for something like Oblivion with maybe the chance at random groups or Trade Chat in major cities? The persistence of the world necessitates a lack of conclusion.

    I find leveling enjoying sometimes (I have a lot of alts in WoW), but I don’t think it has anything to do with the actual gameplay itself, which is pretty mindless, but rather with the constant Skinner Box-esque reward structure of watching bars fill up.

    • Epiny says:

      I could say the same thing about raiding. Why don’t you get some buddies and just kill Diablo over and over again?

      MMOs are about being in a WORLD. Single player RPGs don’t offer that, they offer a story.

    • Gordon says:

      Single player RPGs and MMOs vary primarily in the fact that you play MMOs online and interact with thousands of other people in a community and that’s the big draw to me. I’d certainly love to play a game like Oblivion if it has thousands of other players running around in the world with me too.

      And regarding persistence well the world could still persist, it’s simply that all I’m suggesting is that we have a way of concluding our own individual experience with some sort of finale. WoW did kinda do this with the Lich King raid but that was only accessible to raiders.

    • Max says:

      As for content generation, I have to disagree. There are dozens of dungeons and raids gathering dust in WoW, and only the end-game content is run. Why? Precisely because the game includes both raids and leveling. I imagine that if every instanced team-effort in that game were available to end-gamers, raiders would be tremendously happy. And levelers wouldn’t care too much, since there’s so much world to explore.

  7. Sharon says:

    In Rift, the other day someone mentioned that what the game *really* needs is AAs. One of the things that I loved about EQ2 was Alternate Advancement points. You got the satisfaction (closure?) of hitting the level cap, but still had the mini-dings of AAs to carry you forward. In EQ2, my brigand hit 90 with plenty of reason to continue questing, running instances, even mentoring down to do low level content, all for the AAs.

    I’d love to see raiding separated from leveling, mainly because I’d like to see the two communities separated. I don’t like what the raiding community does to the leveling community.

  8. vortal says:

    I consider myself a total hybrid of the two. I love the leveling process, questing, exploring the world either by myself or with friends, AND I also love to PvE such as Dungeons and Raiding. Some can’t see how anyone can like both at the same time, apparently I am just that kind of person.

    So I consider it a bit selfish that the game developers would make something just for me. Excluding the PvP which I despise so much.

    • Gordon says:

      Very interesting, Vortal. Would you say were you in the minority or do you think there’s a large percentage of other players who enjoy both aspects of MMOs equally?

      • vortal says:

        I think that the majority of players are either PvE or Leveling inclined, since they are either complaining on leveling is too boring or raiding and PvE is such a chore. I personally consider myself and others who enjoy both aspects of the game as a bit of a minority. I am getting this from mostly WoW, since the player base is getting younger. I am unsure of whether people are like this in other games, I don’t have a clue.

        I come from a D&D background before I was introduced to WoW by a friend. So it was all in the fun to do both, dungeons and quests. (there was no PvP back then, I promise you)

      • vortal says:

        And to elaborate on this I will give you my view of the game.

        I always though of leveling as a journey through the world as a novice as you gain in experience (literally) and power. Along the way you join groups of fellow adventurers in killing monsters in dangerous dungeons. Once you reach the point where you become an almighty hero, you take on the task of destroying the world’s greatest evils, or fight for the greatest treasures in the depths of gigantic raids, with miniature armies behind your back.

        Now that is just the way I see it.

  9. Bhagpuss says:

    Good post and lots of interesting replies.

    While I completely agree with Gordon’s premise, that the levelling-up part and the raid part of MMOs make very uncomfortable bedfellows, I completely disagree with the conclusion. Far from wanting a definite and obvious ending to my MMO, I want it to go on forever. That’s really the most important part of why I’m playing MMOs and haven’t played offline RPGs for a decade.

    I see no reason whatsoever why the levelling process should ever stop. I don’t raid. I don’t do “end-game” content. I’m content to level indefinitely and in order to do so I just shelve each character when it reaches max level and start another one.

    Sharon above, however, points out the well-established method of allowing players to continue to level almost permanently: Alternative Advancement. I’d rather do levels, but I’ll happily take AAs as an alternative. I want AAs or an equivalent in any MMO I play and I’m sure Rift will add them at some point.

    I’ve said many times (albeit mostly on SOE boards in the first half of the last decade) that the Raid/Endgame and Levelling gameplay should be more distictly seperated. I used to suggest an actual transition, whereby you had to transfer your “completed” character to a separate server when you thought you’d finished “levelling up”, a server on which all content was raid content. Admittedly my motivation for that scheme was to get all the raiders the hell out of my virtual world so I could enjoy it with like-minded non-achiever types, but even so I think it’s the germ of an idea that could benefit both sides.

    • Gordon says:

      There’s no reason why your character couldn’t still be available, I just like the idea of being able to “end” the game and see a cinematic or something :P Then when new content – and new levels are added – I could continue playing. It wouldn’t be unlike traditional single player games and expansions. Also it would help drive the stories in MMOs more. Wouldn’t it be kinda cool to be able to forge your own endings depending on the actions you took as you leveled up? :D

      • Tesh says:

        “New Game +” is another option, ripped form single player RPGs. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross let you “finish” the game and then go through it all again with the same characters, keeping your levels. Sure, it made all but the first playthrough extraordinarily easy (well, except for optional abusive bosses), but it was still fun to keep going if you felt like it. Sorta. It wasn’t so much “keeplayability” as much as it was “replayability with a boost”.

  10. Imakulata says:

    What about a step in opposite direction? At this moment it seems as if the leveling and raiding were two separate games with little in common and each character had to get through the leveling stage and then continue with raiding. (I might be wrong but a lot of people perceive it to be so too.) During leveling, there is little chance (and incentive) to play endgame (BC/Wrath heroics I guess?); for people who are raiding, it’s a bit better as they can still go explore the world although it feels a bit grindy *cough* archeology in WoW *cough* – and they still have to get through the levels to start the part they consider fun.

    Also, what about people who prefer one of the playstyles but do not play it exclusively?

    PS: I understand why the game companies do not want us to finish the game – why would we pay the subscription once we’re finished?

    • Gordon says:

      “why would we pay the subscription once we’re finished?”

      I think that’s the big point really. Currently it’s in the interest of the developers to keep us hooked for as long as possible.

  11. Tokoloshe says:

    sounds… stupid. sorry.

  12. numtini says:

    I can think of two games that deal with this in a different way. Guild Wars makes the leveling process a very short training session. You are top level far far before you reach any of the “end game” elite zones. And progression is based on small accomplishments in the form of tweaking your build, gathering skills, and so on. City of Heroes more or less has no end game. Except, the game itself is almost exclusively oriented around doing instances, the activity that post-WoW is limited entirely to the “end game.” So the entire game is effectively an “end game” type of game.

  13. Epiny says:

    I’ve thought about this a bit before posting. To be fair Blizzard really did create this sense of ‘raiding is the end game’ during TBC. Vanilla WoW had raiding at such a high difficulty level most people didn’t do it and didn’t consider it an option. Blizzard lowered the entry level of raids and made it the goal.

    Now let’s take a step back to EverQuest. The point of EQ was to level your character. It took so long and was so punishing that the vast majority of people never reached level cap. However of the people that did reach level cap, not everyone raided. Raiding took up a ridiculous amount of time even by EQ time management standards so most people just didn’t bother. Raiding in EQ meant you WOULD die and thus lose Exp. This kept the raiders going back to the “leveling” aspect of the game. In EQ, regardless of what your end goal was, it was always tied into leveling. It was one game, not two.

    Now raids… well prior to Kunark there wasn’t a lot to do, so I’m going to ignore that. However Kunark let you go to level 60 however some raid bosses remained at their lower level. In order to prevent these dragons (2 dragons 5 plat to who can name them) from being farmed they put a level cap on people who could fight them, level 52. That created lower level raid content that remained popular for several expansions. So EQ, WoW’s predecessor, did in fact have raids of importance for lower level characters. (fun note, the first time I did Ragefire I was level 35 on a necro and I lived)

    Blizzard built in epics, not just raiding, but epics as a benchmark to measure player’s accomplishments. If WoW’s end game was really about raiding why would they continue to slowly add in new 5 mans with higher item level drops. WoW’s end game isn’t about raiding, it’s about gear. The best gear just drops in raids. People want to accomplish something and have something to show for it.

    I don’t think most gamers today would stand a game where the point was to spend 12-18 months leveling a character. Epics are visual and in a way tangible achievements of your actions… while standard WoW achievements are bragging rights. This is what most people care about now.

    I don’t want these two aspects split up in a game, I want them intertwined. One of my biggest complaints about WoW, no scratch that every MMO is that when you first pick your character they typically play nothing like they will at level cap. You have NO idea what you are going to be doing. This causes a lot of people to reroll once they reach the ‘end game’ to a class they will really like.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve often thought about how raiding could be more intertwined with leveling and so far I think RIFT has found the best solution by offering raid style public groups for their dynamic encounters.

      The big problem traditional raiding faces though is that it’s almost always a “useless” activity unless you’re at the level cap. And by that I mean most people raid to get awesome rewards but the items don’t provide much benefit if you’re going to pick up an upgraded item from a quest or normal dungeon run 5 levels later. It’s why old, lower level raids in games like WoW sit dead and forgotten because there is no incentive to do them.

      • SmakenDahed says:

        EQ2 tied raids to the Guild’s level, opening some up every 5 or 10 levels (I can’t remember which). These didn’t really go over well because they weren’t tuned very well and some of the cities were disadvantaged by their location.

        i.e.if you were from Freeport,you had to run through Nektulos Forest to the docks, then through Thunder Steppes to Antonica. On early release, this was through encounters of heroic mobs because solo mobs didn’t really exist in the outside zones until several patches later. This meant leading a raid of 24 people through two zones for which they were too low level and also leading them by opposing faction NPC guards. It was sort of meh because the next tier of crafted gear often made the reward from the raid useless.

        Maybe you can chalk all that up to poor execution on SOE’s part.

        I do think Rift has a good idea of it (as did WAR with the PQs, so long as people could find them and were willing to do them) but it did get tiresome rather quickly.

  14. SmakenDahed says:

    From my perspective, raiding is about gathering some people together and working towards a common goal. The people make the raid for us, not so much the loot – the success and reward of overcoming something. That’s the draw for me.

    I also enjoy leveling, if it’s engaging enough. I don’t need lengthy story (unless it’s going to be read for me), I just need an understanding of what’s going on in the area and how my character fits into that. The class needs to be capable and fun with as little repetition as possible – or at least with a lot of options available to handle similar situations differently.

    I think that might have been a turn off with Rift. I didn’t feel continued investment in the area. That might be due to the lack of tailoring for specific races or side quests for classes. The first area seemed to be about elves and naughty elves. I wasn’t really feeling it with my Human Rogue. The next area was dark, gloomy and seemed to be based on humans, but it still felt sort of elfy… and there were werewolves. I normally love werewolves, but I wasn’t drawn in as well.

    I think Rift was relying too much on the text and not enough on NPC reactions/actions.

    I digress.

    I don’t know that raiding without any other substance could really stand on it’s own. As much as I’d like to get together and do stuff with my friends, I like the build up to it.

  15. Michael Jamias says:

    “I’ve written before about how I wished sometimes that, much like a single player RPG, MMOs would end and give the player a sense of closure.”

    No, that would make MMOs exactly like a single-player RPG with an online chatroom option. Continuity and endless progression is the bread and butter of MMOs, because what would be the point of investing in a living, breathing virtual world that fosters community, when you’re leaving anyway.

    Raiding and leveling are just the most exciting tools to achieve this need for continuity and endless progression. In contrast to how leveling is also used to lead players to a final climax in traditional RPGs.

  16. Anonymous says:

    LOL ok, I think I recognize the people in the screenshot used on this post, is it from Saryrn? Pretty sure I recognize Hadesborne,

  17. Daiyn says:

    LOL ok, I think I recognize the people in the screenshot used on this post, is it from Saryrn? Pretty sure I recognize the names Hadesborne, Anduran, Brendruis.

  18. Andrew says:

    I can see how that would make sense from the point of view of keeping raiders out of your levelling experience, but from the point of view of raiders, it would be an absolute nightmare. One of the good points of the levelling experience is that it means that people get to levelling cap with some idea of how to play their class. WoW expeimented with a “jump right in” class with Death Knights, unleashing a plague of players who didn’t know how to play their classes.

  19. Andrew says:

    Spiny – have you had a look at WoW since Cataclysm? They’ve done some great work with providing the players with meaningful choices at lvl 10 as to their class type, and from then on there’s a fair difference between say an Arms and a Fury Warrior. Have a poke around the talent calculators on Wowhead and you’ll see.

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